Monday, April 11, 2016

Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner *****

Genius? What is a genius? In Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner, the author subscribes to the Fashionista Theory of Genius:
"someone is only a genius if we say so."
On the other hand, the author does not subscribe to the popular American individualism theory of genius that: they appear "ex nihilo" from nothing.

His thesis is that geniuses require a specific environment, thus explaining why certain times and places generated a surplus of them. Genius requires disorder, diversity, and discernment.

As he builds his case for the environmental requirements, he starts with anosognosia: a diagnosis where the subject suffers from a disability but is unaware. In the general population, most people consider their skills to be above average. Without feedback, everyone thinks they are above average, everyone has anosognosia. Genius can not develop without this critical feedback, discernment.

In the twentieth century, Lewis Termen, of IQ fame, suggested that genius had to do with IQ scores and education.
However, "Higher education does not correlated with the greater likelihood of genius."
One reason for this seems to be that educated populations tend to be more homogeneous and less creative. Genius requires diversity.

14th century Europe experienced the Black Plague which, "devastating as it was, shook up the established order." This brought the Renaissance in the 15th century. Genius requires disorder.

This book is part review of the scientific literature, part history, and part travelogue spanning ancient Greece to Silicon Valley, with stops in China, Scotland, Italy, India, and Austria. An enjoyable intellectual voyage.

Peace and Porridge by Anika Redhead ****

Peace and Porridge by Anika Redhead is a small book about strange food experiences around the world. Interspersed with incredible and/or inedible meals, such as the title porridge...
"When I looked at it, I didn't see porridge but cat spew ... I picked up my spoon, dragged it through the mess, filled it and let half of it slide off again. ... I moved the spoon to my mouth, stuffed it in and swallowed."
... was practical advice such as chicken and rice were generally safe and tasty anywhere they were available, which turned out to be almost everywhere. (This raised the unanswered question: why is chicken the most popular meat on the planet?)

One interesting experience was a restaurant that was pitch black.
"The dark also made me passive and obedient. Ever since my husband discovered this, he has removed half the light bulbs in our house, but so far without the results he had hoped for."
More advice on finding authentic local food.
"If you take the easy road towards English menus, you are well on your way to a place called 'tourist trap.' ... If the place is decorated, get suspicious."
The author is from the Netherlands, and seemed to have a special contempt for Germans, even though, or because, her in-laws are German. With her preference for vegetarian fare and distaste for alcohol (traveling the world as she does, firm rules and survival are incompatible), German fare was not a good fit.
"Vegetarian were supposed to live on tomatoes, cucumber and sausage, for the latter are not considered meat."
She also had a special dislike of Oktoberfest (which is celebrated in September), even though she admitted she never attended.

Here are a few more tasty tidbits as an appetizer. If you like these, I recommend you read the book.
"although Americans don't know anything about chocolate, they make the world's greatest fudge."
"don't ever visit a country whose food you like to eat in your home town, because it won't ever taste the same."
In keeping with the title, even though the author dislikes much of what she encounters, she never loses her sense of humor or respect for her hosts. An enjoyable travelogue to some of the less visited places and eateries.

Notice: I was given a free copy of this book for my Kindle reader.