Manifesto for the Exceptional Mind
I am an independent, self-educated researcher into workable brain/mind technology, working without the backup of university facilities, and without grant funding.
Why is this situation so unacceptable? A research scientist with the full benefit of such support would not have to concern herself with how to pay her living expenses, pay her staff, pay for the rent of an office or laboratory, where to source proper academic materials, how to afford to purchase equipment, and so on.
While reading articles about amazing scientific discoveries, developments,
or studies that are being done into this or that field, the thought that
inevitably occurs to me is: "They are involved in this project, and
it looks like an exciting time to be working in that field, but I am not
in on it." Why? My first interpretation was that perhaps I feel deprived
of cutting-edge knowledge, but on reflection it goes beyond a simple desire
to know. A more accurate description for it would be exclusion.
If it were simply knowledge deprivation, I could assuage the feeling by
simply subscribing to and keeping up with various journals (although the
academic publishers have ensured that even that costs a small fortune for
an individual on a low budget).
My intellectual need goes beyond simply being kept in the picture knowledge-wise:
I need to be participating in cutting-edge discovery. Mixed in with all
this, there is another part to the feeling of exclusion. It's the thought
that I am excluded because, in the eyes of those active in the forefront
of science (and the world at large) that I am unqualified. The
individuals and organizations that count will not countenance the idea
that with my lack of formal degrees I could have anything useful to contribute.
The further conclusion on their part is that not only do they believe that
a lack of institutionalized training makes one "unqualified", but that
there must be a personal failing if a person never got that sort of formal
education - if it wasn't because you lacked the necessary smarts, then
it must be lack of discipline, lack of sticktoitiveness, or some other
heinous character flaw that means that you're generally less of a risk
if you are forced to wait tables instead of spending research budgets.
The more I have found out about academia and its politics, the more cynical
I have become. I have had no choice but to self-educate, and now go into
business for myself, to escape the daily grind of unsuitable low-paid jobs,
and try to scrape together some money for my much-needed research.
Beyond science, I am also a composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist,
artist, writer, educator, and plenty more besides. In other words, a polymath.
However, my self-educated status is not recognised by businesses or institutes of higher learning, and the vast majority of my meaningful skills go to waste as I am seen by them in terms of the poor education that was afforded me as a young person and the irrelevant work history that has nothing to do with the areas in which I am capable of making a real contribution.
As Chris Langan points out in this SuperScholar article, "Given two people, one with an IQ of 100 and a college degree and the other with a 200 IQ and no degree, all else equal, any job that involves much intellectual processing will go to the former in almost every case." While his example uses an extreme difference in IQ, the point stands. Such is the inability or unwillingness on the part of organisations to really observe the person and what he/she can do, or potentially learn, that this reliance upon having the stamp of approval of academia is de rigeur to obtain almost any kind of technical, fee-earning professional situation, even though very few professions actually require degrees by law in order to practise.
There are many people of exceptional ability who cannot get ahead in life because of the financial dependency trap - underemployed, but unable to make the break from it into a more fitting productive situation.
Our society has a huge double standard when it comes to the exceptional person.
On the one hand, it expects them to be out there solving the world's problems - "If he was really gifted, he would be [fill in the blank] instead of cleaning windows".
But on the other hand, there is a chorus of indignation if it is suggested that the person's headspace and time to be out there doing just that is freed up - "Why shouldn't he work a day job like everyone else?".
I suggest it is time to revise these attitudes and take a serious look at what can be done.
Contrary to popular belief, success for the very brightest is not guaranteed. It is greatly dependent upon family background, mentorship, and simply being in the right place at the right time when opportunities came along.
Malcolm Gladwell does a good job of explaining the factors behind success in his book "The Outliers".
I also highly recommend this article by Valentine Cawley, father of child prodigy Ainan Cawley, that was published in the Malaysia Star in September 2012. Entitled "The challenges that gifted people face", he explains simply and eloquently why being far from average may reduce, rather than enhance, the chances of garnering opportunities commensurate with one's potential. In this article Mr. Cawley also discusses in the article how the Dunning-Kruger effect impacts the chances of the gifted succeeding.
Clearly, our society is wasting the very talent upon which major discoveries, inventions and development depends. The question is, do we continue berating personally every genius who works as a nightclub bouncer or a secretary, or do we have a responsibility to find out how they ended up there, and if it turns out they are not there by their own choice, can we do something about it?
How do we define Genius?
I raise this question because it tends to pop up all over the place, and
the question is never quite resolved satisfactorily. Rather than offer
a definitive answer, I feel there are certain factors that should not be
included in the definition.
Any satisfactory definition of genius should only include internal
processes or qualities inherent in the person.
Eminence or recognition should not form any part of it. Some people like
to point out historical figures such as Leonardo Da Vinci, and
then use that argument to suggest that Person X can't be in the same league
because he/she isn't as well known! It never occurs to them that perhaps
historical figures such as Da Vinci were just the ones who were fortuitous
enough to be born close enough to
the rich and famous that they could have their projects funded and their
public relations secured.
What do you call the person on a similar level of ability who was never
noticed and whose ideas have been lost to time? Were they not a genius?
Or what about the person whose writings were discovered 200 years after
demise? How could a person "become" a genius after they are dead?
Or what about the person whose works could never be fully realised because
to do that would take support and money that was never provided? Are they
any less of a genius because they were prevented from producing to the
level of their ability?
This is where the waters start to become very murky!
Some will always continue to proffer unhelpful remarks, such as "genius
will always find a way". (Will it?)
For more on the "internal cognitive processes vs. external achievements"
discussion, please see Linda K. Silverman's excellent article "I'm
Not Gifted, I'm Just Busy" (2005).
A Few Suggestions
I am not going to go into every detail as to how the following suggestions may work.
For one thing, it would be premature to do so before the concepts of providing such assistance have gained a certain level of public acceptance.
For another, that kind of work is best left to someone who enjoys hashing out the details.
At this stage I am purely attempting to float a few ideas out there.
One possible solution is for patronage to be available for exceptional individuals. It harms the individual, not to mention being an incredible waste of human resources, when many of the world's very brightest minds are left trapped by socioeconomic circumstances in inappropriate situations that barely pay for essentials and leave no time or money for pursuing the arts, sciences and other areas of endeavour that they are really good at.
Patronage would serve two purposes for the beneficiaries of such a scheme.
Firstly, it would directly cover the cost of any materials, equipment, premises, administration, travel costs, publicity etc. that the person may need to work on their projects.
Secondly, it would pay them a living wage, thus freeing up their time to devote to their work.
For patronage to help these individuals in any meaningful way, those benefiting from such support must be left to choose and work on their own special interest(s). It is vitally important that patrons do not become attached to specific outcomes, or be allowed to pick and choose what they will and will not fund. "He who pays the piper calls the tune" has no place in such a scheme for it to work in the intended way. If financial support were provided anonymously and potential beneficiaries assigned at random this may help reduce the risk of "hobbyhorsing".
Employment and Careers Advisory Service
This is envisaged as a service that would be suitable for any high ability person who may or may not have a conventional educational or career background. It is conceived as a specialist careers advice and employment agency service which differs from other types of recruitment agency inasmuch as jobseekers or career changers are all high intellectual ability individuals.
Organisations who contact the agency accept that the potential recruits they are put in touch with may not have formal degrees or recognised professional qualifications, and may not have direct industry experience. However, they may have self-taught knowledge or have other qualities that will make them a true asset to the organisation.
The agency would also have a publicity role to play, emphasising the potential benefits of hiring such people into key roles and providing full training, instead of using outdated checkbox-style hiring techniques.
Fast Track Educational Opportunities for Adults
"Gifted education", where it exists at all, caters entirely for children and young people.
While establishments like the Open University in the UK have had a long tradition of offering places to students without formal school qualifications, I do not believe opportunities go far enough for the mature high intellectual ability person.
Although it may be possible for a mature student to enrol on an undergraduate degree without having high school or secondary school qualifications, there is no provision for them study an individually tailored or fast-track curriculum. Enrolling directly onto a higher or research degree may not be possible at all.
The higher education system needs to be more flexible when it comes to the high ability mature student. Such a student may only be taking the degree to change careers (perhaps for a second or third time!), and unlike a youngster does not "need" a liberal education. Where the majority of the content has already been acquired through the student's independent study or life experiences, and therefore is unaccredited by any educational institution, universities need to be flexible enough to accommodate this knowledge, perhaps by permitting the student to test out of what is already known.
Without wishing to enter the debate over tuition fees in general, I would also like to propose that anyone scoring above a certain percentile on a standardised test should automatically have their tuition fees waived in their entirety and a cost of living bursary made available for the duration of the course.