Michael Stuart Kelly

Ayn Rand, Genius and IQ

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Ayn Rand, Genius and IQ

Over on another thread, Ellen Stuttle made a request that was intriguing:

A technical question re the list software: Could you move the posts pertaining to issues of "genius" -- definitions, difference from "IQ," respects in which AR was/wasn't a "genius," the posts about Feynman and mathematical/physics genius -- to a different thread?

I fear that the related variegated issues will be lost to memory on this thread. Who would think of looking for them here?

Rather than move them, I think is would be more readable and on-topic to copy them, or the appropriate parts of them, here with some other observations. Here is a list of posts (and partial ones) dealing with Rand and genius in chronological order from the thread: Peikoff's View of Objectivist Forums and Blogs.

... I think the person who wants to learn about Objectivism should make himself an expert. After all, nobody taught Rand. From what I have been able to observe, she did not have a genius-level IQ. She simply took ideas and reason seriously and committed herself to producing written works. A student wanting to become an expert does not even have to produce written works. All he has to do is want to learn and go to the literature when in doubt. Look up stuff.
Michael, I agree with a good deal of your post, but I strongly disagree with two of your statements:

. . .

2. "From what I have been able to observe, she [Ayn Rand] did not have a genius-level IQ."

I have met a great many talented and brilliant people over my lifetime, but Rand's intelligence was of a wholly different order than the most brilliant and talented among them. I've never seen a definition of genius that quite satisfied me, but if I wanted someone to know what genius is, I could not do better than to say: "Sit in Ayn Rand's living room, and listen to her speaking for five minutes." Hers was a mind -- and forget her mistakes, they are not relevant to the capacity of her mind -- of such power and range, of such stunning first-handedness, of such an awesome ability to deal with the widest of abstractions, that I never have seen its like nor do I expect that I ever shall. This was genius.

2. "From what I have been able to observe, she [Ayn Rand] did not have a genius-level IQ."

I have met a great many talented and brilliant people over my lifetime, but Rand's intelligence was of a wholly different order than the most brilliant and talented among them. I've never seen a definition of genius that quite satisfied me, but if I wanted someone to know what genius is, I could not do better than to say: "Sit in Ayn Rand's living room, and listen to her speaking for five minutes." Hers was a mind -- and forget her mistakes, they are not relevant to the capacity of her mind -- of such power and range, of such stunning first-handedness, of such an awesome ability to deal with the widest of abstractions, that I never have seen its like nor do I expect that I ever shall. This was genius.

Barbara

I'm sure she did have such an IQ IF the test had been given in Russian.

My Father had a genius level IQ and greatly impressed those who came in contact with him with his brain-power, but he was not a genius. He could have been one if he had had the character. He did some incredibly creative stuff when he was a young man. Now, he never developed the math part of his brain but read just about all the literary classics so we can say here is a man we can match up with Ayn Rand as far as general orientation and sheer brain power. What was the difference? Ayn Rand was concerned with philosophical viability and truth and finding that truth, my father was a power-lusting, revenge oriented second-hander. If "The Fountainhead" had been written about a philosopher of genius called Ayn Rand instead of an architect called Howard Roark, John Gaede would have gotten the Peter Keating role, only his betrayal would have been greater because it wasn't being a painter he should have been but his very own philosophical profession and his much greater brain-power. The key to (creative) genius--and no creativity means no genius in my book no matter what one's IQ--in philosophy is truth seeking. The constant questions of what works? What is true? What is just? What is right? How should things be? Why? Why not? Without this one builds castles in the air, even works that might be of a genius except they will eventually all fall down.

Barbara,

I can live, and live well, with both disagreements. I see them more as clarifications of what I was trying to say than outright opposites. (I am thinking in concepts right now and not just words, which can have different meanings depending on the contexts.)

. . .

As to Rand's genius, when I mentioned genius-level IQ, I was thinking along the lines of learning new skills kind of genius. My idea was that Objectivism is something anyone can learn without a lot of suffering and boredom. No great mathematical, scientific, artistic (etc.) aptitude is required. I don't know if Rand's IQ was ever measured, but I do not recall her having ease at acquiring new skills. You reported that she was studying algebra at the end of her life. A genius-level IQ of the kind I was talking about would have had that mastered in infancy.

But if it were possible to measure integrative capacity, handling wide abstractions and "first-handedness," I am not only willing to let my comment be modified by yours, I find yours inspiring. In that sense, of course I hold Rand to be a genius. I would never want to imply otherwise and I often try to look for connections in the manner I read she did. In this respect (analyzing essential issues), I try to emulate her.

of such power and range, of such stunning first-handedness, of such an awesome ability to deal with the widest of abstractions, that I never have seen its like nor do I expect that I ever shall. This was genius.

I have no right to add anything except my thanks and appreciation.

I agree with Barbara's sentiments as well. I would also add that a good part of Ayn Rand's power was earned, and she has made it possible for you to follow in her footsteps to a significant degree. She seemed to naturally think well, but that doesn't mean that those of us who didn't can't learn to do what she did.

I think Barbara's "stunning first-handedness" is rich with meaning, because that is part of the key to Ayn Rand's epistemology. To be first handed means, importantly, not to accept any idea without grasping its meaning. How to grasp its meaning or detect that you're in danger of accepting an idea without really understanding it is not a trivial thing. Which takes us to Barbara's statement of Ayn Rand's "awesome ability to deal with the widest abstractions". Why could Ayn Rand do this? Look at her epistemology, both at ITOE, and at Peikoff's attempts at reconstructing her inductive method (the Objectivism Through Induction course). The practice of connecting abstractions to concretes, and importantly, of being able to actually be able to separate out what really are the concretes and abstractions, it can be learned.

I think that is the most important thing anyone can get out of Objectivism is to earn their intellectual independence on the deepest of levels, just as Ayn Rand did. That is what Objectivism is useful for. Not as a religion, a system of thought frozen in time to worship like so many "Objectivists" do, but as a good example of proper thinking that you can learn from, and then move on. And by "move on", I mean both to use what you've learned to pursue your own values, and to question those things in Objectivism that really don't make sense and come up with your own answers.

The most dangerous thing you can do to your mind is to accept Objectivism as a frozen system of thought that you have to either accept in total or reject. It is an instance of mostly right thinking, treat it as something to help exercise your mind and make it grow. It is merely a tool, and not a completely perfect tool either.

Michael,

Thanks for your thoughtful review of Dr. Brook and Dr. Peikoff's remarks.

. . .

I also agree with Barbara that Rand had an extraordinary intelligence (not always extraordinary in adaptive ways, as in her extremely slow assimilation of a lot of written material). Rand distrusted IQ testing and denied that her insights were due to anything beyond diligence and ruthless intellectual honesty--but had she been given a standard IQ test, I'm sure she would scored more than 2 standard deviations above the mean, if not in the "genius" range. When she was on, she could quickly recognize implications of positions that most others would fail to see, maybe after years of trying to make sense of the same position.

Again, I don't mean to endorse any myths of origin. Maybe she did come up with the kernel of her theory of concepts in 30 minutes, as the story goes. That would be remarkable, but possible to a person of unusual talent. What she didn't do is "validate" her entire theory through introspection--in the same 30 minutes, as one variant of the myth has it--because introspective evidence is insufficient to test such a theory.

I also agree with Barbara that Rand had an extraordinary intelligence (not always extraordinary in adaptive ways, as in her extremely slow assimilation of a lot of written material). Rand distrusted IQ testing and denied that her insights were due to anything beyond diligence and ruthless intellectual honesty--but had she been given a standard IQ test, I'm sure she would scored more than 2 standard deviations above the mean, if not in the "genius" range.

I seriously doubt that. She may have been an extraordinary personality and a great writer, but her arguments contain too many elementary errors and are in no way comparable to the output of real geniuses, like Ramanujan, Feynman or Witten. As Michael observed, a real genius doesn't have to struggle with elementary algebra, he'll reinvent it himself. I even suspect that she would have done rather poorly on some parts of the IQ test.

Shayne, you wrote: "I think that is the most important thing anyone can get out of Objectivism is to earn their intellectual independence on the deepest of levels, just as Ayn Rand did. That is what Objectivism is useful for. Not as a religion, a system of thought frozen in time to worship like so many 'Objectivists' do, but as a good example of proper thinking that you can learn from, and then move on."

I agree. I learned many things from Ayn Rand, for which I shall always be grateful, but the most important thing I learned from her -- partly from observing her and trying to grasp what her mind did when dealing with ideas that no one else's mind seemed to do -- was to think with a clarity that I probably would never have quite achieved without her. And that -- to think clearly -- is the gift of life.

Robert, you wrote: "I also agree with Barbara that Rand had an extraordinary intelligence (not always extraordinary in adaptive ways, as in her extremely slow assimilation of a lot of written material)."

Rand's slow assimilation of written material had a very specific source, which had nothing to do with the presence or absence of intelligence. It began to happen fairly late in her life, when she had become unable to turn off her critical faculty, even for the length of time required to read, say, a paragraph or two. So she would read a sentence, perhaps two, of a book or article, stop, and analyze and critique it, consider the psychology of the writer, the implications of what she'd just read, etc. Obviously, this slowed down her reading immensely, and in fact made reading distinctly unpleasant. I'm sure this was the reason why, as she grew older, she turned to reading light mysteries, which did not require that laser-like critical analysis.

Michael, you wrote: "I do not recall her having ease at acquiring new skills. You reported that she was studying algebra at the end of her life. A genius-level IQ of the kind I was talking about would have had that mastered in infancy."

One of the fascinations of observing her mind at work was precisely her ease at acquiring new skills. Ask philosopher John Hospers how he introduced her to highly technical issues in philosophy, and how she mastered them as quickly as he could present them, and immediately saw worlds of implications in them and further avenues to pursue.. Ask Robert Efron how he introduced her to issues of technical physics, and how she explained to him, an internationally respected physicist, implications of those issues he'd never been aware of.

As for her study of algegra, she had not studied it in her Russian schools and had had no particular reason to learn it since then. Even a genius does not master a field of study unless he sees a reason to do so. During my last visit with her, a few months before her death, this woman, already seriously ill, still grieving the loss of her husband, told me about her study of algebra. The study was not an end in itself; in part, it was a means of extending her philosophical understanding. I wrote the following in The Passion of Ayn Rand:

"In the hours of that golden afternoon, as the light from the window softened the stern planes of her face, Ayn spoke of Frank with love and longing and despair. 'After he died,' she said, 'I couldn't write at all, not for a long time. I wasn't motivated to do anything.... Then I realized that I needed to do something that would be only for my own personal pleasure, something purposeful that I would do only because I enjoyed it. So I've begun taking lessons in mathematics. I have a private tutor who comes once a week to teach me algebra. It's wonderful! He can't believe how quickly I'm learning -- he said he's never seen anyone move so swiftly. And it leads me in fascinating philosophical directions -- there are so many intriguing connections between algebra and philosophy.'

"I listened to her, astounded, as she had always had the power to astound me. At the age of seventy-two, her concept of personal pleasure, of an exciting new activity, was to study algebra and to define its relationship to metaphysics and epistemology."

(cont. in following post)

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(cont. from previous post.)

I also agree with Barbara that Rand had an extraordinary intelligence (not always extraordinary in adaptive ways, as in her extremely slow assimilation of a lot of written material). Rand distrusted IQ testing and denied that her insights were due to anything beyond diligence and ruthless intellectual honesty--but had she been given a standard IQ test, I'm sure she would scored more than 2 standard deviations above the mean, if not in the "genius" range.

I seriously doubt that. She may have been an extraordinary personality and a great writer, but her arguments contain too many elementary errors and are in no way comparable to the output of real geniuses, like Ramanujan, Feynman or Witten. As Michael observed, a real genius doesn't have to struggle with elementary algebra, he'll reinvent it himself. I even suspect that she would have done rather poorly on some parts of the IQ test.

What are "two standard deviations above the mean" in an IQ test score? Curious.

I have no idea where this "struggle with ... algebra" comes from. If you're studying it in your mid-seventies it's not going to be nearly as easy as when you were twelve, all other things being equal. I believe Rand had some exposure to algebra as a school girl, but her real interests were elsewhere. Petr Beckmann, who was something of a math genius I believe (I cannot validate that not knowing enough math), told me that with one exception all algebra was "easy." And he only referred to that exception after he said "easy" and thought about it a little more, meaning the exception wasn't so hard for him. (He greatly disliked teaching and was glad when he could retire from it. I think it was because his students didn't begin to be up to speed with him.)

edit: I did think she must have studied algebra because Barbara wrote in "Passion" that she studied mathematics (p.35).

Dragonfly,

I put "genius" in scare-quotes because IQ testers will say that anyone with a high enough IQ (150 or 160 are typical lower limits) is a genius.

But genius, as most people understand it, is obviously not reducible to IQ. To put it in plain language, you can be extremely smart without being particularly creative. Ramanujan, Einstein, Feynman, et al. were extremely creative, not just extremely smart.

Also (and this pushes us outside the limits of conventional intelligence testing), most genius-level capabilities are specialized. Ramanujan, for instance, was highly creative in certain areas of mathematics; I gather from my (very limited) knowledge of his life that he wasn't highly creative at anything else. Mozart was highly creative in music; nothing special otherwise.

Brant,

Standard IQ testing procedures assume a normal distribution (a bell curve) of scores in the human population, with a population mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. Two standard deviations above the mean yields an IQ of 130. That's higher than the IQ's of roughly 98% of the population, but "genius" level IQ (see disclaimer above) is more than three standard deviations above the mean.

Barbara,

You've confirmed what I meant to imply about Ayn Rand being a slow reader. Her slow reading was a consequence of other unusual cognitive abilities. But of course it came at a cost--like not being willing to put the time in to read John Rawls' book.

I'm not claiming comparable scale here, but I read articles in academic psychology very slowly, compared to nearly anything else I read. It's because I'm constantly trying to figure out what's being assumed, or what the unstated implications might be. I can read a novel in French (a language that I didn't learn till my teenage years, and that I have to use different brain centers to process) faster than most psych journal publications in English.

Well, James (DNA) Watson had a purported IQ of 125. William (transistor) Shockley's was in the low 130s. Both these men are generally considered geniuses. Shockley considered himself a second or third level (as he put it) genius. I think the average PhD has a 140 IQ. Durk Pearson's IQ wasn't measurable, but I hesitate to think of him as a genius. That might be because he's so up there and I'm not.

An IQ test score is considered an objective measurement of (some types) of intelligence because it's a number that can be compared with other numbers. I understand IQ tests were developed and/or first extensively used as a quick way of determining who was officer material and who wasn't in WWI.

I think that someone who isn't a genius can create something of genius. I think genius can even be a flash in the pan. But when you get to the top of the heap it's just staggering, especially with the math and science guys closely followed by the classical music creators. Wow! As for Ayn Rand, I think she was absolutely a genius who peaked in the 1940s with "The Fountainhead" and the first years of writing "Atlas Shrugged." But I then think she effectively got stuck inside her own creations. As Nathaniel Branden said (regarding "Atlas"): "and wasn't coming out." (Not necessarily an exact quote.) You aren't a genius if you've created nothing to show for it. I think that that is the common thread in considered genius.

One of the fascinations of observing her mind at work was precisely her ease at acquiring new skills. Ask philosopher John Hospers how he introduced her to highly technical issues in philosophy, and how she mastered them as quickly as he could present them, and immediately saw worlds of implications in them and further avenues to pursue.. Ask Robert Efron how he introduced her to issues of technical physics, and how she explained to him, an internationally respected physicist, implications of those issues he'd never been aware of.

Hm. That is not the way Hospers talks about his and Ayn's exchanges in his written "Memoir," published by Liberty. Instead he describes frustration at their approaching philosophical issues so differently and at his never getting very far with her understanding what he was trying to convey, also with the sloppiness of her verbal habits. Did he say something like your report in a taped reminiscence?

(I have the Liberty Memoir, but lack time right now to provide quotes. I'll type some in later.)

Re Efron's opinion of her perspicacity in grasping "issues of technical physics," I would like to see direct quotes from Efron on that. The report does not square with that of persons I know who are knowledgeable about physics, including Larry, and who had some exchanges with her. None of those persons had near the length of interaction Robert Efron did. I'd be extremely curious to hear details of what Efron reported, and of what he talked with her about. (Also, of course, Efron is not a physicist, so I wonder how much he knew/knows about "issues of technical physics.")

~ I have little experience with killing humans. This does not forstall my having views on those who do.

~ Unless we must quibble about what number going by which test given in which decade is relevent to using the term 'genius,', then it's best we go by the usual generic meaning...which includes the fact that one's really talking about one's impression and not a checklist score. --- Given that, I'm not aware (as hinted by Campbell re Mozart, et al) that being a genius automatically meant that one was an inherent math-wizard (like, oh, 'Rainman') nor that there was never any 'struggle' with subject 'X'.

~ Re Ramanujan, he was a genius in math like Fischer was in chess...and like Newton was in alchemy. Ramanujan had his mystic side also. Other than physics (and inductive arguments), Feynmann was good only at bongo-playing.

Barbara,

The "genius" category in Robert Campbell's explanation of IQ testing (a category of measurement) is all I meant with the phrase. We are using different meanings for the word "genius." I do not know if Rand had an IQ of, say, 150 or 160. One could reasonably ask, does it matter in light of her cognitive abilities and insights?

My use of this kind of statement probably comes from the fact that IQ testing was really big in Virginia public schools when I was growing up. It left an impression. I think the basic concept in many people's mind of the word "genius" is an IQ test score.

I'm on your side in this, John, but you ought to be aware that Feynman was also a math genius--he could do cube roots of large numbers in his head faster than a highly trained abacus master.

Ayn was a genius as a writer and thinker, as BB said, but not in math--though a teacher had once advised her to become a mathematician, she was so good at it.

Ashley...:

~ Thank you for seeing...PART OF...my main points.

~ My PRIMARY point (tangentially argued off from by Ba'al re a side comment of mine) was nothing more than that the term "genius" is sometimes too myopically concentrated on its meaning as being only a numerical score on some 'IQ'-test given whenever (and we all know they're constantly finessed in improvements) over mucho decades now (hence, what 'meaning' about one given to a 10-yr old 3 decades ago?)

My SECONDARY point was about the more usual (amongst us non-professional Psychometricists) impressionistically (subjectively?) evaluated 'general' view of the term use, admirably clarified by Barbara Branden in an earlier post in this thread; ie: a worthwhile view.

~ My TERTIARY point was that too many see 'math'-wizardy as an inherent necessity-of-meaning re anyone being called a 'genius.' By that view, Michaelangelo was not one anymore than Socrates, Bach, Stravinsky or Jefferson.

I agree with all those points, JD. My concept of genius is basically AR's, which I assume everyone here knows. My own point was only that Feynman is not a good example of a non-mathematical genius.
I'm on your side in this, John, but you ought to be aware that Feynman was also a math genius--he could do cube roots of large numbers in his head faster than a highly trained abacus master.
Doing cube roots in one's head is arithmetical, not mathematical.
If you mean he did not create new mathematical ideas, you are correct. So by AR's definition, he was not a math genius. Touché.

So Feynman is a relevant example. Sorry, JD!

Still, anyone with Feynman's math ability is a genius in my estimation, in the sense of intellectual power.

... there is something pertaining to AR-as-genius on which I have a disagreement with Barbara and on which I'd like to add some material. She talked in a post above about persons such as Hospers and Efron being so impressed by AR's quickness in regard to, respectively, philosophy and science. I question both reports. Hospers, in his written 1990 Liberty Memoir, tells a story at least partly at variance with Barbara's account of his opinion. Efron is the only actual scientist I've ever heard tell of by name who, reputedly, praised AR's scientific acumen -- and I doubt the reports, both because of what I've heard directly from other scientists who had any conversation on scientific issues with Ayn Rand and because I see no signs in AR's own writing, including her Journals, of her being "swift" at science.

Also...here's an intriguing thing pertaining to PARC and James Valliant: As has been noticed before, Valliant doesn't hesitate to accept "the Brandens'" accounts where those are flattering to Rand -- while meanwhile describing both as "monuments of dishonesty" where he doesn't like what they said. In Valliant's far-less-than-stellar performance on the Dawkins list, the source from which he seemed to have gotten his report of the regard in which "many scientists who knew her" (the quote is from memory; it was like that if not exactly that) expressed high regard for AR's scientific acumen is most of all Passion.

With all respect to Barbara, I think the issue of just what Hospers, and "scientists" who knew AR, really did say needs discussing. But I don't want to type in material from Hospers' Memoir on this thead, where I expect it will be lost to notice.

That pretty much was it. I apologize to anyone if they feel their post was chopped too much. I merely tried to weed out the other matters and tangents.

Before letting this post go, though, I do want to highlight something important. There is an enormous gulf of meaning between the IQ measurement category "genius" and what Ayn Rand herself meant by genius. For those who do not know, Rand actually defined "genius," but don't try to find it in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. Binswanger airbrushed that one out and with good reason (for his agenda). Rand defined "genius" during her prepatory interviews with Barbara Branden for Who Is Ayn Rand? and she did this to characterize Nathaniel Branden as a genius. Here is the passage:

Biographical Interview with AR; #19

"As to Nathan, I thought he was a genius from the first evening. And I really mean genius. In that sense, I have never pronounced that judgment on someone I know, not that immediately, not that objectively… From intelligence alone, it's not yet enough for the title genius. You know what's necessary there? It's a creative intelligence, it has to be an initiating intelligence, not merely philosophical or abstract or quick to understand or being able to deal with abstractions… When you conclude that someone is really a genius, it's total independence, the first hand look of a creative mind, a mind that is constantly active on its own power."

In addition to calling Nathaniel a genius, this is the first place anywhere I know of that Rand defined the term "genius." I only mention this because I got into a discussion once with a group of Objectivists who were postulating that "genius" was not a valid concept in Objectivism, especially since Rand never defined it.

Well finally here it is. She did define it. And she used it to characterize Nathaniel. I don't think she ever retracted that evaluation either, not even after the break.

Michael

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The following exchange was omitted, so here it is:

Feynman's work the renormalization of quantum field theory is both first rate physics and first rate mathematics. Feynman's approach is now part of the standard tool kit for physicists.

Tell me. Was Newton's work on calculus mathematics or physics? Answer: both.

Ba'al Chatzaf

What I mean is, was Feynman's work here the application of known math, or the creation of new mathematical ideas? In other words, has it become part of the tool kit of pure mathematicians as well? (I truly do not know.)

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~ Good decision, MSK; a worthwhile thread on its own.

~ Re Feynman: I agree he was a 'genius' in...PHYSICS (as I said!). His ideas, mainly, (and maybe even his teaching/explaining abilities; no small feat there, ya know) are what show this. 'Math' (or even 'arithmetic') is a necessity there, but for 'math' concerns themselves, I'd say Dirac is the more apropos name (apart from Ramanujan, of course.) I was merely specifying about being regarded as a 'genius' in a broader sense, apart from one's known professional forte. Like, Roark would not have been a good salesman/telemarketer, ya know? --- Generally, I regard Feynman as near Newton and Einstein, in envisioning new concepts...and applying 'math' to demonstrate them as worth paying attention to (though Newton [and Wittgenstein?] was additionally a 'genius' in creating mathematically useful notation to show dynamics of motion; aka, his 'tools.')

LLAP

J:D

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Michael,

Thanks for setting up this separate thread, and apologies for my delay posting some material from the Hospers Memoir. I haven't had time yet to write an outline and synopsis, and to select some passages which talk about his increasing frustration in his and her exchanges. For starters, I'll just post a passage I have already typed in my files, something which I sent to a couple email friends last September. I was in process then of re-reading the whole Memoir.

The Memoir is titled "Conversations with Ayn Rand." It appeared in two installments in Liberty, the first July 1990, the second September 1990.

The first part talks about how John and Ayn began their series of conversations; about what he calls "the honeymoon" stage of their relationship (during which they were primarily talking about literature), and about her significance to his understanding of economics and his thinking on political issues. They met when she gave a talk at Brooklyn College (as it was called then) in April 1960; after the talk, he invited her to lunch at a restaurant; their conversation continued for hours; in subsequent weeks, a routine developed of his visiting her apartment about every couple weeks for discussions which would often continue into the early hours, even continuing all night. (She'd then make him breakfast, and he'd go off to teach his morning classes.),

The second part talks about their discussions of more-foundational philosophic issues -- and about his growing frustration, such that he was halfway expecting an eventual rupture, and halfway relieved when it came. The occasion of the break was her becoming angered as a result of his "professional commentator" remarks when, at his arrangement, she delivered a talk at the annual meeting of the American Society for Aesthetics. That was the "last Friday night of October 1962," which was also the last time John Hospers ever saw Ayn Rand.

He did subsequently have a brief phone conversation with her, in "the late summer of 1968, not long before the Big Break." "Nathan phoned me," he writes, "in California [he'd moved to the West Coast by then] and said 'I want to put you on the line to someone.' The conversation with Ayn was very brief. 'I understand that you are presenting my philosophy to your clases,' she said. I replied that I was--I considered Ayn's views in several of my courses, without thereby implying that I did so with total agreement. She seemed gratified, and wondered how I was, and then turned the telephone back to Nathan."

I find the Hopers Memoir the most informative of any about details of how she approached philosophic issues. I'll type in further passages as I get a chance. Here, meanwhile, is the start of the second installment.

.

Memoir: "Conversations with Ayn Rand"

Part 2

by John Hospers

Liberty

Volume 4, Number 1, September 1990

pg. 42

Ayn occasionally expressed some disquiet (perhaps resentment) that she was not recognized as a philosopher by the contemporary philosophical community. In spite of long philosophical passages in Atlas Shrugged, philosophers had never taken note of her views, and her philosophizing in Atlas had largely fallen on deaf ears in the academic community.

I told her that philosophical discussion goes on almost entirely in philosophical journals. What about philosophical books? she asked. "Yours is a philosophical book," I said, "but it is a novel. It's not that philosophers don't read novels--though a lot of them don't--but they don't consider it their professional duty to do so." Besides, I added, she had acquired a right-wing image in the popular press, and that is a position that most academicians are strongly oposed to. There were a few well-placed curses from Ayn about the prejudices of the "liberal establishment."

I told her that if she wanted to become known in philosophical circles, she should write a piece or two and submit it to the Journal of Philosophy or the Philosophical Review or the Review of Metaphysics. After its publication, I said, it would be studied, commented on, and probably criticized. She would then respond to these criticisms, which again would evoke more from others, and at that point, I said, "I guarantee that you will be known as a philosopher."

But she never did this. She did not want to enter the arena of public give-and-take with them. She wanted them to come to her. What she wanted of philosophers, other than recognition, is not easy to say. I am sure she would have cursed them soundly if they offered criticisms. Even a mild criticism would often send her to the stratosphere in anger.

At the same time, I must add, she would often tolerate criticism, even revel in responding to it, if (1) it was given "in the right spirit" (the vibes had to be non-hostile) and (2) it was sort of "on the right track"--the sort of thing that could be said by someone who was "on his way to the truth" but hadn't yet arrived there; then she would "correct him" painstakingly and in detail.

I sometimes pondered how people could approach so differently the enterprise of philosophy [he means, as she and he did]. I thought of the composers Igor Stravinsky and Richard Strauss; each occupies a high place in contemporary music, but neither could tolerate the other's musical idiom. Similarly, was it just a difference of style among philosophers? Surely not. Each comes to philosophy as a satisfaction for a felt need. I had been "burned" early on by over-eager philosophic generalizations, and I was weary of systems in which different philosophers said opposed things, with no apparent way of resolving the issues in favor of the one or the other. I had come to the conceptual-analysis route as a way of resolving (or sometimes dissolving) problems that had long haunted me. Ayn had aimed instead at a "final philosophical synthesis," and regardless of its strengths or weaknesses, that is what she had to present to the world.

.

___

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A mathematician who worked with the physicist Richard Feynman proposed two primary categories of geniuses:

"There are two kinds of geniuses: the ‘ordinary’ and the ‘magicians.’ an ordinary genius is a fellow whom you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. there is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what they’ve done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it. it is different with the magicians... Feynman is a magician of the highest caliber."
Mark Kac about Richard Feynman, cited in: Scott D. Tremaine (2011) "John Norris Bahcall. 1934–2005. A Biographical Memoir"
The Indian mathematician Ramanujan seems to have been in the magician category.
Was Rand just an ordinary genius or a magician?
It seems to me that any of her creations considered individually might put her in the "ordinary" class, but her wide-ranging body of work and her artistic creation put her in the magician category. We shall not see her like again.

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Gut reaction: she was a hybrid--not quite to the level of magician.

I think that is a fair assessment.

Addfitionally, the regular genius would, in my estimation, have to have some hard scientific/technical/mathmatical component to achieve magician status.

Interesting question.

Heinlein did point out that:

One man's magic is another man's engineering...

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The Indian mathematician Ramanujan seems to have been in the magician category.

Ramanujan's Muse was a Hindu deity. No one has quite matched Ramanujan's output and mathematicians are still mining his works for deep theorems. No one really knows how Ramanujan thought. He did not use the sort of linear logic most mathematicians rely on.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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The Indian mathematician Ramanujan seems to have been in the magician category.

Ramanujan's Muse was a Hindu deity. No one has quite matched Ramanujan's output and mathematicians are still mining his works for deep theorems. No one really knows how Ramanujan thought. He did not use the sort of linear logic most mathematicians rely on.

Ba'al Chatzaf

I clicked on the link and was staggered, insofar as a non-mathematical layman can be staggered I suppose, by what I read.

--Brant

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