Prof. Vaknin on Genius and Insanity


 Prof. Shmuel “Sam” Vaknin (YouTubeTwitterInstagramFacebookAmazonLinkedInGoogle Scholar) is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited (Amazon) and After the Rain: How the West Lost the East (Amazon) as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction. He was Senior Business Correspondent for United Press International (February, 2001 – April, 2003), CEO of Narcissus Publications (April, 1997 – April 2013), Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician (January, 2011 -), a columnist for PopMatters, eBookWeb, Bellaonline, and Central Europe Review, an editor for The Open Directory and Suite101 (Categories: Mental Health and Central East Europe), and a contributor to Middle East Times, a contributing writer to The American Chronicle Media Group, Columnist and Analyst for Nova MakedonijaFokus, and Kapital, Founding Analyst of The Analyst Network, former president of the Israeli chapter of the Unification Church‘s Professors for World Peace Academy, and served in the Israeli Defense Forces (1979-1982). He has been awarded Israel’s Council of Culture and Art Prize for Maiden Prose (1997), The Rotary Club Award for Social Studies (1976), and the Bilateral Relations Studies Award of the American Embassy in Israel (1978), among other awards. He is Visiting Professor of Psychology, Southern Federal University, Rostov-on-Don, Russia (September, 2017 to present), Professor of Finance and Psychology in SIAS-CIAPS (Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies) (April, 2012 to present), a Senior Correspondent for New York Daily Sun (January, 2015 – Present), and Columnist for Allied Newspapers Group (January, 2015 – Present). He lives in Skopje, North Macedonia with his wife, Lidija Rangelovska. Here we talk about genius and insanity.

*Previous interviews listed chronologically after interview.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Delusions remain ubiquitous. Delusions in conspiracy theories found in 5G, backmasking, Big Pharma, chemtrails, free energy suppression, Holocaust denial, New World Order-ism, QAnon, and so on. Delusions formalized in cults. Delusions in religious discourse, organization, and practice. Delusions promoted in quack ‘medicine’ with acupuncture, alternative ‘medicine,’ anti-GMO movements, anti-vaccination activism, aromatherapy, chiropractory, conversion therapy, faith healing, homeopathy, naturopathy, psychic surgery, Reiki, reflexology, traditional Chinese medicine, and such. Delusions in anti-intellectualism with creation ‘science’ (e.g., the variants of Creationism and Intelligent Design), global warming denialism or even alarmism in some respects, God of the gaps-ism, ‘holy’ text literalism, homeschooling, paranormalism, quantum woo, und so weiter. Delusions in bigotries and prejudices including anti-Semitism, or racist ideologies bound to politics or religion (e.g., white supremacist KKK, black supremacist Nation of Islam, and the like). Delusions in social and political cure-alls for societies’ ills – panaceas, e.g., American commitments to the idea of every problem having a solution. Then there are those who took a permanent lift-off from terra firma and detached from reality altogether, e.g., or a case study, the person running the “Sam Vaknin Scum Antichrist” YouTube channel – an apparent idiotic crazy (read: demented screwball) person. You know the deal. We’re on the same page in the identical book here. There’s a thin line, as has been observed before, between true genius and real insanity. What factors set the distinctions between insanity, on the one hand, and genius, on the other?

Prof. Shmuel “Sam” Vaknin: The problem is that both madness and genius involve the ability to reframe reality in an unexpected way (i.e., provide insight) either by gaining a synoptic or interdisciplinary vantage point – or by radically departing from hidden underlying assumptions.

The scientific method is designed to tell the two apart by applying the test of falsifiable predictions. Both madness and genius are theories of the world and of the mind and, like every other type of theory, they yield predictions which can then be tested and falsified.

Most of the predictions yielded by insanity are easily and instantly falsifiable. Most of the predictions garnered by genius hold water for long stretches of time and, even when falsified, it is only in private cases or in extreme conditions. Thus, the theories of relativity falsify Newtonian prediction only on vast scales with incredible energies.

Jacobsen: What are the easiest means by which to distinguish a genius from an insane person?

Vaknin: Psychopathology is rigid. It is unyielding, not amenable to learning, nauseatingly repetitive, constricting, and divorced from reality (impaired reality testing). The genius is immersed in the world even if he is a recluse, he learns and evolves all the time, his mind is kaleidoscopic and vibrant, ever expanding. Insanity is mummified, genius is life reified.

Jacobsen: Is high intelligence required for true genius?

Vaknin: If by intelligence you mean IQ then the answer is a resounding no. The adage about perspiration and inspiration applies. But, more importantly, genius is the ability to see familiar things in a fresh, unprecedented way. Imagination, intuition, and the ability to tell apart the critical from the tangential are the core constituents of genius – not intelligence.

What intelligence does contribute to genius is alacrity. It is a catalyst. It speeds up both the processes of theorizing and of discovery.

Jacobsen: What happens to an insane person who happens to have high intelligence too?

Vaknin: He is likely to construct theories that will pass for genius, especially among laymen. The intelligence of the gifted madman serves to camouflage the lack of rigor and the delusional, counterfactual content of his creations. Rather than catalyze disruptive discoveries, his intellect works overtime at the service of aggressively defending a manifestly risible sleight of hand. It is not open to any modificatory feedback from the environment. The madman’s intellect is solipsistic and moribund.

Jacobsen: What happens in the mind of a genius who slowly deteriorates into an insane person?

Vaknin: He visibly transitions from cognitive flexibility to defensive and hypervigilant rigidity (confirmation bias). His work becomes way more easily falsifiable, sometimes even with mere Gedankenexperiments. He repeats himself ad nauseam. He becomes grandiose (cognitively distorts reality to buttress an inflated and fantastic self-image).

Jacobsen: How do fake geniuses cover for their lack of insight, ingenuity, intelligence, etc.?

Vaknin: They copy and plagiarize. They imitate a real genius’s structured thinking and work. They are good at promoting themselves and getting credit where none is due. Most of these frauds are actually intelligent, but dark personalities (subclinical narcissists, subclinical psychopaths).

Jacobsen: Is true genius more inborn, innate, native to the individual or more honed, refined, developed extrinsically?

Vaknin: We know that IQ is responsive to environmental stimuli. The analytic kind of genius (IQ above 140 or 160) is by far the most studied because it is the most facilely measurable. There are no studies that rigorously link it to heredity. On balance, anecdotal evidence clearly suggests that genius is acquired and can be inculcated at an early age if the child is subjected to rigorous training and a regime of positive and negative reinforcements.

It would behoove us to make a distinction between polymath or synoptic genius and “idiot savant” type of one-track mental acuity (think “Rain Man”). The latter form definitely is neurological and, probably, with a pronounced genetic contribution.

Jacobsen: Some mental disorders, including schizophrenia, appear mostly heritable. Is it the same for various states of insanity in general?

Vaknin: We don’t know enough, not by a long shot. Certain mental illnesses present with structural and functional abnormalities of the brain that are very likely to be genetically coded for: schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder. Other mental health issues run in families, so a genetic component is indicated: Borderline Personality Disorder and psychopathy, for instance.

Jacobsen: Which five individuals seem like true geniuses in the modern world to you? I do not mean rich, famous, well-cited, and the like; even though, they may be rich, famous, or well-cited, etc., as a consequence of successful implementation of aspects of their genius.

Vaknin: Versatile polymaths included Einstein (of course), Richard Feynman (see my interview on Chronon Field Theory), Noam Chomsky, George Steiner (whom I had the pleasure of knowing), and Adolf Hitler (who regrettably turned his considerable gifts to the dark side).

Jacobsen: Do you consider yourself a genius?

Vaknin: Yes.

Shoshanim: Thank you, once again, for your time and the opportunity, Prof. Vaknin.

Vaknin: OK, Shoshanim!

Previous Electronic ‘Print’ Interviews (Hyperlinks Active for Titles)

Prof. Sam Vaknin on Narcissism in General

(News Intervention: January 28, 2022)

Prof. Sam Vaknin on Cold Therapy (New Treatment Modality)

(News Intervention: January 30, 2022)

Prof. Sam Vaknin on Giftedness and IQ

(News Intervention: February 2, 2022)

Prof. Sam Vaknin on Religion

(News Intervention: February 11, 2022)

Prof. Sam Vaknin on Science and Reality

(News Intervention: April 30, 2022)

Prof. Sam Vaknin on the Gender Wars

(News Intervention: May 21, 2022)

Prof. Sam Vaknin on Psychological Growth

(News Intervention: May 24, 2022)

Prof. Sam Vaknin on Structure, Function, Society, and Survival

(News Intervention: May 26, 2022)

Prof. Vaknin on Chronon Field Theory and Time Asymmetry

(News Intervention: May 28, 2022)

Previous Interviews Read by Prof. Vaknin (Hyperlinks Active for Titles)

How to Become the REAL YOU (Interview, News Intervention)

(Prof. Sam Vaknin: January 26, 2022)

Insider View on Narcissism: What Makes Narcissist Tick (News Intervention)

(Prof. Sam Vaknin: January 29, 2022)

Curing Your Narcissist (News Intervention Interview)

(Prof. Sam Vaknin: January 31, 2022)

Genius or Gifted? IQ and Beyond (News Intervention Interview)

(Prof. Sam Vaknin: February 3, 2022)

Thrive: Your Future Path to Growth and Change (News Intervention Interview)

Prof. Sam Vaknin: May 25, 2022)

Image Credit: Sam Vaknin. 


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