he question with which we begin is: “What is genius?” Of the many possible answers to this question, one provided by the American psychiatrist James Grotstein is both intriguing and rings true. In A Beam of Intense Darkness (2007), he wrote: “In my eyes, a genius is one who sees patterns, structures, or gestalten (a configuration of elements having properties that cannot be derived from the sum of its component parts) in incipient or incomplete forms.” If this is so, it suggests a link between human creativeness and a capacity for intense listening, careful observation, and quiet reflection. Although ‘genius’ is usually attributed to the Einsteins of this world, quite ordinary people make valorous decisions in the face of challenges, loss, and adversity that enhance their lives and those of others.
The purpose of this symposium is to explore the epistemic spaces needed for these people to make the perceptual leaps that can sometimes transform the world. It is to investigate the sources of the often unacknowledged inventiveness that lie behind each and every creative nuance in a range of realms, but most particularly in science and in religion.
Through new integrated approaches to biology, scientists are beginning to understand how different molecular systems and pathways enable cells to communicate. A continual complex exchange of information leads to actions that enable organisms not only to survive but to live creatively within their environments. Our awareness of the ‘language’ of cells is obliging us to think very differently than in the past about the natural world. It suggests the need to ‘attend’ to a universe that ‘speaks’ to us. Just so, the observations made by the late cytogeneticist and Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock about the changing patterns of colorization in maize kernels over generations of controlled crosses led her to discover some of the deepest secrets of genetic organization. “Listen to the plant,” she advised the post-docs at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. From a theological perspective, the metaphorical model of increasing prominence in the natural sciences, which is often intuitive to women in science, echoes the Prologue of John’s Gospel, where we are told that the universe was made through the creative agency of the living Word.
Bringing insights from the natural and social sciences, as well as philosophy and theology, the scholars gathered in Windsor consider the potential for ways of understanding that emphasize listening, interaction, and exchange to upend standard frames of reference, consider their relation to creation, and examine how ordinary genius unchained might lead to extraordinary progress in terms of scientific inventiveness and spiritual insight.
Among the specific big questions to be explored are these: What manner of perception is needed to see the world in a new light? What are the roles of communication and relationality in epiphanic illumination? If we set great store by the power for good of creative transformations, do we neglect the fostering of ordinary genius at our peril?
The probe for answers takes place St. George’s House, which is an integral part of the College of St. George, a community of clergy and lay-people established in 1348 by King Edward III as a spiritual complement to the Knights of the Garter, England’s most ancient order of chivalry.