Back in Wales, Koanic once told me about a recent idea and I joked “And because you’ve just had this idea, it must be the most important idea there ever was, which explains everything and will solve every problem.” The substance of this joke relies on personal familiarity with the phenomenon which I will call “supervaluation”, defined as “the result of the brain’s rewiring process which is produced by the extraordinary release of neurotransmitters accompanying an exceedingly clarifying insight, which tends to prioritize the newly clarifying concept above all others”. This is the intellectual analogue to the acting man’s One Thing, except that instead of the acting man rearranging his lifestyle to sacrifice everything in expedience of maximizing his Great Vision (e.g. Griffith’s kingdom in Berserk) the intellectual man rearranges his perspective to reinterpret all sensory experiences through the lens of his Great Idea. It becomes his One Ring to rule all other, an absolute principle, a power which overrules any other to determine the fates of nations, and often an object of abstract worship.
This has a positive effect and a negative one. The positive is the endowment of effortless focus—when your brain has tricked you into thinking there is One True Framework it becomes easy to fully develop the idea with all its examples, epicycles, and implications. One becomes absolutely convinced that “this explains everything”, such that new phenomena need only be traced back to the singular principle as a counterfactual exercise without any doubt of success. Supervaluation is also necessary for the addiction to insight which produces intellectuals in the first place and, in combination with the addiction to performance which characterizes the creative personality, may produce the endogenous personality which is so essential to ingenius accomplishment. In fact, I dare propose that without the euphoric, fanatical conviction of supervaluation it would not be possible for a Newton or a Beethoven to sustain the effort necessary to properly develop their insights. Gravitational motion could have ended as a marginal note like Fermat’s last theorem, and the Fifth Symphony could have ended like so many false starts, a decent one-off riff played to impress friends between loyal renditions of Wonderwall and Black Hole Sun.
The negative effect is the flipside of this absolutist conviction, which is the compounding error of insistent overgeneralization and its resulting perversions from this creative fixation. We expect Archimedes sacrificed a bit of his honor among the polite society of Syracuse by forgetting his nakedness in the blinding light of his discovery, and if not for occupying the instinctive archetype of the village shaman he would likely have been hounded out of town entirely. After all, if there were room left for other concerns in his imagination, he would balance these priorities in their sensible order and never once miss a meal or a night of sleep in pursuit of his singular drive. This means that a creator may well see the warts in his creation, in order to perfect the thing within its own boundaries, but he will never see it in its proper perspective as a relatively limited concept among many others. He thinks “this explains everything” while more level-headed intellects would conclude “this is a top-tier insight, as it provides a 0.1% advantage over what was previously observed”. So we see again that a genius is typically not the beneficiary of his own inventions, and in this sense because he is by nature too emotionally invested to explore within them to step back and see their smallness in context.
The supervaluation effect may be a bit more manageable under the following circumstances:
1. Greater experience accumulated over many insights, so that pattern recognition of the effect kicks in (not unlike the common sense foresight of a drunk person managing the consequences of drunkenness). It is typically the intellectual who has only had one or two big ideas who is prone to really overextend himself.
2. Higher IQ, which enables better adaptation in all sorts of small ways in both positive and negative contexts. It is typically the lower-IQ artists, intellectuals, and geniuses who are most incapable of balancing their addictions with ordinary concerns (with exception made, perhaps, for self-aware geniuses determined to manage their addiction).
(Ref: geniuses of extraordinary IQ who remained relatively high-functioning like Euler, Newton, and Pascale.)
3. Old age, which generally diminishes the capacity to maintain heightened passions in favor of more domestic appetites. This is, of course, assuming that the dysfunctions of supervaluation have not already compounded to produce a miserable, diseased recluse riddled with ever-worsening neuroses.
4. Verbal tilt, which for whatever reason appears to protect against many of the perversities which characterize visual artists. I suspect this may have something to do with greater cortical thickness producing a stronger Ego proportional to the stronger Id of the white matter-dominant visual thinker.
(Vox Day once proposed something to this effect as well, noting that the unusually intelligent tend to fall into either neuroticism or narcissism, with the latter being relatively functional. This is likely what has protected him from the supervaluation of his SSMV idea overgeneralizing into sociosexual status-based morality, despite his relative inexperience with novel insights. Others have gone much farther down that road, with Jordan Peterson quite ironically being the most extreme moral Darwinist I know of.)
A fun anecdote: Koanic understood my joke, being a genius, but didn’t think it was funny because he’s far more of a perfectionist than I am and has been burned more deeply by the experience of supervaluation.