An addendum, excerpted from The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle:
Banks singled out three main clusters of greatness: Athens from 440 B.C. to 380 B.C., Florence from 1440 to 1490, and London from 1570 to 1640. Of these three none is so dazzling or well documented as Florence. In the space of a few generations a city with a population slightly less than that of present-day Stillwater, Oklahoma, produced the greatest outpouring of artistic achievement the world has ever known. A solitary genius is easy to understand, but dozens of them, in the space of two generations? How could it happen?
Banks listed the conventional-wisdom explanations for the Renaissance:
- Prosperity, which provided money and markets to support art
- Peace, which provided the stability to seek artistic and philosophical progress
- Freedom, which liberated artists from state or religious control
- Social mobility, which allowed talented poor people to enter the arts
- The paradigm thing, which brought new perspectives and mediums that created a wave of originality and expression.
To this list, Coyle added the additional factor of “deep practice” attained through the guild apprenticeship system.
Quoted from his book on creative genius, “Imagine,” by Jonah Lehrer:
A few years ago, David Banks, a statistician at Duke University, wrote a short paper called “The Problem of Excess Genius.” The problem itself is simple: human geniuses aren’t scattered randomly across time and space. Instead, they tend to arrive in tight, local clusters. (As Banks put it, genius “clots inhomogeneously.”) In his paper, Banks gives the example of Athens between 440 b.c. and 380 b.c. He notes that the ancient city over that time period was home to an astonishing number of geniuses, including Plato, Socrates, Pericles, Thucydides, Herodotus, Euripides, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, and Xenophon. These thinkers essentially invented Western civilization, and yet they all lived in the same place at the same time. Or look at Florence between 1450 and 1490. In those few decades, a city of less than fifty thousand people gave rise to a staggering…
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