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Conversation with Bob Williams on Davide Piffer, Francis Galton, Hans Eysenck, Arthur Jensen, Richard Haier and Rex Jung, Scientists and Artists, Howard Gardner, Robert Sternberg, and Charles Spearman: Retired Nuclear Physicist (3)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/03/15


Bob Williams is a Member of the Triple Nine Society, Mensa International, and the International Society for Philosophical Enquiry. He discusses: the more evidenced theories of creativity similar to g or general intelligence as the majority position of researchers in the field of general intelligence; theories of genius; the main figures in these areas of creativity and genius connected to the research on g; personality differences between scientists and artists; conscientiousness; the ability to think; the expected probability of genius at higher and higher cognitive rarities; Howard Gardner; Robert Sternberg; the works of Arthur Jensen building on Charles Spearman; and the questions remaining about genius.

Keywords: Arthur Jensen, Bob Williams, Charles Spearman, creativity, Davide Piffer, Francis Galton, g, general intelligence, genius, Hans Eysenck, Howard Gardner, Rex Jung, Ricard Haier, Robert Sternberg.

Conversation with Bob Williams on Davide Piffer, Francis Galton, Hans Eysenck, Arthur Jensen, Richard Haier and Rex Jung, Scientists and Artists, Howard Gardner, Robert Sternberg, and Charles Spearman: Retired Nuclear Physicist (3)

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Now, I want to touch on another orbiting topic to intelligence research, which comes from this notion of genius. What are some of the more evidenced theories of creativity similar to g or general intelligence as the majority position of researchers in the field of general intelligence?

Bob Williams[1],[2]*: The evidence lies primarily in neurology. Creativity measurements are not as informative as intelligence measures. We understand g well and have a massive amount of research to support the structure of intelligence, g, the underlying neurology, and finally the genetics picture is coming together. Even in personality, there is a general factor, but if a general factor has emerged from studies of creativity, I have not seen it. Davide Piffer wrote a paper that specifically addressed the question of a general factor of creativity. He made a convincing argument that aspects of creativity were distinct at the descriptive and neurological levels and would, therefore, be unlikely to yield a general factor. Piffer also presented good criticisms of various past studies, particularly with regard to the construct validity of various creativity tests.

Part of the problem is that much of the literature relating creativity and intelligence preceded latent variable analysis. Another part is that creativity is inherently more difficult to measure than intelligence. In intelligence research, we can easily test for the g loading of a category of test items and see if the loading is high enough to justify its use in a battery of test items, such as an IQ test. In creativity measures, the things being measured are sometimes quite removed from the thing we implicitly understand as creativity. 

The other aspect of creativity measures is that people do not have the same degree of agreement as to how a creative response should be graded. For example, one common test of creativity is the alternate uses test, in which a person is asked to list as many alternate uses for a common object (brick, paperclip, etc.) as possible in a short period of time. This is essentially a test of fluency (for example, list words beginning with the letter H). Even when used directly (without grading of individual responses) there is a claimed connection between fluency and creativity.  When the responses are graded by judges, according to the level of creativity, the results are claimed to be better. It is obvious that this sort of test is not a close match with the things we expect are happening when a person is exhibiting creative output.

The neurology of creativity is where I see real explanatory results. For example, creative brains should show these:

  • The inhibitory function is low or can be made low by the executive function. When the brain has a low inhibitory function, it rejects fewer stimuli, creating opportunities for remote associations. While this is good for creative output, it is opposite of the best function for problem solving.
  • Some brains presumably have direct connectivity between parts that are usually combined only by passing through multiple nodes. This also increases the opportunity for unrelated ideas or knowledge to become associated.
  • The brain is able to enter the default mode network (DMN) and generate ideas there. This is the network most associated with creativity.
  • Leaky attention (the opposite of maintaining focus) relates to the inhibitory function.
  • The ability to create remote associations relates to all of the creativity factors.

These brain characteristics tell us that, like intelligence, creativity depends on special properties of the brain. Curiously, these properties seem to sometimes be opposite to those we associate with high intelligence. While we do not have a parallel between intelligence and creativity, in the general factor sense, we do have a set of brain features that have a direct impact on creative output.

Jacobsen: Similarly, creative achievement at the highest levels seems to more often than not earn the title of “genius,” wherein minor creative acts and high intelligence do not. In that, a true act of genius appears to require extremes of creativity and of general intelligence. Both of these rare alone, even rarer together at the same levels. What theories of genius appear the most substantiated now?

Williams: Yes. The enigma is how these traits can sometimes all happen in one brain. The various models of genius that I have seen seem to be relatively unchanged over time, suggesting to me that we have not found measurements that lead us to any one over the others. The various models, however, are not that different and are qualitatively in agreement with the things that are seen in Genius. We have good descriptions of geniuses from the distant past that seem consistent with more recent observations, but we do not have much, if anything, in the way of brain studies because the technology to image brains has only been available for a few decades.

Sir Francis Galton listed intelligence, zeal, and persistence. Another component is probably creativity.

Hans Eysenck believed that both traits Neurosis and Psychoticism had to be elevated in true genius. Obviously if either trait is overly expressed, the individual will be destroyed and not achieve enormous feats of creative genius. When N and P are somewhat elevated they positively impact the individual–at least if he is really a genius. For example, P may cause a person to be seen as aggressive, cold, egocentric, impersonal, impulsive, antisocial, unempathic, tough-minded, and creative… not a pretty picture in terms of attractive personality. This, however, is precisely what we read in the descriptions of the great geniuses of all time.

Arthur Jensen believed that genius is the product of high ability x high productivity x high creativity.

ability = g = efficiency of information processing

productivity = endogenous cortical stimulation

creativity = trait psychoticism

Jacobsen: Who are the main figures in these areas of creativity and genius connected to the research on g?

Williams: The three above (Galton, Eysenck, and Jensen) wrote a good bit about genius and some about creativity. Dean Keith Simonton edited the Handbook of Genius and Scientific genius: A psychology of science. I would classify him as more of an author than researcher.

Much of what we have in the literature on genius is descriptive, due to the scarcity of people to study and their distribution over hundreds of years. In Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences 800 B.C. to 1950, Charles Murray identified 4002 people as having extraordinary eminence. This is a very reasonable list of genius over the long time range

he covered. We are left with a better understanding of what they accomplished than of how they did it. Needless to say, we have no neurological studies of these people.

Today we have researchers who study both intelligence and creativity. The two at the top of my list are neurologists Richard Haier and Rex Jung. Their work resulted in the P-FIT model (described in my second set of questions) and has expanded into a wide range of intelligence and creativity topics. It is my belief that neurological research is most likely to shed additional light on the understanding of what rare conditions produce genius. In the more distant future, geneticists may find ways to understand the underlying genetic traits in true genius.

The neurological characteristics that have been associated with high creativity (see previous answer) include a lowered inhibitory function and long mean path length (networks). Both of these are opposite to the desirable traits for high intelligence. The inhibitory function can be dulled by alcohol or other drugs, precisely not what you want to do before taking a calculus test.  Long mean path length is associated with poor network connectivity, possibly related to low tissue integrity (measured by fractional anisotropy) or with lower numbers of connections to hubs. I have not seen anything that attempts to explain how genius incorporates both high intelligence and high creativity. There is, however, the possibility that these rare people have an ability to achieve divergent thinking and remote associations, without the biological factors just mentioned. Piffer has also argued that the focus on divergent thinking may be overemphasized and the association of creativity with intelligence underappreciated. 

Jacobsen: What explains some of these personality differences between scientists and artists mentioned in (1)?

Williams: There seems to be numerous domain specific traits, including personality, at work. I doubt that anyone would confuse an artist with an engineer when first meeting them. One personality trait that relates to creativity is Conscientiousness–low for artists and higher for scientists. Trait Openness is the only Big Five trait that relates to intelligence, but this trait also correlates positively with creativity. This suggests that intelligence is not the minor factor claimed by some researchers.

One aspect of creative professions is that they show elevated levels of alcoholism, impacting from 20% to 60% of each. The highest is for actors.

Openness is positively correlated with creative achievement in the arts, but curiously does not predict working memory capacity. Among scientists, intellect is predictive of WMC and achievement (as I would expect). In the long and detailed book The Cambridge Handbook of the Neuroscience of Creativity (2018) Rex E. Jung (Editor), Oshin Vartanian (Editor), there is a discussion of how openness and intellect relate to brain regions. As with the many studies of intelligence factors in the brain structure (and properties), neuroscience has produced similar findings for creativity. There are large numbers of structures and measures to consider, but the thing that is impressive is the frequency with which the results are opposite for creativity and intelligence; tissue integrity is one example (high integrity for intelligence, low integrity for creativity). [Tissue integrity is measured by fractional anisotropy. A high FA indicates less radial diffusivity (loss).]

Jacobsen: Does conscientiousness, whether artists or scientists, remain one of the most important traits for the achievement of a true act of genius – to follow-through despite seemingly impossible odds in the moment?

Williams: There is a big story hidden in follow-through and it seems to me to be a flaw in some of the more traditional discussions about creativity. When researchers administer a test, such as a divergent thinking exercise, they are often measuring fluency and then arguing that fluency is related to creativity. The problem is that this measure is about quantity and is completely disconnected from achievement, production, and end result. We see Michelangelo as a genius, not because he imagined the Sistine Chapel ceiling, but because it imagined AND produced it and not that he imagined the David, but because he sculpted the statue. This illustrates the difficulty of dealing with discussions and measures of creativity… the definitions are messy and can be misleading and the measures are often distant from the construct we want to measure.

Yes, Conscientiousness measured as a trait applies to acts of creativity, but in opposite directions for intelligence and creativity. We can see this without measuring creativity directly by simply measuring personality for artists and scientists. Despite the finding that it is low for artists. [I take the finding to be correct from Jung and Vartanian previously cited.]

Jacobsen: Between Mensa International, Intertel, the Triple Nine Society, the Prometheus Society, and the Mega Society, or between the escalating claimed cognitive rarities, what should one expect in regards to the ability to think of the cognitive floor of the membership?

Williams: Since these groups are self-selected, they tend to be atypical of the entry thresholds they represent. One big difference between membership in these is that people who have not been successful in education, profession, and personal relationships seem to be more attracted to them, possibly as a means of signaling their worth, despite failures. My observation from my in-person participation in the groups is that the majority of members are about what you would expect from a random sampling of people above the admission levels, but there remains a disproportionate

number of people who have not shown life success and developed appropriate interpersonal skills. In Mensa, and only that group, I noticed a significant number of morbidly obese members. 

Jensen wrote:

I received a letter from someone I had never met, though I knew he was an eminent professor of biophysics. He had read something I wrote concerning IQ as a predictor of achievement, but he was totally unaware of the present work. The coincidence is that my correspondent posed the very question that is central to my theme. He wrote:

I have felt for a long time that IQ , however defined, is only loosely related to mental achievement. Over the years I have bumped into a fair number of MENSA people. As a group, they seem to be dilettantes seeking titillation but seem unable to think critically or deeply. They have a lot of motivation for intellectual play but little for doing anything worthwhile. One gets the feeling that brains were wasted on them. So, what is it that makes an intelligently productive person?

This is not an uncommon observation, and I have even heard it expressed by members of MENSA. It is one of their self-perceived problems, one for which some have offered theories or rationalizations. The most typical is that they are so gifted that too many subjects attract their intellectual interest and they can never commit themselves to any particular interest. It could also be that individuals drawn toward membership in MENSA are a selective subset of the gifted population, individuals lacking in focus. After all, most highly gifted individuals do not join MENSA. [Intellectual Talent : Psychometric and Social Issues (1997), edited by Camilla Persson Benbow & David Lubinski] {My underline added.}

I only belonged to Intertel for 3-4 years, but I went to their annual gatherings every year until I gave up on them (simply due to inactivity in the journal, which lost contributions of new material). I did notice that when I was with the group, in person, there was a much greater maturity of discussion and sobriety than found in Mensa.

As the entrance requirement increases, I have found that there are more people who are interesting, competent in technical fields, and who have become long term friends.

Unfortunately, that increase is accompanied by the subset of obnoxious members setting new records for repulsiveness. I have not seen this same distribution of personalities in my work. As I explained in my first questions, my career was spent with mostly technical people (physics, engineering, and a few miscellaneous science fields). It may happen that the demands of both education and work in the nuclear reactor business acts as a personality filter, producing a different mix of people from those found in high IQ clubs. 

Jensen responded to a few text interviews from high IQ groups. His comments are worth reading, not only because of his prominence, but also for his style-choice of words:

Discussions on Genius and Intelligence Interview with Dr. Arthur Jensen. Mega Press, Eastport, New York

Arthur Jensen: Its hard to imagine how a group of high-IQ people with little else in common besides their IQ and probably differing in many other ways perhaps even more than a random sample of the population can do much to effect social change or carry out and large project with a unified aim.

An interview with Dr. Arthur Jensen by Steve Coy

Dr. Arthur Jensen: The interaction of ability level with interests and lifestyle confounds selection. I daresay you will find few Mensa or Mega members with few or no intellectual interests, for example, although there may be people out there in the population who are very bright but have few such interests. There is also self-selection at the top end. How many Nobel Prize winners, or members of the National Academy of Sciences are in any of the high IQ societies? I was struck by the fact that the Berkeley chapter of Mensa, with its many members, had only one member who was on the faculty of UC Berkeley, although I’m sure some large percentage of them could qualify if they wished to join. And I know a Nobel Prize winner who was invited to join Mensa, but he had no interest in it and declined the invitation. It has been my (untested) impression that if IQ and achievement could be correlated in the whole population, members of HI-IQ societies would be among those who tend to lower the correlation, falling below the regression line (of achievement regressed on IQ). Most conventional IQ tests have a general knowledge-achievement component which makes the test an amalgam of both ability and achievement and particularly skews the high end of the IQ distribution. 

Jacobsen: Have there been efforts to calculate the expected probability of genius at higher and higher cognitive rarities?

Williams: In the numerous articles I have read about genius, I have not encountered an estimate of the probability of a person being born with the rare combination of genes that lead to genius. There are some obvious problems. One is defining where to draw the line between genius and not genius. As long as you are dealing with the most distinguished individuals (at the level of Einstein, Bach, and Picasso) there is no problem. But when you want to count, who do you count and who do you skip? Perhaps the 4002 listed in Human Accomplishment is about as good as one can do, largely because they were identified by an objective and quantifiable method. [The worldwide number comes out to fewer than 1.5 per year.] Then things become quite muddy… we might argue that the production of genius has been a variable over time. There is reason to believe that mean intelligence (at least in developed nations) has been a variable. Dutton and Woodley discussed this in At Our Wits’ End: Why We’re Becoming Less Intelligent. They also

speculated that we are producing fewer and fewer geniuses, due mostly to the decline in mean intelligence, and that this will have a profound impact on the progression of mankind as it relates to innovation. My personal feeling is that this analysis may be overstated because we have entered a new paradigm, based on powerful computer resources and artificial intelligence that will undoubtedly change how people innovate and carry out cognitive tasks.

In the distant future, geneticists may be able to calculate the probability of a rare set of genetic variants appearing in a population. As of today, they have finally found 1,200 single nucleotide polymorphisms associated with intelligence, but these account for only about a 10% effect size.  It may be even more difficult to find the variants necessary for the other traits, making the problem overwhelming until a powerful new approach becomes available.

Jacobsen: Now, the next triplet tie to ideas proposed about intelligence (covered a bit in the previous two sessions) and genius as laid out above, how do the works of Howard Gardner attempt to address genius? How do these efforts succeed? How do they fail?

Williams: Gardner was interested in creativity and occasionally mentioned creativity in connection with genius. He may have produced significant works relating to genius, but they have not come to my attention. He did discuss the aspects of personality that are often associated with genius and which are well known to relate to the typical non-social and sometimes abrasive behaviors of the people we all know for their monumental works. He also wrote Creating Minds (1993) in which he did a detailed description of seven geniuses, each selected to exemplify one of his multiple intelligences. The irony of this is that his model is based on individual examples of what he claimed were each a different kind of intelligence, but he based his model on people well outside of the range of “normal,” while appealing to those normal people to accept his abnormal model. [The seven people selected: T. S. Eliot, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, Martha Graham, Mahatma Gandhi, and Sigmund Freud.]

Gardner is in a category that is highly regarded by the general public and not by many serious intelligence researchers. The multiple intelligences model is apparently loved by those who see it as “fair.” Researchers know that there is nothing fair about Mother Nature.

Jacobsen: How do the works of Robert Sternberg attempt to address genius? How do these efforts succeed? How do they fail?

Williams: Unlike Gardner, Sternberg was more involved in matters relating to genius. He was, for example, the editor of the Handbook of Creativity (Cambridge), which included some discussion of genius. The problem is that, like Gardner, Sternberg had a personal invention on the line and was inclined to make that (the Triarchic Theory) the centerpiece of whatever he wrote. The theory was not sound, as demonstrated by Linda Gottfredson, so that carries over to how I see his comments. Per my prior comments, the net observations of genius from all sources remain descriptive and do not tell us much about the underlying genetics and neurology of genius. It’s a case of we know it when we see it, but we can’t explain it from the biological perspective.

Jacobsen: How do the works of Arthur Jensen building on Charles Spearman attempt to address genius? How do these efforts succeed? How do they fail?

Williams: Jensen’s comments on genius strike me as being as good as any that can be found. He believed that the necessary, but not sufficient traits combine in genius at maximum values and that they have a multiplicative effect. I bought the book Intellectual Talent : Psychometric and Social Issues (1997), edited by Camilla Persson Benbow & David Lubinski, just to read the last chapter by Jensen. He described genius as ability at the upper end of a J-curve, which can be thought of as a logarithmic increase. In Human Accomplishment, Murray also addressed the extreme nature of genius but called it the Lotka Curve. Both signify that almost all points relating to high achievement group together, while a few are so far from the rest that they exist in a stratospheric space.

Jacobsen: What are the questions remaining about genius? In particular, what are the unknown, though potentially somewhat known, relations between intelligence, personality, and creativity, and genius?

Williams:  We cannot describe or even effectively study the genius brain or genome. There simply are not enough such brains to find and explore. There also seems to be a lack of interest in this among neurologists who have the technology to probe a brain. The only person I know who has imaged various atypical high achievers is Roberto Colom. But the instances I am aware of relate to sports figures and some creative artists. I would most like to see someone do a comprehensive study of David Lynch, as an example of the most creative level of the arts (cinema). There are various Nobel laureates (physics and chemistry) who would seem to me to be examples of the top minds in science, but I don’t think they are being studied. One thing that concerns me about such a project is the age of the person being studied. I would think the best age would be in the 25 to 35 year old range because the brain is typically functioning at its best then. Would Lynch be too old? Most likely the effort that would be required for such a project would be unattractive to many researchers.

The limited information that we have about Einstein’s brain at least tells us that his brain was highly atypical, as compared to the brains that have been studied in modern times. It would be interesting to see if any of his special properties (brain width, elevated glial cell fraction, and a few Brodmann Area size anomalies) can be found in other people and whether they show special cognitive abilities.

The other thing that I consider to be not fully resolved is the relationship between intelligence and creativity. The measurements that produce small correlations were done by correlating such things as the alternate uses test against IQ. Related to the appropriateness of the measures is whether there is a difference between artistic creativity and scientific creativity. Both allow for exploration (try this, then that) but I think that scientific creativity has to be significantly related to knowledge and understanding of the thing being studied.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Retired Nuclear Physicist.

[2] Individual Publication Date: March 15, 2021:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2021:

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.


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