Wednesday, January 01, 2014

What's a genius?

From what I've read, Ramanujan is a contender for the greatest math genius who ever lived.  Contemporary mathematicians are still playing catch-up with his insights.
What's striking is that he himself didn't take personal credit for his insights. He attributed his insights to religious dreams. A devout Hindu, he said the Hindu gods gave him visions of mathematical formulas. When he awoke, he simply jotted down what he remembered. He was just a scribe of the Hindu muses (as it were). And, in fact, he only wrote down a fraction of what he saw in his dreams, because that's all he remembered.
This raises the question of how we should interpret his claims. On the one hand, we might consider a naturalistic explanation. Discount his self-testimony. On this view, mathematical intuition operates at a subliminal level. But because Ramanujan has internalized his religion, his mathematical intuition manifested itself in these cultural categories. That's how he tapped into his subconscious. Dreams are part of our subconscious mental life, which intersects with intuition.
On the other hand, we might take his explanation more seriously. What if he really was tapping into a superior mind? What if the Hindu "gods" did, in fact, reveal these insights? 
Of course, from a Christian standpoint, we'd say that's occultic. But it's possible that his mathematical discoveries were, indeed, supernatural in origin. Perhaps he was truly "inspired." The supernatural isn't confined to the divine. And the notion that genius is a type of possession is a very old notion. 
Assuming that's the case, then he wasn't a genius after all. He may have been a man of average or even below average intelligence who was channeling the dark side. A medium. His own contribution was merely instrumental. 


  1. I don't have any a priori objection to the idea, but mathematical formulas seem a strange outcome as compared with the usually awful outcomes of OT/NT possession. I suppose a relevant case would be Acts 16:16?

    1. Demons are incredibly intelligent. So, I find it eminently possible that demons can inspire mathematical insights. I don't discount a natural explanation, but a demonic one is just as possible (IMO). If extremely evil human beings can enjoy chess, math, poetry etc, why can't demons? Many demonic messages have been worded in very beautiful and poetic form. Think of the Qur'an, the oracles of the Pythia at Delphi, Swedenborg's revelation et cetera. If you were a demon and knew your fate, wouldn't you be looking for ways to distract yourself from contemplating that fate? Math can be a pleasurable diversion for the highly intelligent.

    2. typo correction: Swedenborg's revelationS (plural).

    3. Crop Circles are very beautiful. If some of them are demonic in origin, then that show how artistic demons can be. Ezek. 28:12, 17 may have a secondary reference to Lucifer. If so, then if he could be proud of his own creaturely beauty, why can't other demons be proud of their artistic ability?

      12 "Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord GOD: "You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.

      17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you.

    4. I thought I said I wasn't against the possibility?

    5. You did. My comments were meant to show how plausible the idea is. Other examples include the book "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" which Richard Bach allegedly dictated based on visions and/or a voice. Or The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. He died before finishing the book. But of the many attempts to finish the book by other authors, one of them was based on automatic writing where the writer claimed he channeled the spirit of Dickens.