I admired the facility with which [my fellow students] picked up, as if at play, new ideas, juggling them as if familiar with them from the cradle—while for myself I felt clumsy, even oafish, wandering painfully up an arduous track, like a dumb ox faced with an amorphous mountain of things that I had to learn (so I was assured), things I felt incapable of understanding[.]
When expressed in aphorisms like this, you almost get the impression that creativity simply requires that you sit down in a room of your own. In practice, however, what they are referring to as solitude is rather something like “a state of mind.” They are putting themselves in a state where the opinions of others do not bother them and where they reach a heightened sensitivity for the larval ideas and vague questions that arise within them.
But the point is: being exceptionally talented and trained was, in the long run, not enough to do groundbreaking work because they lacked the capacity to go beyond the context they had been raised in.
To have broken these bounds they would have had to rediscover in themselves that capability which was their birth-right, as it was mine: the capacity to be alone.
that intellectual isolation was what had allowed him to access the cognitive space where new ideas arise.
To state it in slightly different terms: in those critical years I learned how to be alone.
There is also a lot of confusion and pursuit of dead ends.
they are building up their ability to perceive the evolution of their own thought, their capacity for attention.
the development of gifted and creative individuals, such as Newton or Whitehead, seems to require a period in which there is little or no pressure for conformity, a time in which they can develop and pursue their interests no matter how unusual or bizarre.
To be curious about that which confuses.
Not too rapidly seeking the safety of knowing or the safety of a legible question, but waiting for a more powerful and subtle question to arise from loose and open attention.
People show much more originality in solving problems than in deciding which problems to solve.
talent to notice
What solitude gives you is an opportunity to study what personal curiosity feels like in its undiluted form
free from the interference of other considerations.
Grothendieck knew what he found interesting and productively confusing because he had spent three years
observing his thought and tracing where it wanted to go.
I do not remember a single occasion when I was treated with condescension by one of these men, nor an occasion when my thirst for knowledge, and later, anew, my joy of discovery, was rejected by complacency or by disdain. Had it not been so, I would not have “become a mathematician” as they say—I would have chosen another profession, where I could give my whole strength without having to face scorn.
If he had not known the shape of his interests and aims, he would have been more vulnerable to the standards and norms of the community—at least he seems to think so.
They keep coming up with techniques, rituals, and narratives to block off and protect the mental space they need.
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