Monday, April 17, 2017

Review of the Movie 'Gifted'

Nobody likes a smart ass

When the science of behavior and mind masquerade as genius there is bound to be confusion. Embracing all aspects of conscious and unconscious experience as well as thought, we establish general principles and superimpose our worldview upon all subjects, including the subject of genius, about which scientists know very little.

How does one explain the variation in the species that produces profoundly, observably-gifted individuals? 

By presenting it in relation to something else.


Natural scientists have been searching for the origin of genius since at least Plato. Today, a neuroscientist might refer to the phenomenon as plasticity, whereas a biologist might offer the theory of evolution. There are perhaps as many theories as there are opinions.

It would seem we don't yet have a roadmap for the further we move along the evolutionary ladder. After opposable thumbs and the ability to utilize one's hands as a unit, we find ourselves faced with a family of ontologies, such as fictional, imaginary, and impossible objects like Pegasus the winged horse or round squares. Genius is thought to reside somewhere nearby.

In the below clip from Men in Black, Edward (Will Smith) determined after a brief hesitation that little Tiffany posed the most threat while trained military officers instantly reacted to the monsters.

"She's the only one that seemed dangerous," says Edward. "She's about to start some *stuff ... those books are way too advanced for her."

This is precisely how I would describe the many complexities of genius: way too advanced for a quick review or movie. Regardless, the movie does address some important aspects of the challenges associated with living with genius, including those experienced by caretakers.

Specifically, the movie addresses these five (5) topics:
  1. What responsibilities do the gifted have to society? 
  2. Are the gifted at a higher risk for existential crisis?
  3. What responsibilities do caregivers have to the gifted? 
  4. Which environment is best for the nurturing of gifted? 
  5. Is childhood development different for the gifted? 

Image result for gifted movie

1. What responsibilities do the gifted have to society? 

Mary's maternal-grandmother believes that Mary is a "one-in-a-billion" mathematical prodigy who should be privately tutored in the hopes of being able to better contribute to society, and perhaps solve one of the Millennium Prize Problems (a set of seven mathematical problems so difficult they have a $1 million prize if you solve them).

Midway we learn that Mary's Grandmother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) was also a mathematician, but that her career ended when she married. Here, it is implied that Evelyn has redirected her emotions and feelings (transference) about succeeding as a mathematician onto her granddaughter, and her daughter before her.

While it may be true that the grandmother (or Evelyn) does appear to suffer from some negative transference conflicts, this psychological affliction does not address what the development of giftedness can do for society. For that, we have to ask questions like:

What can solving math equations do for society? 

Take for example Évariste Galois, who at twenty-years-old solved a concept called - group theory - which today is recognized as the official language of all symmetries.

"And, since symmetry permeates disciplines ranging from the visual arts to music to psychology and the natural sciences, the significance of the discovery cannot be overemphasized." (Mario Livio)

This is where the movie vacillates between ethics and value.

Image result for gifted movie

2. Are the gifted at a higher risk for existential crisis?

An existential crisis occurs when an individual questions whether life has any meaning, purpose, or value. Existential depression can occur following a trauma, leaving a person feeling like they're "falling apart."

Existential depression in gifted individuals is widely documented. In some cases it can be linked to positive disintegration experiences (Dabrowski), but not always. In the movie Little Man Tate, Fred Tate (Adam Hann-Byrd) can solve complicated math problems and play piano extraordinarily well, but he is plagued by big world problems until his intellectual abilities are guided and his emotional needs are met (making friends).

In the movie Gifted, Mary does not seem to suffer from Fred's type of existential crisis until she learns that her biological father did not want her. This is the audience's first real glimpse that she feels deeply. Toward the end of the movie, she hits her uncle, but this could be in part due to the type of television programming they are watching (or to the disingenuous introduction of a court ordering Mary to live with a foster family without legitimate cause).

Instead the movie addresses this subject via the mother, presenting the "risks" (anger, resentment, depression, negative action) but not expounding on them.

Image result for gifted movie math

3. What responsibilities do caregivers have to the gifted? 

What the movie does explore is the responsibilities caregivers have to the gifted. Frank's greatest fear is that he cannot give Mary what she needs to reach her unique potential. As a philosopher, Frank (at the end of the movie) tells Mary that he broke his promise and sent her to a foster family because he doubted his ability to care for her.

In philosophy, an individual is free in the positive extent when they have control over their own life, or are self-determining and free from interference by others. While Mary is young, Frank makes it clear that Mary is smart and capable of knowing what she wants, and that he should have listened to her in the first place. No doubt Frank is familiar with Bentham who coined the term 'negative liberty' to describe the situation when a person is free only in absence of coercion (see Hobbes, Locke, and Hume). It appears Frank mostly wants to love Mary while helping her develop her intellectual abilities and interests, not coerce her into a specific experience, which is what the grandmother attempts to do.

Of course, sitting in the audience, one can't help but feel compelled by the narrative. The audience wants Mary to return to her uncle, where she will be loved for who she is:

"He wanted me before I was smart."

4. Which environment is best for the nurturing of gifted? 

In the movie, being 'gifted' is presented as an intellectual affinity versus an affliction (such as in A Beautiful Mind, when genius is presented in relation to mental illness). Audiences leave with the impression that a loving environment is best for everyone, including the gifted.

But questions linger. In particular, one can't help wonder what potential might be lost when a child engages with ordinary children instead of with his or her intellectual peers. This is precisely what the director wants us to question and debate.

5. Is childhood development different for the gifted? 

Of the gifted it is said that they show clear signs of moral and social responsibility at higher levels of development, and that this occurs earlier in life than it does for most.

According to Dabrowski, there are various levels of development, from narcissistic self-absorption to a life of pure service. This is not an age-related theory. It does not imply that human beings begin life as sociopaths and end up like the Dalai Lama.

Level 1

The individual is concerned with self. In the service of egocentrism, perfectionists become tyrannical. They do not see their own imperfections; instead, they focus on the flaws of others. At this level, other people are used for self-gratification and self-aggrandizement. Parents at this level expect their children to achieve in school, behave well in public, get accepted to an Ivy League university, and become a success in life - to reflect well on them. These individuals set unrealistic standards for others and focus on their flaws; this is accompanied by blame, lack of trust, and feelings of hostility toward others (Hewitt & Flett). This is said to increase the potential of causing debilitating perfectionism in gifted children. While Mary's grandmother is clearly intellectually gifted, her transference is causing her to engage with perfectionism at a lower level.

Level 2

The individual is at the mercy of a society or their social group. They continuously ask themselves, "What will people think of me if I ...?" They experience insecurity and feelings of inferiority toward others; they judge themselves lacking in comparison with others. Polarized - all or nothing - thinking arises, where they judge themselves as either perfect or worthless.

It is said that perfectionists live in a constant state of anxiety about making errors. They have extremely high standards and perceive excessive expectations and negative criticisms from others, including their parents. Sometimes these pressures are real, sometimes they come from within. Perfectionists question their own judgement, lack effective coping strategies, and feel a constant need for approval. They fear being exposed as frauds or imposters. Many avoid the healthy risks that will help them grow, procrastinating, or refusing outright to try new experiences for fear of failure. (Adderholdt-Elliot & Goldberg).

Level 3

Healthier forms of perfectionism emerge when the individual becomes a seeker of self-perfection, instead of feeling inferior to others or feeling inadequate. The person is aware of their potential to be fully human and feels inferior only to that potentiality. Integrity, empathy, wisdom, and harmony are powerful incentives for growth. The longing to become one's best self propels the individual to seek out blind spots, see the truth about themselves, and transform lower-level instincts.

Life is a high drama. There are persecutors (Mary's grandmother and the insensitive, powerful court system), victims (Mary, Frank ... and nearly Fred), and rescuers (Bonnie). The first two levels are compelled by the lower realities, and there is little, if any, awareness that a higher possibility is possible. At Levels IV and V, the pull from the higher reality directs the personality. At Level III, the individual is aware of the higher, but in the beginning is still caught in the lower. The struggle that ensues is painful. To know there is a higher reality, while at the same time feeling incapable of reaching it, causes an agonizing tension. Even though this high drama is difficult, it can work as a catalyst for inner transformation.

Level 4

One gains a greater capacity for self-reflection, for acceptance of others and of self when one has transformed much of the inner polarity and is able to live according to higher ideals. Here, self-regulation is eased. Instead of being controlled by baser desires, such as possessiveness or trying to control others, one is more compassionate, able to think about and understand the plight of others. These individuals have a clearer vision of the meaning of life experiences.

Level 5

Dabrowski refers to Level V as the perfection of the personality. It is life without inner conflict. It is a life directed by the highest guiding principles. These individuals are wise teachers, guides, and exemplars for others. Autonomy is achieved from the lower layers of reality fraught with confusion and violence. Life is lived in service to all humanity, not in service of the ego. The motto, "All is love" reflects the transcendent potential for humanity - and perhaps the greatest gift the 'gifted' can give the world.


Frank Adler (Chris Evans) recognizes and treats his niece's mathematical proclivities with respect and dignity, ensuring that she is presented with theoretical math books that feed her mind's insatiable need for stimuli.

But he is also concerned about Mary's psychological well being and emotional state; in particular because her mother (his sister) took her own life. When Mary wants to continue reading and solving mathematical equations, he insists instead they go to the beach to play and let off a little steam. This tells the audience that as a caretaker, Frank is concerned with Mary's happiness and well being, not just her potential.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Super Mensa Lumen, or "Luxsa" for short

Are you a Secret Super Brain?
(and don't even know it?) 

How about we consider some kind of expanding, brain-sizzling, angelically devilish entertaining questions before watching a mindless video on meditation? (get it?) those who do, continue reading.

Are you in league with Isaac Asimov or Buckminster Fuller and don't even know it? Let us find out! 

But before we do, let us give ourselves a name, so that people of exceptionally high intelligence might have a label with which to identify should the subject arise at their next dinner party. 

Let's start with Mensa. "Mensa" is Latin for table, so Beyond Mensa is Super Mensa Lumen, or "Luxsa" - our newly adopted and beloved colloquial expression for Smarty Pants. It also means that our desk now has a table lamp.

Disclaimer: If you are concerned with elitism, Luxsa might not be for you ... for elitism is the belief one is superior to one's peers, while elite is sufficient enough. As such, Luxsa is elite. 

Luxsa is not mindless Trivia without context. For to do well on Trivia, one only need be in possession of a well-furnished, overstuffed mind. But if Trivia is a favorite pastime, you'll find yourself in good company here. 
  1. Which does not belong? George Sand, George Eliot, George Orwell? 
  2. If while in a coffee shop you heard people discussing ullage and botrytis, what is it they were discussing? 
  3. In the novel by Jules Verne, who went around the world in eighty days?
For the more arcane, how many imaginary places from world literature can you name? For the Super Arcane, how many landscapes from imaginary places can you close your eyes and verbally walk me through? 

Come back down from the slender stilts that rise from the ground at a great distance from one another and are lost above the clouds of the city and aim your spyglass and telescope back upon Luxsa for you will never tire of examining it, page by page, leaf by leaf, stone by stone, particle by particle, contemplating with fascination abstract notions of concrete realities such as absence and presence.  

Now that our minds are warmed up, let us start 4 hours after the meridian in Greenwich strikes 12 o'clock noon, which would be right about now. 

The following set of questions are relative to the unimportant matters or things one's mind considers. The tedious, never-quieting internal dialogue and debate on the nature of chicken-and-egg riddles and tyrannical influences and civil responsibility. The fun and charming challenges of nurturing a large working memory and the triumphs in fine mental tuning. Let us draw our own lines and color inside or outside them, and then arrange the elements in such a way as to arrive at a conclusion, a decision, or solution to some random and entirely important-in-the-moment thought ... to a place where our intuition resides. And by intuition we mean not some mystic or mysterious force that belongs in the realm of psychic phenomena. But rather a real, definable, and, to a greater or lesser extent, present in all of us accumulation of millions - perhaps billions or trillions - of tiny, "trivial" bits of information stored in the recesses of our memories that we harness, dust off, and bring together in an appropriate combination when the situation calls for it.

Armed with our thinking caps we enter a room filled with thoughts, and instantly we experience a feeling, either positive or negative. Let us pause and consider what creates that first impression? Are we hard-pressed to offer specifics? 

If our reaction be negative, what in the world, might I ask, is that human computer of ours doing? Is it being unruly? Focusing on facial expressions, mannerisms, a way of walking, and style of dressing - and with matching socks, dressing up these experiences with, and reactions to, "trivial" matters based on arcane or worse yet - boring information from the past? A kind of sad and desperate subconscious picture is drawn and in a fraction of a second reacted to that presents to the mind the notion of "bummer vibes?" 

The longer and more actively we engage our brains, the keener our intuition becomes. There are those who can take one look at a person, read a few words in a comment, or observe someone's manner and in an instant know precisely how that individual will react in certain circumstances. Dangerous, you say? Indeed, but only when used for ill. For there are those whose systems independent of their prowess of intellect adhere to higher grand principles from which to engage the world. Higher, not mindless and unexamined. 

Because the accumulation of facts is important to intuitive thinking, to the myriad of snap decisions and quick judgments one must make in order to go about one's day; trivia, in all its lack of glory, is part and parcel to our thinking experiments. 

We are almost compelled to conclude that Luxsa will be filled with Trivia and relatively unimportant matters or things, but these things can be another's essentiality. As we are not aware of the essentiality of others, those things by which they define their life purpose, we can only surmise - a few of us effectively - what those things might be based on their actions, words, complaints and celebrations ... for data examined is often illuminated. And fortunately for us, we have a light on our desk to see it. 

There will be some cramming in the head of information that one must merely suck up and learn, and by learn I mean not memorize. If there is a subject, rather than consult Google to see which posts rank highest and then take as proof of answer that which fits one's mindset; delve deeper, read scholarly journals on the subject, and "think" about the matter and allow your mind to openly wonder without bias and preconception. 

Travel along the neural framework you have carved for yourself with ceaseless thinking activities. If for any reason your neural framework is not functioning clean and clear of clutter, draw yourself a mind map of the 15 basic thinking paradigms by which your brain processes thought. Then delve down deeper into categories and subcategories and exceptions that belong to those areas of thought. Once you have mapped out where your thoughts reside, with a big picture view, you can now make the necessary adjustments to put your brain on your desired track. If you prefer to remain in the mire of twisting and turning and churning in your stomach over trivial matters, enjoy. If you consider that an unpleasant experience, retreat to a safe harbor, examine your mind's map, and adjust accordingly. 

One final thought, if you come to this activity with good cheer and sufficient rest for your mind, your enjoyment will be increased tenfold. In other words, you'll have more fun. If this latter comment on amusement was charming and nostalgic rather than illuminating, welcome to Luxsa. 

Match Wits with Luxsa

  1. Describe how your perfectionism developed. 
  2. Under which hierarchy has your critical perception and evaluation of values arisen? 
  3. What is frustration and why is this question important? 
  4. Define superiority and inferiority? 
  5. Does thinking cause you disquietude? 
  6. What is the value of agitation and anxiety? 
  7. Does surprise and shock exist? 
  8. How does one rectify moral failure (guilt)? 
  9. Which positive maladjustments have you adopted? 
  10. Does antagonism against social opinion and protest against the violation of intrinsic ethical principles make you feel better about yourself? 

Though uncomfortable, those who can answer these questions have the potential to fully realize and illuminate their mind map. 

In our next activity, we'll pull out our drawing utensils and make our very own mind map so that we might more easily keep our table lamp shinning bright. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Little Theory of Enchantment

A Little Theory of Enchantment 
(Saturday morning musings)

Pure reason supplies our over-arching concepts for grand and otherwise overwhelming items. When we are dazed and enchanted by a night sky full of stars, this wildness is somewhat tamed when we make use of the rational concept of space and time.

The deepest sense of the sublime is our recognition of this power of reason to grasp something extremely awesome and essentially unpresentable. It is the major artifice of intellectual power to grasp ideas in the first place.

Take a short historical romp with me through a few of the religions of the world to see the theory of enchantment in operation ...

Let us start with the ROMANTIC ... a sublimity in the intuition of oneness between nature, humanity, and the notion of existence. Nietzsche made the sublime encompass the entire domain of cultural symbolism and philosophic speculation - the entire net of culture as the territory of the sublime.

Whether this vast sublime domain is under the control of reason or the will to power, for it to be so it must FIRST be placed under the control of FANTASY, a fantasy which rests on pure existence. Out of everything, and out of nothing is pure existence ... be it manifest or unmanifest.

Human fantasy lays down the wholly fictional constructs that give grand coherence to each person's life. We see these examples expressed daily on social media. Consider the remarkable bond between the Chinese mind and the concept of the mysterious Tao, the absolute which uses Yin and Yang as its agents for creating the world. Those who discount this idea as a non-truth, might instead classify it as a great cultural fantasy which satisfied their civilization for centuries.

All of our major religions, cultural, and ideological beliefs are in this sense made possible by the psychological ability to construct a notion of fantasy and enchantment.

To dramatize this theory, we might consider a hypothetical dispute between a Methodist and a Catholic. For Catholics, Holy Communion has maximum sublime power because of transubstantiation. The Methodist believe that the supposed miraculous conversion of wine to blood is a superstitious Catholic fantasy, and that the Methodists have a better theory of communion, as a memorial service to Jesus as the Christ.

To a Zen Buddhist, the Catholic model and the Methodist model are both improper fantasies. If Augustine says that he feels sublime bonding to an invisible City of God, and if Marx says he feels such a bond to the socialist state, Augustine and Marx show the same symptom of deluded fantasy.

It is a little known Theory of Enchantment (little know for I have just now written it, in this post) ... that enables all theories to yield a powerful joy and simultaneously touch the deepest psychological core of jouissance and desire.

In my world, the Self and the Mysterious Other are best construed as one something seeking another something, because each entity is, in essentialist language, complete and whole in and of itself, an abundance, existence, a positivity that enables manifest reality.

If we are to have a true history of human culture, we need not decide who is right or who is wrong, but that there is room for all theories and realities to simultaneously exist in the cosmic vacuum needed by an expanding universe.

On a more simple level, we each have our tea parties to which we invite friends to achieve the perfect balance of harmony in the operations of the real world.

This is my Saturday morning story. I shall now sit atop Mt. Olympus with histories great Greek intellectuals and partake of a highly attractive breakfast of nectar and honey.

Bonne journée !