Lincoln, Darwin and Sluggish Cognitive Tempo

Darwin, Lincoln and SCT

In the January 28th, 2013 edition of the New Yorker, the writer Adam Gopnik has written an article on how our brain’s turn music into meaning and on how we come to understand music and sound in general. His article was interesting from the standpoint of understanding auditory perception but it was also interesting to me because he mentions an old professor of his and describes him as being highly intelligent in an unusual way.
Gopnik describes two types of  highly intelligent people. One type, the most common type, have a ‘sharp’ intelligence.  These people have minds that fight and slash and slay.  The second type of highly intelligent people are quite different.  Gopnik describes the rarer type as having a ‘soft’ intelligence. Darwin and Lincoln had these types of minds.  Gopnik describes his old professor as having the Darwin type of mind and describes these minds as ones that, “absorb great quantities of data and opinions, often silently, even sluggishly, and turn them around slowly until a solution appears.”
A letter to the editor regarding Gopnik’s article mentioned that Abraham Lincoln said this about his own mind, “My mind is like a piece of steel; very hard to scratch anything on it and almost impossible after you get it there to rub it out.” Darwin was described as a “Trifler” (distracted by insignificant things like bugs and plants) by his teachers and Darwin’s father was so frustrated by his lack of school progress that  he is reportedly took him out of school early.
You cannot help but think about intelligent people with Sluggish Cognitive Tempo when you read about Gopnik’s old professor and about Darwin and Lincoln. Gopnik seems to suggest (he has written a book on the similarities between Darwin and Lincoln, who happened to be born on the same day and who were similar in other ways, called Angels and Ages ) that this type of intelligence serves a different but important analytic purpose. That the sluggishness of Lincoln and Darwin helped them and is part of what made them great thinkers.
Obviously, sluggishness may not always serve such an exalted purpose but I think it is good to remember, every once in a while, that traits like sluggishness are not always as terrible as they sound.

1 comment:

  1. :) I love that i found this site Tess. Poking around the other AdHD forums felt like i had found a community ...Not too much "community" here cept you ( what's with so many "anonymous" folks? not even nick names?), but i think , maybe it is because of the ponderers that we are. It took me an amazing amount of time to come up with a nick name that felt decent.

    I don't need a lot of community but at least some- not having it is a big source of stress/anxiety for me... it is a breath of fresh air to at least know "there are other survivors" like people finding each other after a global disaster.

    And Darwin- my hero- and Lincoln have those looks, just as i must look to others... towards the ground, pensive, lost in thought or as i have come to "think" of it, lost in a haze of nameless feelings and concepts. That's sort of how i think. Besides all the wide ranging pondering, trying to turn the sensed has into words , never mind formal thesis papers, is soo difficult. And boring. To this little few paragraphs suggests why Lincoln's speeches/words are still considered so magnificent- deeply insightful, beautiful, full of grace and short.

    Who else can we "claim" as an unusual ponderer?

    A few mins ago, i had to move because some adjunct psych teachers/learning/ teaching counselors were arriving for a meeting. After hearing that little bit, i asked the first two if they knew about SCT. They said no. ADD-PI? Yes, but not SCT. Barkley? Yes. And one lady had a son w ADD?HD? and she "knew all about it". And in a few seconds spoke with pride of the interesting way her son thought- "like a spider web" complex, with information from all directions. Not in an essay outline format.

    Kinda nice.


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