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Lincoln, Darwin and Sluggish Cognitive Tempo

Posted Apr 03 2013 10:00am
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.
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