So as a younger man, and to this day occasionally, I was heavily invested in Magic The Gathering. Don’t know what Magic The Gathering is? It is the progenitor of all Trading Card Games. The first, the High Pumba – and certainly the longest lasting and most financially successful. Any how; as a teenager my love of this game bordered on obsession, I would live, sleep, eat and breathe Magic news, theory and more. Every day one or more of the designers or notable players would publish an article on the Magic website. I would rush home and refresh my computer at 4pm, needing to be the first person to read the article – to be ahead of the curve.
This story takes place back in the misty forgotten times of 2007. Mark Rosewater who was the head designer of Magic published his regular article on Mondays. It was called Making Magic and it was centrally about the design choices behind mechanics or cards in the game. However Mark was known for his flair and panache with writing and so regularly mixed up his topic with anecdotal material from his broader experiences. Monday April 2nd was one such time. Mark published an article that has influenced my thinking about intelligence and creativity since that day.
Connect The Dots is an article about Mark Rosewater’s understanding of the nature of his own creativity and creativity in general. Given his profession as a games designer and his prestigious station as Head Designer for Magic -I was more than willing to assign a great deal of weight to what the man had to say on the topic. He spun a tale of a his youth – a time where he was ostracized and misunderstood for having a mind that worked differently to those around him. 15 year old me ate this up, he seemed so similar to me, he understood my pain, from half the world away this sage of a man reached out and touched my life and explained away so much of my angst about my childhood.
Mark explained that after years of researching the subject, which had become a passion of his, he had deduced that creativity could be fairly quickly summarized as ” The ability to see connections that others do not”. This simple sentence was then, as it is now, a saving grace in my emotional life.
For years my teachers had identified me as ‘gifted’ or ‘high performing’ without ever really being able to articulate why. I had asked them time and time again what made me special or different – they had told me I was smart, smarter than most. I had a great deal of trouble accepting this as there were people I knew, my peers, who seemed to possess a great deal more knowledge on many topics than I did. It confused me for so many years to be told I had potential and never to understand what I did that made people think this.
And then Mark Rosewater gift wrapped the answer for me in an article ostensibly about my favorite hobby. I was not ‘smarter’ I was simply more creative – more willing to see logical leaps than my peers.
“The ability to see connections others do not” – This is a beautiful gift; much as it helped me finally understand the point of difference in my life it continues to help me see and understand people around me to this day.
My brother is a high functioning autistic ( I am not – as was made famous by Sheldon Cooper ‘My mother had me tested’) and I struggled to get inside his head and empathize with him and why certain aspects of his life fixated him so, or why he continually brought these things up in conversations where they just didn’t fit…. And then I recalled the words of Rosewater. My brother, and all subsequent individuals I’ve met in the high functioning spectrum, weren’t fundamentally misunderstanding a context or misreading a conversation, they just saw a piece of connective conversational tissue that I did not. They were being more creative than I could understand. Following the advice of Mark I asked my brother to explain these connections at times where I had previously just been baffled; and sure enough every single time he could logically and intelligently articulate to me how he saw the connection in his mind and how this or that fixation really did fit into whatever the current context was. It was a revelation.
Reflecting on this I am recalled of the words of Aristotle – “No great mind ever existed without a touch of madness” noting the frequently high correlation between those we perceive as high functioning spectrum ‘sufferers’ and those with vast degrees of ‘conventional intelligence’ it seems logical enough to me, taking into account Rosewater’s theory of creativity, that perhaps those other people on the spectrum – the ones who we can’t quite understand- are just as intelligent if not more so, we just aren’t thinking creatively enough to understand them. This can be seen in the way we recognize the talents of ‘idiot savants’ – people with phenomenal talent that we simply cannot understand outside these ‘rational’ gifts.
Perhaps, in striving for a more dignified and caring world, we might need to reconsider our perceptions of more individuals within it; to understand a bit better, their creative thinking.