George Church is a biologist, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2017.
“We have in our population a variety of individuals who cover a spectrum of neurodiversity, meaning that they are high functioning autistics, dyslexics, narcoleptics, even bipolars, who have been major world leaders and thought leaders, despite and possibly because of their neurodiversity…” says Church, whose condition – narcolepsia – has persuaded him of the benefits of, even the need for, neurodiversity, meaning brains that work differently from most others. The world needs people such as these, he has come to believe. “I think we probably should be embracing people with those conditions a whole lot more than we are right now.”
As Scientific American reports, he is thinking more and more about the huge, and healthy, variation in how human brains function. The neurodiversity movement argues that brains that differ from the norm are not necessarily disordered and in need of treatment. Church practices that himself by staving off from any of the drugs typically prescribed to treat narcolepsy, and described his condition as a “feature, not a bug”.
He finds inspiration in accomplished people who have had dyslexia, ADHD, OCD, and other forms of neurodiversity. Their accomplishments, as well as other evidence, suggest that “if you’re different on any axis you’ve got a slight edge in some circumstance. Being different at all allows you to think out of the box. The kind of difference you have maybe determines what direction you’ll take out of the box.”
Side note: This is a particularly interesting take on our society coming from someone who is at the forefront of discovery and technology that is bound to change society, especially genetically. Read more about his work here.
Ken Robinson is an education visionary and internationally recognized authority in creativity and innovation, as well as a best selling author on the subject.
Robinson often posits that “human intelligence is diverse, dynamic and distinct.”
“We think visually, in sound, in movement, aesthetically; we think in abstractions, words, numbers, and in a great number of ways. The evidence of that is the huge range of human culture and human achievement,” he says about diversity and continues about distinctiveness – “We think differently from one another partly because of our genetic make up and because of our unique biographies.”
Robinson’s views about diversity have lead him to be a prominent promoter of education systems that celebrate difference, rather than promoting conformity; systems that foster the diversity and dynamism of bringing distinct personalities to bear. He also advises businesses and other organizations about recruitment and retention of the human resources, stressing the importance of broadening diversity in gender, age, ethnicity and national background. “Diversity is a big piece of how you define talent,” he proclaims. “It starts with a different conception of intelligence and what people have by way of natural endowment.”
Similarly to Church, Robinson finds inspiration in accomplished people. In his case, these are people who have made a success of themselves and contributed much to the world without the help of, or even despite of, the public education systems. People who were held back, put down by these systems; who have dropped out or waited it out. Often brilliant people who, says Robinson, “pass through the whole of their education unaware that they are brilliant because the thing they are good at was neither looked for, cultivated or respected during the formal system of education.” He wrote a book about these people – The Element. In it, like George Church, he suggests that as far as our own development, we should think out of the box. “One of the enemies of creativity and innovation,” according to him, “is common sense.”
Further ReadingThe Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain
A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness