Recent issues of both Scientific American & Wired have featured articles about geniuses / expert minds, from two different perspectives.
The August, 2006 issue of Scientific American looks at The Expert Mind (full article online!) from the perspective of a chess player. Why? Chess skills can be measured very precisely and is very popular with cognitive scientists studying "thinking." Plus, of course, chess is for smarties.
Apparently much of the skill is linked to "chunking", whereby chess masters condense large bits of data into small chunks. Much as we can remember phone numbers (ideally) of 7 +/- digits, so chess masters can remember chess in bits, or chunks, of 7 +/- bits. BUT the expert can parse much more information into each chunk, so they can process new information much faster than non-experts.
This expert-ness happens only with LOTS of practice, and the practice needs to be of a certain level -- that is, the student must always be working at a level just beyond his current level of expertise to show consistent improvement.
Scientific American: The Expert Mind [ PSYCHOLOGY AND BRAIN SCIENCE ]
By Philip E. Ross
Scientific American, August 2006
Studies of the mental processes of chess grandmasters have revealed clues to how people become experts in other fields as well.
I'll report on the Wired article tomorrow.