Kekulé, Friedrich August – The nature of genius
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
From Kekulé, - Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft, 1890, pages 1305-1307,:
Genius has been spoken of, and the Benzene Theory has been designated a work of genius. I have often asked myself what, exactly, is genius, in what does it consist? It is said that genius recognizes the truth without knowing the proof of it.
I do not doubt that from the most remote times this idea has been entertained. "Would Pythagoras have sacrificed a hecatomb if he had not known his famous proposition till he found proof?"
It is also said that genius thinks by leaps and bounds. Gentlemen, the waking mind does not so think. That is not granted to it. Perhaps it would be of interest to you if I should place before you some highly indiscreet statements as to how I arrived at certain ideas of mine.
[he then goes on to describe the dreams he had]
If we learn to dream, gentlemen, then we shall perhaps find truth ---
To him who forgoes thought,
Truth seems to come unsought;
He gets it without labour. ---
We must take care, however, not to publish our dreams before submitting them to proof by the waking mind.
"Countless germs of mental life fill the realm of space but only in a few rare minds do they find soil for their development; in them the idea, of which no one knows whence it came, lives as an active process."
As I have told you before, at certain times certain ideas are in the air. We hear now from Liebig that the germs of ideas are like the spores of bacilli which fill the atmosphere. Why did the germs of the Structural and Benzene ideas, which have been in the air for a period of twenty-five years, find a soil particularly favourable to their development in my head?