Read Montaigne

“Good scholars need intelligence, creativity, persistence (Sitzfleisch), and intellectual honesty. (Luck, too, is useful.) Outside mathematics and physics, a high level of intelligence is not essential, although a modicum is obviously necessary. Creativity seems to depend both on the innate capacity of the unconscious to form associations, which cause the solution to a problem to appear when you wake up in the morning, and on the accumulation of elements between which those associations might be made. That accumulation in turns depends on a wide and broad reading of the classics and of history. The classics can provide explicit mechanisms, often in lapidary form. Historians often provide implicit or potential mechanisms, in addition to showing us the varieties of human behavior and social organization. Psychology and behavioral economics can refine the mechanisms and transform them into testable hypotheses, as well as coming up with ideas that nobody has thought of. Persistence is needed for the necessary attention to detail. It is too much to ask that scholars should have ‘the infinite capacity for taking pains’ that has been used as a definition of genius, but they should use shoe leather. Intellectual honesty may not matter much in mathematics and physics, since formal proofs and replicable experiments do not depend on the possession of that quality. Honesty (and modesty) is vital, however, in disciplines where the constraints created by deductive logic and hard facts are lacking. If someone asked me how to acquire it, I would say: Read Montaigne.” (Jon Elster, 2015, Explaining Social Behavior)