But the lone genius is a myth that has outlived its usefulness. Fortunately, a more truthful model is emerging: the creative network, ...Freud's dream theory? That stuff is nonsense, and Freud was a crackpot, not a genius.
Today, the Romantic genius can be seen everywhere. Consider some typical dorm room posters — Freud with his cigar, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the pulpit, Picasso looking wide-eyed at the camera, Einstein sticking out his tongue. These posters often carry a poignant epigraph — “Imagination is more important than knowledge” — but the real message lies in the solitary pose.
In fact, none of these men were alone in the garrets of their minds. Freud developed psychoanalysis in a heated exchange with the physician Wilhelm Fliess, whom Freud called the “godfather” of “The Interpretation of Dreams”; King co-led the civil rights movement with Ralph Abernathy (“My dearest friend and cellmate,” King said). Picasso had an overt collaboration with Georges Braque — they made Cubism together — and a rivalry with Henri Matisse so influential that we can fairly call it an adversarial collaboration. Even Einstein, for all his solitude, worked out the theory of relativity in conversation with the engineer Michele Besso, whom he praised as “the best sounding board in Europe.”
Besso? Maybe he is the only one that Einstein honestly thanked, but his work depended on many others.
When people talk about Einstein as a lone genius, they are usually talking about his 1905 special relativity paper, or maybe the 1905 photon paper. His later work on general relativity is better documented, and is well-known that he very heavily relied on Grossmann, Levi-Civita, Hilbert, and others.
The 1905 papers were supposed done in isolation, while working at the Swiss patent office. But he had the papers of Lorentz and Poincare, and his relativity paper had no new ideas that are not explained better by them.
The myth that Einstein worked in isolation has promoted the idea that a lone genius can ponder ideas that were known for 50 years, look at them differently, and revolutionize physics. Even philosophers and historians of science perpetuate this Einstein myth. Einstein's paper was merely a presentation of recent research.