A genius is a person who displays exceptional intellectual ability, creativity, or originality, typically to a degree that is associated with the achievement of unprecedented insight. There is no scientifically precise definition of genius, and the question of whether the notion itself has any real meaning has long been a subject of debate. The term is used in various ways: to refer to a particular aspect of an individual, or the individual in his or her entirety; to a scholar in many subjects (e.g. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz or Leonardo da Vinci) or a scholar in a single subject (e.g., Albert Einstein or Charles Darwin). Research into what causes genius and mastery is still in its early stages, and psychology offers relevant insights.
In ancient Rome, the genius (plural in Latin genii) was the guiding spirit or tutelary deity of a person, family (gens), or place (genius loci). The noun is related to the Latin verb gigno, genui, genitus, "to bring into being, create, produce." Because the achievements of exceptional individuals seemed to indicate the presence of a particularly powerful genius, by the time of Augustus the word began to acquire its secondary meaning of "inspiration, talent."
The assessment of intelligence was initiated by Francis Galton and James McKeen Cattell. They had advocated the analysis of reaction time and sensory acuity as measures of "neurophysiological efficiency" and the analysis of sensory acuity as a measure of intelligence.
Galton is regarded as the founder of psychometry (as well as other fields of assessment, such as fingerprinting). He studied the work of Charles Darwin. Charles Darwin showed that traits must be inherited before evolution can occur. Reasoning that eminence is caused by genetic traits, he did a study of their heritability, publishing it in 1869 as Hereditary Genius. His method was to count and assess the eminent relatives of eminent men. He found that the number of eminent relatives is greater with closer degree of kinship, indicating to him that a genetic trait is present in an eminent line of descent that is not present in other lines. This work is considered the first example of historiometry, an analytical study of historical human progress. The work is controversial and has been criticised for several reasons. Criticisms include that Galton's study of Hereditary Genius fails to account for the impact of social status and the associated availability of resources in the form of economic inheritance, meaning that inherited "eminence" or "genius" can be manipulated or controlled by wealthy families and dominated by self-supporting patriarchal structures. Other criticisms are founded in observed flaws of early genetics studies, which ethicists warned promoted concepts of genetic elitism that ultimately could threaten genetic diversity when adopted by movements promoting genetic purity.
Galton's theories were elaborated from the work of two early 19th-century pioneers in statistics: Carl Friedrich Gauss and Adolphe Quetelet. Gauss discovered the normal distribution (bell-shaped curve): Given a large number of measurements of the same variable under the same conditions, they vary at random from a most frequent value, the "average," to two least frequent values at maximum differences greater and less than the most frequent value. Quetelet discovered that the bell-shaped curve applied to social statistics gathered by the French government in the course of its normal processes on large numbers of people passing through the courts and the military. His initial work in criminology led him to observe "the greater the number of individuals observed the more do peculiarities become effaced..." This ideal from which the peculiarities were effaced became "the average man."
Himself a child prodigy, Galton was inspired by Quetelet to define the average man as "an entire normal scheme"; that is, if one combines the normal curves of every measurable human characteristic, one will in theory perceive a syndrome straddled by "the average man" and flanked by persons that are different. In contrast to Quetelet, Galton's average man was not statistical, but was theoretical only. There was no measure of general averageness, only a large number of very specific averages. Setting out to discover a general measure of the average, Galton looked at educational statistics and found bell-curves in test results of all sorts; initially in mathematics grades for the final honors examination and in entrance examination scores for Sandhurst.
Galton now departed from Gauss in a way that became crucially significant to the history of the 20th century AD. The bell-shaped curve was not random, he concluded. The differences between the average and the upper end were due to a non-random factor, "natural ability," which he defined as "those qualities of intellect and disposition, which urge and qualify men to perform acts that lead to reputation ... a nature which, when left to itself, will, urged by an inherent stimulus, climb the path that leads to eminence." The apparent randomness of the scores was due to the randomness of this natural ability in the population as a whole, in theory.
Galton was looking for a combination of differences that would reveal "the existence of grand human animals, of natures preeminently noble, of individuals born to be kings of men." Galton's selection of terms influenced Binet: geniuses for those born to be kings of men and "idiots and imbeciles", two English pejoratives, for those at the other extreme of the "normal scheme." Darwin read and espoused Galton's work. Galton went on to develop the field of eugenics.
Genius is expressed in a variety of forms (e.g., mathematical, literary, performance). Genius may show itself in early childhood, as a prodigy with particular gifts (e.g., understanding), or later in life. Geniuses are often deemed as such after demonstrating great originality. They tend to have strong intuitions about their domains, and they build on these insights with tremendous energy. There is a cited link between creativity of genius and genetic mutations linked to psychosis.
A hypothesis called multiple intelligences put forth by Harvard University professor Howard Gardner in his 1983 book Frames of Mind states there are at least seven types of intelligences, each with its own type of genius.
IQ and genius
Francis Galton (1822–1911) was a pioneer in investigating both eminent human achievement and mental testing. In his book Hereditary Genius, writing before the development of IQ testing, he proposed that hereditary influences on eminent achievement are strong, and that eminence is rare in the general population. Lewis Terman chose "'near' genius or genius" as the classification label for the highest classification on his 1916 version of the Stanford-Binet test. By 1926, Terman began publishing about a longitudinal study of California schoolchildren who were referred for IQ testing by their schoolteachers, called Genetic Studies of Genius, which he conducted for the rest of his life. Catherine M. Cox, a colleague of Terman's, wrote a whole book, The Early Mental Traits of 300 Geniuses, published as volume 2 of The Genetic Studies of Genius book series, in which she analyzed biographical data about historic geniuses. Although her estimates of childhood IQ scores of historical figures who never took IQ tests have been criticized on methodological grounds, Cox's study was thorough in finding out what else matters besides IQ in becoming a genius. By the 1937 second revision of the Stanford-Binet test, Terman no longer used the term "genius" as an IQ classification, nor has any subsequent IQ test. In 1939, Wechsler specifically commented that "we are rather hesitant about calling a person a genius on the basis of a single intelligence test score."
The Terman longitudinal study in California eventually provided historical evidence on how genius is related to IQ scores. Many California pupils were recommended for the study by schoolteachers. Two pupils who were tested but rejected for inclusion in the study because of IQ scores too low for the study grew up to be Nobel Prize winners in physics, William Shockley, and Luis Walter Alvarez. Based on the historical findings of the Terman study and on biographical examples such as Richard Feynman, who had an IQ of 125 and went on to win the Nobel Prize in physics and become widely known as a genius, the current view of psychologists and other scholars of genius is that a minimum level of IQ, no higher than about IQ 125, is strictly necessary for genius, but that level of IQ is also sufficient for development of genius only when combined with the other influences on individual development of genius identified by Cox's biographical study, namely opportunity for talent development and personality characteristics of drive and persistence.
Various philosophers have proposed definitions of what genius is and what that implies in the context of their philosophical theories.
In the philosophy of David Hume, the way society perceives genius is similar to the way society perceives the ignorant. Hume states that a person with the characteristics of a genius is looked at as a person disconnected from society, as well as a person who works remotely, at a distance, away from the rest of the world. "On the other hand, the mere ignorant is still more despised; nor is any thing deemed a surer sign of an illiberal genius in an age and nation where the sciences flourish, than to be entirely destitute of all relish for those noble entertainments. The most perfect character is supposed to lie between those extremes; retaining an equal ability and taste for books, company, and business; preserving in conversation that discernment and delicacy which arise from polite letters; and in business, that probity and accuracy which are the natural result of a just philosophy."
In the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, genius is the ability to independently arrive at and understand concepts that would normally have to be taught by another person. For Kant, originality was the essential character of genius. This genius is a talent for producing ideas which can be described as non-imitative. Kant's discussion of the characteristics of genius is largely contained within the Critique of Judgement and was well received by the Romantics of the early 19th century. In addition, much of Schopenhauer's theory of genius, particularly regarding talent and the "disinterestedness" (i.e. "free play") of aesthetic contemplation, is directly derived from paragraphs of Part I of Kant's Critique of Judgment.
Genius is a talent for producing something for which no determinate rule can be given, not a predisposition consisting of a skill for something that can be learned by following some rule or other.
In the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, a genius is someone in whom intellect predominates over "will" much more than within the average person. In Schopenhauer's aesthetics, this predominance of the intellect over the will allows the genius to create artistic or academic works that are objects of pure, disinterested contemplation, the chief criterion of the aesthetic experience for Schopenhauer. Their remoteness from mundane concerns means that Schopenhauer's geniuses often display maladaptive traits in more mundane concerns; in Schopenhauer's words, they fall into the mire while gazing at the stars, an allusion to Plato's dialogue Theætetus, in which Socrates tells of Thales (the first philosopher) being ridiculed for falling in such circumstances. As he says in Volume 2 of The World as Will and Representation:
Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.
In the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard, genius is contrasted with an apostle; although both types of men are similar, the apostle speaks with authority, whereas the genius does not. In his work, The Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle, published in 1849 as one part of the Two Minor Ethical-Religious Essays, Kierkegaard writes: "A genius and an apostle are qualitatively different. All thought breathes in immanence, whereas faith and the paradox are a qualitative sphere unto themselves. Genius is immediateness. Genius is born. An apostle is not born: an apostle is a man called and appointed by God, receiving a mission from him. Authority is the decisive quality."
In the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, genius is merely the context which leads us to consider someone a genius. In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche writes, "Great men, like great epochs, are explosive material in whom tremendous energy has been accumulated; their prerequisite has always been, historically and physiologically, that a protracted assembling, accumulating, economizing and preserving has preceded them – that there has been no explosion for a long time." In this way, Nietzsche follows in the line of German Idealism.
In the philosophy of Bertrand Russell, genius entails that an individual possesses unique qualities and talents that make the genius especially valuable to the society in which he or she operates. However, Russell's philosophy further maintains that it's possible for such a genius to be crushed by an unsympathetic environment during his or her youth. Russell rejected the notion he believed was popular during his lifetime that, "genius will out."
- Child prodigy
- Genetic Studies of Genius
- Gifted education
- Intellectual giftedness
- MacArthur Fellows Program
- Savant syndrome
- Cox, Catherine M (1926). The early mental traits of three hundred geniuses. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-0010-9. OCLC 248811346.
- genius. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved May 17, 2008, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/genius
- Oxford Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982, 1985 reprinting), entries on genius, p. 759, and gigno, p. 764.
- Fancher, Raymond E (1998). "Alfred Binet, General Psychologist". In Kimble, Gregory A; Wertheimer, Michael. Portraits of Pioneers in Psychology III (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates). pp. 67–84.
- Bernstein, Peter L. (1998). Against the gods. Wiley. p. 160. ISBN 0-471-12104-5.
- Bernstein (1998), page 163.
- Bernstein (1998), page 164.
- Artistic tendencies linked to 'schizophrenia gene'
- Terman 1916, p. 79
- Pintner 1931, pp. 356–357 "From a study of these boyhood records, estimates of the probable I.Q.s of these men in childhood have been made. . . . It is of course obvious that much error may creep into an experiment of this sort, and the I.Q. assigned to any one individual is merely a rough estimate, depending to some extent upon how much information about his boyhood years has come down to us."
- Shurkin 1992, pp. 70–71 "She, of course, was not measuring IQ; she was measuring the length of biographies in a book. Generally, the more information, the higher the IQ. Subjects were dragged down if there was little information about their early lives."
- Eysenck 1998, p. 126 "Cox found that the more was known about a person's youthful accomplishments, that is, what he had done before he was engaged in doing the things that made him known as a genius, the higher was his IQ. . . . So she proceeded to make a statistical correction in each case for lack of knowledge; this bumped up the figure considerably for the geniuses about whom little was in fact known. . . . I am rather doubtful about the justification for making the correction. To do so assumes that the geniuses about whom least is known were precocious but their previous activities were not recorded. This may be true, but it is also possible to argue that perhaps there was nothing much to record! I feel uneasy about making such assumptions; doing so may be very misleading."
- Cox 1926, pp. 215–219, 218 (Chapter XIII: Conclusions) "3. That all equally intelligent children do not as adults achieve equal eminence is in part accounted for by our last conclusion: youths who achieve eminence are characterized not only by high intellectual traits, but also by persistence of motive and effort, confidence in their abilities, and great strength or force of character." (emphasis in original)
- Terman & Merrill 1960, p. 18
- Kaufman 2009, p. 117 "Terman (1916), as I indicated, used near genius or genius for IQs above 140, but mostly very superior has been the label of choice" (emphasis in original)
- Wechsler 1939, p. 45
- Eysenck 1998, pp. 127–128 "Terman, who originated those "Genetics Studies of Genius," as he called them, selected . . . children on the basis of their high IQs; the mean was 151 for both sexes. Seventy-seven who were tested with the newly translated and standardized Binet test had IQs of 170 or higher—well at or above the level of Cox's geniuses. What happened to these potential geniuses—did they revolutionize society? . . . The answer in brief is that they did very well in terms of achievement, but none reached the Nobel Prize level, let alone that of genius. . . . It seems clear that these data powerfully confirm the suspicion that intelligence is not a sufficient trait for truly creative achievement of the highest grade."
- Simonton 1999, p. 4 "When Terman first used the IQ test to select a sample of child geniuses, he unknowingly excluded a special child whose IQ did not make the grade. Yet a few decades later that talent received the Nobel Prize in physics: William Shockley, the cocreator of the transistor. Ironically, not one of the more than 1,500 children who qualified according to his IQ criterion received so high an honor as adults."
- Shurkin 2006, p. 13; see also "The Truth About the 'Termites'" (Kaufman, S. B. 2009)
- Leslie 2000, "We also know that two children who were tested but didn't make the cut -- William Shockley and Luis Alvarez -- went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics. According to Hastorf, none of the Terman kids ever won a Nobel or Pulitzer."
- Park, Lubinski & Benbow 2010, "There were two young boys, Luis Alvarez and William Shockley, who were among the many who took Terman’s tests but missed the cutoff score. Despite their exclusion from a study of young 'geniuses,' both went on to study physics, earn PhDs, and win the Nobel prize."
- Gleick 2011, p. 32 "Still, his score on the school IQ test was a merely respectable 125."
- Robinson 2011, p. 47 "After all, the American physicist Richard Feynman is generally considered an almost archetypal late 20th-century genius, not just in the United States but wherever physics is studied. Yet, Feynman's school-measured IQ, reported by him as 125, was not especially high"
- Jensen 1998, p. 577 "Creativity and genius are unrelated to g except that a person's level of g acts as a threshold variable below which socially significant forms of creativity are highly improbable. This g threshold is probably at least one standard deviation above the mean level of g in the general population. Besides the traits that Galton thought necessary for "eminence" (viz., high ability, zeal, and persistence), genius implies outstanding creativity as well. Though such exceptional creativity is conspicuously lacking in the vast majority of people who have a high IQ, it is probably impossible to find any creative geniuses with low IQs. In other words, high ability is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the emergence of socially significant creativity. Genius itself should not be confused with merely high IQ, which is what we generally mean by the term 'gifted'" (emphasis in original)
- Eysenck 1998, p. 127 "What is obvious is that geniuses have a high degree of intelligence, but not outrageously high—there are many accounts of people in the population with IQs as high who have not achieved anything like the status of genius. Indeed, they may have achieved very little; there are large numbers of Mensa members who are elected on the basis of an IQ test, but whose creative achievements are nil. High achievement seems to be a necessary qualification for high creativity, but it does not seem to be a sufficient one." (emphasis in original)
- Cf. Pickover 1998, p. 224 (quoting Syed Jan Abas) "High IQ is not genius. A person with a high IQ may or may not be a genius. A genius may or may not have a high IQ."
- Hume, David. "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. — "Of the different Species of Philosophy"". NEW YORK: BARTLEBY.COM, 2001. Archived from the original on 2 September 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
- Howard Caygill, Kant Dictionary (ISBN 0-631-17535-0).
- Kant, Immanuel (1790). Kritik der Urteilskraft [The Critique of Judgment]. pp. §46–§49. "e.g. §46: "Genius is a talent for producing something for which no determinate rule can be given, not a predisposition consisting of a skill for something that can be learned by following some rule or other." (trans. W.S. Pluhar)"
- (Page 91, The Conquest of Happiness, ISBN 0-415-37847-8)
- Cox, Catherine M. (1926). The Early Mental Traits of 300 Geniuses. Genetic Studies of Genius Volume 2. Stanford (CA): Stanford University Press. Lay summary (2 June 2013).
- Eysenck, Hans (1995). Genius: The Natural History of Creativity. Problems in the Behavioural Sciences No. 12. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-5-2148508-1. Lay summary (31 May 2013).
- Eysenck, Hans (1998). Intelligence: A New Look. New Brunswick (NJ): Transaction Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7658-0707-6.
- Gleick, James (2011). Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (ebook ed.). Open Road Media. ISBN 9781453210437.
- Jensen, Arthur R. (1998). The g Factor: The Science of Mental Ability. Human Evolution, Behavior, and Intelligence. Westport (CT): Praeger. ISBN 978-0-275-96103-9. ISSN 1063-2158. Lay summary (18 July 2010).
- Kaufman, Alan S. (2009). IQ Testing 101. New York: Springer Publishing. pp. 151–153. ISBN 978-0-8261-0629-2.
- Leslie, Mitchell (July/August 2000). "The Vexing Legacy of Lewis Terman". Stanford Magazine. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
- Park, Gregory; Lubinski, David; Benbow, Camilla P. (2 November 2010). "Recognizing Spatial Intelligence". Scientific American. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
- Pickover, Clifford A. (1998). Strange Brains and Genius: The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists and Madmen. Plenum Publishing Corporation. ISBN 978-0688168940. Lay summary (15 July 2013).
- Pintner, Rudolph (1931). Intelligence Testing: Methods and Results. New York: Henry Holt. Retrieved 14 July 2013.
- Robinson, Andrew (2011). Genius: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-959440-5. Lay summary (22 May 2013).
- Shurkin, Joel (1992). Terman's Kids: The Groundbreaking Study of How the Gifted Grow Up. Boston (MA): Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0316788908. Lay summary (28 June 2010).
- Shurkin, Joel (2006). Broken Genius: The Rise and Fall of William Shockley, Creator of the Electronic Age. London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-4039-8815-7. Lay summary (2 June 2013).
- Simonton, Dean Keith (1999). Origins of genius: Darwinian perspectives on creativity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-512879-6. Lay summary (14 August 2010).
- Terman, Lewis M. (1916). The Measurement of Intelligence: An Explanation of and a Complete Guide to the Use of the Stanford Revision and Extension of the Binet-Simon Intelligence Scale. Riverside Textbooks in Education. Ellwood P. Cubberley (Editor's Introduction). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Retrieved 26 June 2010.
- Terman, Lewis M.; Merrill, Maude (1937). Measuring Intelligence: A Guide to the Administration of the New Revised Stanford-Binet Tests of Intelligence. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- Terman, Lewis Madison; Merrill, Maude A. (1960). Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale: Manual for the Third Revision Form L-M with Revised IQ Tables by Samuel R. Pinneau. Boston (MA): Houghton Mifflin.
- Wechsler, David (1939). The Measurement of Adult Intelligence (first ed.). Baltimore (MD): Williams & Witkins. ISBN 978-1-59147-606-1. Lay summary (5 June 2013).
- Harold Bloom (November 2002). Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds. Warner Books. ISBN 0-446-52717-3.
- David Galenson (2005-12-27). Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-12109-5.
- Francis Galton. Hereditary Genius. ISBN 0-312-36989-1.
- Simonton, Dean Keith (1999). Origins of genius: Darwinian perspectives on creativity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-512879-6.
- Simonton, Dean Keith (2004). Creativity in Science: Chance, Logic, Genius, and Zeitgeist. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-54369-X.
- Simonton, Dean Keith (2009). Genius 101. New York: Springer. ISBN 978-0-8261-0627-8. Lay summary (28 July 2010).
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- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Genius". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- Wilson, Tracy V. (1998-2009). "How Geniuses Work". HowStuffWorks.com. Retrieved 7 July 2009.
- Gupta, Sanjay (2006). "Brainteaser: Scientists Dissect Mystery of Genius". CNN.com. Retrieved 7 July 2009.