Sunday, June 22, 2008

On Genius

Genius gets talked about a lot. The Discovery Channel runs some special about this savant or the other on a daily basis, t-shirts get emblazoned with Einstein's mug, and great brains get dissected to try and locate the seat of genius.

I find this stupid. I don't think genius exists at all. Genius is an actualization, not a state. I cannot be a genius, I can only perform acts of genius. For example, say I score a 200 on an IQ test, thus classifying me a genius, but I then go off and work in a burger joint for the rest of my life. Was I actually a genius? If I was, what worth is the classification in the first place? Who cares if you're a genius or not if you're flipping burgers?

But there are people in the world who are profoundly retarded; to such a degree as to be incapable of feeding themselves. And yet, if given clay, they can sculpt perfect models of things they saw only once. Or paint portraits of stunning beauty. Or design buildings. Or compose music. These would undeniably be called acts of genius, but calling these people geniuses would be silly on its face. So if people who are not geniuses, do things of genius, and geniuses can live pointless, boring lives, what are we to determine?

I think the only conclusion is that genius is a reality. I am only a genius insofar as I have performed acts of genius. And an IQ test is only useful insofar as it has predictive power to say whether a person is likely to create things of genius or not. For example, Marilyn vos Savant, a very famous smart person. To what level has her genius brought her? She writes a weekly newspaper column. Or perhaps William James Sidis, perhaps the smartest man in history. Have you ever heard of him? I didn't think so.

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