What is a genius?

We’ve all met or known at least one person who is exceptionally good at something, and we would call them a genius.

For the most part, when someone calls somebody a genius, it is usually for that person being exceptionally smart, especially in academics. Is that all there is to it? Just being very smart?

The online oxford dictionary, defines the word genius in three different ways:

1 [uncountable] unusually great intelligence, skill, or artistic ability

2 [countable] a person who is unusually intelligent or artistic, or who has a very high level of skill, especially in one area

3 [singular] genius for something/for doing something/ a special skill or ability

When you read these definitions, you realise that genius isn’t about just being very smart, it can also be about being extremely creative, being very artistic or just being really good at something, like mathematics, puzzle solving, businesses, inventing, even things like running, jumping, gymnastics, ballet, dancing, comedy, movie making, acting and so on and so on.

I recently watched a video on YouTube where a panel were having a forum discussion and the interviewer asked the speakers, “What do we mean by genius and does that category really matter?” and one of the speakers, a man named Dean Keith Simonton, talked about it.

According to him, historically the term genius dates back to the ancient Romans and that every man had a ‘genius’ (women had something called a ‘juno’ apparently) and that these geniuses were something special and they looked after you, something like a guardian angel; and it was something that made you unique.

However as time went on, the meaning of the word genius changed and after the renaissance period it came to mean something else, it came to mean something more special. It started to mean that not everyone had genius, only a few.

He talks about how Immanuel Kant, defined a genius as someone who fulfilled two criteria:

  • They had to do something original or something that stands out from everybody else.
  • They had to produce something not just original, but exemplary

Problem was that, according to Kant, scientists weren’t geniuses, only artists could be described as geniuses. Why? Because scientists had a scientific method; in other words they can teach anybody to do what they are doing.

Later, another form of measuring genius came out, the IQ test. If someone takes an IQ test and can score very high, like 140 and above, then they are called geniuses.

You can watch the video for yourself here.

But of course, these methods of trying to identify a genius has its issues. After all, you could be very bad at several things and very good at one thing and vice versa. For example, Mozart was great in the musical arts, but not so good at other things like say, reading people. Or, how about Isaac Newton, he was a scientific genius but he had a secretive personality and may have been borderline crazy, going as far as to poke his eye with a needle to see how it would affect him. Not to mention that if we were to go with Kant’s criteria, Isaac Newton wouldn’t even qualify as a genius.

Then there’s the inverse, what about people who are good at several things but not really exceptional at any one thing? People probably wouldn’t call them geniuses, but how many people do you know who can be good at several different things?  Aren’t they a genius in their own right?

What about people who are good at sports? Nowadays, people will call artists and scientists as geniuses, but how many people can play an excellent game of basketball almost consistently, or score a goal from hundreds of yards away, or catch a ball coming in from 50 feet in the air? Are these people just really talented or again geniuses in their own right?

What about people like savants, or autistics who tend to be bad at social interaction and looking after themselves but exceptional at other things such as observation or memory. Are they geniuses or are they just people whose brain is wired differently from the norm.

It’s very hard to say what exactly is a genius, especially when you get into tiny details. Maybe we will never be able to get a proper answer, maybe we will. In the meantime, I would suggest giving hard work and talent their fair share of recognition and making your own call on whether someone should be considered a genius or not. At least that’s my opinion, it’s up to you how you want to go about it.

That’s all for this post. I hope you like it and I hope you have a good day ahead.

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