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The Phenomenon of Genius

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 2 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
Genius Intelligence Intellectual Brain

We are all fascinated by the idea of 'genius' – often understood to mean someone with exceptionally high intelligence – but probably more accurately described as an individual with extraordinary natural intellectual abilities and creative originality, usually in the areas of science, music, mathematics, literature and art.

In other words, geniuses are not only just extremely intelligent but also innovative and unique in their individuality and imagination. There are many examples of genius across the ages. Einstein is perhaps one of the most well-known, closely followed by Newton who can be said to have invented physics. Mozart is another well-known genius, composing music from the age of 5 years old.

What is Genius?

Genius is actually very difficult to define. For one thing, it is quite a subjective label – for some, a genius is anyone with an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) higher than a certain value. Others, however, feel that IQ is a very poor and unrepresentative measure of a person’s total intelligence and therefore IQ scores are a poor reflection of real genius.

Generally, it is accepted that a genius is not only someone with a very high IQ but also someone who breaks new ground with new ideas, discoveries, inventions or even works of art. In other words, a genius challenges the way other people view the field in which he works in – or even the world at large.

Genius and Intelligence

Intelligence itself can be difficult to define, the field of Psychometrics is devoted to studying and measuring intelligence and yet scientists and experts still cannot all agree on how best to analyse, measure and describe intelligence. Therefore, it is not surprising that the relationship between genius and intelligence is not an easy one to describe.

Ironically, many geniuses actually score poorly on standardised intelligence tests or perform very poorly at school – despite the fact that they have very high intellectual ability. Many researchers and theorists feel that this supports the argument that the concept of a general intelligence ‘g’ is too limiting and does not provide a complete view of a person’s intelligence.

Some, such as Howard Gardner, favour the concept of multiple intelligences, feeling that these categories are better at describing the strengths and differing talents and abilities of different individuals. Gardener has defined 7 intelligences, namely:

  • Linguistic
  • Logical-mathematic
  • Musical
  • Bodily-kinesthetic
  • Spatial
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal

These theories of multiple intelligence may explain the phenomenon of genius better than conventional IQ scores. They certainly provide a good explanation for certain types of genius such as the savant syndrome: a rare condition where people with developmental disabilities and even overall low IQ can have spectacular ability or skill in certain areas. The well-known savant is, of course, from the film 'Rain Man'.

Genius and Creativity

Aside from high intellectual ability, all geniuses also exhibit great creative intelligence. This is the difference between being 'very smart' and being 'a genius'. Geniuses not only have superior intelligence but can use it in unique and innovative ways, They don’t just remember and recite existing information – they can create, discover or invent new things within their area of interest.

Some scientists believe this is because they have less 'latent inhibition' than normal people – this may also be why they seem to be prone to quirky behaviour and even mental illness, psychosis and emotional instability.

While we may never be able to explain the concept of genius, we can appreciate that they are key to advancements of human progress – whether in the field of science, technology, art, music, literature, mathematics or just general understanding.

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