What Is Genius?
How is Genius Defined?
Perhaps one of the most insightful, albeit least objective, definitions of genius was provided by noted philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer:
There seems to be no universally accepted definition of genius. In fact some scholars contend that the term genius is not a useful term at all. Definitions of genius have ranged from Intelligence Quotient, or I.Q., Creativity, Focussed Activity, Vision and/or a combination of a number of factors relating to individuals with extraordinary mental capabilities and achievements. There is even the notion that the term genius can appropriately apply to one or more specific talents that one individual may exhibit, such as music or mathematics or art.
This article will present various definitions of genius, together with analysis of well known individuals of history for whom the label of genius is now universally applied.
Only a 160 I.Q.?
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart -- Genius Title Achieved by Hard Work?
Johann Sebastian Bach -- his son CPE Bach was considered the star during JS Bach's lifetime
Genius -- the I.Q. Definition
Lewis Terman, inventor of the Stanford-Binet test that measures individual intelligence, believed that the intelligence quotient, or I.Q., was sufficient for determining who was and was not a genius. He and his colleagues disagreed, however, on the cut-off level for the genius determination. Terman believed it was 140 or higher, whereas others of his colleagues believed it to be 180 or higher.
Based on the factor of I.Q. alone, Einstein, Mozart, Bach and Beethoven would have fallen short of the 180 cutoff -- according to a method developed by a psychologist associate of Dr. Terman, they each had I.Q.s estimated only in the 160's.
Genius is More Than I.Q.
Most scientists and other academics now believe that the definition of genius must include factors in addition to I.Q.
According to Andrew Robinson, author of Sudden Genius...The Gradual Path to Creative Breakthroughs, "Genius is the name we give to a quality of work that transcends fashion, fame, and reputation: the opposite of a period piece. Somehow, genius abolishes both the time and the place of its origin."
Based on Mr. Robinson's description of genius, there are at least two giants of the musical world that correspond to his description:
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, considered one the greatest music composers of all time, had long been considered a prodigy who produced his masterpieces effortlessly. Some scholars now believe that, without his father's strict regimen and Mozart's own tireless work ethic, Mozart would not have produced the incredible volume of brilliant work that has assured his stature as a genius.
- Johann Sebastian Bach, long considered the master of baroque era musical composition, was overshadowed by the acclamation his son received as a composer. Only after his lifetime did the senior Bach draw the attention and acclaim to his achievements that placed him among the greatest of musical geniuses.
So, bestowing the mantel of genius for both Mozart and Bach required analysis of other factors than intelligence only. For Mozart it was, in part, the recognition of his prolific work ethic and incredible number of masterpieces; for Bach, it was the gradual awareness of his genius brought about by posthumous examination of the breadth and depth of his incredible musical compositions.
Other Definitions of Genius
Anyone searching the internet can find a multitude of writers and personalities who are willing to provide their own definitions of genius. One such personality says qualities of genius include vision, desire, faith and planning (among sixteen other qualities), and then offers training that can teach most anyone to become a genius.
Another point of view relates to the theory of multiple intelligences. The premise here is that any one individual may be gifted with extraordinary aptitudes in one or more cognitive areas. Such aptitudes include:
- Existential (spiritual)
The notion of incredible aptitude applying to only one or more cognitive area is reinforced by the Savant phenomenon, whereby certain individuals, despite significant mental or physical handicaps, can nevertheless evidence remarkable capabilities in areas such as memorization or mathematical calculation.
We All Want to be Geniuses, Don't We
The host of the radio show "Prairie Home Companion" claims he broadcasts from a fictional town in Minnesota, "where the women are handsome, the men are beautiful, and the children are all above average." Being smart is highly regarded in Western societies, and, taken to the extreme, produces odd manifestations of an inordinate desire for offspring to be as smart as possible. Witness the Nazi experiment of selecting breeding pairs of gifted adults to help produce the German Master Race, or, closer to the current era, view the following video that details one person's vision to provide sperm of superior adult males to affluent prospective mothers.