- Genius has been viewed two different ways: as achieved eminence and as exceptional intelligence. The former metric offers the more useful definition.
- Genetics and life experiences both contribute to genius. Creative contributions can occur only after a domain has been mastered, but genetics can help a person improve faster and accomplish more with a given amount of expertise.
- Genius can share certain potentially negative traits with the mentally ill, but when these traits are combined with specific positive attributes, the result is creativity rather than psychopathology.
- A scientific genius has different expertise than an artistic genius, but all creative geniuses may depend on the same general process: blind variation and selective retention.
Identifying genius is a dicey venture. Consider, for example, this ranking of “The Top 10 Geniuses” I recently stumbled across on Listverse.com. From first to last place, here are the honorees: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Leonardo da Vinci, Emanuel Swedenborg, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, John Stuart Mill, Blaise Pascal, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bobby Fischer, Galileo Galilei and Madame De Staël.
What about Albert Einstein instead of Swedenborg? Some of the living might also deserve this appellation—Stephen Hawking comes to mind. A female genius or two might make the cut, perhaps Marie Curie or Toni Morrison. And if a chess champion, Fischer, is deemed worthy, other geniuses outside the arts and sciences ought to deserve consideration—Napoleon Bonaparte as a military genius, Nelson Mandela as a political genius or Bill Gates as an entrepreneurial genius, to name a few candidates.
This article was originally published with the title The Science of Genius.