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What Makes a Genius? 190

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Eric Barker writes at TheWeek that while high intelligence has its place, a large-scale study of more than three hundred creative high achievers including Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Beethoven, and Rembrandt has found that curiosity, passion, hard work, and persistence bordering on obsession are the hallmarks of genius. 'Successful creative people tend to have two things in abundance, curiosity and drive. They are absolutely fascinated by their subject, and while others may be more brilliant, their sheer desire for accomplishment is the decisive factor,' writes Tom Butler-Bowdon. It's not about formal education. 'The most eminent creators were those who had received a moderate amount of education, equal to about the middle of college. Less education than that — or more — corresponded to reduced eminence for creativity,' says Geoffrey Colvin. Those interested in the 10,000-hour theory of deliberate practice won't be surprised that the vast majority of them are workaholics. 'Sooner or later,' writes V. S. Pritchett, 'the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.' Howard Gardner, who studied geniuses like Picasso, Freud, and Stravinsky, found a similar pattern of analyzing, testing, and feedback used by all of them: 'Creative individuals spend a considerable amount of time reflecting on what they are trying to accomplish, whether or not they are achieving success (and, if not, what they might do differently).' Finally, genius means sacrifice. 'My study reveals that, in one way or another, each of the creators became embedded in some kind of a bargain, deal, or Faustian arrangement, executed as a means of ensuring the preservation of his or her unusual gifts. In general, the creators were so caught up in the pursuit of their work mission that they sacrificed all, especially the possibility of a rounded personal existence,' says Gardner."
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What Makes a Genius?

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  • by RandomUsername99 ( 574692 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @03:13PM (#45999867)

    Things are changing, but from a historical perspective, this cannot be ignored.

    "The fact of the matter is that there have been no supremely great women artists, as far as we know, although there have been many interesting and very good ones who remain insufficiently investigated or appreciated; nor have there been any great Lithuanian jazz pianists, nor Eskimo tennis players, no matter how much we might wish there had been. That this should be the case is regrettable, but no amount of manipulating the historical or critical evidence will alter the situation; nor will accusations of male-chauvinist distortion of history. There are no women equivalents for Michelangelo or Rembrandt, Delacroix or Cezanne, Picasso or Matisse, or even, in very recent times, for de Kooning or Warhol, any more than there are black American equivalents for the same. "

    From a brilliant essay on the matter: []

  • Working hard (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jones_supa ( 887896 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @03:17PM (#45999897)
    What drives the smart guys to keep focused and interested working for a long time on hard problems? After a hour of intensive STEM stuff I already feel quite exhausted and need a good break.
  • Re:Working hard (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @03:23PM (#45999947) Homepage

    The difference between a genius and a mad man is thin, but obsession with a problem is what both "suffers" from.

    Another thing that's different is to work hard on a problem, then sleep on it and then approach the problem again from a new angle. The brain will sort out a lot of stuff while you are sleeping.

    Trying too hard on a problem is often ineffective. Sometimes it helps to take a walk.

    All this is what also makes many geniuses seem eccentric - they do stuff the way that suits them best, not by following the beaten path.

  • Re:Working hard (Score:5, Interesting)

    by doctor woot ( 2779597 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @03:42PM (#46000061)

    I'm not claiming to be a genius, but one thing I noticed early on when deciding to take on STEM is that unlike art (which I had pursued previously), where an understanding of the history, techniques that were developed, and cultural perception of art were very helpful in developing a more acute understanding of the art in question, studying these things wasn't necessary, whereas in science and math the rigor is (usually) completely necessary.

    When you talk to aspiring young scientists, generally you hear a fondness for lasers, space travel, disease research, etc, but almost none for finding the derivative of a function or the like. Because people see the space lasers as the carrot and the intense math as the stick, they tend to get pretty exhausted after a fair amount of work. But in my experience, developing an appreciation for the math itself led me to view science as more of an art form than merely labor. I suspect fostering a greater appreciation of math and logic in children, as well as diminishing the cultural perception of math as a difficult and troubling affair would lead to an easier time for students who can both accept and appreciate the level of math they commit to.

  • by mrbester ( 200927 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @04:05PM (#46000217) Homepage

    Professor Hawking has better than a Nobel prize (given out all the time). He holds the Lucasian chair of mathematics, as Newton did. *That's* the real prize.

  • by m00sh ( 2538182 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @04:52PM (#46000523)

    Wasn't it someone's theory (or experiments) that luck was the largest factor in a genius?

    I remember Gladwell's book starts off with the Canadian hockey team and the birthday paradox. The birthdays of the players in the Canadian hockey team fall primarily on the beginning of the year, primarily the first few months of the year. There wasn't anyone born on the second half of the year.

    The theory was that this is because of the age cutoff of Jan 1st. When they select the junior teams, the age cutoff is Jan 1st. So, someone born on January has almost a year head start over the person born on December. That little difference between individuals turns into who gets coaching or not, who gets selected for teams and ultimately who makes the national sides.

    Yes, some people are geniuses because they have drive and passion and are workaholics but not because they are born that way but because each little bit of effort they put in gets rewarded very heavily (and that situation comes by from luck).

    Why do geniuses come in clusters? Why were there so many Greek geniuses? Why hasn't Greece produced another set of geniuses like them after that?

    The other argument was that geniuses were able to feed off the society. If we as a society value something very highly, then we reward the person good in it with money and admiration. That again creates a lot of drive and passion for the work they do and they strive to obsessively improve on it.

    It has been disproved that geniuses have high IQ. There are a lot of geniuses with normal IQ.

    So, technically, anyone with at least normal IQ can be a genius. You have to be born in the right society and pursue something that the society deems very valuable. Then, you have to have luck that will get you funding, audience etc for you work that will fuel your passion and drive.

  • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @05:19AM (#46003971)

    So basically, Atlas Shrugged is wish fulfilment for the rich. But I guess it accurately sums up Objectivism.

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus