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Genius

Genius has long been associated with the idea of a superpower that transcends human nature and may reveal the existence of a divine or, when operating on the dark side, evil force.

 

But the definition of 'genius' remains nebulous. Various readings suggest that it combines (i) deep intelligence with (ii) exceptional creativity powered by (iii) intense emotions.

 

Howard Gartner, an American psychologist, contributed to the discourse on intelligence with his taxonomy of nine forms of intelligence in ‘Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century’ (2000). He aimed to liberate the debate from the confines of monolithic intelligent quotient (IQ) tests by arguing that intelligence could take diverse forms: linguistic, visual, mathematical, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, intelligence, naturalistic, and existential.

 

Various types of creative thinking have also been recognized. According to Cultivating the Four Kinds of Creativity’ (2023), for example, creative development can take the following shape: integration (discovering a grand unifying theory, e.g., gravity), splitting (dissecting something into components, e.g., uncovering new market segments), reversal (using a technology developed for one purpose to serve a greater purpose, like the GPS), and distal thinking (imagining things that are very different from the present). The authors suggest that each individual gravitates towards one predominant mode.

 

Finally, emotions, too, exhibit a rich spectrum that has been debated over centuries. A 2017 study from Berkeley identified 27 types of emotions, including adoration, awe, contempt, and triumph. That is a tight list compared to the proposed taxonomy of 48 emotions used to dissect sentiment expressed in social media.

 

Considering the permutations of intelligence, creativity, and emotions, more than a thousand ways to display genius characteristics emerge.

 

But, regrettably, in a world rife with hyperbole, the threshold between ordinary mortal and genius has plummeted and reached rock bottom. The genius appellation has become a commodity exploited by artists, entrepreneurs, or politicians who employ eccentric, erratic, or transgressive behavior to masquerade as geniuses.

 

Selling a grand vision is the oldest trick in the book for attracting votes, raising capital, gaining power, or even achieving immunity. Indeed, geniuses’ inappropriate acts are often forgiven due to their supposedly tortured souls or the dubious concept of net positive contribution to society.

 

Genius is being confused with celebrity. It may be time to turn to a more grounded notion of genius based on tangible results instead of tweeted claims and promises.

 

According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘Genius is common sense in working clothes.’ True genius operates with quiet dedication and practical wisdom. In that vein, I propose reverting to a sober definition of ‘genius’ that honors the intelligence and creativity of common mortals who consistently rely on common sense to positively contribute to society (without doing significant harm to it through any of their activities.)

 

This definition may turn out to be surprisingly, and appropriately, narrow.

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