Genius and genius


( Screenshot from the computer game City of Heroes.)

Being very smart is like being able to run very fast. But true genius is like being able to fly. You see everything from a different angle.

When I was young, I thought that genius was just a matter of IQ.  You had an IQ over 140 or some such, and you were in.  And it is true that the word is used that way (although some say it should be 180 and some say 120.  An IQ of 140 is the requirement for Mensa membership though, a fairly well established institution.)

It is true that the word “genius” is used this way, but I know today that this is misleading.  I have lived and learned.  There is another meaning of “genius”, an older one (albeit not the oldest). I am pleased to see that Wikipedia has, at least at the moment, chosen this as their main definition:  “Genius refers to a person, a body of work, or a singular achievement of surpassing excellence. More than just originality, creativity, or intelligence, genius is associated with achievement of insight which has transformational power. A work of genius fundamentally alters the expectations of its audience.

This is a bit strict again, I think.  But genius certainly goes beyond the ordinary. My favorite metaphor is that having a very high IQ is like being able to run very fast.  Amazingly fast, for the differences between people’s minds far exceed the differences between their muscles. But no matter how good a runner you are, you arrive at the same places as anyone else, just faster. True genius, however, is like flying.  You go places other people just can’t go, and see things from whole new angles that others can’t see unless you somehow manage to show them.

This “uplift” is what I would call inspiration. Genius and inspiration go together.  Oh, you have the Edison quote that genius was 1% inspiration and 99% transpiration.   But the sad thing is that most people just don’t have the 1% inspiration. Anyway, “inspiration” clearly come from the word “spirit”, and “genius” originally was the name of a spirit associated with a person, a place or perhaps most common, a bloodline.  We don’t take it quite that literally now, but a true work of genius still makes us sense that we are seeing something that comes from a higher world, a different and more deeply “real” world.

Now, if you have the wings of inspiration, you may be able to ascend to somewhere a bit above the mundane world.  But if you want to share that view with others, the transpiration sets in. For you cannot just call on them to join you, and even if you try to tell them what you see, chances are that they will imagine something different, since they have never seen anything from above. You have to somehow create a pinnacle and the stairs for them to get there, to see what you have seen and to be where you have been.  You can just give up on that, and you will never be anything more than a dreamer.  Only those who can share their uplift with the world will be remembered as a genius, and will be of use to the world.  What good would Bach have been if he had just whistled to himself, hearing his music in his own mind?  What good if Einstein had just had the flash of insight that E=MC^2 and never bothered to work out the mathematical foundations to prove it to the world?

But as for me, I’m just a dreamer.