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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:

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see."

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.?

Albert Einstein -- considered among the greatest geniuses of all time

Albert Einstein -- considered among the greatest geniuses of all time

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart -- Genius Title Achieved by Hard Work?

Controversy over whether he produced works effortlessly or labored over results

Controversy over whether he produced works effortlessly or labored over results

Johann Sebastian Bach -- his son CPE Bach was considered the star during JS Bach's lifetime

Universal Genius affirmed after centuries of evaluation

Universal Genius affirmed after centuries of evaluation

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:

  • Spatial
  • Musical
  • Mathematical
  • Linguistic
  • Intrapersonal
  • Interpersonal
  • Kinesthetic
  • Existential (spiritual)
  • Naturalistic

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.

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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.

Genius Question


Anish Patel from San Francisco + Mumbai on September 11, 2021:

Always fascinating to learn about what it is that we consider genius. I have always been fascinated by people who are considered to be creative genius. Great article.

Rev Bruce S Noll HMN from Asheville NC on July 21, 2012:

Hi lundmusik!

Forgive me for my tardiness. It's been almost a year since you graced me with an encouraging comment. I appreciated it then as I do now. I began to read the works of those who were kind enough to follow me. That search brought me here.

So very well done, but I don;t think I had to tell you that. You knew. I believe we are all born with some special gift. Many of us get sidetracked and consequently fail to develop that gift. I don't think there's a time limit or limitation that prohibits us from beginning the development, but the longer we wait to initiate it the harder I believe it gets. Thus, the tone of my message to young men. They must be encouraged to know they have a gift and to get started in it's discovery and use.

I don't know if our gifts become genius, ye t we will never know if we fail to seek it!

Thank you for bring this wonderful hub to our community!

I am, indeed, grateful!


Timothy Donnelly from Ontario, Canada on March 09, 2012:

Lundmusik, I had to revisit this Hub about Genius, as I have been involved in other discussions that reminded me of its premise. Let me now contribute a few quotes and anecdotes for the cause …

"A True Genius never fails to take pains." (Unknown Author)

"A True Engineer is a Maestro of Genius in the Symphony of Pains." (Timothy A. Donnelly)

"The True Maestro knows his audience as well as the composition he conducts, with the Pains of a Genius." (Timothy A. Donnelly)

Lundmusik, each of the people you give example to in your Hub, took exceptional pains to engineer their legacy, and thus thereby have shared their genius with the world. To some it comes more easily than for others, according to our [God] gifted talents. Nevertheless, as do us all, even the genius must trudge on through the drudgeries of WORK, especially in order to create a masterpiece.

Their satisfaction, I think, comes from their love of their work, as well as from the great results with which they conclude and offer up for scrutiny.

The great work or "Magnum Opus" left behind then creates a yardstick or standard, by which other like creations are then judged or measured.

In the field of Philosophy of course, the door is flung open for more perspectives, segues, and rational. In Music, sometimes a whole genre is created. In Science, the paradigm is utilized as a fundament of testing, and may even be modestly described by the mastermind as a "discovery", rather than a contrivance worthy of patent (except perhaps in this day and age).

It is interesting to note also, that the TRUE Genius is by nature, unpretentious, in that he more immediately recognises what he does not know rather than what he has calculated, concluded, composed, or constructed. In my opinion, the gaudy ones, who are full of showmanship and pride, boasting of their accomplishments, lack this nobility of the True Genius, and their works will surely be swallowed up, just as sure as the sun rises on the morrow.

lundmusik (author) from Tucson AZ on January 09, 2012:

kschimmel, thanks for your comment... I was always in honors classes and have a very high I.Q.(which, according to my Anthro prof years ago is part genetics and part acquired through a good education).. However, in high school I remember two people who were so much smarter than I am that I acknowledged it even at my ego-filled young age, and even before they both went on in life as National Merit Scholars (and god knows what else they probably achieved after that) I still remember the young woman (who I was good friends with) shaking her head at me when I couldn't quite catch on to some of her more abstract explanations of art, literature or politics.

Kimberly Schimmel from North Carolina, USA on January 09, 2012:

Great article! In our egalitarian society it sometimes seems like nobody wants to acknowledge that some people really are more intellin=gent than the rest of us. I for one am glad geniuses exist(ed) because I enjoy their music, science and literature!

Kate P from The North Woods, USA on November 02, 2011:

Rated up, awesome, and interesting. I had no idea how much labor went into trying to define "genius." I guess I could take my cue from Forrest Gump and say, "Genius is as genius does" -- though that may be too easy!

This whole thing reminds me of an argument my boyfriend and I had: Is "talent" something inherent, or is our upbringing and good old hard work to blame? Either way though, it's amazing to see what humans can do. I honestly think that we all have a little genius in us as parts and parcels of the divine. Great Hub!! :)

lundmusik (author) from Tucson AZ on October 25, 2011:

thanks phoebe for your comments

Phoebe Pike on October 25, 2011:

Everyone is a genius. Every single person in existence is. We need to remember that genius is not only defined by test scores, but our abilities that we are capable of. Whether it is music, writing, dancing, it doesn't matter because all of us have genius just waiting to be seen.

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on October 02, 2011:

the job email that we have been exchanging, in other words, you have cheked it.

lundmusik (author) from Tucson AZ on October 02, 2011:

no i haven't,, are your talking about the intuit email?

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on October 02, 2011:

don't want to put another check your email out there, but have you?

lundmusik (author) from Tucson AZ on October 02, 2011:

they hire undergraduate,, do have any undergraduate studies?

lundmusik (author) from Tucson AZ on September 29, 2011:

thanks green lotus,, i appreciate it....

Hillary from Atlanta, GA on September 29, 2011:

Congrats on your Hubnugget win!!!

Micheal from United Kingdom on September 28, 2011:

I think your father was a pretty smart cookie. For example my wife really does have an IQ of 142...and she married me?

lundmusik (author) from Tucson AZ on September 28, 2011:

thanks molometer,,,, my mother, bless her heart, wanted all of her children to aspire to greatness, some combination of accomplishment, intelligence, fame, fortune, whatever -- my dad would (who was quite a bit more intelligent than she was) would very gently say to her " now now..." and then take us aside and say, in effect "bull...t"

Micheal from United Kingdom on September 28, 2011:

Great hub, Lundmusik. I agree with Green Lotus concerning I.Q. tests. There is an element of the "type" of person that excels in IO tests. People who like to solve puzzles for example tend to score highly.

There is the idea that people who do well in IQ tests like doing and spend their time doing IQ type tests and are therefore "prepped" to do well. Great hub gets the grey matter working. Voted up interesting. Genius.

lundmusik (author) from Tucson AZ on September 25, 2011:

thanks fordie,, appreciate your comments

fordie on September 25, 2011:

Great hub. I appreciated the depth you have brought to the subject.

Have you ever read "Godel, Escher, Bach: an eternal golden braid" by Douglas Hofstadter? I think you would enjoy

lundmusik (author) from Tucson AZ on September 24, 2011:

thanks Green Lotus,, I always remember my Anthro professor saying that his I.Q. increased by 40 points from undergrad to the time he got his doctorate... he was certain that he didn't get smarter, just learned more and maybe took the tests a little better

On the other hand, one of my sons, who I thought was slow (didn't talk much) tested in the gifted range, was put into a special program, and really excelled -- turns out he was just bored and had turned into his own little world -- he told me later that he thought the games I tried to play with him were stupid LOL

Thanks for your review, and thanks again for the hubnugget nomination.

Hillary from Atlanta, GA on September 24, 2011:

I thoroughly enjoyed the read, lundmusik and I'm eager to read more of your work. I'm captivated by both the subject and your style. I personally think intelligence tests are not only riddled with flaws, the results can prove to be counterproductive to the individual. Another curious thing about true genius is that it is (unfortunately) not always a benevolent human quality.

lundmusik (author) from Tucson AZ on September 22, 2011:

thanks lynda,,, i appreciate your comments

lmmartin from Alberta and Florida on September 22, 2011:

What intelligence tests don't measure is the individuality of the human mind. Many people are "gifted" in some way but deficient in another, as though the gift of genius in one area carries a price tag. For example, some score off the charts in the areas of language arts but can't grasp rudimentary mathematics -- and vice verso.

One may be a genius in one respect and a moron in others. No test can capture that.

This is a great hub, Lundmusik. Lynda

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on September 20, 2011:

;) Couldn't say it myself, so I'm glad you did! I can definitely tell by what you write about and how you present the information that you are intelligent. As for me, well ...

lundmusik (author) from Tucson AZ on September 20, 2011:

thanks homestead,,, appreciate your review... I think genius is such a subjective term.. although someone who has contributed above and beyond to the betterment/enrichment of mankind (through the use of personal extraordinary characteristics), in my mind would qualify,, I think Mother Theresa qualifies for sure with the definition of genius as related to multiple intelligences...

You and I may not be geniuses, but it's really apparent to me that we're both pretty damn smart :)

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on September 20, 2011:

There is a drawback to being a genius - difficulty in being able to relate to others. It's hard for the genius and the ungenius to communicate. It's kind of like someone who has alot of common sense trying to understand someone who doesn't have any. It doesn't make sense to either party. Great hub - well reasearched and well presented!

lundmusik (author) from Tucson AZ on September 19, 2011:

Thank You, Timothy,, I appreciate your comments..

Timothy Donnelly from Ontario, Canada on September 19, 2011:

Great Hub! We need something like this in the HubPages community, perhaps just to encourage the pursuit of understanding, because that is the whole premise of the genius mind - the understand things, if not effortlessly, then easily, on account of their acute and practiced mental callisthenics. Of course, this implies actively seeking consistent exercise in a higher education.

One of my favourite quotes from Albert Einstein is “All religions, arts, and sciences are branches of the same tree.”

Thanks, and regards.

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