My first proposition is that “genius” is like “greatness” … it is an abstract concept the comes from our human brains, it is a word that describes what we think of something.
That said, it’s subjective. It is not objective. Some people don’t seem to like the notion of subjective greatness or subjective genius. They ask “who was the greatest composer?” or “how can we know the greatest music when we hear it?” They don’t seem to understand the notion that “greatness” is a thought, a psychological factor. It is not like size or mass, properties that manifest themselves in the physical touchable world.
So … what or who is “genius” is completely subjective. However, I think we’re raised in a world that doesn’t like to admit that.
Secondly, everyone is pretty intelligent. I think we often think of math skills as being the biggest “genius” factor … how well someone can do calculations in their head or how well they can do in a math competition or on a math test become measurements of “genius.”
But if you learn anything from studying artificial intelligence, from trying to make a computer do some simple human tasks, you realize how hard some human feats are. Being able to see a picture and instantly recognize all kinds of objects and structures in milliseconds … pretty amazing. Being able to balance on one foot, being able to fall forward just enough to put enough weight on the other foot as when walking … pretty amazing. Being able to hear sounds and interpret meanings out of them quickly, being able to structure new sentences with new meanings in seconds, being able to think in images and to have ideas and to decide what to do one morning … all pretty amazing things.
But they don’t really seem that amazing in the real world. Why? Because everyone can do them. Even the dumbest idiot can walk and talk. But the smartest robot who can calculate faster than the human calculator, who can beat a grandmaster in chess, can’t walk or talk, not with the ease of a human.
So perhaps we like to think of a “genius” not necessarily as someone who’s “really smart” but as someone who’s just plain special, someone who can do things that most people can’t. (Especially if it involves math.)
Which brings me to my next proposition: anyone can do just about anything. Not everything, but anything, with dedication. That is, sometimes it’s dedication that we replace with “genius” … after all, dedication can be extremely hard. Have you tried writing a book lately? Yikes.
Or take piano playing. Often those who can play very well are deemed intelligent, smart, smarter than average at least. I wouldn’t disagree of course (least of all because I can’t play myself), but I do believe it’s something anyone can learn, anyone who’s willing to give it dedication.
That’s probably not much of a proposition … you probably knew that already, huh? I don’t know. Sometimes I meet people and they feel like it’s “too late” for them … or they feel like if they weren’t “born with the talent” then there’s no way to gain it, even though it seems to me that all talent is gained through dedication.
All that said, yes, I do agree that some people can learn certain things faster than others. Some people have certain subjects come to them more quickly. Is that perhaps the measure of genius?
It’s kind of sad how we all might have some instinctive need to feel special, yet at the same time we can recognize that we can’t really be, not how we’d like to be.
I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore, I’m just blathering. That’s what this blog is for. Reading back over this post, I already sort of disagree with myself in some parts. Oh well. What do you think? Truth is an emergent property, eh?
People like to suffer!