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Genius is an extremely powerful intellectual capacity standing in a class of its own far above that possessed by the vast majority of people. The term genius is also commonly applied to people possessed of such capabilities, especially in their ability to achieve creative and original work. The term may also be applied to someone who is a polymath or a prodigy. Although the term is sometimes used to denote the possession of a superior talent in any field (Roger Federer may be said to have a genius for tennis or Winston Churchill for statesmanship), in many instances the term is used specifically to denote an exceptional natural capacity of intelligence in areas of art, literature, music, science, or mathematics. Geniuses who have made significant contributions to their fields of expertise and whose work has transcended their own era include Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Mozart.


Genius is generally considered to involve both outstanding intellectual ability identified as a gift for some skill or area of knowledge and the realization of its potential. Such realization is accomplished through dedication, and the results are tangible and creative, bringing to human society something that was not there before. Developing the brilliant child who will become a successful genius ideally requires a balanced education providing support for not only a focus on the particular ability but also character development and socialization. Without such balance, the potentially genius individual may experience so much emotional and social distress as to cause the person to withdraw from society, unable to achieve happiness and fulfillment on a personal level or to use the great creative ability to benefit others.


In Ancient Rome, the genius was the guiding or "tutelary" spirit of a person, or even of an entire gens (a group of families believed to be descended from the same ancestor). A related term is genius loci, the spirit of a specific locale. In contrast, the internal driving force within all living things is the animus. A specific spirit, or dæmon, may inhabit an image or icon, giving it supernatural powers.

In this context, the plural of "genius" is "geniuses." The form "genii," the plural of the word in Latin, is the plural of a different kind of genius: the aforementioned guardian spirit of Roman and Greek mythology.


A genius may be defined as an individual of extraordinary intelligence, but, the definition of intelligence is not simple. In the 1950s, researchers and psychologists mainly identified giftedness in terms of a high score on an IQ test. IQ testers have used the following classifications to describe differing levels of giftedness. Each band of 15 points represents a difference of one standard deviation from the mean.

  • Bright: 115+, or one in six (84th percentile)
  • Moderately gifted: 130+, or 1 in 50 (97.9th percentile)
  • Highly gifted: 145+, or 1 in 1000 (99.9th percentile)
  • Exceptionally gifted /”genius”: 160+, or 1 in 30,000 (99.997th percentile)
  • Profoundly gifted /”genius”: 175+, or 1 in 3 million (99.99997th percentile)

Unfortunately, most IQ tests do not have the capacity to discriminate accurately at higher IQ levels, and are perhaps only effective at determining whether a student is gifted rather than distinguishing among levels of giftedness. Although the Wechsler tests have a ceiling of about 160, their creator has admitted that they are intended to be used within the average range (between 70 and 130), and are not intended for use at the extreme ends of the population. The Stanford-Binet form L-M, currently outdated, was the only test that had a sufficient ceiling to identify the exceptionally and profoundly gifted. However, because the instrument is outdated, results derived from the instrument generate inflated and inaccurate scores.

The Stanford-Binet form V and the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children—Fourth Revision, both recently released, are currently being evaluated for this population. Mensa offers IQ testing but these are only suitable for persons over the age of ten and a half years. Younger children need to be assessed by an educational psychologist to find out their IQ score. Also, those who are more gifted in areas such as the arts and literature tend to do poorly on IQ tests, which are generally verbal- and mathematical-skills related.

It has been suggested that genius cannot be determined by IQ alone, where it falls into various domains. It is generally recognized that those who are transcendent in one or more fields (though again, this term is difficult to measure) can be considered geniuses. However, even with this caveat on its use, the concept of IQ is still criticized as being too narrow a mode of measuring something as ambiguous and diverse as the intellectual qualities of humanity. There are several examples of people having IQ levels in the genius range while also having a disability or very low level in one of the subcategories. The IQ test has also been criticized as being racist in its application and conclusions despite the fact that these tests are designed to eliminate race/sex.

A broader approach to intelligence comes from "Mainstream Science on Intelligence," which was signed by 52 intelligence researchers in 1994:

a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—"catching on," "making sense" of things, or "figuring out" what to do. [1]

Also, a report of a task force convened by the American Psychological Association in 1995 concluded:

Individuals differ from one another in their ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, to overcome obstacles by taking thought. Although these individual differences can be substantial, they are never entirely consistent: a given person’s intellectual performance will vary on different occasions, in different domains, as judged by different criteria. Concepts of "intelligence" are attempts to clarify and organize this complex set of phenomena.[2]

Other definitions of genius

A broader definition, going beyond high scores on IQ tests, has been proposed to describe genius—a creative individual who is able to arrive at insights that are novel and yet strike a deeply responsive chord across the world's diverse cultures. Such a definition is a more accurate description of individuals such as Mozart, Confucius, or Shakespeare who have made advances that reverberate loudly across cultures and time.

Harold Bloom has described genius as

"the trait of standing both of and above an age, the ancient principle that recognizes and hallows the God within us, and the gift of breathing life into what is best in every living person."

Sir Francis Galton, who pioneered systematic study of genius, required that genius be demonstrated by actual achievement. He regarded genius as distinct from mere talent, in that genius involves originality, the ability to think creatively, exploring ideas and techniques not previously explored and so giving the world something of value that it did not have before.

The variety of examples from philosophers are indicative of attempts to either propose a definition of what genius is and what that implies in a limited context, or to establish certain qualifications that could deem "genius" as explicable and of fundamental value in a broader human context.

In the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, genius is a person in whom intellect predominates over "will" much more than within the average person. In Schopenhauer's aesthetics, this predominance of the intellect over the will allows the genius to create artistic or academic works that are objects of pure, disinterested contemplation, the chief criterion of the aesthetic experience. Their remoteness from mundane concerns means that Schopenhauer's geniuses often display maladaptive traits in more mundane concerns; in Schopenhauer's words, they fall into the mire while gazing at the stars.

In the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, genius is the ability to independently arrive at and understand concepts that would normally have to be taught to another person. Howard Caygill talks of the essential character of "genius" for Kant being originality. For Kant, genius is in many ways the inverse of judgment—whereas judgment allows one to determine whether something is beautiful or sublime, genius allows one to produce what is beautiful or sublime. Thus genius is a talent for producing ideas that can be described as non-imitative. Kant's discussion of the characteristics of genius is largely contained within the Critique of Judgement and was well received by the romantics of the early nineteenth century.

Types of Genius

The multiple intelligences hypothesis put forth by Howard Gardner in his 1983 book Frames of Mind states there are at many types of intelligences, each with its own type of genius:

  • Linguistic intelligence
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence
  • Bodily/Kinesthetic
  • Musical intelligence
  • Spatial intelligence
  • Interpersonal intelligence
  • Intrapersonal intelligence
  • Naturalist intelligence
  • Other intelligences (spiritual, existential, moral)

Artistic Genius

Artistic genius (strong spatial intelligence) may show itself in early childhood as a prodigy or later in life; either way, geniuses eventually differentiate themselves from the others through great originality. Some examples of artistic genius include:

Musical Genius

The classic skill of the musical genius is the capability of holding many different melodies in one's head at once and knowing how they interact together. It is said that the great classical composers could hold five, six, or even seven different melodies in their minds at once. They could write complicated music with many different parts all at once without having to hear it played. In comparison, the average person can only hold one melody in memory. Mozart, for example, apparently completed his musical compositions in his head and simply wrote them down when he was done.

Notable examples of classical musical genius include

Literary Genius

Extreme originality is a crucial component of the literary genius (linguistic intelligence). In Genius, Harold Bloom writes of one hundred literary geniuses, and also includes several of their own definitions of genius. William Blake, a visionary genius expressed that genius "is always above its age." For Ralph Waldo Emerson, genius was the God within, the self of "Self-Reliance." James Russell Lowell said, "talent is that which is in a man's power: genius is that in whose power a man is." Bloom concluded that genius:

by necessity, invokes the transcendental and the extraordinary; because it is fully conscious of them. Consciousness is what defines genius: Shakespeare, like his Hamlet, exceeds us in consciousness, goes beyond the highest order of consciousness that we are capable of knowing without him.

Literary geniuses who transcended their eras include:

Scientific Geniuses

It is thought that intellectual geniuses have crisp, clear-eyed visions of given situations, in which interpretation is unnecessary, and they build or act on the basis of those facts, usually with tremendous energy. Accomplished geniuses in intellectual fields start out in many cases as child prodigies, gifted with superior memory or understanding. Among the great scientific geniuses (extraordinary logical-mathematical intelligence) are:

Social and emotional issues

The social and emotional issues faced by a genius who displays outstanding ability early are the same as those faced by gifted children. Gifted children have greater psychomotor, sensual, imaginative, intellectual, and emotional "overexcitabilities" (OE). While every gifted child may not exhibit each OE, gifted children almost always exhibit higher than average intellectual and emotional intensities.[3] Such high levels of intensities have been referred to as a “Tragic Gift.” To the layperson, these intensities might be perceived as psychopathological rather than indicators of a strong potential for advanced personality development. The intensity of the gifted has, unfortunately, resulted in some highly gifted individuals being improperly labeled due to an inappropriate assessment. Following are some of the challenges the genius may face:

  • Isolation
  • Perfectionism
  • Underachievement
  • Existential depression or anxiety

A genius' intense focus on a given subject might appear obsessive-compulsive in nature, but it might also simply be a choice made by the individual. If one is performing groundbreaking work in one's field, maintaining other elements of life might logically be relegated to insignificance.

Socio-emotional problems are more prevalent in geniuses with an IQ above 145 (on the Wechsler Scale). Asynchronous development is the primary cause of this. As most children do not share gifted children's interests, vocabulary, or desire to organize activities, the genius child may withdraw from society.

Leta Hollingworth introduced the idea of an essential "communication limit" based on IQ. According to her theory, to be a good leader of one's contemporaries, he/she must be more intelligent but not too much more intelligent than the people who are being led. This implies that geniuses may not make good leaders of those substantially less gifted and that they could have disdain for authority. Critics reject the one-dimensional categorization of intelligence and note that history's most consequential leaders had to be exceptionally gifted in at least certain areas in order to attain the power and consequence they produced.

Associations for geniuses

A High IQ Society is an organization that limits membership to people who are within a certain high percentile of Intelligence quotient (IQ) test results, theoretically representing the most intelligent people in the world. High IQ societies typically accept a variety of standardized intelligence tests such as the Stanford-Binet test, WAIS-III (for adults) or WISC-IV (for children) and Cattell Culture Fair III test. Some conduct proprietary or alternative tests to determine membership eligibility.

Mensa is the largest, oldest, and best-known high-IQ society in the world, founded by Roland Berrill and Lancelot Ware in 1946. The name comes from mensa, the Latin word for "table," and indicates that it is a round-table society of equals. The organization restricts its membership to people with high testable IQs. Specifically, potential members must score within the top two percent (above the ninety-eighth percentile) of any approved standardized intelligence test. For example, the minimum accepted score on the Stanford-Binet is 132, while for the Cattell it is 148. In addition to encouraging social interaction among its members, the organization is involved with programs for gifted children, literacy, and scholarships.


  1. Gottfredson "Mainstream Science on Intelligence." Intelligence (1997), 13) Mainstream Science on Intelligence Retrieved January 15, 2007. This public statement, signed by 52 internationally known scholars, was active on the information highway early in 1995 following several rather heated and negative responses to Herrnstein & Murray's The Bell Curve. It was first published in The Wall Street Journal', (Tuesday, December 13, 1994).
  2. American Psychological Association task force report, Released August 7, 1995 Retrieved January 15, 2007.
  3. Sal Mendaglio, (2002). Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration: Some implications for teachers of gifted students. SENG: Articles & Resources. Retrieved July 19, 2007.


  • Bloom, Harold. Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds. Warner Books, 2002. ISBN 0446527173
  • Caygill, H. A Kant dictionary. The Blackwell philosopher dictionaries. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Reference, 2000. ISBN 0631175350
  • Galenson, David W. Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity. Princeton University Press, 2005. ISBN 0691121095
  • Galton, Francis. Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry into Its Laws and Consequences. London: Prometheus Books, 2006. ISBN 1591023580
  • Gardner, Howard E. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Basic Books, 1999. ISBN 9780465025091
  • Gould, Stephen Jay. The Mismeasure of Man, revised and expanded, W. W. Norton, 1991. ISBN 0393039722
  • Gleick, James. Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman. Pantheon, 1992. ISBN 0679408363
  • Mendaglio, Sal. 2002. Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration: Some implications for teachers of gifted students. SENG: Articles & Resources. Retrieved July 19, 2007.
  • Percival, Matt. 2006. The Quest for Genius. Retrieved August 4, 2007.
  • Mensa International. Retrieved August 4, 2007.
  • Pickover, Clifford A. Strange Brains and Genius: The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists and Madmen. Plenum Publishing Corporation, 1998. ISBN 0306457849
  • Unification Thought Institute. Essentials of Unification Thought: Head-Wing Thought. Tokyo: UTI, 2002. Previous text based upon Dr. Sang Hun Lee’s Lectures on Unification Thought. Retrieved August 31, 2007.

External links

All links retrieved December 9, 2013.


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