Can We Define Genius?

August 17, 2016 – 12:43 pm
Facts About Forensic

Homer, Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, Mozart, and Tolstoy; Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Curie, and Einstein. What do these world-famous figures in the arts and sciences have in common?-apart from the fact that their achievements are a century or more old. Most of us would probably answer something like this: all ten individuals through their work permanently changed the way that humanity perceived the world: each possessed something we call genius. But pressed to be more precise, we find it remarkably hard to define genius, especially among individuals of our own time.

Despite his fame and influence, Pablo Picasso's stature as a genius is still debated, for example, as is that of Virginia Woolf in literature. In science, Stephen Hawking, although often regarded by the general public as a contemporary genius comparable with Einstein, is not accepted as such by the physicists who fully understand his work; they regard Hawking as only one of several current luminaries in the field of cosmology.

Genius is highly individual and unique, of course, yet it shares a compelling, inevitable quality-for the general public and professionals alike. Darwin's ideas are still required reading for every working biologist; they continue to generate fresh thinking and experiments around the world. So do Einstein's theories among physicists. Shakespeare's plays and Mozart's melodies and harmonies continue to move people in languages and cultures far removed from their native England and Austria. Contemporary ‘geniuses' may come and go, but the idea of genius will not let go of us. 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.

The word genius has its roots in Roman antiquity; in Latin, genius described the tutelary (guardian) spirit of a person, place, institution, and so on, which linked these to the forces of fate and the rhythms of time. Among the Romans, the idea of genius had no necessary relationship with ability or exceptional creativity.


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