Some Touch of Madness

Carl:  The nature of genius… is… formidable as a subject. However I was recently inspired by the “Tournament Of Genius” at mental floss to reflect on what makes a mind truly formidable itself. Einstein, Leibniz, Disney. What was the link? I’m at a total loss, but I was hoping that if anyone reads this forsaken thing they might be able to contribute a comment on what makes them think they know genius from a hole in the wall.

Adam:  It’s hard to write about, and even harder to describe.  The elements that make a genius are as varied as the masterminds themselves.  It can be someone a proclivity to science and math, or to a musical instrument.  It can be someone that inserts words like “proclivity” into everyday conversation.  Whatever it is, though, it’s usually a combination of things that the person in question is able to turn into a sum greater than the whole of its parts.

Carl:  Yeah, but within that, isn’t there room for the untrained? The natural. Does someone who is simply good at picking things up qualify as a genius even if they don’t do anything greater in their life than learn how to program a VCR without trying or learn to fix a car with no manual? I think there is imagination in genius and more than that, I think that your use of the word “proclivity” makes you an “ass.”

Adam:  You’re more than entitled to that opinion.  (The “natural” part, and the “ass” part.)  But of course, I agree that genius is more innate than learned (and that I am an ass); it’s not as though someone can become a genius through education.  Rather, genius is bred into someone, education merely makes their executions finer – and this can be either self-taught, or taught by another.  For instance, I taught myself how to edit your post for spelling.

Carl: So what you’re saying is that education doesn’t sometimes smother genius? I feel like we have to assume everyone is both the next Rembrandt and the next Leibniz or we’ll miss whoever really is the next Rembrandt or Leibniz. I’m curious though, in a modern society don’t you think that a public education in America is at a much greater risk to snuff genius than nurture it. How much of it is luck?

Adam: Oh, all of it. While I don’t necessarily agree that public education is a hazard to genius, there are definitely aspects that are stifled by attending the same schools as “normal” kids, treating everyone as though they have the talents of every genius in history is dangerous and doomed to fail.  The idea is to identify those that do possess special talents (Carrie!), and give them the higher level of stimulation they need.  Otherwise you have every kid failing the first grade, and that’s just ludicrous.  I think the system as it stands now is decent.  I mean, I spent all my years in public school, and now I’m in Mensa.  It’s a matter of making it the least common denominator, because those kids that shine are going to find other ways to learn outside of school, and those kids that are well … dim are only going to succeed that way.

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2 responses to “Some Touch of Madness

  1. adam- methinks you need to insert the word “with” between “someone” and “a proclivity” in the 2nd line of your first paragraph.

    obviously there are different kinds of genius and I’m sure it’s not considered in the formal definition but I often think about “comic geniuses” – people who make quick neural connections which others don’t make – that allow them to be exceptionally funny a lot of the time. I guess it’s all about different kinds of neural connections… but maybe also about attitude as well, like an openness to thinking of things in different ways… that facilitates those connections… Part of genius is comprehending things quickly (the cerebral part) and part of it is coming up with new thoughts, new angles. That’s the creative part. I’m rambling.

  2. Leibniz may have calculus going for him, but read his metaphysics…this dude said we were self-contained units he called “monads” who couldn’t possibly interact with one another (God just timed everything right to make it look like we could), and that we never learned anything new, because everything we would ever be started inside our “monad bubble” to begin with…
    I don’t have much of a point, other than be careful when throwing the “genius” label around 🙂

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