Malcolm Gladwell on Genius

Posted 7 years ago by Adam Gautsch

A pet interest of mine is trying to better understand those who are considered geniuses. Malcolm Gladwell has an extremely interesting (of course) piece on the subject in the most recent New Yorker. He focuses mainly on the myth that all genius pours from a person easily and at an early age.

The article tells the story of those who struggled for decades to create great works of art. Focusing mainly on the writer Ben Fountain and the artist C├ęzanne. It's interesting to read about the personalities that bloom late and the support system needed for such a late bloom.

As an aside, Jonathan Safran Foer is mentioned and interviewed in the article as an example of the phenom (early genius). If you're interested more in him, I'd suggest listening to this interview on Slate.com

2 Comments

Evan Tishuk ~ 7 years ago

We have to decide what defines the term genius. Is it relative to the current average of human talent or intellect? Would a visiting alien with mental abilities far beyond any living human's be considered a genius? Does "genius" imply a certain notable achievment? Does it require a degree of consistent mental or creative fecundity or can you have one big hit and then fade away? Are freakish athletes geniuses?

Scientific American has a fantastic article that I've referenced before titled, The Expert Mind. It explains that just about anyone can become an "expert" at anything if given enough time and a serious approach to learning. The difference between expert and genius is that anyone can become an expert, but not necessarily be a genius. Given the looseness of the text-book definitions here, I think that is a fair distinction to make.

So with that we can safely say that a genius is a significant spike in the landscape of normal ability. I would continue in saying that there's probably a combination of brain engineering and random circumstance that enables the genius to see deeper or think a little faster. Whether that's innate or the product of experience is up for debate but either way the genius has to find herself in the right environment at the right time to fully manifest.

Would the genius proto-human who harnessed fire be a genius today? Was he just another conscious brain in the right place at the right time when some stray lightning provided a novel idea?

Interesting topic indeed.

olivier blanchard ~ 7 years ago

Isn't genius simply an expert moved by inspiration?

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