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What is a Genius?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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A genius is someone who is both extraordinarily intelligent and extremely creative. Plenty of people are smart and even intelligent, but they aren't quite geniuses because they lack the creative abilities required. Other people are creative to some extent, but they do not have the intellectual capability to harness their creativity. Some famous examples include Mozart, Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein, who is often used as the classic illustration for this term.

The exact definition of this word is actually rather difficult to pin down, because there are no clear, subjective measures that can be used to classify who is a genius and who is not. Generally, it is assumed that one has a unique and novel way of approaching situations and the world, retooling ideas and potentially creating something so monumental that it changes the way other people think. Einstein, for example, came up with a mathematical formula that changed the face of physics.

Some people measure genius on the basis of someone's Intelligence Quotient (IQ). This measurement is far from ideal, however; many people think that IQ tests are limited, and the true test of a genius is what he or she produces in life. These individuals are also often talented in multiple fields, in which case they could also be considered polymaths. Leonardo da Vinci, for example, was a polymath, skilled in the arts and sciences. Einstein, on the other hand, focused on physics specifically.

Some people feel that geniuses are crippled by their own intelligence. It is true that some have had difficulty with social interactions historically, and some of them have interesting quirks. Being a genius does not inherently mean that someone cannot function in the world, however, and plenty of these people are perfectly capable of handling the events of a day to life, often with great success. Because many think in ways which are very different, sometimes it can be a challenge to follow a conversation with such a person.

Why one person becomes a genius while someone else remains relatively ordinary is a mystery. There appear to be clear genetic links, although environment is also an important factor. Scientific studies of the brain have also suggested that such people may have slightly different brains. Incredibly gifted individuals may be talented because their minds are actually wired differently, facilitating communication between normally isolated areas of the brain or changing the way in which information is processed. The fact that many of these people are child prodigies supports this belief, as it suggests that the groundwork for genius is laid early.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon967274 — On Aug 26, 2014

First you have to define a genius. A genius may be very good at one thing like painting, but they may not excel at something else

So essentially, a polymath can be a genius, because Da Vinci was not only an important artist but a genius of painting and drawing.

Or you can look at Micheal Jordan who is a genius at basketball, etc.

A genius is one who is able to harness his or her ability to do extraordinary things.

By anon338114 — On Jun 11, 2013

Being autistic is different from being a genius in the same way being a bat is completely different from being a bird.

By anon338084 — On Jun 10, 2013

Geniuses might seem odd because some of the trappings of social etiquette seem a bit primitive and petty in the same way that a child might not want to eat a cookie just because it is broken.

By anon338081 — On Jun 10, 2013

Geniuses have interests that they are a little obsessed with, which makes it difficult for them to want to do school work. They don't have autism. They have a lot of something which draws their energy and focus away from doing things like having a conversation. For the individual who is speaking to the genius, it might look as if the genius is not interested in what is being said to them because their attention seems to be short.

Geniuses also do this to themselves when they are trying to speak. Their attention is being sucked up by something acting like a magnet, which they need to have a moment to harness. Sometimes it comes up dramatically and the genius seems to have "word vomit". It can be distracting enough that they might kind of forget what was being discussed. Some of it is that a genius has a lot of practice constantly being focused on something versus the amount of practice they have shifting their attention to doing something like speaking. A genius is fully aware of the problem, whereas an autistic person might not be.

By anon338079 — On Jun 10, 2013

Other people will recognize a genius as being very different. They experience the opposite of what people call a "brain drain" when they are around stupid people. The difference is that normal people recognize why they get the "brain drain" sensation, but they don't understand what they are sensing when they are around a genius. The genius will make them a little paranoid and maybe subconsciously jealous or threatened.

By anon329895 — On Apr 12, 2013

People believe me to be a genius, and over time I have come to accept this. Without the creative flair, a person is simply intelligent.

By anon329036 — On Apr 07, 2013

A genius does not have a opinion, a genius knows reality, and an IQ test genius is a retarded genius. Every real genius has perfect logic anytime, and does understand everything that he/she experiences. Of course, you cannot understand something you don't know. A genius is someone who is in touch with reality and accepts it. A genius accepts that he/she is not intelligent, but just more intelligent that all those idiots around him/herself. That is a real genius. -- Carlo B.

By anon325436 — On Mar 16, 2013

A genius is one who can change the world by showing what he/she knows that the world still doesn't know about. I've been able to do it since I was a kid and still don't have credit and I believe I found out why.

Einstein wasn't a genius. And each time the world gives him credit, it suffers. He was just an idiot with dumb luck who studied very hard at his one subject. A genius doesn't study. He researches life to make sure it can sustain his own existence.

Issac Newton was a genius. He did it right and learned it right. Einstein was just from a bad neighborhood. Do you really listen to people from bad neighborhoods whether they are genius or not? He's from the same neighborhood as Adolf Hitler. The exact same neighborhood.

Sure, Einstein has his one thing. But that doesn't make him a genius. Giving credit to him for being what he wasn't only makes yourself as who you are.

By anon294266 — On Oct 01, 2012

I wanted to comment as I believe I am "gifted" and with a body of work over my life, I will eventually be a "genius". I differ from others in that I have low latent inhibition. That means when you see something for what seems like the 20th time and kick on assumptions, I see it with fresh eyes. This allows me to make connections where others miss them and new connections are the source of all new ideas.

A genius needs to combine this with a zest for accomplishment and a focus on the work that sometimes goes as far as ignoring food and water until the body feels weak. It's dedication. Geniuses have to go a little crazy to cope with a life of everyone trying to steer them back in the herd mentality.

All geniuses are rebels at heart, I think. Also I have heard it said that genius is the child of sorrow, and that is where I got mine. I also heard it said genius is never losing the child inside, or reclaiming it later in life. Learn how to use your right brain. The left brain is linear and for memorizing information to spit out on standardized tests. An extremely high IQ correlates to a reduction in creativity and a person lacking creativity is no genius, only a walking data base. We have computers for that.

I also believe you cannot truly live life until you accept death. I really get how finite life is and only fear living as a slave to the herd mentality.

By anon137012 — On Dec 25, 2010

What makes Einstein a genius? Contrary to what most people believe, it was not the fact that he discovered relativity, but rather how he went about doing it. He asked a series of very creative questions and then conducted another series of even more creative thought experiments to answer these questions. The end result was the theory of relativity.

But even without this end result, he would still have been a genius (albeit an unrecognized one) purely by the process he followed.

By anon85884 — On May 22, 2010

If you really looked into it, many more people would be considered geniuses, if given the opportunity to be heard without being profiled. Education levels are not a judge of genius. Listen to people. We can fix a really messed economy very simply. You will see in the very near future.

By anon62504 — On Jan 27, 2010

People who are more capable of using the brain then others, they have both imagination and logic, maybe intuition and that is that.(Yeah, i know mine was an opinion, but notice what every noticeable genius had in common.)

By anon62010 — On Jan 24, 2010

First of all i want to say that your comment is intelligent but, i disagree about what you say about their versatility. genius consists in trying different ways of doing things.

Einstein didn't just wake up and worked out the formula of relativity. he tried lot of times until he got it. with this i mean that a true genius is always going to listen other opinions and if they don't agree they will say it as everybody else when they don't agree. Besides this, the genius usually thinks about things that are really hard to discover and even hard to think about.

By john1373 — On Jan 18, 2010

A rich and wonderful article. But,I feel something is missing - hard work. Geniuses are obsessed and possessed by their quarry. They merge seamlessly with it. This I think makes it difficult for them to be versatile. While I am a great believer in exceptions, geniuses are seldom polymaths.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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