genius, in Roman religion, guardian spirit of a man, a family, or a state. In some instances, a place, a city, or an institution had its genius. As the guardian spirit of an individual, the genius (corresponding to the Greek demon) was largely the force of one's natural desires. The genius of the paterfamilias was honored in familial worship as a household god and was thought to perpetuate a family through many generations. Notable achievements or high intellectual powers of an individual were attributed to his genius, and ultimately a man of achievements was said to have genius or to be a genius.

A genius is a person of great intelligence or remarkable abilities in a specific subject, who shows an exceptional natural capacity of intellect and/or ability, especially as shown in creative and original work, something that has never been seen or evaluated previously. Geniuses always show strong individuality and imagination, and are not only intelligent, but unique and innovative.

The term may be applied to someone who is considered gifted in many subjects or in one subject.

Although the term "genius" is sometimes used to denote the possession of a superior talent in any field, e.g. a particular sport or statesmanship, it has traditionally been understood to denote an exceptional natural capacity of intellect and creative originality in areas of art, literature, philosophy, music, science and mathematics.


Genius may come in a variety of forms, such as mathematical genius, literary genius, or poetic genius, philosophical (visionary) genius amongst others. Genius 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. Intellectual geniuses often 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.

The multiple intelligences hypothesis put forth by Harvard University professor Howard Gardner in his 1983 book Frames of Mind states there are at least seven types of intelligences, each with its own type of genius. To be classed as a genius in music, you must be within the top 3% of your country's population.

The most popular way of determining one's intelligence is with an Intelligence Quotient (better known as I.Q.) test. Two among the most influential psychologists studying intelligence, Lewis M. Terman and Leta Hollingworth, suggested two different numbers when considering the cut-off for genius in psychometric terms. Dr. Terman considered it to be an IQ of 140, while Dr. Hollingworth put it at an IQ of 180. Moreover, both these numbers are ratio IQs, which in deviation values used currently put the genius IQ cut-off at 136 (98.77th percentile) and 162 (99.994th percentile) respectively. There are also several examples of people with IQ levels in the genius range who have a disability or very low level in one of the subcategories, such as music. In addition to the fundamental criticism that intelligence measured in this way is an example of reification and ranking fallacies, the IQ test has also been criticized as having a "cultural bias" in its interpretation despite claims that these tests are designed to eliminate race/gender for example by predicting numerical sequences, etc. Accordingly, the definition of genius embraces those who do not necessarily have an IQ test score of this stature, or who have not even taken such a test. A vast intelligence is needed, but the mental state of possessing genius is based primarily upon an incredible understanding of complex issues and problems, and a profound creativity and imagination; i.e. not based too strongly on IQ tests.


In Ancient Rome, the genius was the guiding or "tutelary" spirit of a person, or even of an entire gens, the plural of which was 'genii'. A related term is genius loci, the spirit of a specific locale. A specific spirit, or dæmon, may inhabit an image or icon, giving it supernatural powers.

A comparable term from Arabic lore is a djinn, often Anglicized as "genie". Note, however, that this term is considered a false friend, not a cognate by most Anglo-American anthropologists. Recent work by Russian, Romanian, Italian and a few American linguists may return the word to cognate status.

For more information on these etymological roots, see Genius (mythology).


Geniuses are often accused of lacking common sense, or emotional sensitivity. Stories of a genius in a given field being unable to grasp "everyday" concepts are abundant and of ancient vintage: in his dialog Theætetus, Plato offers a picturesque anecdote of the absentmindedness of Thales. Some individuals in this arena of "absent-minded professors" and persons lacking normal social skills fall in the autism spectrum (such as Asperger syndrome). A genius's intense focus on a given subject might appear obsessive-compulsive in nature (e.g., Howard Hughes and aviation), 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.

While the absent-minded professor notion is not without merit, a genius is just as likely to encounter emotional problems as anyone else. Note the peculiarities of figures like Glenn Gould. Eccentricities such as the ones conveyed by Gould are most likely because of the vast brainpower which normally comes with genius. Einstein was also known for his quirky behaviour. Some geniuses' works are also unappreciated during their lifetimes due to their tendency to be ahead of their time.

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.

Some research shows that reasons other than maladjustment make companionship difficult to find for geniuses. As intelligence of a person increases, the number of those whom he or she considers peers tends to decrease. For example, at an IQ of 135 (on the Wechsler Scale) only every hundredth person would be of equal or greater IQ. This number shrinks exponentially as IQ goes up.

Dr. 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. The theory also states that children and adults become intellectually ostracized from their contemporaries when an IQ difference of 30 points or more exists.


Various philosophers have proposed definitions of what genius is and what that implies in the context of their philosophical theories.

In the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, a 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 for Schopenhauer. 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 by another person. In the Kant Dictionary (ISBN 0-631-17535-0), Howard Caygill talks of the essential character of "genius" for Kant being originality. This genius is a talent for producing ideas which 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 19th century.

See also


Further reading

  • Harold Bloom (2002). Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds. Warner Books. ISBN 0-446-52717-3.
  • Clifford A. Pickover Strange Brains and Genius: The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists and Madmen. Plenum Publishing Corporation. ISBN 0-306-45784-9.
  • James Gleick Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman. Pantheon. ISBN 0-679-40836-3.
  • Stephen Jay Gould (1991). The Mismeasure of Man, revised and expanded. W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-03972-2.
  • David W. Galenson Old Masters and Young Geniuses : The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-12109-5.
  • Francis Galton Hereditary Genius.

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