Genuis definition paper:

The word genius comes from the Roman myth standing for a protecting or guarding spirit.  According to this myth, every individual had genius and it was often believed that people who had extraordinary abilities in intellect and art were given these abilities from the god genius.  Accordingly, this god was worshipped as a household god  (“genius” 1).  Today, the presence of genius as a god is no longer existent, but the abnormal abilities that were always related to it are still there, enjoyed by so many individuals in this world.  The problem is how to detect these people, thus raising the question, what is a genius?

The term genius is one of the many terms that are used carelessly by people.  A genius is often someone known to have higher abilities than ordinary people, whether in arts, sciences or even in his speech.  However, a genius can also be someone who can resolve problems with an original touch or who can provide others with ways to resolve problems which they think are impossible to resolve.  Therefore, the term genius is one that cannot enjoy a definition of its own, simply because of the wide scopes that it can cover or the many meanings that it can lead to.

A genius does not always have to be an intelligent person.  The history of Lebanon, for example holds in its memory the story of a very famous genius, traditionally referred to as the “Fool of Shanai.”  Apparently, this man was the fool of the village, as every village had its fool.  Yet, this fool turned out to be a genius when the emir was trying in vain to find a way to pull the waters of the river to the faraway villages.  After so many fruitless discussions, the Fool of Shanai came out with the idea that each of the emir’s men would dig his grave in a row until finally they reached the source of water.  The plan worked out just well, and the emir was able to drag the water to the villages.  Whether this idea was a spark of genius or not is out of question, but whether the originator of the idea himself, the Fool of Shanai was a genius or not is an issue that contains a lot of argument.

A genius is often considered to be an individual with high levels of intelligence.  At least this is what is commonly thought of him. Yet, this makes the definition of genius itself a controversial issue, since intelligence itself is detected with tests and methodologies that may not really show the aspects of genius in a person.  Gifted individuals, for example, are defined as individuals who “have above-average intelligence (an IQ of 120 or higher) and/or superior talent for something” (Santrock 174).  Obviously, this puts the Fool of Shanai and many others like him out of the circle, because not only are these required to have a talent for something, but they are also required to have an IQ of 120 or  higher, which is far above average.

Another similar controversy is detected in the historical records of the US immigration records. In the early 1900s, the US used IQ (intelligence quotient) to measure the different abilities and talents of immigrants who came from different ethnic origins.  Most immigrants who came from non-speaking origins were seen as individuals with poor intelligence because they scored an average of 87, which is far below the 100 standard.  Yet, these groups included the Jews, Hungarians, Italians and Poles.  These groups were often stereotyped as suffering from intellectual inferiority.  The discrepancy, however, arose as numerous members of these cultures were eventually able to become very high achievers in the American society (Zanden 233).

Genius as a characteristic often intersects with creativity which is “the ability to think about something in a novel and unusual way and to come up with unique solutions to problems” (Santrock 175).  A genius is therefore someone who can come out with new and original ideas that help resolve problems in certain situations where others may not be aware of how the problem has to be resolved.  Creativity is a necessary prerequisite before one becomes a genius, but the question is whether a genius needs intelligence too or not.  The Fool of Shanai was not intelligent, otherwise his fellow people would not have called him a fool, and the same applies to many others.

Yet, controversy continues, especially as genius or giftedness as it is sometimes called, may be the result of social labeling.  Actually, a strong argument exists among psychologists and in the educational circles supporting a theory claiming that genius “is the result of being labeled as such and has no independent existence in its own right” (Horowitz & O’Brien 40).  According to this theory, the genius only exists in a social context and only because society has labeled or identified him as such. However, this contradicts with the example of the Fool of Shanai who was labeled as a fool, and yet, he was able to show the characteristics of genius with his solution that outsmarted that of the wisest of men.

Another theory on genius states that society is actually a repressive agent of giftedness, since many individuals with genius simply passed unnoticed by their societies.  Examples supporting this theory are many, including great artists and musicians who were never celebrated in their lives, but rather, were given credit only after their death.  Yet, deciding whether this has always been the case or not remains critical.  It is usually assumed that there has always been a numerous number of unnoticed talents which go unappreciated in this world, but arguing that these are too many lacks supportive evidence (Horowitz & O’Brien 40).

One reason that makes genius individuals go unnoticed in life is that social values and norms tend to emphasize the commercial success of an individual as the basis of giftedness.  Given the realities of social dynamics and the way social perceptions and images develop, this tends to be true to a great extent.  However, this claim also remains controversial, especially when taking into consideration the fact that genius is not only restricted to commercial success or other financial achievements.  Taking commercial success as a basis for defining genius, it is hard to understand how geniuses such as Mozart became globally identified for their outstanding genius, although they lived most of their lives in poverty (Horowitz & O’Brien 40).

With the commercial success identification failing to enjoy strong ground, another more appropriate explanation might be possible.  A more encompassing view claims that creativity and genius require a connection or relation between the gifted person and a certain situation in the world (Zanden 235).  This means that for an individual to be identified as a genius, there needs to be a relationship between his gift and a certain situation.  For example, the Fool of Shanai might have been a gifted person who was perceived negatively by his society (perhaps due to a certain situation) and when the suitable situation occurred, he was able to express his giftedness in a way that achieved  him the status of genius.  Yet, many others may not have had such chances because they never had the suitable situation which would enable them to show their genius.

To elaborate on these situations, Howard Gardner came out with a theory on genius where he classified seven main fields where intelligence and creativity may appear.  These were the linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal fields (Zanden 233).   Accordingly, an individual might excel in any of these fields in order to be perceived as a genius by his society.  However, it cannot be argued that this is final either.  For example, excelling at an intrapersonal level means that the individual has outstanding abilities in understanding himself (Zanden 233).   The extent to which knowing the self very well can be useful in defining a genius cannot be decided, especially that little interaction with society is involved.  On the other hand, excelling in mathematical or logical abilities, usually perceived as a sign of genius in many societies, may not lead to defining the individual as a genius, especially if no practical utility could be obtained out of this genius.

Therefore, this leads the argument back again to the beginning, that is, to the necessity of the social situation.  Without the relevant social situation, it is impossible to decide whether one is a genius or not.  A genius might go unnoticed for years and perhaps a lifetime because his intellectual abilities were not discovered or put into a practical outcome.

These deductions lead to the notion of relativity.  In other words, there may not be, after all, a genius in the abstract or concrete meaning of the word. The definition genius remains a question of relativity to society and social perceptions and measurements.  Whatever measures, tests or scales are set to measure genius, giftedness or intelligence, the issue remains open to all kinds of interpretations.  It might be unjust that an individual with outstanding abilities will not be identified as a genius until society decides to do so. It might also be unjust that such an individual might never be identified as a genius until the right situation comes, since this situation might never appear.

Needless to say, not only are geniuses restricted to social perceptions, but they may also be considered as victims of society.  Identifying the Fool of Shanai as a fool can be seen as an injustice to this individual, since even after expressing his gift, his society might have considered it an outstanding brilliance on his side, given that he was a fool. Similarly, when the outstanding intellect of a genius is ignored by society at first, and eventually by the person himself who feels neglected, this genius side of intellect or intelligence might eventually degenerate due to lack of practice or use. Accordingly, it can be argued that many geniuses are simply let to degenerate into normal individuals due to society’s negligence and indifference.

Apparently, a genius can have a major impact on society, given the right time and situation, but in reality, it is society that decides in the end whether to treat such an individual as a genius.  Whether social negligence could suppress the individual’s genius abilities remains uncertain since no evidence exists, but certainly, social indifference will not stop this individual from remaining a genius.  Yet, who will define such a person as a genius if society does not? Certainly not he himself.

Answering the question of who is a genius and who is not might simply carry the argument back to the original Roman myth which believed that every individual was bestowed upon by the god Genius.  It only remains a matter of where and when this genius will appear.

Works Cited

“Genius.” Encyclopedia Encarta97. Microsoft Incorporation, 1997.

Horowitz, Frances Degen & O’Brien, Marion. The Gifted and Talented.

Washington D.C.:  American Psychological Association, 1985.

Santrock, John W. Adolescence: An Introduction.  New York: Brown &

Benchmark, 1993.

Zanden, James Vander.  Human Development.  New York: McGraw Hill,

Inc., 1993.