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A genius (plural genii or geniuses, adjective ingenious) is a person, a body of work, or a singular achievement of surpassing excellence. More than just originality, creativity, or intelligence, genius is associated with achievement of insight which has transformational power. A work of genius fundamentally alters the expectations of its audience. Genius may be generalized, or be particular to a discrete field such as sports, statesmanship, science, or art.

Although difficult to quantify, genius refers to a level of aptitude, capability or achievement which exceeds even that of most other exceptional contemporaries in the same field. The normal distribution suggests that the term might be applied to phenomena ranked in the top .1%, i.e. three standard deviations or greater, among peers. In psychology, the inventor of the first IQ tests, Alfred Binet, applied the term, to the top .1% of those tested. This usage of the term is closely related to the general concept of intelligence.

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

Historical development

Intelligence testing was invented by Francis Galton and James McKeen Cattell, who had advocated reaction time and sensory acuity as measures of "neurophysiological efficiency" and that latter concept as a measure of intelligence. By intelligence they meant a heritable trait, which was a general intelligence factor. Galton is regarded as the founder of psychometrics (among other kinds of metrics, such as fingerprinting), He was a fan of Charles Darwin, who showed that traits must be inherited before evolution can occur. Reasoning that eminence is caused by genetic traits he did a study of their heritability, publishing it in 1869 as Hereditary Genius. His method was to count and assess the eminent relatives of eminent men. He found that the number of eminent relatives is greater with closer degree of kinship, indicating to him (since then debated) that a genetic trait is present in an eminent line of descent that is not present in other lines.

Galton's theories were elaborated from the work of two early 19th-century pioneers in statistics: Karl Friedrich Gauss and Adolphe Quetelet. Gauss discovered the normal distribution (bell-shaped curve): given a large number of measurements of the same variable under the same conditions, they vary at random from a most frequent value, the "average", to two least frequent values at maximum differences greater and less than the most frequent value. Quetelet discovered that the bell-shaped curve applied to social statistics gathered by the French government in the course of its normal processes on large numbers of people passing through the courts and the military. His initial work in criminology led him to observe "the greater the number of individuals observed the more do peculiarities become effaced ...." This ideal from which the peculiarities were effaced became "the average man."

Galton, himself a child prodigy, was inspired by Quetelet to define the average man as "an entire normal scheme"; that is, if one combines the normal curves of every measurable human characteristic, one will in theory perceive a syndrome straddled by "the average man" and flanked by persons that are different. In contrast to Quetelet, Galton's average man was not statistical, but was theoretical only. There was no measure of general averageness, only a large number of very specific averages. Setting out to discover a general measure of the average, Galton looked at educational statistics and found bell-curves in test results of all sorts; initially in mathematics grades for the final honors examination and in entrance examination scores for Sandhurstmarker.

Galton now departed from Gauss in a way that became crucially significant to the history of the 20th century AD. The bell-shaped curve was not random, he concluded. The differences between the average and the upper end were due to a non-random factor, "natural ability", which he defined as "those qualities of intellect and disposition, which urge and qualify men to perform acts that lead to reputation ... a nature which, when left to itself, will, urged by an inherent stimulus, climb the path that leads to eminence." The apparent randomness of the scores were due to the randomness of this natural ability in the population as a whole, in theory.

Galton was looking for a combination of differences that would reveal "the existence of grand human animals, of natures preeminantly noble, of individuals born to be kings of men." Galton's selection of terms influenced Binet: geniuses for those born to be kings of men and "idiots and imbeciles", two English pejoratives, for those at the other extreme of the "normal scheme." Darwin read and espoused Galton's work. Galton went on to develop the field of eugenics.

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'.


Genius is expressed in a variety of forms, such as mathematical genius, literary genius, scientific genius and philosophical 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. 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.

A controversial hypothesis called multiple intelligences put forth by Harvard Universitymarker 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.

IQ Tests

The only currently acceptable scientific way of determining one's intelligence is with an intelligence quotient (better known as IQ) 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 assurances that these tests are designed to eliminate race/gender for example by predicting numerical sequences, and other culture free measures, and using statistical methodology such as Differential item functioning to eliminate test bias. Accordingly, the definition of genius can include those who do not necessarily have an IQ test score of this stature, or who have not even taken such a test. Popular assessment of genius often relies not only on a vast intellect, but also upon a combination of an incredible ability to understand complex issues and problems, a profound creativity and imagination, and the ability to channel such skills into productive outlets.


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 someone, 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. For Kant, originality was the essential character of genius. 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.

In the philosophy of David Hume, the way society perceives genius is similar to the way society perceives the ignorant. Hume states that a person with the characteristics of a genius is looked at as a person disconnected from society, as well as a person who works remotely, at a distance, away from the rest of the world. "On the other hand, the mere ignorant is still more despised; nor is any thing deemed a surer sign of an illiberal genius in an age and nation where the sciences flourish, than to be entirely destitute of all relish for those noble entertainments. The most perfect character is supposed to lie between those extremes; retaining an equal ability and taste for books, company, and business; preserving in conversation that discernment and delicacy which arise from polite letters; and in business, that probity and accuracy which are the natural result of a just philosophy."

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