G is for Genius

Brainiac. Virtuoso. Polyhistor. Savant. Egghead. Prodigy. Sage. Bookworm. Natural. All of these are colloquial terms for genius, albeit the last definition of genius. Historically, genius is regarded as the guiding force, the tutelary spirit, the angel (or devil) on the shoulder. Let’s forgo the supernatural history and explore the mind-numbing diversity of today’s genius.

A brief consultation with the word-chronicling masters at Merriam Webster bring us their fifth and our operative definition of genius:

5. plural usually geniuses

a : a single strongly marked capacity or aptitude <had a genius for getting along with boys — Mary Ross>
b : extraordinary intellectual power especially as manifested in creative activity
c : a person endowed with transcendent mental superiority; especially : a person with a very high IQ


Considered by most in society, the 5c definition is merely outdated. In times gone by, genius was measured solely by intelligence quotient (IQ).

To qualify as genius to Leta Hollingworth, pioneer of education for exceptional children, and the most staunch advocates of the IQ test, subjects had to score over 180. To the academic community, who saw genius in their arenas, and Lewis Terman, who popularized the IQ testing in schools, the score of 140 heralded the title.

Leonardo da Vinci (self portrait) considered universal genius with estimated 220 IQ

Over the first few decades of the IQ test, significant changes were made to accommodate for evidence the test was skewed against certain ethnic groups, cultures and women. Simply, answers considered wrong for the sake of the test were correct when placed into the social context of the test subject.

Based on the fallibility of the test, and the growing number of test subjects from whom averages could be drawn, the numbers changed. Genius is recognized at the thresholds of 136 (98.770 percentile) and 162 (99.994 percentile).

Mensa celebrates those with very high IQ scores. The society only accepts those with scores above the 98th percentile (130.82) of the Stanford-Binet scale.

This level of intelligence is considered universal genius.


The one thing the IQ test failed to recognize was not all people can be exemplary on a fully rounded scale. Where a person could be brilliant in mathematics, the same could fail miserably at chemistry. The 5a definition covers those who are adroit in one of the standard intelligence-measuring fields, but are average or lacking in others.

Stephen Hawking…estimated IQ shared with Einstein ~ 160

One of the most recognized geniuses of the modern age is Steven Hawking. The physicist and cosmologist is brilliant in his field, yet required an oral examination to get his baccalaureate from Oxford due to less than stellar grades.

This group is where savants reside. Typically, a savant is outstanding in one field or specialty, but handicapped in other areas. Pop culture was broadly introduced to savant tendencies in the Dustin Hoffman movie Rain Man, which featured an autistic man with extraordinary mathematical skills despite the mental and social retardation associated with autism.


In the subjective fields, such as literature and art, genius is recognized under the 5b definition. While the argument has never been settled as to whether universal genius is needed to be a musical or artistic genius, it could not hurt. Sampling the average IQ of recognized and celebrated fiction writers and artists would bring a number in the low 150s. Compare this with the estimated 160 IQ assigned to Albert Einstein.

The ability to create has been recognized as genius for centuries. It includes the liberal arts in their totality:

  • Music
  • Art (sculpture, painting, etc.)
  • Philosophy
  • Literature
  • Performing Arts (acting, dancing, etc.)

Virtuoso and grand masters are all considered genius within their respective fields. Some of the most talented in the arts span large genre gamuts with skill, for example, in singing and writing or sculpture and acting.

Growing Up

Geniuses show their abilities early. They exhibit a great understanding of the world around them, a wisdom beyond their years. While this intuition may be centered on certain interests, they pursue and build upon it with enthusiastic energy. Their creative thinking offers the ability to solve problems without the jaded views of the impossible adults garner with age.

Many philosophers offer the theory genius can be stifled by the ignorance or misunderstanding which surrounds them in society and family. Bertrand Russell believed genius could be crushed by an unsympathetic environment during youth. Adults misunderstand a prodigy when they see it because they cannot grasp the concepts wielded by the child.

Grey Matter

MEG scan of the brain highlighting emotional response

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) all show the brains of geniuses in different light. MRI show more development in the physical parts of the prefrontal cortex and the superior parietal lobe (complex thinking and sensory perception, respectively). This gives rise to the nickname Egghead.

PET and MEG scans reveal the electrical impulses, which are thoughts traveling across the surface of the brain, move faster in smarter people. While this supports the theory smart people think faster, it also proves they are not using their brain more, only more efficiently.


There is a direct link between genius and mental illness. Science continues to struggle with the direct correlation between the activity of the genius brain and the chemical and physical brain malfunctions which result in a wide array of mental illnesses.


And then there are the geniuses we create. He just may just be a little of all of the above.

Super Genius

Have you come in contact with a genius? Were you ever tested on the Stanford-Binet or Cattet scales for IQ? Who is your favorite created genius? Do you believe we all have genius ability on at least one level?

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© Red Dwyer 2012
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  1. I agreed with just about everything you touched on there. Something must be wrong with me!

    It seems most people have a set total brain capacity, and when they’re really good in one area, it’s balanced by being poor in another area. The science geek who’s a social misfit is a good example. The true super-geniuses like Leonardo who seemed to be good at just about everything probably had some sort of increased brain capacity or processing power. And they tend to be incredibly rare.

    Creativity is not measured in the standard tests which I always thought was a major flaw.
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    • Red

       /  April 7, 2012

      I agree with you about the tests. They tend to punish those whose answers are creatively generated rather than reward them for coming up with another answer beyond those the test creator could conceive. I have to question the tests on the basis…how can you test someone who is smarter than the test creator? To my mind, epic fail.

  2. The concept of genius is entirely subjective. Some so-called ‘genius’ types with high IQs are dumber than a bag of hammers with no common sense and have no skills whatsoever. The application of common sense, with specific outcomes in mind, is genius. The use of knowledge, understanding the impact of knowledge and the application of knowledge is genius at work.
    Considering that previously-called ‘idiot savants’ have unbelievable levels of knowledge and display extreme abilities in certain areas, it may be suggested that every individual is already blessed with all knowledge ever required, –but simply does not know how to access that information stored in the brain. I am of the opinion that we may in fact more likely be dumbed down from absolute and perfect knowledge. How about researching that in the corner office….”:) ~R
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    • Red

       /  April 7, 2012

      My study of genius is what lead to the questions. Watching the developments of what neurologists and neurosurgeons are discovering about the brain support the theory we all have the capacity for genius. Although Bertrand may have been a smug one in his day, I believe he is correct about the smothering of genius by those who fail to understand them.

  3. Genius? I can’t even work out how to wear a snuggie blanket!!!!

    I think everyone has their moment of genius.
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    • Red

       /  April 7, 2012

      LOL! Not being able to operate a snuggie should be on the test to PROVE genius 😉 Great to see you today, Loon. I think we all do have genius somewhere locked away.

    • I could demonstrate that for you Loon, it is a bit like getting used to this flapping Cape of mine but eventually it becomes so simplistic that even landings on washing lines are possible 😉 lol

      Have a lovely Easter Loon 🙂

      Androgoth XXx

  4. This is another fine offering Red and I have enjoyed reading this one, you know there are so many intelligent people in the world that never even get recognised but as for those geniuses that have been legendary, well they do stand out from the crowd.

    Sometimes, such as when a discovery is realised one automatically thinks of genius but like J. R. Oppenheimer’s creation of the first Nuclear Weapon in the guise of the Atomic Bomb, it just goes to show that brilliance can be a tad misunderstood, of course the breakthrough of the A-Bomb would have been invented sooner or later and so genius still fits the criteria.

    His work in Quantum Mechanics, Black Holes and other important investigative research has also brought his intelligence to the fore but there are also so many unknowns, geniuses that are never acknowledged and that is a shame I think.

    Sorry for going off on another tangent, I do witter on sometimes you know? 🙂

    Have a great evening Red 😉

    Androgoth XXx

    • Red

       /  April 7, 2012

      The tangents are good, Andro. It means you are thinking about the subject and paralleling to your own knowledge. Lets me know I am not off in the atmosphere all that far.

      Have a lovely morning, Andro. A very happy Easter to you.

      • Thank you for your kind thoughts Red and I am just leaving for the morning, do have the sweetest of Easter weekends with your Bear and enjoy all those hugs, Bears love to hug don’t they so you will be spoiled 🙂 😉

        By the way, you are doing absolutely brilliant with this fine new Space of yours and it is really taking off with the wonderful themes that you offer us all and I thank you for all of your most excellent efforts my great friend 🙂

        Androgoth XXx

  5. Hi Red! 🙂

    I passed an IQ test for a training course in programming with a rating of 162 and an aptititude for logic.

    My dad had me down as mentally retarded and destroyed everything I created or tried to create in his efforts to crush my spirit.

    I then spent a decade as a programmer writing bespoke software.

    I doubt if I would ever score today what I scored then…

    Love and hugs!

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    • Red

       /  April 8, 2012

      The test is designed to favor the young. Chances are none of us would score as highly as we did back when…{HUGZ} Red.

  6. Several in my life including my youngest son, who also growing up had the common sense of a gnat and the emotional maturity of blowfly.

    I was tested years ago, don’t remember the scores but it drove my dad insane that I couldn’t (wouldn’t) do math / algebra with those scores. I simply don’t think like that.
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    • Red

       /  April 8, 2012

      Choices and alternatives. Proof the test, regardless of modification is skewed. It can only be graded based on the skill of the evaluator to perceive the answers of the subject. I have non-verbal children who have aptitude beyond their years but cannot express it in terms others understand.

  7. you forgot to add ‘Rachael’ under your list for genius heh. Top 1%. Sadly no common social behavior or common sense comes with the results. Which is why I have not attended a meeting in 15 years.
    Fucking social ‘tards or blowhards go to the meetings.
    Really, it is a fabulous club to beat morons over the head with.
    Mensa actually began with a test score of 135 to qualify, it is now 163.
    Don’t forget though that the standardized tests have 16 point deviation built in.
    So I could be a sub-genius…
    Also believe that Juvenile should also begin with a G….
    Yours in Foolishness
    ps. My personal quote: There is a fine line between genius and insanity… I have erased this line
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    • Oh, Red you are such an over-achiever. Crap, I’m only up to the letter F.
      See you at the next meeting….
      Miss R recently posted..F is for FunnyMy Profile

      • Red

         /  April 8, 2012

        So I should not mention I am working on J now, eh? Meeting schmeeting. I have not been to one in a couple decades…

    • Red

       /  April 8, 2012

      I erased mine with a power washer. xxx

  8. While I have never been tested, I could certainly be the genius to which you refer LOL.. I like that ‘literature’ is included in the list of the creatives 🙂
    Christy Birmingham recently posted..Friendship Is A WorldMy Profile

    • Red

       /  April 9, 2012

      It has to be, Christy. The power of imagination in storytelling goes back further than the written word. Those who possess the skill of penning great prose, drama and poetry (including song) have to be classed in the genius realm. It is a talent few have and fewer still pursue. Shame really.

      Good to see you today, Christy. And yes, I do see you in the genius category. 😉

  9. I’ve always been a bit frightened of I.Q. tests…
    pretty sure I’d spend at least half my time figuring out which end of the old ‘number two’ is the business end!
    LOVE that you used one of da Vinci’s drawings, here, Red…
    Obviously a painter of unbelievable talent…
    but there’s just something about his drawings
    (they’re so ‘delicate’ – if that’s the right word – I think I like them even better than his paintings…)
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