Are You A Genius?

I’ve noticed that today’s usage of the word “genius” has gotten pretty fast and loose. One result being that it’s frequently applied to all manner of things more banal than profound.

“Muddled basil in a cocktail?  That’s genius!”

“You hung a hook at the garage door for your keys?  You’re a genius!”


Sadly, I notice that I’ve fallen prey to this tendency, too. And I don’t like it.

Mostly because, like the maverick scientist/researcher Allan Snyder, I’m “intoxicated by the notion of genius.”

So. Out of respect for the phenomenon (and the individuals possessed of it), I’d like to refresh the definition.

Because of his work in the mind sciences, Snyder has incredible insight into the qualities surrounding genius.

In his own personal definition he not only describes the phenomenon but highlights an essential element that seems to have been forgotten — and rarely applies to the examples we claim in casual usage:

“Genius is more than simply advancing knowledge, it is changing how people think, how they look at the world.
You see, advancing knowledge is very much a lower-down subset. Radically changing how we think about something is quite different than incrementally advancing a field. Copernicus changed the fact that we are no longer the center of the universe: That’s powerful.
It is to me very important to separate out the incremental advancement of knowledge from genius. Every expert in the world incrementally advances knowledge, but that is completely different from the person who stands outside the box and changes how we think.
If we don’t have that component of changing the way we think when calling someone a genius, I really feel you are missing the essential essence.”
– Allan Snyder


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