When I was a senior in college, I took a class in art history from a beloved professor, Lloyd Reynolds. On the day our final exams were returned, the professor called out my name and discovering I had skipped class, he read my essay to those present. After he’d finished, he concluded that I had a genius for understanding art.
When the report of what he’d said reached me, I don’t know which affected me more: that I’d been complimented by a respected teacher or that I’d been caught skipping class.
Later the professor found me and while returning my exam, he repeated his earlier remark. I must have stared at him, dumbfounded, because he leaned into my ear to ask, “You understand the difference between having a genius and being a genius don’t you?” As a matter of fact, I didn’t but being too embarrassed to ask, I nodded and turned on my heels, hoping my cloud of confusion would help me disappear.
To this day, I have no idea what the difference is between having a genius and being one — except to say, and without false humility, genius and I are not acquainted. I know what a genius is, of course At the college I attended, they were as plentiful as blades of grass on the campus lawn. I’ve broken bread with geniuses and scratched my head over their philosophies. The experience has taught me that I don’t not think as they do and that I dwell in the land of the common man.
Nonetheless the question put to me by Professor Reynolds has haunted me since I first heard it. So far, I’ve come no further in my understanding of the distinction than to guess that having a genius has more to do with intuition than with being smart. It means arriving at solutions through insight rather than achieving it through reason. For the moment, at least, that is my guess.
In “The Difference Between Being Really Smart… And Being A Genius,” (Click) Jenna Birch suggests I might be on the right track. She confirms a distinction exists, at least, between being a genius and having a high I.Q. Genius, scientists suspect, may be the gift of genes rather than the product of an enriched environment, for example. But the main thrust of the distinction is that the former is capable of game changing life views.
Thomas Edison said genius was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. But maybe it only seemed that way. Maybe inspiration plays a larger role than initially imagined. First comes the insight; then comes the hard, “working backwards” to establish an idea’s validity.
Of course, I’m guessing. No one knows what genius is. Studies along these lines haven’t proceeded far. Still, should science manage to define genius in my lifetime, I’ll still be left with my conundrum: the finer distinction between having a genius and being one.
(Orignally published 5/6/15)