Defining Genius

Riccardo Annandale 7e2pe9wjl9m Unsplash

Defining Genius

Amelia Chan


At work we’ll be playing with someone who is apparently sometimes described as a genius – a discussion about what makes one ensued – which compelled me to put down some thoughts.

Genius being un-ordinary, it’d be arrogant of me to try to slap on a definition from my vantage point. This is of course subjective as well — but I find it meaningful to at least try to put into words some qualities around it. In our conversation the other day, someone said a genius is when a person can do things that nobody else can. But then the human race is eternally evolving. Paganini’s supposed technical wizardry is probably nothing special nowadays. People are running faster, doing more difficult things as time passes. There are many particularly talented individuals who help push the natural progress of the human race forward. Genius has got to be more singular than that.

A point was made that genius means having distinct voices. How Mozart created his own language, Schubert always sounds like Schubert, and Mendelssohn likewise. I  feel that is certainly a mark of genius. You can’t fake having an individual voice; what is unrecognizable will stay unrecognizable. Worse yet when something sounds like a copy-and-paste amalgamation of so many different personalities, dotted with self-conscious gestures of what the composer believes to make others think they’re brilliant, too—something “clever”. A pretense of sophistication and a convolution of non-expression. I ask, what’s the point?

It’s the same with any other form of expression. Writers who use big words that feel hollow, constructing complicated sentences to try to impress, muddying actual communication and obliterating any possibility of a signature in the pretension.

Does having a distinct voice alone make genius? After all, if one tries hard enough at being outrageous, one could indeed be plenty distinct. (You write clunkily in a pretentious way often enough, that can be self-identifying.) Instead, I feel that genius lies in where this distinct voice comes from: a profound INNER VISION that is somehow linked to a quality of CONNECTEDNESS, in infinite multitudes of ways. A genius uniquely sees more possibilities of what being human is, what being human could mean, that few others have seen, through the lens of what they do. Einstein (I feel) is a genius not because of his, albeit revolutionary, scientific achievement; but because of his vision about the much grander humanity — without which he would not have been able to achieve what he did. His genius lies not in cleverness and innovation, but in the vision behind said innovation. Innovation alone improves; but innovation stemming from an un-selfconsiously lofty vision, that’s also singularly insightful, inspires (besides taking the innovation to a whole different level).

In the end, genius and its effects evade strict definition precisely due to its nature. It wouldn’t be genius if it were a pre-conceived notion, anything predictable, or had bounds. Therein lies why it offers hope and elevates, because it offers visions of humanity beyond the utilitarian. It births possibilities beyond ordinary sights.



[Feature Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash.]


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