I got into a long and highly theoretical debate with a fellow Phd student recently, and it prompted this post. It started out as a conversation about a bad class we both took together, and started to veer off into who would, could or would’ve done well in that course. The conversation then steered itself into the concept of geniuses, hard workers, and contributions to society – big and small.
The terrible thing that we as a society often do to ourselves is to label some of us as geniuses – those special alien beings that can do what we can’t. Popular culture would have you believe that those people truly exist. You’ll hear stories about the 9-year-old kid that passed his SAT or just finished college, and immediately, you’ll accept your own lack of genius as a natural consequence of some unknown genetic factor that makes him/her special, and you, just you.
People are not primarily a result of their genetics – animals are (mostly), but not people – that is what makes us unique. To a certain extent we all know that, but I think the concept of genius is more amenable to civilized culture because it allows us to pass the buck.
“It’s OK that I can’t do what those other people can do. Afterall they’re geniuses – naturally gifted. Clearly, they are different than I am, so it’s ok that I didn’t do the thing that I really thought I can do” – you say to yourself.
You see, it’s much easier to accept that great things can only be discovered and accomplioshed by great people – that way we can go on living our own lives without the psychological pressure of knowing that we can be great too but that we have partly chosen not to be and the circumstances have also conspired to prevent it.
This is not an argument about self control or setting goals or any of that fluffy nonsense that the self-help industry peddles in soft back covers not even worth their weight in chimp’s poop. This is an argument about whether the concept of superior intelligence is perfectly correlated with superior achievement, whether the appearance of intelligence is often due to some genetic factors or some factor unseen by the public in most if not all circumstances.
More to come!