By Anupama Bhattacharya
What makes a genius—high IQ, creativity, perceptivity? Or is it an intangible essence that connects man to the creator within?
Below 50 Moronic
50-80 Below Average
111-120 Above Average
200+ Universal genius
In 1926, psychologist Dr Catherine Morris Cox published a study of some eminent men and women of the past to estimate what their IQs might have been. The resultant IQs were based largely on the degree of brightness and intelligence each subject showed before attaining the age of 17. Taken from a revised and completed version of this study, here are the projected IQs of some of the best scorers.
|John Stuart Mill||Philosopher/Economist/Political theorist||200+|
|Johann Wolfgang von Goethe||Poet/Writer||200+|
|Emanuel Swedenborg||Religious writer||200+|
|Blaise Pascal||Mathematician/Physicist/Religious thinker||200|
|Bobby Fischer||Chess player||190|
|Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart||Composer||160|
Recently, I asked a friend if he knew of any Mensa members. He promptly answered that all wannabe geniuses undertake the Mensa workout. But only those who qualify, talk about it. Before you wonder what this is all about, let me clarify. Mensa is an international society comprising those with an IQ (intelligence quotient) of 130 or above—that is, the top 2 per cent of the world’s intelligent people.
And no, Mensa doesn’t help you get a job, perform better, get recognition or make life easier. In most cases, Mensa, or other such high IQ societies, provide only a forum for intellectual brainstorming along with, of course, a massive ego boost. So why so much fuss about a high IQ?
Flashback to your school days. Those who scored highest were favored the most, immaterial of their sensitivity, idealism or creativity. At home, your imaginative stories were discarded in favor of your sibling’s physics projects. Nothing seemed as important as getting high grades in the hallowed quartet of physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics. Now go and take an IQ test. Deja vu? A trip down the memory lane? Not quite!
Though people with high IQs don’t necessarily perform well in school (both Einstein and Newton appeared less-than-bright as students), it usually works the other way round—those who score high in science and mathematics usually score higher than average on IQ tests. The reason? Well, though the modern IQ tests claim to calculate your 13 main abilities—visual apprehension, spatial apprehension, arithmetic, logic, general knowledge, spelling, rote utilization, intuition, short term memory, geometry, algebra, vocabulary and computational speed—there is a strong bias towards mathematical comprehension. In fact, many standard IQ tests take into account only three factors: mathematics, logic and general knowledge. Not surprisingly, even the scores vary, depending on the test you have taken. When I took a standard IQ test that measured only mathematics, logic and general knowledge, I scored 125, whereas in the second test that measured all the 13 above mentioned abilities, my IQ score shot up to 145.
So, to what extent are IQ tests an accurate measure of genius? ‘Intelligence tests have a rather one-dimensional approach to the degree of giftedness,’ says Richard Wallace, a US-based researcher on mental potentials. ‘Most of them fail to recognize that it is possible to arrive at answers that are different and as plausible as the ones designated by the test designer.’
A case in point is the prototype of genius, Albert Einstein.
It is believed that Einstein actually had an IQ of about 160-much higher than the average (between 85-115, according to the Stanford-Binet scale), but pretty less than, say, Thomas Aquinas, Darwin, Rene Descartes, Goethe and John Stuart Mill (all between 165 and 200). So what made Einstein different?
‘Genius,’ explains A.C. Bharadwaj, a former professor of philosophy at Allahabad University in India, ‘is a combination of three ‘I’s: intellect, imagination and intuition. Every genius is a bit of a mystic at heart. With a high IQ, you might be a computer whiz. But you won’t be an Einstein.’ Because, unlike most theoreticians and intellectuals, Einstein didn’t perceive the world as a fixed pattern of black and white. What he saw, instead, was an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colors that contained in it the deepest mysteries of the universe.
‘The important thing is not to stop questioning,’ said Einstein. ‘Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.’
Or take Marie Curie. The first person to have received an unprecedented two Nobel prizes, Marie perceived the world around her with a childlike sense of wonder. ‘A scientist in his laboratory,’ said Marie, ‘is not a mere technician: he is also a child confronting natural phenomena that impress him as though they were fairy tales.’ Strangely, goody-goody factors such as hard work, practice and determination often have little to do with genius. ‘Usually,’ says Steve Allen, a US-based writer for the Skeptic magazine, ‘geniuses just happen to hit the bull’s eye. Since they have a different approach to work, they are more likely to come up with unconventional solutions, but by and large, their work comes easy to them.’
The answer here lies in the politically incorrect theory of inequality.
‘Idealists love to believe that all people are born equally able and that inequality results only from unjust privilege. But mother nature is no egalitarian,’ explains Linda S. Gottfredson, CO-director of the Delaware-John Hopkins project for the study of intelligence and society in the magazine The Scientific American. ‘People are born unequal in intellectual potential. Although subsequent experience shapes this potential, no amount of social engineering can make people intellectual equals.’ Even genetic research indicates that people are born with different hereditary potentials for intelligence. In fact, a team of scientists, headed by Robert Plomin of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, recently announced the discovery of the first gene linked to intelligence. Not to mention the Darwin, Curie and Huxley families where genius, or intelligence, seems to pan generations.
After taking into account gender and physical stature, brain size as determined by magnetic resonance imaging is somewhat correlated with IQ,’ explains Linda. ‘The brain waves of individuals with higher IQs respond more promptly to sensory stimuli." No wonder the Einsteins, Leonardo da Vincis, Ramanujans, Amartya Sens and Stephen Hawkings of the world are often quirky, bordering on the idiosyncratic and prone to irritation at even the slightest disturbance.
‘Genius,’ says Bharadwaj, ‘is rarely charming. What has distinguished it over the ages is a keen perception and impatience with mediocrity. They are not here to make polite conversation. They are here to make a difference.’ In fact, history is witness to the fact that geniuses are often social misfits.
‘It is about a difference in perception,’ explains Gloria Davis, a California-based teacher of dyslexics (those who have a difficulty in reading or using language). ‘A lot of geniuses are dyslexics who solve problems through visual imagery and have problem communicating their ideas in conventional terms.’
Like Einstein. This celebrated dyslexic imagined traveling on a sunbeam and came to the conclusion that the universe was curved. Or da Vinci, another dyslexic, who wrote most of his theories in reverse script.
In fact, a list of the better-known dyslexics reads more like a who’s who among world’s greatest geniuses. From John Lennon and Agatha Christie to Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Michael Faraday, Pablo Picasso and Walt Disney, dyslexics have spun images in their heads, played with them, and have come up with some of the most astounding pieces of music, literature and scientific discoveries.
Which is why a cut-and-dried IQ test is rarely the correct barometer of a person’s talent and intelligence.In fact, emotional quotient (EQ) is increasingly being accepted as an important factor in intelligence measurement. ‘The manipulation of information,’ explains Linda, ‘such as discerning similarities and inconsistencies, drawing inferences and grasping new concepts constitutes intelligence in action.’ But the ability to deal with cognitive complexity need not be synonymous with genius.
‘With a high IQ, you might be great at winning a debate, but not necessarily at solving problems,’ says Wallace. ‘A genius is someone who actually creates the unusual or the spectacular.’ Or someone who can see beyond what is obvious and take humanity a step forward on the evolutionary ladder.
Interestingly, some amount of this potential lies dormant in all of us. This is the Einstein Factor, the latent catalyst for genius that most of us fail to tap.
Dr Win Wenger, a pioneer of intelligence studies, feels that geniuses are people who have stumbled upon a way of perception that widens their channel of conscious attention, bringing into focus their subtle, unconscious awareness.
He even goes on to suggest that people can learn to tap this potential, as well as increase their IQ, by practicing a technique called Image Streaming.
In a nutshell, genius is all about deconditioning. Knowledge, as they say, is as old as creation and as new as this moment. What we see is what we have been conditioned to see-be it from a moron’s perspective or an intellectual’s. But a genius sneaks out of those vibgyor-tinted glasses, crawls into time cracks and sees that which is too obvious to be noticed.
Relativity? Almost! Only, a genius does not merely imagine like an unsung poet. Or burn his midnight oil like the absent-minded professor. ‘A genius is the perfect amalgamation of karma yoga (work), bhakti yoga (faith or intuition) and gyan yoga(knowledge or intellect),’ says Bharadwaj. ‘It helps him utilize his divinity without losing touch with his mortality.’ A missing link between man and superman? Perhaps! The idea is to have the cake and eat it too.
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