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Can an intelligent individual do anything if he works hard enough?

  1. Aug 8, 2011 #1
    Is it needed to be a genius to do difficult intelectual work? Is every theoretical scientist that does important work a genius?

    This is bugging me lately. Sometimes I'm gonna do some things but I think "If you do this right you can be considered a genius or atleast a very intelligent person" and then I start thinking that thing I'm about to do is really difficult, because doing it would prove I'm very intelligent/genius. I study and do many different things because I'm motivated for it, and because of this people always say "wow you're so intelligent". But what made me study and understand all those things were motivation and hard work, I think intelligence doesn't have much to do with it.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 9, 2011 #2
    Well, you asked several different questions so I'll try to be specific.

    1. In response to your thread title, no, I don't think an intelligent person can do anything. It's a nice thought, but sometimes hard work just isn't enough. That's not to say that the hardest things are only achieved by prodigies, just that no one intelligent individual is guaranteed success in any particular venture. Large numbers of very smart people are striving to achieve a certain thing or solve a particular problem, but most of them are doomed to fall short or come up with smart (but wrong) answers. There are just too few positions to be had, and the wrong answers far outnumber the right ones.

    2. To the first of your two posted questions, no, genius is not required to master intellectually challenging material or work in a demanding profession. In fact, I would argue that this is where hard work pays off the most! You'll be hard-pressed to find a large number of slackers in high academia -- most of them are passionate, hard-working and subsequently intelligent. But I don't think it's fair to say that they would have been so had they not possessed the drive and work ethic required to learn all they did.

    Yes, there are prodigies. There are people who, seemingly without effort, devour the same subjects that 'mere mortals' struggle with. We've all heard of Aristotle, Newton, Leibniz, Euler and Einstein, as well as the more recent men like Witten -- whose historical significance has yet to be determined. But these men are far outnumbered (and outdone) by the countless scientists whose achievements remain largely unknown to the general public in spite of their positive or negative effects.

    At most universities there are competent scientists and promising students conducting research which will go largely ignored, save for fellow academics and inquisitive nerds subscribing to scientific journals. But this research will further enlighten mankind, and perhaps even have applications worthy of public recognition. You don't have to be a genius to achieve or contribute. You're surrounded by examples.

    3. For your next question, no, "important work" is not solely limited to the brightest few. It is certainly true that the most important things are generally discovered by men of intellect, but that does not mean they were excessively or abnormally intelligent. They were simply smart enough and, dare I say it, "lucky" enough to recognize what was in front of them or infer/intuit what was hidden behind the fog of uncertainty. (I hate to use 'luck', but I was reminded of the saying "The harder I work, the luckier I get.") The most prominent example of this would be Arno Penzias' and Robert Wilson's inadvertent discovery of cosmic background radiation. I recall seeing in an interview that they felt as if they didn't deserve the Nobel, because they saw it as a prize for genius -- their view changed upon further reflection, and the realization that genius was second to discovery. They were being honored for what they achieved, not who they were.

    All of that said, I think that most people have a hazy view of intelligence. It is widely and incorrectly assumed that you have to be exceptionally bright to grasp math and science, but only because people overlook the dedicated study that it takes to reach even the most base level of what one might call expertise. So while you may not be intrinsically more intelligent, you are discernibly so by design. You tried to be smart, and so you are. This describes most of us, anyway. The majority. The non-prodigy crowd.
  4. Aug 19, 2011 #3
    I agree. Most people could understand math if they had the motivation and tried hard. It must be impossible not to understand something if we try hard enough! It's always the same thing: knowing the concepts and how to relate the concepts.
  5. Aug 20, 2011 #4
    Generally speaking yes. But the hard part is being able to work hard enough. That is having a mind free of temptations that cause distraction. a couple quotes: Einstein to some kid "when I was your age I was no Einstein." DaVinci "If people knew how hard I worked on this stuff they wouldn't call me a genius." One more from my dad "A jew is a person with an organized mind."
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2011
  6. Aug 20, 2011 #5
    Wow only if I knew earlier that DaVinci and Einstein said that... Nice quotes, thanks a lot for that :smile:

    I think motivation is everything, and that motivation is what led the "genius" to make the work they did. For example, in Einstein's time, I don't think the other physicists were able to question their beliefs about space and time to make physics advance. Real motivation leads to doing everything possible to reach a goal, and in this case the other physicists weren't willing to do that I guess.

    Many people find it easier to say important researchers are "genius", so they have an excuse to not trying.
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2011
  7. Aug 20, 2011 #6
    Many people find it easier to say important researchers are "genius", so they have an excuse to not trying.

  8. Aug 20, 2011 #7
    I don't think you need to be a genius but I think that only 1 to 10% of people have the reasoning skills to critically relate together the information they digest. I am amazed the amount of people that can't follow non mathamatical discussions in phillosophy and economics. When it comes to math even basic calculus and statistics is lost on many. Many people whove studied calculus lose even the basic conceptial understanding of what a derivative is after school and many people who have studied basic economics have forgoten basic supply and demand.

    Simple elementry concepts make many peoples head hurt. People whose heads were full of ideas often lose the energy to think they once had when they age. Sure, with effort people could reach and maintain a higher level of cognition but not everyone has the same mental energy. The human mind is both limited by memory, the rate we can digest various kinds of information and the amount of information we are able to relate together. An average person can only hold about 5 pieces of information in their short term memory at once so in order to think more broadly one needs to think with their subcontios or with something external to themselves like paper or a computer.

    However, with all the above said perhaps I am biassed on what Ideas and concepts people should retain.
  9. Aug 20, 2011 #8
    I just finished Bob Dylans biography. Genius? Maybe but he also is a total professional and someone who during his really creative time worked hours without a break. and a jew. I'm not a jew.
  10. Aug 20, 2011 #9


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    I hope you know those quotes aren't by Einstein or DaVinci, I think Tregg might have made them up.
  11. Aug 20, 2011 #10
    Why do you keep bringing up Jews?
  12. Aug 20, 2011 #11
    lol I had a hunch, but they make sense anyway :smile:
  13. Aug 21, 2011 #12
    As far as I or anyone knows the quotes are true. But you're right they do make sense. Staying with the theme of this thread I bring up jews because many high achievers are jews. Eienstein of course. Dylan, Streisand. According to one source in pre WWII Germany jews made up a very small percentage of the population but they controlled 20 percent of the economy.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2011
  14. Aug 21, 2011 #13
    Yea but being a jew doesn't give them any advantage, it's not like they have a brain different from others :tongue:

    Yes and that's one of the reasons for the anti-semitism there, and I believe it's a core reason of why anti-semitism exists (many jews on high positions). Well now they own the major media networks in US, as well as Hollywood. If it wasn't for the holocaust there would be much more anti-semitism now...
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2011
  15. Aug 25, 2011 #14
    I think no finer example of this can be had than our political mess. Everything today is much more complex than it was when we first became a nation. There were some very smart people back then, too, but they lacked the technical complexity politicians face today. I think many politicians have reached the limits of their innate capabilities.
  16. Sep 30, 2011 #15
    It's like anything, Jews may have a certain way of thinking and they instill this in their kids by their involvement in family or religion..and it just happens that those skills makes them obtain high positions? Just like most physical sports are dominated by african americans in the U.S and the stereotype of asians being better in math (their educational system encourages this). It is what it is

    Back to the OP's question..I believe hard works makes a genius and I believe the word genius to be relative to the surrounding population. It may take someone 10 minutes to understand a problem and it may take you 2 days to do so. At the end of the day both of you will understand it and can have an equal chance of moving on.
  17. Sep 30, 2011 #16


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    Can all further conversation regarding Jews or any other ethnicity, race and religion come with references to peer-reviewed research. Physics forums is not a platform for personal theories or opinions, it is a place for discussing research.
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