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Is being a genius genetic, a talent or an illness

  1. Oct 1, 2012 #1
    So I've been watching the big bang theory and I really like sheldon's character but it made me start thinking, why are some people born with the ability to perform complex mathematical equations in their head which would otherwise take someone else who is good at them much longer and have to use a pen and pad?

    I believe that no matter how much the best math teacher in the world sat down and taught me maths I would still learn it at a normal rate and require the same practice as everybody else. I'm terrible at maths, partly because I never practice it but secondly because I really struggle to understand and grasp the concepts of maths... So I ask, are you born a genuis, is it genetic or is it an illness?

    You have bad illnesses and I think you have good illnesses. The way your brain processes and remembers information is different if you're a genius so something must have gone wrong somewhere down the line.

    I'd love to be really really smart, have an amazing memory but infortunately I know that will never happen. I read somewhere that everything you see and hear is stored in your brains memory but the majority of it is stored in a place in the brain which is out of bounds to us so we can't access it.

    If I could access this portion of the brain I could recall word for word what I read in the newspaper this morning. Is it generally considered that a genius can access this portion of their brain?

    Note: People who are considered a genius at football, singing, dancing or anything along those lines are not genius' in my opinion. Painting, music, math, science, physics etc are just because no amount of practice will ever allow me to recite PI to 20,000 decimal points or allow me to just "see the answer"
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  3. Oct 1, 2012 #2


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    You ask whether being a genius is genetic, talent, or illness. But this wording seems to assume they're mutually exclusive.

    Behavioral traits like talent can be genetic or environmental or (closer to the reality) a mixture of the two. Illnesses, too, can come from genes or environment (and also a mixture of the two: particular gene sets may be more susceptible to disease or stress in the environment)

    So talents and illnesses (such as genius and madness) can arise from a mixture of genetic, social, environmental, and developmental influences.
  4. Oct 1, 2012 #3
    I haven't really made my question clear, maybe that's because I'm not sure what it is exactly I'm asking but let me put it this way.

    Some people are born with bad illnesses and some people born with good illnesses ie being a genius, would that be the correct way to think of it? Basically, what stops your brain from thinking like a genius' does? How are their brains different?
  5. Oct 2, 2012 #4
    The thing what drives me to want to be very smart is TV, programs like The Big Bang Theory and Prison Break, I like to pretend I'm the characters in these shows and so I try to act like them, but part of the acting is being on the same intellectual level as they are. I'd love to impress people with maths.

    I'd love to know how other peoples brains work who are really good at maths. I spoke to someone who is studying maths at my uni and he just said "I think it's just logic really", he reads the question and just knows what the next step in the equation is, just like when I'm typing right now I'm not really thinking about the next word but rather then next sentence and it just flows.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 2, 2012
  6. Oct 2, 2012 #5


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    Remember that Big Bang Theory and Prison Break are shows. Any mistakes the characters make are planned. Any mistakes they would have made that take away from their character are removed. The writers have many opportunities to right their words over and over again to make the actors appear how they want them to. They also play off of your stereotypes and prejudices (Big Bang is notorious for playing off of "nerd" stereotypes).

    Math is a really accurate language. Instead of saying I want "some" or "that's big" or that's "small", you can quantify things so that now instead of three categories ("big", "meduim", "small") you can have essentially infinite bins (-inf to +inf) in which to divide countables into and you can also define operations on the bins (addition, multiplication, transforms, etc) to demonstrate functional relationships between countables.
  7. Oct 2, 2012 #6
    Interesting speculations and opinions, but I haven't seen a definition of the word "genius". Are they a distinct class of people or simply people who score over a certain level on IQ tests? As far as I know, there is no scientific definition of a genius. So what can we say about something we can't define?

    "There is no scientifically precise definition of genius, and the question of whether the notion itself has any real meaning has long been a subject of debate."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genius (Article with citations.)
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2012
  8. Oct 2, 2012 #7
    I'd say a genius is someone who excels significantly in a field of study and is able to acheive results which could not otherwise be produced by the majority of experts in the same field. Sure there are thousands of theoretical physicists in the world but none of them are coming out with ground breaking theories or changing humans understand of how something works.

    It's strange because you google the top 10 smartest people, or even 100 people and they were all experts in either maths, physics, music, art or philosophy but never someone who was a sportsman or something.

    I just wish that I could learn to think the same way a genius does or if not a genius, than a savant.
  9. Oct 2, 2012 #8
    I'm not sure it's so much about logic as it is the ability to intuitively see intricate patterns. High-level pattern recognition is one of the traits that sets humans apart (as far as we know) from the lower animal species, but some humans have greater aptitude for it. And it is very much like the situation you describe where you think about the "next sentence"--your mind is creating patterns intuitively.
  10. Oct 2, 2012 #9
    That's my point. This is supposed to be a science forum. There are PF rules for science forums. It's for discussing facts, published research and reviews in peer reviewed journals or other credible sources. It's not a place to discuss your opinions. If you continue along this line I'll have to report you.
  11. Oct 2, 2012 #10


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    Tell us what this video means:


    Then we can talk.
  12. Oct 2, 2012 #11
    I think that would be expressing an unsupported personal opinion.
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2012
  13. Oct 2, 2012 #12


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  14. Oct 2, 2012 #13
    OK. That's at least a basis for discussion, but it still begs the question of how does one decide if some special skill, talent, or just general intelligence as measured by an IQ test reaches the level of genius. Is it a matter of opinion or can it be measured on some kind of "objective" scale? Is there a psychometric theory of aptitude/creativity that that can be applied to the works of a genius as opposed to a merely talented artist, writer, mathematician, physicist, biologist or other line of work?

    I once read a book where the author claimed Robert E Lee was a genius, and Lincoln was an intelligent, articulate and dedicated man, but not a genius. The author was a Southerner, but I could see his point. However, I'd have a difficult time explaining why I might agree with him, especially since I'm a great admirer of Lincoln.

    Before we could answer the question posed by the OP, we need to know just what "genius" is. Most people accept Einstein was a genius, but there's good reason to believe he would not have done well on the verbal section of an IQ test when he was in primary school. Years later an admiring Freeman Dyson was to meet with Einstein at Princeton in 1948. However, before the meeting, he obtained a copy of Einstein's new "Unified Field Theory". He called it 'junk', and skipped the meeting.

    "One of the few people still there from Einstein’s days was Freeman Dyson. When Smolin asked him what Einstein was really like, Dyson couldn’t help him. Dyson said that he, too, had wanted to meet Einstein, and even had set up an appointment. But prior to the meeting, he had obtained some of Einstein’s recent papers on unified field theory, and upon reading them decided they were junk. Dyson skipped the appointment and avoided Einstein for the next eight years until the great man died."

    http://www.analogsf.com/0909/altview_09.shtml [Broken]

    www.giftedchildren.org.nz/apex/pdfs15/Beeston%20D.pdf [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  15. Oct 2, 2012 #14
    Quite. Though, I would say that, from what I've seen, the level of science behind such subjective notions such as what constitutes a 'genius' (at least at the level we currently understand the interface between the physical workings of the brain and the psychology) invites unsubstantiated personal opinion of its own accord. Don't get me wrong--I completely agree with what you said. But in order to be properly objective, one would have to start with more objective terms, specific terms such as 'visual-spatial reasoning', 'verbal reasoning', and the like. Using a loaded (though not generally negative) term like 'genius' is just asking for trouble, assuming of course one uses a consistent logical structure throughout their argument.
  16. Oct 2, 2012 #15
    environmental aspects may also have a great impact becoming an exceptional individual in any fields .(math,science,music etc.)
  17. Oct 3, 2012 #16


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    http://curiosity.discovery.com/question/how-geniuses-work [Broken]

    To think of all of the "genious discoveries" that were accidents. That were no where close to what the person expected. Many other revolutionizing advancements were realy just simple common sense improvements to an exisiting device or idea, it wasn't genius, but appeared as genius.
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  18. Oct 3, 2012 #17


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    To add a (random) thought to already shaky ground:

    From what I read Srinivasa Ramanujan was also the genius of the second kind.
  19. Oct 3, 2012 #18
    I think this constitutes a Continuum Fallacy. That fallacy manifesting here in that, since you and the author can't agree on what constitutes a genius, the concept of a genius must be taken as meaningless.


    I think the concept of genius can be discussed perfectly well by the dictionary definition:

    Exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability.
    A person who is exceptionally intelligent or creative, either generally or in some particular respect: "musical genius".

    Despite Dyson, calling Einstein a genius is clearly reasonable. I think it's also reasonable to speak of different kinds of genius: "X is only a genius in the sense that he has an exceptionally high I.Q. score. He's never achieved anything to speak of. Y, however, has done some astonishingly brilliant work."

    Insisting there be a clear, scientifically determined cut off point before we apply a term is to perpetrate a continuum fallacy. There is no scientifically agreed upon point where we can call someone bald, yet baldness would be a perfectly valid subject to discuss in this biology forum.
  20. Oct 3, 2012 #19
    Either I'm not expressing my question clearly or you guys are not totally sure what I'm asking, no fault of yours as I'm terrible at getting my point across but let me try this.

    This may belong in neurobiology but has there been a case where someone who was extremely smart has passed away and had their brain examined and is it different in anyway?

    Like kim Peek for example, I know he was a savant but I'd love to know HOW their brains are designed which makes them different to an average persons. Everyone has different ways of processing and remembering information but clearly some people have an extraordinary ability to remember things and process information and I don't believe it's just "through practice" but the hardwiring of their brains are different. Evolution if you will.
  21. Oct 3, 2012 #20
    If we could correlate, say findings on a fMRI with a subgroup of exceptional people to the point where we could say this fMRI is the fMRI of a genius and this fMRI is not, then I would agree that we could define "genius". As far as I know, we are not anywhere close to that. By the way, functional MRIs are a much better way to study brains then waiting for the subjects to die and looking at their chemically preserved brain.

    Also, there may not always be much of a difference between a genius and an idiot. Robert E Lee was a very audacious and creative general. He completely confused and outsmarted his opponents because he did not follow the "rules". In one battle he faced a Union army of 60000 men against his own force of 40000. What does he do? He splits his smaller force in two and sends one force on an overnight march around the Union right flank. It's against every rule of military tactics. He won the battle. He's a genius! If he'd lost, he would have rightfully been called an idiot.
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2012
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