A genius is any person of exceptional intelligence and originality who, in many cases, brings innovation and revolutionary change to his or her chosen field. This sample essay will discuss how famous geniuses throughout time—Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein—have made huge advances in the realms of art, science, and technology.
What makes a genius?
According to modern IQ standards, which place normal intelligence within the 90–109 range, a genius is often defined as anyone boasting a 130 or above score. Informally, polymaths—who excel in multiple fields—and experts are often considered geniuses. Scientifically, however, there is no quantifiable measure of what does or doesn’t constitute a genius.
Controversy over the term “Genius”
Attempts at classifying the human genius have carried on for centuries. In his 1869 book Hereditary Genius, English polymath Francis Galton argued that super intelligence and achievement stem from hereditary factors that are rare among the population at large (Galton). Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman used the labels “near genius” and “genius” to classify top-scoring students of his original 1916 version of the Stanford–Binet test: one of the world’s first tests for measuring higher-intelligence (Terman).
A decade later, fellow Stanford psychologist Catherine Cox devoted the second installment of The Genetic Studies of Genius book series to the topic of geniuses throughout history. Included in the book were estimates of how high this select group of individuals would have scored on IQ tests had such testing existed in their time (Cox). By 1937, however, the term “genius” was eliminated as an IQ classification in Terman’s revised testing model.
At decade’s end, the term was dismissed by psychologist David Wechsler—one of the architects behind the Wechsler-Bellevue Intelligence Scale—who said that those in his field…
“are rather hesitant about calling a person a genius on the basis of a single intelligence test score,” (Wechsler).
IQ as a measure of genius
As a measurement gauge of genius, IQ testing was called into question decades later after three under-scoring subjects—William Shockley, Luis Walter Alvarez, and Richard Feynman—went on to win Nobel Prizes in physics. Feynman achieved an IQ score of 125, which has since become the minimum required level for consideration as a genius in the eyes of scholars. Nonetheless, scholars also acknowledge that non-academic factors—determination; an opportunity for study; financial resources—also play into whether or not a potential genius can actually emerge as such in the eyes of the world.
In his revision to the Stanford–Binet test, Terman acknowledged that the higher bands of scoring carry an increased possibility of estimation errors (Terman and Merrill). Among younger subjects, longitudinal scores earned throughout elementary school can also slide up and down the scale.
The highest standard IQ score in today’s testing models is 160; anything beyond that is considered dubious because there haven’t been enough cases on which comparisons could be made to set a higher ranking order. However, two tests are currently circulating that have each been designed with extended norms, but these norms have not gained sufficient support within the academic realm. In most U.S. schools, a score of 130—earned by 2–3 percent of student test-takers—is the minimum score of entrance for gifted-student programs (McIntosh et al.)
The four main differences between geniuses and normal folks
Certain individuals throughout history have been deemed geniuses by near-universal consensus: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz, John Stuart Mill, Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, Desiderius Erasmus, Baruch Spinoza, Germaine de Staël-Holstein; as well as the aforementioned Einstein, Newton, and da Vinci. Throughout much of the world, vast majorities of people have been inspired by the legacy of at least one of these individuals; all of which begs the question: what exactly makes these historical figures geniuses? Were they all born with a certain gift that normal folks simply lack?
1. The Cortical Factor
In the ordinary human brain, the cerebral cortex is evenly divided between short and long connections. The former accounts for an individual’s capacity for topics of interest, while the latter opens up a person’s aptitude for numerous other topics. In the genius mind, the cerebral cortex is dominated by either short or long connections. Geniuses who’ve excelled in one field—Bobby Fischer, Amadeus Mozart—are assumed to have had shorter connections; whereas those who mastered multiple talents—Blaise Pascal, Leonardo da Vinci—are likelier to have had longer cortical connections.
2. The Thalamus Filters
People are exposed to endless streams of data each day, but only a portion of that info finds a permanent place in the mind. It all comes down to the inability of the average mind to organize thoughts out of each new piece of info; there’s simply too much information airing for the mind to handle it all in real time. The things that are allowed to consume mental space are determined by the dopamine receptors in the mind’s thalamus, which filter the crucial from the unimportant. Less of these receptors are present, however, in the minds of geniuses, who are thus enabled to process a wider array of info on a regular basis. Essentially, this allows geniuses to gain knowledge and formulate ideas at a multiplied rate to the average person.
3. The Gray Matter
Upon examination, the brain’s of high-IQ-scoring individuals have shown to contain larger-than-ordinary amounts of gray matter; which is made up of dendrites: branch-like extensions of cell bodies that receive new info from axon nerve cells. Photos of Einstein’s brain have revealed a larger, more folded mass of gray matter. Additionally, the brain’s of geniuses have also shown to contain larger amounts of white matter: the mass surrounding the gray where axons are stored. With this larger concentration of cells, the brain is able to process a greater abundance of information at higher speed than normal.
4. The Open Mind
While studies indicate the presence of unique structures in the brain’s of geniuses, the intellectual approach of such people should also be taken into account. When it comes to problem solving, the genius is likely to consider all possible means of achieving the desired outcome. Regular people, by contrast, tend to map out strategies through a process of elimination; discarding various options for any given number of reasons—too expensive; too risky; not realistic; been tried already—before finalizing a working formula. Put simply, geniuses keep their mind’s open to all possible methods, and in the process discover new solutions that revolutionize certain fields.
Despite finding certain physical differences in the brain’s of highly intelligent people, scientists are nowhere close to isolating the unique genetic makeup—if such a thing exists—of individuals who are commonly perceived to be geniuses. It can easily be hypothesized, however, that genius stems from a variety of factors that far exceed explanations of the mind.
What Is a Genius IQ Score and What Does it Mean?
Numerous variations of the IQ (intelligence quotient) test have been administered across the West, most of which have used an average median score of 100. Today, the most commonly used tests throughout the world are the Wechsler IQ tests. Named after the American psychologist and originally published in 1939 as the Wechsler–Bellevue Scale, these tests have been through numerous editions since, and are now considered the gold standard of intelligence-quotient testing. The current Wechsler IQ classifications are as follows:
• 130–up = Very Superior
• 120–129 = Superior
• 110–119 = High Average
• 90–109 = Average
• 80–89 = Low Average
• 70–79 = Borderline
• 69–down = Extremely Low
Also popular is the Stanford–Binet intelligence scale. which is currently in its fifth edition (SB5). Like the Wechsler tests, SB5 uses deviation scoring in which each deviation—whether above or below the median of 100—is 15 points. SB5 classifications are as follows:
• 145–160 = Very gifted or highly advanced
• 130–144 = Gifted or very advanced
• 120–129 = Superior
• 110–119 = High Average
• 90–109 = Average
• 80–89 = Low average
• 70–79 = Borderline impaired or delayed
• 55–69 = Mildly impaired or delayed
• 40–54 = Moderately impaired or delayed
Even though the word “genius” isn’t used as a classification in today’s IQ tests, it’s generally agreed that an individual must have a score that exceeds the Superior range in order to qualify.
The 9 highest IQ scores in the world
IQ testing has only been around for a small fraction of human history, and it will never be known how the geniuses of ancient times would have scored on today’s tests. What is known are the scores of many modern intellectuals. Among the living famous, the following nine individuals boast the highest IQ scores in the world today (Basu):
1. Terence Tao – Mathematician. IQ: 225-230
2. Christopher Hirata – Astrophysicist. IQ: 225
3. Kim Ung-Yong – Engineer. IQ: 210
4. Christopher Michael Langan – Autodidact. IQ: 195
5. Philip Emeagwali – Computer scientist. IQ: 190
6. Garry Kasparov – Chess grandmaster. IQ: 190
7. Judit Polgar – Chess grandmaster. IQ: 170
8. Stephen Hawking – Cosmologist. IQ: 160
9. Paul Allen – Microsoft co-founder. IQ: 160
Galton, Francis. Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry Into Its Laws and Consequences. London: Macmillan & Co., 1869. Print.
Terman, Lewis M. The Measurement of Intelligence: An Explanation of and a Complete Guide for the Use of the Stanford Revision and Extension of the Binet-Simon Intelligence Scale. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1916. 79. Print.
Cox, Catherine M. The Genetic Studies of Genius: The Early Mental Traits of Three Hundred Geniuses. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1926. Print.
Wechsler, David. The Measurement of Adult Intelligence. Baltimore: Williams & Witkins, 1939. 45. Print.
Terman, Lewis M., and Maud A. Merrill. Measuring Intelligence: A Guide to the Administration of the New Revised Stanford–Binet Tests of Intelligence. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1937. 44. Print.
McIntosh, David E., Felicia A. Dixon, and Eric E. Pierson. “Chapter 25: Use of Intelligence Tests in the Identification of Giftedness.” Contemporary Intellectual Assessment: Theories, tests, and issues (Third ed.). Eds. Dawn P. Flanagan and Patti L. Harrison. New York: Guilford Press, 2012. 623–642. Print.
Basu, Titli. “Top 12 People with Highest IQ in the World.” Listovative. n.p. 2014. Web.
27 Aug. 2015.