This is how you become a genius

Written By komlim puldel on Jumat, 27 Februari 2015 | 20.01

Genius: Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in a scene from The Theory of Everything. Picture: AP Photo/Focus Features, Liam Daniel Source: AP

THEY have the ability to shape the world and change people's lives but what is it that sets a genius apart from someone who is just extremely intelligent?

Professor Allan Snyder, director of The Centre for the Mind at University of Sydney, said that the term "genius" was often misused and hard to define.

"It is very rare," Prof Snyder said.

"To me it's the creation itself and not a person's potential that defines genius. It's certainly not a score on an IQ test.

"For me it's especially someone who allows us to view the world in a new light - and that holds for any field."

Scientists have long tried to link genius and high intelligence without success, including one study that started in 1925.

According to neuropsychologist at the University of New Mexico, Rex Jung, genius is notoriously difficult to predict and does not necessarily require extremely high levels of intelligence.

In an article for Slate, Professor Jung points to a study by Lewis Terman which followed more than 1,500 children with extremely high IQs (above 140) to see if genius would eventually emerge.

While many grew up to be successful, his study missed two Nobel Laureates who did not make the IQ cut: William Shockley, who co-invented the transistor, and physicist Luis Alvarez. Neither of them had high enough IQs to make it into Terman's study but it was their original thinking that eventually set them apart from their more intelligent peers.

While intelligence may not be the defining factor, what genius does seem to require is unusually high levels of creativity and perseverance.

Physicist Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) developed the world's most famous equation. Picture: Fred Stein Archive/Archive Photos/Getty Images Source: Getty Images

This can be seen in Australia's own genius, Barry Marshall, who won the Nobel prize in Medicine in 2005 for discovering that stomach ulcers were caused by bacteria and not stress.

Marshall and hospital pathologist Robin Warren believed ulcers were linked to bacteria but could not prove this as lab mice were not impacted, and they were not allowed to experiment on people. At the time scientists believed there was a link between ulcers, stress and acid.

In desperation, Prof Marshall mixed up some of the bacteria in a broth and drank it. After a few days he was proved correct - he had given himself an ulcer, and proved that antibiotics could be used to cure the condition.

Prof Barry Marshall gave himself an ulcer to prove his own theory. Source: News Corp Australia

"Ultimately creativity is an act of rebellion," Prof Snyder told

"You have to be downright subversive to be creative and you must have the courage to broadcast your ideas to a resistant world."

Prof Snyder is interested in the study of creativity and the qualities that make someone a champion.

"In the most general sense, what distinguishes a "champion" from the rest is not the desire to be the best, or a fear of failure, rather it's an unconscious abhorrence of being just average," Prof Snyder said. "It's wanting to pour something uniquely you into your work."

Creativity and genius have been linked ever since the "cult of genius" first emerged in 18th century Europe and America, says Professor McMahon, author of Divine Fury: A History of Genius.

As commercial society evolved, the concept of being a "genius" dramatised the power of uniqueness and innovation in science, enterprise and the arts, he suggests in an opinion piece for Slate.

Companies such as Apple have used this idea of being "unique" to brand its products in the aura of genius, for example as part of its Think Different advertising campaign, aimed at the "crazy ones, the misfits, rebels and troublemakers, the round pegs in square holes" who have "no respect for the status quo".

Apple's think different ad, narrated by Steve Jobs.

But Prof McMahon argues that perhaps more than any other virtue, the one that quality that genius possess, was an ability to work and never let a problem go.

He points to a scene in The Theory of Everything that seems to illustrate this quality, when physicist Stephen Hawking is depicted attempting to pull his deadweight body up the stairs of his house, showing his capacity for "tenaciously pursuing something over the long term".

He refused to give up: Physicist Stephen Hawking. Picture: Guillermo Granja Source: AFP

While this quality can appear sometimes to be stubbornness or obsession, it is what can separate genius from intelligence, Prof McMahon writes.

As Thomas Edison, the man who invented the light bulb, famously said: "Genius is 1 per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration".

"Sweating, it turns out, is the first virtue of genius," Prof McMahon concludes.

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