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Are you from another planet? The Story of Great Genius

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What does genius mean

The Polish mathematician, when discussing Ramanujan, the genius Indian mathematician, said:

“An ordinary genius is a person that you and I would be just as good as if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his/her mind works. Once we understand what the person has done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it.

It is different with great geniuses. They are like magicians. Even after we understand what they have done, the process by which they have done it is completely unknown.”

When we encounter a genius, we are so amazed by what they do that we feel like asking, “What planet are you from?!” 

Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887 – 1920) is an example of a great genius. He had no formal training in mathematics but made outstanding contributions. When he was young, he learned mathematics by himself and remained unknown. In 1913 he took the chance of writing a letter to the world’s great mathematician G. H. Hardy at the University of Cambridge. Hardy was shocked at the depth and insights Ramanujan had developed all by himself. Hardy wrote, Ramanujan “defeated me completely; I had never seen anything in the least like them before.” Ramanujan died when he was only 33 years old.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) was a western classical music composer. He was an accomplished pianist before he was six years old. He composed the most beautiful music when he was not even ten years old. He could write out a musical composition while at the same time think about another. He composed masterpieces in just an afternoon, and his body of work is enormous even though he died at the age of 35 years.

Not all geniuses die young. Beethoven (1770 – 1827), Mozart’s contemporary, lived to be 56 years old. He composed music that some call the Himalayan heights of sound. At an early age, Beethoven began to go deaf, yet he kept composing. Some of Beethoven’s most extraordinary masterpieces were composed when he was completely deaf. He could hear the music he wrote only in his mind.

Are geniuses born or made

The question as to whether geniuses are born or made remains unanswered. What is certain, however, is that for a genius to flower and show extraordinary abilities, they need to work hard and persevere.

Professor Michael Howe from Exeter University, says that “Genuine creative achievements depend more on perseverance over the long haul than on prodigious childhood skills. We cannot all be geniuses, but we can learn from them. What makes geniuses special is their long-term commitment. They struggle very hard, and they keep on persisting. They excel at concentrating and persevering. Their efforts are focused, and all geniuses have a firm sense of direction.” The scientist Francis Galton wrote that genius has the “triple event, of ability combined with zeal and with capacity for hard labor.”  

For most of us, the lesson is that hard work and perseverance can make us very good at a task. We can accomplish a lot. We will not become geniuses but hard work gives us is the ability to appreciate in great depth the work geniuses do. Whatever planet geniuses come from, we should remember to thank them for their gifts to all humanity.

Professor Howe says, “Absorbing the lessons of geniuses will not make everyone into a genius, but numerous ordinary people can benefit from the insights that exploration of genius can reveal.”  

© Kaikhushru Taraporevala

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