Monday, August 31, 2015

Stroke of Genius

The origin of ‘genius’ is Latin, ‘attendant spirit present from one's birth, innate ability or inclination’. It implies natural ability, though the jury is still out – many would argue that genius exists in all of us. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’ he suggests that it takes 10 years or 10,000 hours of dedicated practice for people to master most difficult endeavors, a theory originally proposed by psychologist Anders Ericsson.

An opposing theory by psychology professor Dean Keith Simonton is that practice helps but it’s not enough on its own, and that intelligence is a necessary condition for creating genius. Simonton defines a genius as someone who has “the intelligence, enthusiasm, and endurance to acquire the needed expertise in a broadly valued domain of achievement.”

Thomas Frith has the whole package. He’s the stand-out star of ‘Child Genius’, a UK television series that involves 7-12 year olds competing for the title of child genius of the year.

At the age of two Thomas woke his mother up in the middle of the night to tell her he’d just counted to 503. She told him to go back to bed and do it in French, and then backwards in German. At the age of three he memorized the times tables. Now, at only 12 years of age, Thomas has read ‘Ulysses’; plays the piano, cello, trombone and bassoon; plays football, table tennis and rugby; and is passionate about double chess (playing two games at the same time).

Thomas has an IQ of 162, higher than Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein.  Mensa, the largest and oldest high IQ society, restricts membership to people with an IQ of 130 or above, which equates to around 2% of the population. Remarkably, at only 12 years of age, Thomas’ IQ means he falls in the 0.003 percentile.

“Intelligence, enthusiasm, and endurance” seems to epitomize Thomas. Far from the stereotype of a maths geek, he is described as “sunny, funny and philosophical.” Wise beyond his years, he understands the genius in storytelling. On books, he says, “Separating the world into facts lacks truth. Just stringing facts together doesn’t describe the world as people know it and experience it.”

Image attribute/source: Thomas Frith /

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