Monday, December 22, 2008

Genius vs. Prodigy

Right now on TV I am watching Good Will Hunting. I absolutely love this movie.

When I first saw it in the theaters, I was hooked from the moment I saw mathematical equations shifting across the screen in the introductory montage. I just was entranced by this whole movie, and I wished that I could be as brilliant as Will Hunting, and the Matt Damon would somehow find me and want to marry me.

This brings me to an article I read a while ago, but has resonated with me for a long time. I've been wanting to write a post about it but have not had the time to really put the appropriate thought into it.

The article discusses how we as a society tend to equate genius with precocity, whereas he says in reality, there really are two kinds of genius, the kind that builds, builds, and builds into a late-career apex, and the other is the kind we are accustomed to, precocious genius. The analysis he performs is truly fascinating. I *highly* recommend that you read this article.

I think that we as academics tend to focus on precocity. After all, it's the easiest way to to determine near-term success, and since we need results sooner rather than later this works. However, I think that there are a lot of "non-traditional" people out there who are capable of great genius later. I like to think of myself as having this possibility, not necessarily of genius but of improvement over a lifetime. I've always been pretty good at stuff, but my recent development as a computer scientist has really made me think the best is to come. I just hope that whomever looks to hire me in the future can see and accept that.

Will Hunting is clearly a precocious genius, but I wonder what his later career would be like. Did he flameout? Did he continue to be brilliant? Was he happy? Did he contribute to the world?

4 comments:

Rhea Miller said...

I have thought about this subject as well...

...and i agree with you. I have never truly been 'booksmart' so to speak, but i can put ideas together and build on the knowledge i gain. I hope that i will continue to grow and eventually will become successful. Good luck to you...and good luck to me.....

Juniper Shoemaker said...

A few nights ago, I dreamt that I had a husband who wasn't Matt Damon, but who looked exactly as Matt Damon did in Bourne Supremacy. The only problem was that I thought the dream was real, so I couldn't believe my luck. My husband kept gently taking my arm and asking, "What's wrong? Don't you want to go to dinner?" And we kept walking through a bright place, with three-story escalators and white marble floors. It was like winning the Lotto.

Needless to say, I was crushed when I woke up. The last time this happened to me, I was fifteen, and I'd dreamt that my crush had made me his girlfriend. Sigh.

Oh, about the substance of your post: I've always been pegged as extremely intelligent, but I've (correctly) felt that this intelligence has been hobbled by a few dozen thousand character flaws. Lately, though, I feel that when I work hard, I can achieve truly magnificent summits of understanding, and that, if I am not a genius, at least I'm fortunate enough to have the capacity to greatly contribute to the work of a real genius, someday.

This is probably similar to how it will go for you (except for all I know you are a genius, whereas I know plainly that I am not). Truly, you have a bright future.

Grumpy, PhD said...

I hope that I, like you, am "non traditional". Perhaps there is hope, after all...

Eppendork said...

Yeah - I have eureka moments that are built on the basis of other peoples work and I dont have a problem with it. Eppendork doesnt see the value in reinventing the wheel just to make other people happy. No one works in Science by their own little selves (although I have just a read a paper with one author - quite a big piece of work for one person - in very small print in the acknowledgements was his tech who I believe had done a decent share of the work - not on author list grrr Eppendork hates that sort of rank pulling shite!). Anywho - I think have PO-tential - maybe Eppendork is a "non-traditional" genius in the making - hmmmm.

E.