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The Wiley Handbook of Genius by Dean Keith Simonton

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19 The Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth at Maturity Insights into Elements of Genius

Harrison J. Kell and David Lubinski

Genius, by definition, is rare. It is arguably the rarest phenomenon in the human condition. In Murray's (2003) compelling analysis, Human Accomplishment, he suggests that genius is indicative of individuals who generate products that transform humanity. When leaders in the field examine the creative contributions generated by geniuses, their response is frequently “How could a human being have done that?”

If we set the bar high enough, limiting discussions of genius to luminaries such as Shakespeare and Dante, Einstein and Newton, or Aristotle and Plato, a list of around 100 individuals for all time is likely to eventuate. Therefore, one may reasonably ask, as Dean Simonton does in the preface to this volume, “Can such a rare phenomenon be studied scientifically?” To study a group of 100 individuals scientifically who were born across a range of 2,000 years is mindboggling. If standards are lowered, however, to, say, Murray's (2003) list of the top 20 contributors to 20 major disciplines (e.g., medicine, music, physics), this facilitates matters. Yet even with this more liberal approach, the scientific study of genius is still exceedingly difficult – it would leave us with about 400 individuals stretched over approximately 2,800 years, suggesting a single genius arises, on average, only once every seven years! This still understates the problem, ...

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