The Idea of Genius, Part 1 & 2

genius-einstein.jpgWe live in awe of genius, of those few individuals capable of producing Hamlet, the Fifth Symphony, or the Theory of Relativity. Genius is more than talent, but what exactly is it? A gift? The result of extreme perseverance? Can anyone become a genius just by putting in enough hours? And why does genius so often border on madness? In this two-part series, science journalist Dan Falk explores our obsession with those who achieve greatness.

Part 1

  Listen to Part 1 of The Idea Of Genius

Throughout history, certain figures seem to have risen above all others, people with remarkable intellects that allowed them to make unique and lasting contributions to human civilization. They have often been described as "geniuses."  The meaning of the word genius is open to debate. One can always argue about who is, and who isn't, a genius. But, by and large, we seem to agree on some of the most obvious candidates: great thinkers and scientists, writers, artists, and musicians -- people who left an indelible mark in a particular field.

This episode looks at the 10,000-hour rule: the idea that you have to practice that much in order to excel in a particular field.  We also examine the idea of the child prodigy, with a close look at the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He dazzled the courts of Europe with his incredible musical skills when he was just a child.  Finally, we explore the role played by the brain, focusing on a study by a Canadian neuroscientist who examined the brain of Albert Einstein.  Could his potential for scientific genius have been hard-wired from birth?

Part 2

Listen to Part 2 of The Idea Of Genius

Have you ever found yourself thinking about a difficult problem, and not making any progress?  And then, all of a sudden, you have the answer. These flashes of insight are often called "Eureka moments" or "Aha! moments," and scientists are beginning to understand how they happen. We look at recent findings from the world of neuroscience, using the latest brain imaging techniques.  We also examine several specific Eureka moments from the worlds of physics and pop music. Finally, we explore the darker side of genius, examining the links between creativity and mental illness.


Most of the experts interviewed in The Idea of Genius have written books on particular aspects of genius, intelligence, and creativity.  Here is a selection of titles:

The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told about Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong by David Shenk (Doubleday, 2010)

Scientific Genius: A Psychology of Science by Dean K. Simonton (Cambridge University Press, 2009)

Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown, and Company, 2008)

This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, by Daniel J. Levitin (Plume, 2007)

Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity As Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi by Howard Gardner (Basic Books, 1993)

Touched With Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison (The Free Press, 1993)

Dan Falk is an award winning freelance writer and broadcaster specializing in science stories.

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