The word is bandied about so lightly these days and can include celebrities, sports stars, musicians, and of course 'nutty professors'
Well most people seem to know what they mean when they use it to describe Newton and Einstein, or Beethoven or Shakespeare, or Beckham for that matter.
But let's stop and think. On it's own the word might connote high intelligence, (an IQ in the 99th percentile range) but does it?
I don't want to condescend about Beckham, he is only a footballer, but research using wind tunnels and fluid dynamics has revealed the complex physics behind Beckhams ability to bend the ball. Does Becks do this calculation in his head every time the boot hits the ball? Does he even know the physics. I doubt it, because as the article says it is skill and practice. He may still be a footballing genius but he is no Einstein.
So what about Einstein, the poster boy for genius with a shock of hair almost as screwy as Beethovens? Is unkempt hair a sign of genius? Well that lets the more youthfull iteration of me in over the bar then :)
Einstein's unique skills were in being able to see connections that others didn't but they were not in the mathematics departmen. He needed help to produce the mathematical proofs. He may still be a physics genius, but he was no Newton.
As for Mr Newton, another poster boy for retro diagnosis, he had a natural feel for mathematics, but also had difficulties with the nitty gritty of writing the proofs out. Still pretty smart though, even if he did have some foibles that are general swept under the carpet, for example his interest and belief in alchemy. Nonetheless however much he knew his maths, could Newton have written a Beethoven symphony? I don't think so.
So it is back to wild haired Beethoven now is it? Definately a poster boy for the disability movement as nobody can argue that he went deaf. Obviously composing music requires special talents, to be able to hear all that harmony in your head without an orchestra, or a midi keyboard handy, I couldn't do that. But did he understand the physics of it anymore than Beckham knows about wind tunnels? or could he express the maths of it. I simply don't know.
So what of other artistic genii. Shakespeare, born but a couple of months after Michelangelo died. (if you like odd facts) He couldn't even spell his own name consistently, he'd flunk any English class today.
Michelangelo of course knocks the spots of any of them. He was capable of mathematics, engineering, music and literature as well as painting and sculpture, perhaps then he is the real thing.
I don't think anyone is claiming then that all autistics (even the most severe) are closet polymaths the very model of the 'renaiscance man' at all. I don't think genius does require one to be brilliant in every endeavour one undertakes as I have already demonstrated by a number of popular examples.
However to take that most extreme genii Michelangelo, what would happen if you were to set him a conventional WAIS intelligence test, even if it were translated into historical Italian.
More than likely he would come out in the retarded range, simply because he lived in a world where a different form of thought was in vogue, if you want to know more about the mechanics of that you should read James Flyn's book. What is intelligence, beyond the Flyn effect. You will I am sure find it very illuminating.
I am not at all trying to assert a secret equation between retardation and genius here, some sort of retake on the notion of 'idiot' savant - as the term was somewhat offensively and originally used.
Yes some of us do have very spiky profiles, I do! In some of the subtests I don't mind saying I am in the 'retarded' range, actually in one I am below cut off. (it doesn't go lower than that), as for others, well it is thoroughly bad form to boast isn't it, even though I could give Shakespeare a run for his money with regard to vocabulary and novel word usage. The net result of agregating and averaging the tests doesn't put me in the genius range, doctoral material though I am.
I think however it is absurd to assume that all autistics are hidden genii, as it is to assume that attaching ones IQ figure to any statement one makes will win the argument if that statement is categorically erroneous.
As for Asperger's in the old Asperger vs Kanner debate, well that starts by being diagnosed at an IQ of 70. That gives you a clear run of 60 points across to the other shoulder of the bell curve at an IQ of 130 (and I had to use my fingers to work that one out) clearly everybody is not the same.
So come on then what is my own special skill? I can't leave this blog without mentioning it. I said earlier that I could not be Beethoven, juggling all those lines of an orchestral score in his head but I can do the visual equivalent of that in non linear video editing and if you don't believe me, you can me at work here.
My full name is Laurence Benjamin Arnold FRSA and if my life were ever made into a movie, most of it would not be believed. I am what I say I am, forthright and blunt and that is the way I get things done.