"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

16 May 2017


Philosophers have long been pondering the origins of genius. Early Greek thinkers believed an overabundance of black bile—one of the four bodily humors proposed by Hippocrates—endowed poets, philosophers, and other eminent souls with “exalted powers,” says historian Darrin McMahon, author of Divine Fury: A History of Genius. Phrenologists attempted to find genius in bumps on the head; craniometrists collected skulls—including philosopher Immanuel Kant’s—which they probed, measured, and weighed.

None of them discovered a single source of genius, and such a thing is unlikely to be found. Genius is too elusive, too subjective, too wedded to the verdict of history to be easily identified. And it requires the ultimate expression of too many traits to be simplified into the highest point on one human scale. Instead we can try to understand it by unraveling the complex and tangled qualities—intelligence, creativity, perseverance, and simple good fortune, to name a few—that entwine to create a person capable of changing the world.

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