On the Maximal Genius



The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius.

Oscar Wilde, The Artist as Critic: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde

Genius. The lone individual, misunderstood by society and even amongst peers, embarking on creative endeavors ahead of her time – horizons not visible even yet. Thus goes the Archetype of the Genius. There have been arguments against the so-called Myth of Genius. And they are quite reasonable. Excellence is not reserved for the exceptional few – however, the few still remain.

Works of the former type represent a reaction to the widespread, diluted use of the term. Media attention on teenage college graduates and preschoolers with absurd memories; hailing them as child prodigies, the geniuses of tomorrow. It is understandable how such a cultural idea remains completely inaccurate and at times an extremely harmful mindset to adopt. Yet I must argue that throughout history there have been a tiny minority of people, who indeed are true geniuses. Creators of novel, significant work indifferent to the passage of time itself – The Maximal Genius.

Disclaimer: I expect barrages accusing me of Elitism. Let me be clear – the Genius, or any exceptional person, has no more moral worth than the rest.

What is Genius?

Here’s a general, at the same time, concrete definition

Genius: An Individual who produces, or has produced, works that are novel yet significant.

The terms novel and significant are domain agnostic. Also clear is that a certain threshold has to be met for said novelty and significance. But I’m not concerned with explicit details here.

A Maximal Genius is one who then produces a work of utmost significance and novelty. Oftentimes, the more novel, away from the norm, a work exists, the more the chances of it being less significant. Therefore, the Maximal Genius would pretty much be unrecognized for a significant portion of his life – producing works so novel that the idea itself seems absurd.

If you see a madman, they are either a genius or just mad. Throughout history, the lack of recognition remains a common pattern amongst our greatest minds. Friedrich Nietzsche wasn’t respected in Philosophy until after his death. Van Gogh experienced little to no commercial success during his life. Boltzmann developments in statistical mechanics only came to light after his suicide.

For a whole term, I could not make up my mind whether he was a man of genius or merely an eccentric.

Bertrand Russel on Wittgenstein

Perhaps this is a prognosis of my condition. For I cannot decide if I’m completely stupid or if my works contain a grain of significance. Either way, one perpetual theme is the constant disapproval of others, arising from my not fitting into the norm. The normative idea of what intelligent people ought to pursue, contrary to the general one.

However, if I were to do that – quite frankly, I would just kill myself. As an individual who has struggled with depression and suicide in the past, nothing pushes me past the tipping point more than the former. I may not be liked, perhaps even hated. In the end, I may have been entirely wrong. To be completely vulnerable – these are efforts of a man desperately holding onto life.

To end, let me quote Jack London

I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.

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