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A genius (via the French génie from the Latin genius , originally "generating power", cf. Greek γίγνομαι "will, arise", then also "personal patron god", later "disposition, talent") is a person with outstanding creative mental power ( "A brilliant scientist ", "a brilliant artist ").

Genius can show itself in all areas - artistically, scientifically, economically, philosophically, politically, etc. A distinction can be made between universal geniuses, geniuses and “misunderstood geniuses”.

As Geniologie is called the doctrine of the brilliant investments, their conditions and forms.

Origin and conceptual history

Roman genius from the 2nd century. N. Chr., At Vindobona found

The term genius has two different roots: In the English-speaking world, it comes from the Latin genius , a protective spirit in the Roman religion . The genius that only men possessed resided in every man and died with him. He represented his personality and gave him the ability to produce offspring . One can call it an inner working principle. In the history of art , the geniuses were depicted as winged figures in medieval sculptures and images; in the Baroque period they were a very popular decoration in the form of small, well-fed babies. The female counterpart to the genius is Juno .

In Germany and France , the term “genius” can be traced back to ingenium (natural, innate talent ). During the Renaissance , the word “genius” was no longer associated with a divine origin, but rather with a description of artistic creativity or the source of inspiration . After the French Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes, the term spread suddenly and dominated the aesthetic debates: the term “genius” on the one hand stood for the artist who created himself and who not only imitated nature (as it did earlier aesthetic model), but who completes what nature itself could not yet, on the other hand for its talent or talent.

The understanding of nature on which this model is based can essentially be traced back to Aristotle .

In England, the theoretical foundations of the genius cult were mainly laid by Shaftesbury . This in turn inspired Immanuel Kant , who combined the continental European and the English concept of genius in a synthesis. In his Critique of Judgment , he describes genius as the authority through which nature dictates the rule in art. In this way Kant resolves the old dispute of the Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes about art and nature. For Kant, the term genius therefore only refers to artists; one cannot speak of a “brilliant scientist”.

Kant's concept of genius had a great influence on the artists of the Weimar Classic and Romantic periods . Jean Paul put the question in the foreground, what the concrete conditions for the creation of an ingenious work of art look like. With Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , a distinction must be made between his early concept of genius, which is expressed in the poem “ Prometheus ” , which was shaped by the storm and stress , and his late, humanistically clarified concept of genius in “ Faust II ”. Wilhelm von Humboldt expanded the concept of genius into a general " Humboldtian educational ideal ". As a result, not only artists but also scientists were called geniuses. Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling saw genius as a part of the absoluteness of God. For the romantics Friedrich Schlegel and Novalis , genius was the “natural state of man” - it was only a matter of preserving or regaining this state.

It was common to mingle creativity and genius in Romanticism, and in fact this mix can well be observed well into the 1900s.

In the 19th century , the cult of genius gradually faded and the term disappeared from aesthetics , where instead artistic craft, social factors, etc. came to the fore. In art today, the concept of genius is increasingly viewed critically, and the integration of an artist or author into the historical and socio-intellectual context is emphasized.

It is still widespread in everyday language. As universal genius , for example, Aristotle , Leonardo da Vinci , Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz , Alexander von Humboldt and al-Chwarizmi , as geniuses in their field Johann Sebastian Bach , Miles Davis , Nikolaus Kopernikus , Salvador Dalí , Grigori Perelman , Pablo Picasso , William Shakespeare , Friedrich Schiller , Isaac Newton , Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , Joseph Haydn , John Coltrane , Thomas Alva Edison , Albert Einstein , Leonhard Euler , Carl Friedrich Gauß , Nikola Tesla , Immanuel Kant , Charles Darwin , Ludwig Wittgenstein and Ludwig van Beethoven designated. The selection shows how the concept of genius depends on the cultural context: German-speaking people are overrepresented here. In many cases, as in the case of Karl Marx , Lenin , Sigmund Freud or Theodor W. Adorno, there is also no general agreement as to whether this person is to be regarded as a genius, since the assessment of these people is usually influenced by the viewer's personal political worldview .

Definitions in Psychology

Based on general intelligence

At least until the early 1990s, a genius was defined as someone with an exceptionally high IQ , typically over 140. This limit goes back to Lewis Terman , who conducted a long-term study with children . He wanted to show that children whose IQ were above this threshold would later achieve extremely great success and high performance as adults. However, of the over 1,000 extremely intelligent children involved, this was only true of a few, if any. For example, none of the children grew up to be outstanding artists. Nor did any of the people later receive a Nobel Prize. In contrast, two children who were excluded from the sample as insufficiently intelligent were later awarded Nobel Prizes: William Shockley and Walter Alvarez . Beyond these two examples, differences in adult success could not be explained by differences in general intelligence .

Accordingly, a definition based on the IQ is questionable and misses the essence of genius, since a genius is usually understood to be someone who has actually achieved outstanding performance, while the intelligence quotient only indicates the capacity to perform this performance. As a consequence, one differentiates between genius and talent . General intelligence alone is probably not the decisive factor; Creativity , imagination and intuition are other factors.

Based on the effects of the work

Wilhelm Lange-Eichbaum pointed out early on that there was a need for a community of admirers who declared a high performance to be the performance of a genius: In particular, however, the lasting influence of the work is a prerequisite. Francis Galton defined genius in the sense of enduring reputation in a very similar way .

An unrecognized genius. Original drawing by CW Allers. Satirical representation from Die Gartenlaube .

In the English specialist literature, the effect of outstanding performance on contemporary and subsequent generations is often referred to as eminence . (This term has no equivalent in German. A literal translation would be something like "Outstandingness".)

The definition based on performance and influence results in a. two consequences.

On the one hand, since there are different degrees of achievement and influence, it enables genius to be viewed as a quantitative characteristic : Anton Reicha could very well be a genius, but his contemporary Beethoven would be a greater genius. On the basis of the Eminence, ranking orders of geniuses can also be created. In a study that rated the eminence of 772 outstanding artists born between 1042 and 1912 , Michelangelo ranked # 1.

On the other hand, the definition based on performance and influence excludes the possibility of misunderstood geniuses , people with outstanding achievements without comprehensive reception : This term would be an oxymoron .

However, it is problematic that, as with misunderstood geniuses, a considerable amount of time can pass between an achievement and its recognition. B. Mendel or Van Gogh . Even if the recognition takes place during your lifetime, it is subject to change over time. For example, the recognition of 100 outstanding personalities in 1911 is not exactly the same as the recognition of these persons in 2002, but "only" moderately to strongly (r = 0.4) correlated with this. Similarly, when art historians from over 450 years assess the life's work of Renaissance painters, the degree of agreement between the assessments is approximately W = 0.5 (possible values: 0 to 1).

Another concept of the genius builds on the outstanding work, but sets the requirements higher. In this case , the essence of genius can be seen in its original productivity, which opens up new areas of creativity based on sure intuition . The work of a genius is differentiated from the work of other creative people in that the work of a genius either creates new disciplines such as B. the emergence of telescope-supported astronomy by Galileo Galilei ; or the plant revolutionizes established fields of activity. According to this, Johann Christian Bach and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach would be more of a genius than Johann Sebastian Bach, as they influenced music history more strongly than their father.

Based on the cognitive performance specific to the respective field of activity

One possibility to connect aspects of intelligence with genius is to assume less of the importance of general intelligence for outstanding performance, but rather of a high importance of individual cognitive abilities, which are different depending on the field of activity and would be outstanding in geniuses. Hypothetically, results from geniuses on an IQ test, which was supposed to assess general intelligence, would probably not have been outstanding. For example, one would assign Mozart a low level of intelligence if he had been judged on the basis of his mathematical performance. In the same way, one would assume Pascal had a low IQ value if he had been rated on the basis of his musical abilities. A really psychometrically measured example of this connection would be Kasparov, often referred to as a chess genius . His general intelligence is only above average, while individual cognitive abilities are outstanding. Accordingly, a genius would be defined as someone with outstanding, area-specific intellectual abilities.


Personality traits

Catharine Cox explored the meaning of personality in a sample of 100 geniuses. It concluded that "high, but not supreme intelligence, combined with greatest persistence , will achieve greater achievement and significance than supreme intelligence with slightly less persistence." (See also the threshold hypothesis for the importance of intelligence for creativity.)

Persistent motivation and openness to experience are the two personality traits that have proven to be important for the genius status across different fields of activity (science, art ...). The importance of other personality traits differs greatly depending on the field of activity.


One of the most well-established traits of creative geniuses is their extreme productivity, generating great thoughts as well as mediocre or downright wrong ones.

In fact, when comparing geniuses, not only is the variability in lifetime output significant - the most productive geniuses tend to produce at least 100 times more works than the least productive ones - but the frequency distribution of productivity is far from normal, but rather distributed extremely skewed to the right .

"Genius and Madness"

At the end of the 19th century, psychiatrists like Lombroso in particular advocated the theory that genius was equated with “insanity”. This approach is also represented less radically by Lange-Eichbaum, the best-known genius theorist. So the work between genius and mental disorder is extensive .

The creative urge that invades genius is compared in philosophy with certain original and highly productive phases from the lighter psychopathological fringe areas ( hypomanic phase fluctuations , visionary preliminary stages of schizophrenia ).

From the point of view of psychoanalytic authors, the process of creation is determined by preconscious processes ; if these cannot run unchecked, there is no real creativity (inner nature of man). For example For example, it is characteristic of modernity that a process of alienation from inner nature through bureaucracy etc. began. Among other things, this can be interpreted as an explanation of the ingenuity that appears less frequently. Geniuses would suffer from neuroses and mood swings , but creative thought processes would take place in spite of, and not because of, the fight against neurotic processes , e.g. B. the so-called "poet madness".

Numerous ingenious people suffered from a mental disorder in the course of their lives (e.g. Hölderlin , Vincent van Gogh , Torquato Tasso , Jonathan Swift and John Forbes Nash Jr. ).

Contemporary psychiatry has abandoned Lombroso's over-arching theories.

But if the life of geniuses can be described as “abnormal”, then not necessarily as a pathologically illegal, arbitrary exception, but from a sociological point of view at the same time as a rule-setting and creative peak of human existence . Ferdinand Tönnies assigned it to the " essential will " of humans.

Empirical Findings

In a study based on a sample of 204 geniuses born between 1766 and 1906, the connection between Eminence (see above Using the Effects of the Work ) and psychopathological illness was examined. The results showed a different relationship depending on the field of activity. For writers and artists , there was a linear relationship between these two characteristics: the more pronounced the psychopathological stress, the greater the eminence . On the other hand, there was a connection for scientists , thinkers and composers , which graphically describes an upside-down U: The eminence was highest with a medium degree of psychopathological stress, an “optimum”.

The creative brain - psychological studies on the creativity of geniuses

A genius has ideas that nobody had before. In other words, a genius is creative . In the mid-1990s, the psychologist Hans Eysenck suspected similar cognitive mechanisms in particularly creative people as in patients with schizophrenia and possibly on a similar neurological basis. In both cases, the influence of already learned, stored memory contents and habits on new perceptions is less than the average. As a result, they would have a wider horizon of association and could thus create something new.

Creative people are easier to distract

Shelly Carson from Harvard University in the USA compared the cognitive function of particularly creative and less creative people. Their laboratory tests showed that creative people are more distracted than less creative people. Carsons explains this with the fact that a certain filter function in the brain is less pronounced in creative people, the so-called latent inhibition . This means that creative minds are particularly open to recurring sensory stimuli . The wealth of information could explain original links or innovative ideas. The result was interpreted to support Eysenck's theory. The reduced filter function in connection with a high intelligence quotient makes it particularly creative. This may contribute to the fact that from the wealth of information only that is actually used that is currently needed.

See also



  • Cesare Lombroso: Genio e Follia. 1864.
  • Wilhelm Lange-Eichbaum: Genius - madness and fame . Published by E. Reinhardt, Munich 1928. (
    • New edition (edited by Wolfram Kurth): Genius, madness and fame. 6th edition. Ernst Reinhardt Verlag, Munich / Basel 1967. (also 1979)
    • New edition 1986–1996 in 11 volumes:
    • Volume 1: The doctrine of genius
    • Volume 2: The composers
    • Volume 3: The painters and sculptors
    • Volumes 4 and 5: The Poets and Writers
    • Volume 6: The Religious Leaders
    • Volume 7: The Philosophers and Thinkers
    • Volume 8: The politicians and generals
    • Volume 9: The Scientists and Researchers
    • Volume 10: The inventors and discoverers
    • Volume 11: The Revolutionaries and Social Reformers
  • Ernst Kretschmer : Ingenious people . With a portrait collection. J. Springer, Berlin 1929. (
  • Rudolf K. Goldschmit-Jentner : The encounter with the genius. Representations and considerations . Christian Wegner Publishing House, Hamburg 1939.
  • Géza Révész : Talent and Genius: Fundamentals of Gifted Psychology. (= Dalp Collection . Volume 76). Francke, Bern 1952.
  • Jochen Schmidt: The history of the genius idea in German literature, philosophy and politics 1750-1945 . 2 volumes. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1985.

Web links

Wiktionary: Genie  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Wilhelm Hehlmann : Dictionary of Psychology . 12th supplementary edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1974, ISBN 3-520-26912-0 .
  2. ^ Robert S. Albert, Mark A. Runco: A History of Research on Creativity . In: Handbook of Creativity . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1998, ISBN 978-0-511-80791-6 , pp. 16–32 , doi : 10.1017 / cbo9780511807916.004 ( [accessed September 29, 2018]).
  3. ^ Mark A. Runco, Garrett J. Jaeger: The Standard Definition of Creativity . In: Creativity Research Journal . tape 24 , no. 1 , January 2012, ISSN  1040-0419 , p. 92–96 , doi : 10.1080 / 10400419.2012.650092 ( [accessed September 10, 2018]).
  4. a b c d Dean Keith Simonton: Reverse engineering genius: historiometric studies of superlative talent . In: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences . tape 1377 , no. 1 , May 17, 2016, ISSN  0077-8923 , p. 3–9 , doi : 10.1111 / nyas.13054 ( [accessed September 7, 2018]).
  5. ^ A b c Dean Keith Simonton: Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity. Oxford University Press, New York 1999, ISBN 978-1-60256-356-8 ( ).
  6. Wilhelm Lange-Eichbaum: Genie, insanity and fame / 1, The doctrine of genius. Ed .: Wolfgang Ritter. 7., completely reworked. Edition. Reinhardt, Munich 1986, ISBN 3-497-01103-7 .
  7. ^ Francis Galton: Hereditary genius: An inquiry into its laws and consequences. 1869, doi : 10.1037 / 13474-000 ( [accessed on September 9, 2018]).
  8. ^ Mark A. Runco, Selcuk Acar, James C. Kaufman, Lindsay R. Halladay: Changes in Reputation and Associations with Fame and Biographical Data . In: Journal of Genius and Eminence . tape 1 , no. 1 , 2015, p. 50-58 .
  9. ^ Dean Simonton: Artistic creativity and interpersonal relationships. In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Volume 46, Number 6, 1984, pp. 1273-1286.
  10. ^ Mark A. Runco, James C. Kaufman, Lindsay R. Halladay, Jason C. Cole: Change in Reputation as an Index of Genius and Eminence . In: Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History . tape 43 , no. 2 , April 30, 2010, ISSN  0161-5440 , p. 91-96 , doi : 10.1080 / 01615440903270273 ( [accessed September 9, 2018]).
  11. ^ Victor Ginsburgh, Sheila Weyers: Persistence and fashion in art Italian Renaissance from Vasari to Berenson and beyond . In: Poetics . tape 34 , no. 1 , February 2006, ISSN  0304-422X , p. 24–44 , doi : 10.1016 / j.poetic.2005.07.001 ( [accessed September 21, 2018]).
  12. ^ Dean Keith Simonton: After Einstein: Scientific genius is extinct . In: Nature . tape 493 , no. 7434 , January 30, 2013, ISSN  0028-0836 , p. 602–602 , doi : 10.1038 / 493602a ( [accessed September 25, 2018]).
  13. Jens Jessen : Misunderstood geniuses: Look, they are alive! In: The time . No. 2 , 2015 ( ).
  14. strokes of genius and blackouts . In: Der Spiegel . No. 52 , 1987 ( online ).
  15. Catherine M. Cox: The Early Mental Traits of Three Hundred Geniuses: 002 . Stanford University Press, 1926.
  16. ^ Robert S. Albert: Toward a behavioral definition of genius. In: American Psychologist . tape 30 , no. 2 , 1975, ISSN  1935-990X , p. 140–151 , doi : 10.1037 / h0076861 ( [accessed October 15, 2019]).
  17. ^ Dean Keith Simonton: Creative productivity: A predictive and explanatory model of career trajectories and landmarks. In: Psychological Review . tape 104 , no. 1 , 1997, ISSN  1939-1471 , pp. 66–89 , doi : 10.1037 / 0033-295X.104.1.66 ( [accessed October 15, 2019]).
  18. ^ Heinrich Schmidt (abbreviation): Philosophical dictionary . Ed .: Georgi Schischkoff. 22nd edition. A. Kröner Verlag, Stuttgart 1991, ISBN 3-520-01322-3 .
  19. Lawrence S. Kubie: Psychoanalysis and Genius: The creative process . Rowohlt, Hamburg 1966.
  20. Lawrence S. Kubie: Neurotic deformations of the creative process . Rowohlt, Hamburg 1966.
  21. ^ Van Gogh's Mental and Physical Health. ( Memento from December 6, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  22. ^ Tasso, Torquato (1544-1595) . In: Arts and Humanities Through the Eras. The Gale Group, 2005 (English) biography, critical reception; "From about 1576 until his death Tasso suffered from an intermittent psychosis."
  23. Jonathan Swift
  24. John F. Nash Jr. - biography
  25. Rolf Fechner: "The essence itself is artistic spirit" - Ferdinand Tönnies' genius concept and its meaning for the transition from community to society . In: Lars Clausen , Carsten Schlüter (Ed.): Hundred Years of “Community and Society” . Opladen 1991, pp. 453-461.
  26. ^ Dean Keith Simonton: More method in the mad-genius controversy: A historiometric study of 204 historic creators. In: Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts . tape 8 , no. 1 , 2014, ISSN  1931-390X , p. 53-61 , doi : 10.1037 / a0035367 ( [accessed June 20, 2019]).
  27. ^ Hans J. Eysenck: Genius: The Natural History of Creativity . Cambridge University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-521-48508-8 , chapter Neurophysiology og Creativity. P. 260 ff.
  28. Shelley H. Carson: Cognitive Disinhibition, Creativity, and Psychopathology. In: Dean Keith Simonton (Ed.): The Wiley Handbook of Genius . John Wiley & Sons, Chichester UK 2014, doi: 10.1002 / 9781118367377.ch11