What Makes a Genius?

2011, Science  -   44 Comments
Ratings: 8.09/10 from 23 users.

What Makes a Genius?Could you have come up with Einstein's theory of relativity? If not - why not? This is what Marcus du Sautoy, professor of mathematics, wants to explore.

Marcus readily admits that he is no genius, but wants to know if geniuses are just an extreme version of himself - or whether their brains are fundamentally different.

Marcus meets some remarkable individuals - Tommy, an obsessive artist who uses his whole house as his canvas; Derek: blind, autistic, and a pianist with apparently prodigious gifts; Claire who is also blind, but whose brain has learnt to see using sound.

Marcus is shown how babies have remarkable abilities which most of us lose as teenagers. He meets a neuroscientist who claims he has evidence of innate ability, a scientist who's identified a gene for learning, and Dr. Paulus, who has discovered how to sharpen the brain... by electrically turbo-charging it.

44 Comments / User Reviews

    Robert M
  1. Robert M

    Good effort, but I think also limited by the interpretation of the results. I think more conclusions and questions could be drawn then were asked to explain some results. For instance when the plasticity of the brain degrades, is this a result of age, genetics, environment, and depending on which one - can this be reversed? I think the mind has the ability with exercise to become plastic again. Although I also tend to agree that imagination is more important then intelligence :)

    Worth the watch, and I am interested in the questions related that aren't asked others might have as well.

  2. Sieben Stern
  3. Sieben Stern

    i think this initially assumes that 'genius' exists in a bubble. what i tend to see is the best creative people have amazing people around them and have been exposed to their craft since they were a child.

    this is especially true with art, the audience just sees the final result without knowing the work that went into creating the work, so it appears miraculous and attributed on one person's one burst of amazing genius.

  4. Sieben Stern
  5. Sieben Stern

    on another note, that cat has a wicked scarf!

  6. far
  7. far

    we are just a bunch of monkeys and some of us are unlucky enough to realize that we are just a bunch of monkeys

  8. Carlos Erick Sermeño
  9. Carlos Erick Sermeño

    Monkeys gonna monk

  10. Misa Amane
  11. Misa Amane

    No, what you just described sounds more like a definition, or a guide to successful practice. Genius, like Mozart, wasn't handed to him by motivational peers, a loving father and a love for the art. He was just born with it. That's how it is: some people have it and some people have to work to get it. You just have to figure out what works for you.

  12. Misa Amane
  13. Misa Amane

    How is imagination more important than intelligence? I mean, what scenarios are you referring to? I think they are both useful in their moments. Too much imagination and you end up Dulusional. Too much intelligence and you end up an introvert. Funny, some people have both and some have none.

  14. cezy
  15. cezy

    Funny you mentioned Mozart of all people. He had an obsessive father who made him play since he was a tiny kid to show him off. So yes, he was a genius, but had his father been a carpenter, I doubt we would now have figaros' wedding.

  16. far
  17. far


  18. g isaac
  19. g isaac

    There are not many on earth who do not possess the potential for genius. Sadly it appears that the more we aim to "calculate" creativity, the more people we seem to count out.

  20. Sota Kidd
  21. Sota Kidd

    I can tell you there is no way of truly calculating genius. If you were a "genius" you would understand it can only be calculated on the most fundamental levels (i.e. in established fields with enough peers to test against). This leaves "true geniuses", such as Einstein, to be thought of as having just "normal" intelligence by tests, peers, and professors. In actuality, "true geniuses" are so far beyond the capacity of other humans their intelligence cannot be perceived as "real" until a base of people exists who understand the new concept (i.e. doctors, physicists, rock stars).

    What test would you give Jimmy Hendrix to determine his genius?

    If you tell me he isn't a genius you lost all credibility.

  22. Sota Kidd
  23. Sota Kidd

    Are you an artist? Didn't think so...

  24. Sieben Stern
  25. Sieben Stern

    i don't know if it ate my reply, but actually i have an MFA. i illustrate and sculpt maquettes. my portfolio is viistar(dot)com. you shouldn't assume anything about anyone.

    most 'geniuses' were born into families that took the effort to find and encourage the talents of their children. if michelangelo had been born in a different place, with different circumstances he would never have made the david.

  26. Sieben Stern
  27. Sieben Stern

    actually i don't believe anyone 'has it' or 'doesn't have it'. it's all about general skill - some people being more analytical or creative - and then having the support system to work those skills in a very specific direction from a very young age.

    you can train a child to do pretty much anything and they will adapt to your demands. make them paint, play the piano or do maths, it really doesn't matter as long as you start young.

    i think, from some of these comments posted here, that there is a comfort in thinking that genius is a product of genes and natural processes instead of admitting that it's all hard work and circumstance. 'god given' I've heard said. everyone probably has a strong skill that could be developed to a genius level, but they lack the resources or work ethic to make it happen.

  28. mister_ed
  29. mister_ed

    well put
    well put that on a t-shirt

  30. Xbow
  31. Xbow

    I would like to see whats going on with the brain and nervous system when someone like Sonnie Trotter free climbs the cobra crack

  32. Gary V
  33. Gary V

    A great doc in HD from the BBC with Marcus du Sautoy. Very interesting.

  34. grave angel
  35. grave angel

    I hate how they had to test on mice with electrical shocks - surely nowadays we could use computer simulation instead? It doesn't take a genius to work out that there is a huge lack of compassion; replaced by ignorance towards our fellow Earthlings.

  36. Emmett Graham
  37. Emmett Graham

    Genius is mastery of an existing craft, infused with creativity (or a different perspective from all others). It takes hard work to master a craft thus indicating a strong work ethic (created from circumstances usually). As well as a stimulating environment to encourage the creation of ideas that differ from the norm.
    History has forgotten many great minds, so open yours, our world needs as many innovative minds as it can get, especially right now, while on the fringe of a global awakining.

  38. Robin Forward
  39. Robin Forward

    Truw but we still cant replicate a mind........ even a mouse's

  40. memoiandi
  41. memoiandi

    Sieben Stern, I just checked out your portfolio. You are very good... very good indeed.

    This spanking of Sota Kidd was one of the best "How's that for putting you in your place?" that I've seen in a long time.

    Well played.

  42. Sieben Stern
  43. Sieben Stern

    why thank you ^^ what a kind thing to say!

    I figure most people who aren't involved in creating don't understand the work that goes on behind the scenes - all they see is the final product and think it is miraculous :3

  44. azav
  45. azav

    He isn't. At many things. A genius is not always a genius at everything. In fact one time Hendricks was playing guitar for a children's muppet show and playing it his way. Total fail. He knew his audience were kids, yet he did not tune in to this and alienated his audience.

    You are speaking more of what you wish, than of reality.

  46. bud oracle
  47. bud oracle

    Americans have been subjected to gene modification like the mouse which can't learn. This is the results of MK ultra research combined with vaccinations. Now Americans will do exactly as the government wants with little resistance

  48. avny82
  49. avny82

    How is it that children can exceed in an IQ test at the same age as their parents were when the child was conceived?

  50. Istoan Silviu
  51. Istoan Silviu

    Did you even heard of Henri Coanda about the jet engine, or is this just another propaganda documentary by BBC? When I heard the intro, I stopped watching this BS english/american propaganda. NOT ALL INVENTIONS ARE BRITISH OR AMERICAN!

  52. Jesse Seese
  53. Jesse Seese

    I think the mexicans have the burrito but yeah we pretty much did everything else.

  54. Dan3D
  55. Dan3D

    Current computers can only approximate a natural system, so would never give an 100 percent accurate prediction. So would be useless in that line of research.

  56. supravista
  57. supravista

    "god given" is an insult to those of us who've worked our asses off to arrive at something interesting.

  58. Sieben Stern
  59. Sieben Stern

    exactly. you can trace 'talent' back to its source to the experience and people in a someone's life.

  60. supravista
  61. supravista

    I don't believe in 'talent'. It's intelligent people doing intelligent things which others call only call 'talent'. I do feel it's a mixture of
    "the experience and people in a someone's life", intelligence, and dedication.

    I also don't believe in any god.

  62. Rampage
  63. Rampage

    BBC have great science shows, maybe you can give some examples of insidious BBC documentaries?

  64. Wolfthorn
  65. Wolfthorn

    The video didn't say a great deal about genius other than it is intelligence + creativity & that creativity is considered more important. It seemed to focus more on math & chess skills versus creativity, for example. In contrast, the painter was very creative but wasn't presented as a type of genius or specifically skilled in a specified area. Perhaps technical painting skills were a part of his paintings but it wasn't mentioned. For me, the video lacked a focus on intelligence + creativity together to arrive at genius. The two were usually split apart during the majority of the video and I would have enjoyed hearing more about the blending to the two in terms of impact on genius, considering that the title and intro made me very interested in that particular idea.

  66. Wolfthorn
  67. Wolfthorn

    Quantifying things can have the effect of creating certain limitations so I agree with you there. In addition, I think that such calculations can sometimes only be a "snapshot" in time. For example, Thomas Edison's teacher told him that he couldn't learn a thing, yet he invented the light bulb later in life. The issue I have with statistics is that they cannot always account for certain dynamic qualities in life, such as growth...unless you are looking for it, too & taking it into account. That's not always the case and often we're presented with one "snapshot" of info. LAME!!!!!

  68. Wolfthorn
  69. Wolfthorn

    Anybody hear of the 10,000 hour rule? It takes 10,000 hours of focused practice to master a skill. Could be anything...baseball to physics. This is how a great working knowledge is built. Then, add to that curiosity and you have the basic profile of a genius, such as Nicoa Tesla. He posed both characteristic of mastery (form all that hard work) and curiosity. But I also think he must have had a good ability to take in new information(a.k.a. learn)...but wonder if that isn't really part of curiosity, which is ushered in by our passions.I think being genius would be AMAZING.

  70. Trash CanMan
  71. Trash CanMan

    Genius is in every human. Teach a kid to do anything and then teach him the forces that govern that thing now let them get creative. boil and stir for 10 years

  72. Christa
  73. Christa

    Expressed genius requires a perfect storm...

  74. Porml
  75. Porml

    Not everybody can be a genius , genius is being born with a brain from the future,a brain that grew with no common pattern,due to some biological event (injury,mutation) that made nature complete its work by redesigning the normal brain and giving us glances of our most intelligent evolutionary descendants.
    This is why genius is alien,it could be true that geniuses have the same mental power as aliens,that would have reached the everyone is a genius theory after million years evolution .

  76. Christa
  77. Christa

    You make introversion sound like a defect. Is that how most people see it? I didn't realize. Intersting to note.

  78. Sean
  79. Sean

    Did this crazy lady just compare being delusional with being introverted?

  80. walaa
  81. walaa

    Well i think we can just attribute genius to one thing either environment or genetics .i guss we are all born with the ability to excell and be a G in a specific area but here comes the environment it plays a vital role in applying these abilities. G ppl always make the best out of the opportunity given to them it seems that they never give up.they work so hard .they are very patient self motivated.so how the structure of the brain give us these features .

  82. bungabunga
  83. bungabunga

    every time i see the thumbnail for this doc i think it's a pint of guinness.

  84. Nolin
  85. Nolin

    Talent hits a target others can't reach. Genius hits a target others can't see.

  86. gohemio
  87. gohemio

    I think genius is genius and it will take a genius to explain one's genius.

Leave a comment / review:

→ Privacy Policy