Genius…has side effects

I have borrowed House’s tag line because, as he would say, “it fits” this piece perfectly-

But is genius excuse enough for crime? James Oleson, professor of sociology and criminal justice on fellowship to the US Supreme Court, thinks so. “Most geniuses should be punished the same as average offenders, but some geniuses should be exculpated. Not because (as Aristotle suggests) they are above the law, nor because (as Plato suggests) geniuses are mad, but because an IQ that is too high can result in severe communication and socialisation problems… the extraordinary genius might have such a different conception of morality from the rest of us that he is functionally insane.”

Sherlock Holmes said of his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty, a mathematician and an expert on eclipses, “He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He has a brain of the first order… He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. ” Rishi Valmiki was once cut-throat dacoit Angulimala, Darth Vader walked on the bad side, and Ravana, his 10 heads symbolising one who has mastered 10 senses, stands for all evil today.


“Geniuses are able to commit their offences with the same acumen that they bring to bear in other areas of their lives, which makes them very dangerous. At white-collar crime, they obtain more money than less-intelligent criminals can. At violent crimes, their ability to elude apprehension enables them to inflict harm or even death over long periods,” states Oleson. Cullen in The Bell Curve indicates high-IQ increases criminal behaviour while low-IQ crime is merely more prone to being caught.

“We bandy the word ‘genius’ about like currency,” says Kakkar, “A genius is always both loved and hated because he mirrors society’s best and worst, and yet he is all alone, because very few people like him for showing them what they really are.” Gallerist Usha Mirchandani agrees. “Issac Newton, Van Gogh were geniuses. We use the label far too generously – we see someone who stands out and say ‘Oh, genius’ but we don’t mean it. It’s an attention-getting word. True genius comes along very rarely.” Psychiatrist Asit Seth explains, “A genius takes chances, defies convention and is often manic depressive. He is driven by perspective. Your lines are not his lines. Like Picasso.”

The article also refers to Edison and his failures, as if to show that genius has to fail before it can succeed. Edison himself admitted as much—”Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” I don’t know… I recollect an interesting quip that someone made about another saying (“its not the winning that counts, but the participation” or one of its variations). According to him, the man who first said that must have come in second place. I think it also applies to genius. There are millions of brilliant, or gifted, or exceptionally talented people in the world. There are also those of average or above-average intellect who succeed through sheer perseverance, a workmanlike attitude. But genius is something else. Like Kanigel describes in his biography on Ramanujan, quoting Polish mathematician Mark Kac-

An ordinary genius is a fellow that you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what he has done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it. It is different with the magicians. They are, to use mathematical jargon, in the orthogonal complement of where we are and the workings of their minds is for all intents and purposes incomprehensible. Even after we understand what they have done, the process by which they have done it is completely dark.

The genius as “magician.” Someone who can perform tasks that a normal human being considers to be impossible—devilishly difficult—with ease while playing catchup strains the resources of even the gifted. That, is genius.

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  • Anonymous  On December 5, 2012 at 12:58 am

    Interesting article.
    Thank you very much for sharing, appreciated.

  • Anonymous  On December 21, 2014 at 7:56 pm


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