Until his death
in 1997, Dr. Hans Eysenck was one of the world's leading experts
on intelligence testing. In 1995, he wrote this analysis of the
wellsprings of genius, published by the Press Syndicate of the
University of Cambridge.
Dr. Eysenck first mentions Sir Francis Galton's categorizations of eminence. Galton's threshold level of eminence, Class F, occurs about once in every 4,300 adults; his Class G, has a frequency of 1 in 79,000; and his Class X, consists of 1 in 1,000,000 individuals. It's a startling fact that not a single one of Terman's 1,528 gifted children out of 250,000 California schoolchildren, made it into Galton's Class F (1 in 4,300)! Galton argued that genius is a product of (1) intelligence/special abilities, (2) persistence/hard work, and (3) striving. (Modern psychologists, including Dr. Eysenck, might lean more toward intelligence/special aptitudes, striving, and originality). Creative output and eminence follows a Pareto-like J-curve such as .
"ParetoType 1 probability density functions for a with xm = 1. As a --> ∞, the distribution approaches d(x - xm), where d is the Dirac delta function." (Taken from Wikipedia)
Price' Law, states that if there are "n" contributors in a scientific field, 75% of the contributions will come from 25% of the contributors.
Other factors that enter into the title of "genius" are luck, and the question of who writes the history books. As Sir William Osler put it, "In science, the credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not to the man to whom the idea first occurs!"
Dr. Eysenck concludes that the typical genius has "an IQ some three to four standard deviations above the mean." "In the long run such precision does not matter very much; the main point is that high IQ is one of the features of genius, and apparently a universal, and hence probably a necessary, one."
Another telling tale is the outcome of children with extremely high IQ's. Many, but not all of them end up in professional or academic careers. Dr. Eysenck mentions several British children who didn't. One was a boy who read fluently at three, who became a university dropout, spent two years on the dole, and is now a low-paid office manager. Another fellow who had an IQ of 170 at 9 is a van driver. One musical prodigy with an IQ of 169, at 29 is running a band. She lacked ambition. Another female prodigy is now a full-time mother and is very content with her life. Not one of Dr. Leta Hollingworth's children above 180 "is known to have developed to a 'genius' level or anything approaching it". In my own personal experience, one friend, with a childhood IQ of 169, became a Ph. D. psychologist, earning a J. D. at night. Another friend, who scored 1600 on the Graduate Record Exam in the 50's when this might have been the highest score in the country, got his Ph. D. at Harvard and then spent a successful, though quiet, career in a university physics department. (One of his departmental chairmen once told him that he wasn't ruthless enough.) Another individual, who rivalled William Sidis in early precocity, taught physiology as an M. D. in the Harvard Medical School.
Other studies have identified drive and originality as playing a more important role than native ability in the attainment of eminence, whether in terms of IQ or specialized talents, although, as Dr. Eysenck has noted, a high level of native ability seems to be a prerequisite. . However, Dr. Eysenck reviews Roe's 1953 IQ measurements of eminent scientists one level below Nobel Laureates. Their median IQ was 166, even though some of them reached the 177 ceiling of the test. Their median spatial IQ was 137, although it was felt that this would have been higher had they been younger. Their median mathematical IQ was 154, ranging from 128 to 194. They typically worked 70-hour weeks.
Dr. John Watson, of Crick and Watson fame, recently observed that at the time that he and Dr. Crick were working on the double-helix problem, there were other brilliant researchers, including Dr. Linus Pauling, who were also closing in on the solution. However, these other researchers were highly competitive and unwilling to share their thoughts with others, and it was this ability to work together with other researchers that led Crick and Watson to the prize.
Dr. Eysenck also observes that in certain fields, such as literature and art, an unhappy childhood and/orpsychopathology seems to be a contributing factor, perhaps permitting the author/artist to better relate to the human condition.
In conclusion, Dr. Eysenck concludes that intelligence is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for genius. Focussed hard work, persistence, originality, luck, and opportunity also play decisive roles. He also suggests that the game may have changed somewhat from Einstein's day because:
(1) there is so much to learn in any branch of knowledge;
(2) there are so many more players; and
(3) the fruit that hangs lowest on the tree has already been picked.