Is the world clear out of geniuses? Will we ever have another Copernicus, another Darwin, another Einstein to shatter the foundations of our beliefs? Perhaps not, says a man who ought to know.
Dean Keith Simonton, professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis, has dedicated the better part of his career to studying geniuses--people who possess what he calls the highest level of scientific creativity. He thinks they may very well have ceased to exist. It may be that they have been rendered impossible, simply because of the way science works anymore.
Other psychologists and even geneticists have argued that modern society is short on astoundingly intelligent members. Pick your reason, from genetic mutations to lack of education access to politics. But Simonton is talking about more than just smarts. A true genius, that rare member of society, is a real paradigm-shatterer, a Renaissance human who can completely alter the way we understand the world. Geniuses are people who come up with "surprising ideas that are not a mere extension of what is already known," Simonton said in an email interview with PopSci. "There are personality and cognitive traits associated with the ability to do that, but that's another issue."
A historical tour through the scientific revolution contains many people who fit this definition. In a new commentary in the journal Nature, Simonton calls out Albert Einstein, Nicolaus Copernicus, Charles Darwin, Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton, among others who really only need be referenced by one name. Each man (and woman--he includes Marie Curie, too) totally upended entire fields of research, or created entirely new ones. That doesn't really happen anymore, Simonton argues.
"When was the last time that someone forced us to rewrite the textbooks in some domain? Or even create an entirely new domain from scratch? Can you think of anybody since DNA?" he said.
Stephen Hawking? "I'm not so sure by my definition. Just a highly creative scientist," he replied.
So let's agree we are bereft of modern geniuses. Why? People are not dumber as a whole--at least Simonton is not arguing that--and certainly scientists have high IQs. If anything, he allows, they probably have more raw intelligence than people like Copernicus, because they have to gain so much more experience and knowledge to even become proficient in their fields.
"Once you didn't need to go to college to become a great scientist. Then you needed college but not grad school. Then grad school but not a postdoc. Etc.," Simonton said. "As you lengthen the required training, you narrow the base of expertise. It's becoming increasingly difficult to become a polymath beyond the sense of a 'know it all.'"
The biggest and most fundamental problems, like Does Earth Orbit The Sun, and What Is The Relationship Between Matter And Energy, and What Are The Building Blocks Of Life, have been solved. Every new advancement is just fitting in a piece in a larger puzzle, Simonton argues. The people who will do this are still laudatory individuals: Simonton compares them to Olympians.
"Just as athletes can win an Olympic gold medal by beating the world record only by a fraction of a second, scientists can continue to receive Nobel prizes for improving the explanatory breadth of theories or the preciseness of measurements," he writes in Nature.
But the larger point is that the next great leaps in research are hybrids of the classic disciplines, Simonton points out. In the last century, we've gained astrobiology, astrophysics, biochemistry, and the like. "When two disciplines hybridize now, the result builds upon the work in the two disciplines. That wasn't always true," he told PopSci. "The new science would completely revolutionize one or both disciplines. Like Galileo's telescopic astronomy."
Simonton quotes Thomas Kuhn, a philosopher of science who gave us the term "paradigm shift" and who defines scientific revolutions thusly: "A discipline within the physical and biological sciences should not even be receptive to a paradigm shift unless the discipline is in a state of crisis, produced by the accumulation of critical findings that continue to resist explanation."
Are there any great unresolved crises in the major disciplines? For biology, maybe it's the origin of life: What's the spark that coaxed chains of amino acids to form proteins that eventually comprised cells that replicate? That's one that needs solving. In physics, maybe it's the inability to unite gravity with the three other forces of nature--that's a major problem, Simonton agreed.
"It may very well be that the only way to integrate the four forces of nature is to rebuild physics from the ground up. That would take a major revolution," he said.
Simonton hopes his thesis is wholly inaccurate.
"It takes only one new scientific genius to prove me wrong," he wrote.
Perhaps humanity has evolved to such a high narcissi behavior; we are now blind to see the genius amongst us, lol.
.... or humanity has evolved to such humility, we no longer see the genius among us.
Naaaa, we are to narcissistic as a species now to see clearly.
I think it has more to do with the time needed to expand on knowledge learned from said geniuses. From the guys below there really was much overlap in timelines, and even less overlap in timelines from same field of study.
Albert Einstein 1879-1955
Nicolaus Copernicus 1473-1543
Charles Darwin 1809-1882
Galileo Galilei 1564–1642
Isaac Newton 1642–1727
Between Newton and Einstein there was almost 150 years between death and birth so my argument would be you won't see a groundbreaking revelation for another 50-100 years due to Einstein's achievements in last 100 years.
History loves having just one person to pin specific events on. Nothing is that simple though. These geniuses were the name on top of major discoveries. Events that had quite a few other contributors in their own right that don't get mentioned. It takes a good 50-100 years removed to have the ability to assign specific historical events to one pivotal person.
I ponder this quite often because the same can be said about a lot of things. Like sports, television, technology etc. Are we running out of ideas? Or is it too easy to take one platform and expand upon it? Have we reached a time where nothing else can be learned or invented?
Personally I think(as far as geniuses go)that modern technology takes a lot away from the thought process and in turn affects the way people think. For example, I learned mathematics the old fashioned way, a pencil & paper. Today kids in school use calculators. Because they don't have to process math equations in their heads, does this have an adverse affect on how their minds are molded and the way they think? I believe so.
I think there is some truth in that a big discovery is dependent more on a team rather than a single person in modern times. This makes sense as the more complex things get people must specialize more in order to be able to learn everything.
On the other hand, I think Quantum physics has a long way to go, so there will continue to be big discoveries in that field.
Finally, many big discoveries take a while to be proven and for its importance to be understood by average people.
Many of the great scientific discoveries of all time took humanity decades to understand and accept. My contention is that there are important breakthroughs happening constantly in hundreds of different fields and subfields, but that it's become so complicated that we don't realize what's going on. I believe that once today's science has been understood by a larger group of people and has been put in textbooks, the important scientific discoveries of our era will become evident.
What isn't mentioned is that fundamental facet of the process of new knowledge, people being willing to disengage from what they "believe" already! Just try saying "'evolution' is wrong" to any "science" devotee. They won't let you get past the first couple of syllables! "Evolution is absolutely, utterly and completely right! There is nothing that is better than it! I won't listen to a word you say! I won't listen to your arguments! I won't look at your proof! Everything you provide must be wrong, because I am ordered to believe evolution is right! Tin foil hat alert! Take your meds!" If Carl Sagan didn't say it, they won't accept it. They all mirror Manitou's suggestion that every "scientist" is a genius. If "geniuses" say these things, they can't be wrong! Then they go and condemn, say, the people of Copernicus' day for believing what "experts" said that the sun went around the earth.
And there is another crucial facet of the situation that needs to be overcome. The rabid insistence by "science" devotees that "scientists" cannot lie, that anything they say must be believed, without question. They are never provided a single piece of tangible, incontrovertible evidence by "science", but they insist it must be true because "experts" said it. You can give them a truckload of evidence of crop circles and they will still scoff, but they accept "science" without a single piece of "evidence". The most they'll do is sya, "'Scientists' tell me this GPS works by 'relativity'. This GPS works, therefore, 'relativity' is proved true!" They describe "scientists" in glowing terms of utter selflessness and altruism. If there are any who abide by devotioin to truth, they get no further than quality control lines at factories. Only "the kind of crooks the New World Order can work with" are allowed higher, into the well paid lie facilities they call "laboratories".
The preceding reply is one that I used elsewhere on the same subject, which explains the reference to a comment not mentioned here. The essence is the same., however, that, until "science" devotees stop being almost addictively enslaved to what "science" says, no advancement will occur and. therefore, there will be no "geniuses".
In addition to the comment above about the hypocratic hubris of modern scientists, I would add that I blame modern society. Technology and Honeybooboo have made us into a self righteous band of idiots that aren't able to do any critical thinking, and thus often can't see the forest for the trees. And when one genius does, they are immediately shot down by the scientific community because those new ideas don't conform to the present way of thinking. These days, it seems the genius among us are just those that know the proper use/spelling of the term 'You are'.
Who needs to ponder about Quantum Mechanics when we can watch Snooki indulge herself with peanut butter and pickles?
We no longer uphold geniuses.
"Why" - Everyone.
“Moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but the world's champions.”
― Kurt Vonnegut
Think about it. No one is born a genius, they learn, grow, rise to the top with the support of a whole network of friends and mentors who notice their gift and potential. Now, though, if you aren't soldering together gadgets in kindergarten or discovering laws of physics at 7, you won't be noticed, you won't be as 'amazing' as someone whose already out there, and you won't have the opportunity to realize your potential. Imagine if Albert Einstein, a C-student and relatively unambitious person in the ladder-climbing, getting noticed sense, had tried to get into MIT or get his theories into a major journal in this modern age of extreme, cut-throat global competition.
None of this is new, its been a learned slope thats only getting steeper. Porn stars, actors, sports players (don't get me started on how much of a waste of everything golf is), musicians, etc... are all paid way more than the people we actually need, doctors, police officers, really any kind of emergency response, anyone brave enough to be in the military. I think there should be some kind of 5 year rotation system, especially in the government, let everyone have a shot at greatness and tip the scale in the other direction. Sports players should be paid in fame let the real heroes get the money.
"please dont be offended by me,
i just humbly, and respectfully disagree"
I suspect the apparent lack of geniuses is caused more by the breadth of discoveries that have already been made. Currently any leaps in scientific understanding are going to be the result of teams of people studying a subject together. A single person simply can't know and process enough information to make the huge leaps of understanding past scientists have.
albert einstein thoughts his ideas simply in his head.
he didn't even had a notebook to write them on. it was all in his head. these days we are programed to think in a specific way.
To be honest, the past few decades were actually spent recovering from two world wars and examining the full implications of Einstein's works.
Don't forget that most geniuses aren't realised, there were times when a great man's birth couldn't let him become known at all. Even today, you do need a nice sum of money to get the knowledge you need to expand upon ideas, and I think that's seriously ruining the chances of most mould-breaking thinkers.
The thesis WILL be proven wrong, there's an immeasurable amount of time and a grand number of people being born and you know the thing about large numbers.
Aw, ain't that a shame. You'd think a lot of smarts would have rubbed off on Simonton by now. His points are all at least somewhat valid, but in drawing his conclusions he apparently does not do what geniuses do. Where is his thinking outside the box? Why does he assume geniuses exist only in an academic setting? Why assume that A GENIUS actually needs ANY of other people's work to shatter the boundaries of something they put mind to?
One summer this genius named Dave decided he wanted to do something I thought was odd. No big deal; he was usually off on some tangent that I'd have problems comprehending without much more study than he seemed to have to put in. So I'd play chess with Dave, but his condition was that I had to restrict myself to one move a week. He would give himself one minute to answer. I never beat him. Stands to reason, even without his 180 IQ, as he is a highly rated player. So there's no way the likes of me could compete...and Dave got this idea. He created a chessplayer rating system that could not only define how good a lay-player was using the standard points system as a comparative, but could also be used to tell the weaknesses and skill levels of players that were rated higher than even he was at the time. People that Dave probably could not beat before, now had exposed weaknesses that don't read ANYTHING like what you'd see in a chess journal. He'd use it to read 'mistakes' in grandmaster play. He carved off huge sections of the U.S. player base as dilettantes. And then his chess world was starting to make sense both in particular and as a whole, so he said his continued interest was now justified.
A whole lot of geniuses out there are just living normal lives. Taking care of regular things. But to suppose that they don't exist because you ain't met enough of them that are publicly engaged in high profile studies is irrational. Thinking you somehow know that no geniuses on Earth keep their discoveries entirely to themselves is too. Give em reasons to come out of the woodwork. Show them that their efforts are truly valued. Don't put them in pressure-cooker scenarios that destroy their personal lives or on brain-numbing treadmill science. Get the hell out of their way.
I don't understand how you could possibly think genius is extinct. There will always be a people that make significant contributions to society. These once in a generation people are rare, but will never cease to exist.
I agree with some of the comments that we may train genius out of people with our rigid educational system. I have often toyed with the idea of funding a day where you would bring together say four genius level people, each from his own field. Each would present an unsolvable problem to the others. I wonder if the other three, coming at the problem with no prejudice might point out something that the experts never considered. I think creativity knows no discipline.
Today's magic is tomorrow's technology.
Science has run aground on shoals of credential snobbery, political correctness, and atheism. In today's science, agenda trumps truth.
i didn't read the article, hell, i barely read any of the comments, but in response to the question posted by the superbly crafted headline i would have to say that no we aren't, scientists just have a stick up their ass about what is right and what isn't. the genius is there and probably even more so than ever before, the problem is there's so much red tape and politics involved for the genius to be realized. and that's without adding actual politicians to the equation.
to be completely honest we'd laugh out a 3 year college student who would posit that the graviton is simply a normal neutron. however we'd laud an accredited scientist proclaiming the same thing for being mind blowingly anti establishment that the scientific community would dump billions into any experiment on his word alone. even after it's being conclusively proven that it's nigh impossible to become accredited without building upon what has already been established.
you don't become an accredited scientist by discovering an unsettling accurate prediction of what an unknown particle does, you become an accredited scientist by proving that water is wet. and then go on to prove that fire is hot so that you can get your grant money that year.
to mars or bust!
There's a fine line between genius and insanity.
Fact of the matter is, we are weeded out, those among us that stand out face other challenges in the 21 century. Greed and Envy run rampart. Mindless tasks are forced upon us.
Most genius's will lack finical backing for they care little of money, great ideas fall below the waist side or are sold to the highest bidder.
Humanity has taken a wrong turn.
The collective will stop a singular from rising!
I think many of you are down on the human race overall, which is a shame.
To achieve Einstein status you must think a certain way and be at precisely the right place at the right time in history. How you scored on tests in school is irrelevant. It is my recollection that Einstein had much difficulty in proving his theories, because he lacked the math skills. What he lacked in mathematics he made up with passion for his work and desire.
Take Davinci for example. His vision was extraordinary, but the materials and equipment needed to make practical use of it would not be around for a long time. Maybe if Davinci were around today he would be just another engineer?
How many Einsteins and Davincis missed their moment in history or never found their true calling?
IT IS QUITE POSSIBLE THAT THE WRITER OF THIS ARTICLE HAS NOT READ ENOUGH POPSCI!!! ACTIONS OF GENIUS HAVE SIMPLY GROWN EXPONENTIALLY. HIGGS BOSON, MIND CONTROLLED DEVICES, ROBOTIC LIMBS, ARTIFICIAL ORGANS AND HOW CAN WE OVERLOOK THE IPOD AND ITUNES AND ALL i PRODUCTS!!!
GENIUS I SAY, GENIUS!!!
Hmmm. I agree that many of what caused wonder in the past has now been "solved" and that "we" are just building on what is known. However I think its a temporary phase of our evolution. You have to get mired in the way things are before a fresh mind can escape the way things are and see, create, solve something new. "Back in the day" there were clearly advances waiting to happen. Now, there is just SO much, and so much information to be processed, reworked, mixed with other information in new ways.... "we" are still trying to figure out how to work with what we have in our grasp. The advances are there, but until they become a product that a consumer can use and buy, its all kind of appreciated yet ignored by the general populace. Regardless of snooki, the general populace also has access to information, may read it, acknowledge it, say "hey cool", but until something can be USED by them/us, its not really "genius". Humanity is still trying to lift itself from the shackles of organized religions. I believe the next step for humanity, if we don't kill ourselves first, will be acknowledging that we are one race on a planet that MUST move forward, evolve, or die on this planet. The next genius will be the people/persons who can convince humanity that its in its best interests to be one, not so many parts fighting with each other. When/if that environment is reached, THAT will be the moment of genius, THAT will be when all these newer scientific advances will be embraced, allowed/given funding to flourish, to forward humanity as a whole.
It may be that "genius" has evolved. During the stone age, the genius was defined by his(her) ability to identify the spear tip that held the most lethal edge. In that time, the upper 25% was probably considered "genius" by the clan. Zoom to the Renaissance to find a high proportion of "genius" candidates in a much larger population. The 19th and 20th centuries produced numerous candidates, with the field narrowing near the end. Consider today, the degree of difficulty in understanding the fields of knowledge already available. We may need to redesignate genius levels 1,2,3,...,n. Each layer standing on the shoulders of the other in order to spot the next island for discovery.
Robot, maybe you are the only narcissist. Everybody else is normal.
Oh yea, SURE, I have my hang-ups, lol. Absolutely!
But watch out for the over the top extreme narcissist. In FACT RUN LIKE YOUR EXSCAPING FROM FIRE!
Of course, if you get into an emotional relationship with an extreme narcissist in many ways it can be an unexcitable nightmare to leave. Most people that have successful escaped, compared it to a life and death, surviving experience and yet it is just a social experience to be caught in.
It is a nightmare!