What makes a genius?

Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com.

Josh Clark: Ahoy, and welcome to the Love Boat. I'm Julie, your cruise director. With me, as always, is Isaac, your bartender. How are you doing?

Chuck Bryant: I just did the little -

Josh Clark: Double guns.

Chuck Bryant: The double guns.

Josh Clark: [click, click] Looking good.

Chuck Bryant: You're a genius -

Josh Clark: Thank you.

Chuck Bryant: - for coming up with that.

Josh Clark: Thank you. You're a genius, too, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: Thank you.

Josh Clark: If you want to know how we can call each other geniuses without cracking up -

Chuck Bryant: Well, I'm cracking up on the inside. But sure.

Josh Clark: Because we have no idea what constitutes a genius, do we?

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: We like to throw the word around, as you were pointing out earlier.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, he's a genius.

Josh Clark: Or he's a socialist, or he's a fascist.

Chuck Bryant: He's a genius. You should see the bathroom he designed - he's genius.

Josh Clark: Nice.

Chuck Bryant: You know? Come on.

Josh Clark: Yeah, it definitely is a word that gets slapped around a lot. But the way that we use the word genius now is actually a throwback to its original meaning. In the Greco-Roman era, the word genius -

Chuck Bryant: Back when everyone was wrestling?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: You could be a genius at wrestling.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: Really what it describe d was somebody's natural enthusiasm or inclination towards certain activities. Not just your abilities, but how revved up you were. So somebody who was pretty good at bathroom design -

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: - would've been considered a genius at bathroom design. Do you see what I mean?

Chuck Bryant: That's like the word vintage. People always think vintage just means old.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: But I think vintage specifically means characterized by that person's best work. Like a tailor - the best five pairs of pants they made.

Josh Clark: Really?

Chuck Bryant: I think so. I might be wrong.

Josh Clark: I just learned that, just now -

Chuck Bryant: I might be wrong.

Josh Clark: - thanks to you. Are we picking up Jerry's laugh? Because we're in a 2-foot by 2-foot space right now.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, this room is not genius.

Josh Clark: No, it stinks of volatile organic compounds.

Chuck Bryant: Well, we should say they actually moved us for one day into an even smaller office, like the Seinfeld - remember when they kept moving Costanza around because they didn't like him? We're eventually going to end up in a storage closet like he did.

Josh Clark: Yeah. I think we've arrived there.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I'm sure it's lovely. It's just not for podcasting.

Josh Clark: Well, I'm a little lightheaded, so if this goes oddly, that's why. It's the paint fumes.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: And the airplane glue.

Chuck Bryant: Airplane glue is genius.

Josh Clark: It is. Yeah, we were talking about genius for some reason, weren't we?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, because this is about genius.

Josh Clark: Oh, yeah. Okay. Oh! So,.. yeah. I was saying the original idea of genius -

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: - was enthusiasm, throwing yourself into something, what you were into, right?

Chuck Bryant: Uh-huh.

Josh Clark: An d then, thanks to a guy named Francis Galton - he was a pretty smart guy himself. But he had a long history of just missing the big picture with his ideas. He came up with eugenics. He was the first one to start attributing genius to intellect. He narrowed it a little more. And eventually, this led to our idea of genius being quantifiable (e.g. through IQ tests).

Chuck Bryant: Or "g" - which we'll get to.

Josh Clark: Nice foreshadowing.

Chuck Bryant: That was awful.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I'll just go ahead and say that I don't know how quantifiable it is.

Josh Clark: Well, it's not. And there's actually two pretty big reasons why quantifying genius is virtually impossible, at least with our current understanding of the mind. And they are?

Chuck Bryant: They are - well, the first one's pretty obvious. Genius is a very subjective thing. Some people think it's like an IQ higher than 140 or 175, I've heard - which that's just a smarts quantifier. And I'm clearly not genius. And the other thing is like you said, it's a big picture thing. In science and medical inquiries, it's all about the detail. So it's really hard to analyze and study.

Josh Clark: It's like studying intercessory prayer.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: How do you study that? How do you quantify happiness or prayer or genius? You know?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Our colleague, Tracy V. Wilson -

Chuck Bryant: I like how she put it.

Josh Clark: Yeah. She did a good job just getting rid of the crud that's often associated with genius and just - if you have crazy hair and a big mustache and you know math, you're a genius. She got rid of all of that. And for the purposes of this podcast, we'll adopt her description, right?

Chuck Bryant: Agreed.

Josh Clark: Which was, that a genius is an extraordinarily intelligent person who breaks new ground with discoveries, inventions, or works of art? Because you can't just be a really smart person. You have to do something with it to truly be a genius. That's what makes a genius. It's not just intelligence; it's intelligence with creative energy.

Chuck Bryant: Well, the creative part is huge and we'll get to that. But she goes on to say - and I agree - they usually will change the way we look at the world, or at least the way people in whatever field they're in look at their field. They make a difference. They're difference-makers.

Josh Clark: Have you ever heard of a guy name William James Sidis?

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: He reportedly had the highest IQ in history, around -

Chuck Bryant: Higher than Ask Marilyn of Parade magazine?

Josh Clark: As a matter of fact, yes. Ask Marilyn says hers is 230.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I wonder about that.

Josh Clark: She claims the highest ever measured. This guy supposedly was 250.

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: Yeah. Let me give you -

Chuck Bryant: Did he do more than a Q&A at the end of Parade magazine?

Josh Clark: Sadly, no.

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: Okay, so let me give you a little background on Sidis, okay? He was 18 months old when he started reading the New York Times.

Chuck Bryant: Okay, so far so good.

Josh Clark: At two, he taught himself Latin; three, he taught himself Greek.

Chuck Bryant: Wow!

Josh Clark: He could speak more than 40 languages by the time he was an adult. He graduated cum laude at 16 from Harvard and became the youngest professor ever in the history of Rice University.

Chuck Bryant: How old?

Josh Clark: I imagine he was like 17 or something.

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: He was a young guy. And then within about a year, at Rice, he dropped his position and spent the rest of his life working menial jobs. He went from job to job just doing normal labor.

Chuck Bryant: So he's not a genius, though.

Josh Clark: He would not qualify as a genius by this definition. You have a 250 IQ, you're clearly a prodigy, you're an incredibly brilliant person - but if you don't contribute to humanity, what are you worth? You're like a Buddhist monk who goes and spends his life meditating in a cave.

Chuck Bryant: We got so email about that. Curse you. Sorry.

Josh Clark: But that's the point. And geniuses are incredibly valuable to society. I don't remember what podcast it was in, but we were talking about Malthus and the idea that the larger the world population, the more incidents of births of geniuses happens, right?

Chuck Bryant: Sure. Right. Yeah.

Josh Clark: And then the more geniuses you have, the further along society is helped by leaps and bounds.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Well, if you think Mensa is a quantifier, then there's about three million geniuses in the US. But I don't buy that.

Josh Clark: Right. Because Mensa standards -

Chuck Bryant: It's IQ, right?

Josh Clark: - they accept people who - well, it's not just IQ, but standardized intelligence tests. They accept people who score within the top two percent -

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: - of those. So if you just extend that with basic math, two percent of the population of the U.S. is six million people, right - and then 30 million worldwide.

Chuck Bryant: But I don't buy it anyway, because they don't even count the creative element.

Josh Clark: You know, Gina Davis is in Mensa?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, everyone always says that. Any time you hear about Mensa, people go, "You know Gina Davis is in Mensa?"

Josh Clark: I think we had this conversation. You brought up Renny Harlin and -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, the pirate movie they made.

Josh Clark: Let's play the clip, shall we?

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: Okay, we won't.

Chuck Bryant: Sherry just -

Josh Clark: We'll just get back to genius.

Chuck Bryant: - spit bologna out of her mouth.

Josh Clark: She really shouldn't be eating bologna anyway. I did her a favor.

Chuck Bryant: You're right. So, do you want to talk about the brain? Is that where we're going?

Josh Clark: Let's get to it. If you're going to go in search of genius, with or without Leonard Nimoy, you are going to start looking in the brain, right?

Chuck Bryant: I love that show.

Josh Clark: The best - it's awesome. So super-'70s. So let's go into the brain. Clearly we're going to find our answers here, right?

Chuck Bryant: Um-hum. Maybe.

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: No. But we should talk about it. The cerebral cortex, as we all know, is the largest and outer most part of your brain. And this is where the higher functions like thought and reasoning happen as opposed to lower functions like - just basic survival and that kind of thing.

Josh Clark: Right. And the most basic stuff is found in your brain stem, which is how Mike the Chicken was able to live for so long.

Chuck Bryant: That's right. The cerebral cortex is divided into lobes, and within those lobes there are regions that help you handle specific tasks. And we do know it has a big impact on how we think, but it's a little tricky to study. One reason that Tracy pointed out, which I thought was valid, was to get an MRI done, you're lying there in a tube. They can't actively study how your brain operates on a day-to-day basis, why you're functioning.

Josh Clark: Right. Which is the great failing of the Wonder Machine?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I bet you they can solve that one day.

Josh Clark: Oh, they will definitely. And by "they", I mean people other you, me, or Jerry.

Chuck Bryant: Some genius, perhaps.

Josh Clark: Precisely.

Chuck Bryant: But she did point out a cool study from Cal Irvine in 2004. They did pinpoint that the volume of gray matter in parts of the cerebral cortex has a greater impact on your overall intelligence than how large your brain is - because we talked about that in the Einstein thing, right?

Josh Clark: Yeah. The gray -

Chuck Bryant: His brain was actually smaller?

Josh Clark: - matter - man. I know the white matter transmits. The gray matter is like problem solving, I believe. And white matter is used to transmit information.

Chuck Bryant: Right. But Einstein's brain was smaller than your average bear's brain.

Josh Clark: It was. Remember, we talked about what happened to his brain.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And what they finally found, the big distinction they found in his brain that was abnormal was that his parietal lobe was almost missing this fissure within it that most people have.

Chuck Bryant: That's right.

Josh Clark: So he had a very narrow fissure. And they -

Chuck Bryant: It was also wider than most.

Josh Clark: Right. So he had a big parietal lobe, which is responsible for sensory input. But it also handles things like mathematics, unsurprisingly enough. So he had a big parietal lobe with a small fissure between it, which they theorize meant that his parietal lobe could communicate with itself more efficiently, more effectively.

Chuck Bryant: And a genius is born.

Josh Clark: Yes.

Chuck Bryant: By 26, Joshers, he proved that atoms exist. He figured out that light behaves a particle and a wave. He developed the theory of relativity and the famous equation E=MC2. By 26! Where were you by that age?

Josh Clark: I wish I could remember, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Me, too!

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Were following fish around or something like that?

Josh Clark: Widespread panic.

Chuck Bryant: Gotcha. Yeah, I think I was living in New Jersey at the time, but I'd goofed around enough in Athens. I wasn't coming up with theories of relativity.

Josh Clark: Nor was I.

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: I was throwing a lot of darts.

Josh Clark: Some other interesting aspects of the brain is that it actually goes from thicker to thinner as we age. So it goes from undeveloped to the cerebral cortex thickening.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, right.

Josh Clark: And then after or during adolescence -

Chuck Bryant: I think during, yeah.

Josh Clark: - it begins to thin. And what a study in nature - I think 2006 - found was that kids whose brains thickened faster in youth, tended to have higher IQs.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And the reason that this could be significant is that we tend to find intelligence as an inherited trait, or what appears to be an inherited trait.

Chuck Bryant: True.

Josh Clark: So this is a physical example of how intelligence could be inherited through organic structure of the brain.

Chuck Bryant: Right. So that's intelligence. But that's not genius. So we need to talk about -

Josh Clark: No, but we can't even -

Chuck Bryant: - the difference.

Josh Clark: But at the same time, we can't even really describe intelligence.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's true.

Josh Clark: Let's talk about the IQ test, all right?

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: Our big arousal for the IQ test began in the mid-1920s when a psychologist named Catharine Morris Cox published Early Mental Traits of Three Hundred Geniuses. And basically, she went back from - and it was exhaustive, she used 1500 sources - and studied the work, the traits, the contributions of 301 - I don't know why she called it 300. But 301 great minds - and then basically gave them an IQ test based on this. And the highest rated one was Johann Goethe.

Chuck Bryant: Very nice.

Josh Clark: Thank you. Did you know he had a theory of evolution 75 years before Darwin?

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: Yeah. And he came up with human chemistry. He was a smart guy, but he clocked in at number one at 210.

Chuck Bryant: Wow. Not bad.

Josh Clark: Not bad at all. But as this book came out and the public became aware of it, it was like, "Hey, we didn't know about these IQ tests. This is awesome. We can start measuring how smart people are."

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Ironically, the earliest IQ tests were used to measure mental handicaps in children.

Chuck Bryant: Really.

Josh Clark: Yeah. But then, they started figuring out, "Hey, you can use this to find the gifted kids as well." And the Stanford psychologists mixed with the first guy who came up with the IQ test, Binet - the two together formed the Stanford-Binet IQ Test that we use today.

Chuck Bryant: I had not heard that. Have you ever had yours done?

Josh Clark: No. I refuse to. I never will.

Chuck Bryant: I took one at one point, but it wasn't the standard test. It was just some hackneyed version. And I scored really high, that's the reason I know that it was pretty much BS. Because I'm kind of smart, but not anything like I scored. I don't put any stock into it.

Josh Clark: But, Chuck, I guess that underscores a really good criticism of IQ tests. They may be standardized; they may be widely accepted. We aren't 100 percent sure that they measure everything. Actually, I wouldn't even say we're 90 percent sure they measure everything.

Chuck Bryant: No way.

Josh Clark: They measure mathematical aptitude, language ability - what else?

Chuck Bryant: Well, yeah, sure - along with memory and spatial ability.

Josh Clark: Okay. But is that everything?

Chuck Bryant: Well, no. And any standardized test, the word itself says it all. It's standardized.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: No standardized test that you give different people can really tell you the same thing about all those different people.

Josh Clark: No, it can't. And the very questions the test asks - wow. These paint fumes are really getting on top of me. The very questions that these tests ask actually can be biased.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah.

Josh Clark: I've heard of an SAT - I hope it wasn't an SAT question. It's a little too easy. But some sort of standardized test asks the question, "Which of these places would you go to buy milk?" And it was grocery store, convenience store, dairy - or something like that.

Chuck Bryant: Well, you can buy milk at all those, Josh.

Josh Clark: Well, you can. But I mean, for kids out in the sticks where there isn't a grocery store but there's a convenience store, that's where they go to buy their milk. But they miss the question because the answer was supposed to be grocery store. It's a pretty dumb example, but it's accurate.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: The very people who write the tests are biased in some ways. And IQ tests have been shown to skew against certain ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, sure as any standardized test does.

Josh Clark: So, boo.

Chuck Bryant: Boo to that, is what I say.

Josh Clark: Okay.

Chuck Bryant: And the other thing, too, is that geniuses don't - people who are generally considered genius don't necessarily score well on these tests anyway.

Josh Clark: No, that's true, too.

Chuck Bryant: So throw it out the door, is what I say.

Josh Clark: I will say, though - we might as well give a little information on the IQ test. The standard score is 100 with a deviation of 16 - so the average score of the general population will be between 84-116.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Bell curve!

Josh Clark: Right. But no one knows what over that indicates a genius.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: A widely accepted number is 140, but somebody just made that up at some point and time.

Chuck Bryant: Well, like I said, I read 175.

Josh Clark: And that's not to say that a really high score doesn't mean you're a genius. It could mean you're a genius. The IQ test is capturing something, probably. But it's not capturing the whole picture, I think is the point we're trying to make right here, right?

Chuck Bryant: No, not at all.

Josh Clark: So let's leave the IQ test in our dust.

Chuck Bryant: Okay. Maybe we should go with Sternberg's Triarch Theory? I kind of like that.

Josh Clark: Yeah, there are some competing explanations of what components there are to intellect, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, Sternberg said that he thought human intelligence includes a few things, thus the Triarch. Creative intelligence - so the ability to generate new interesting ideas! Analytical intelligence - so you can examine facts and draw conclusions. That's pretty good. And practical intelligence - which means you, can fit into your environment.

Josh Clark: Like Street smarts, kind of.

Chuck Bryant: I don't know about that. Yeah, but -

Josh Clark: I disagree, man. I went back and reread that a couple of times. Tracy points out that there are a lot of critics. But everybody has practical intelligence to a certain degree, and does that really count toward being a genius. I disagree, I've met some people who - I mean, think about it. It's the classic e xample of somebody who's very book smart, but you should never let walk down an alley by himself or herself.

Chuck Bryant: Sure. And I've known many many people like that.

Josh Clark: Sure. And then there's the super street smart Ratso Rizzo who can make his way - haven't you ever seen Midnight Cowboy?

Chuck Bryant: I'm walkin' here.

Josh Clark: Exactly - who can make his way in the world, but would probably do horribly on an IQ test.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: The very fact that there are those different polar extremes means to me that there's something to that, that it is an aspect of intellect.

Chuck Bryant: Right. And you remember, I mentioned "g" earlier? I didn't want to leave people hanging there, but the IQ test, they have come up with a unit and they call unit for intelligence "g".

Josh Clark: Right. And actually, IQ tests are under a larger umbrella of what's psychometrics, which is basically the study of an attempt of the measurement of intelligence, right?

Chuck Bryant: Sí.

Josh Clark: Yeah. Back in the '70s there's a statistician named Karl Jöreskog - weird. And he figured out a way to measure intelligence that basically led to the appearance of three different kinds of intelligence, while we're on theories of intelligence, right? He came up with fluid intelligence, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: And this is basically coming up with new ideas on your own to solve problems. Crystallized intelligence is understanding already established techniques of problem solving and being able to identify which technique will best work to solve a particular problem. And then there's visual spatial reasoning, which is an aptitude at creating mental images in your head to solve problems. It's a very important part of mathematics, actually.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: So we have Jöreskog's ideas. We've got - what your guy's name? Sternberg's?

Chuck Bryant: Not my guy.

Josh Clark: Let's talk about Howard Gardner. He has the feel-good-we're-all-geniuses kind of theory, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, multiple intelligence. He thinks there's seven types - linguistic, logical mathematic, musical, bodily kinesthetic, spatial - which is always in there, intrapersonal, and interpersonal. But that's like you said, it's a little too broad is what a lot of critics say.

Josh Clark: It is.

Chuck Bryant: There's always a critic of each of these, it seems like. One person comes out with something and people say, "Oh, I think that sounds good." And then another part of the camp says, "No, I don't agree at all."

Josh Clark: Right. Isn't that the way with everything, though, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, pretty much.

Josh Clark: Like, "Mountain Dew Code Red is the greatest drink ever." "No, it's not. Regular Mount ain Dew is way better."

Chuck Bryant: Good point. Josh Clark: And then I guess another hallmark of intelligence, something that can be measured is genius' aptitude toward social awkwardness.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, a lot of them are generally known as quirky odd characters.

Josh Clark: They make up friends as John Nash did.

Chuck Bryant: Sure. Yeah, absolutely! Einstein was sort of a wacky guy.

Josh Clark: Yeah, he liked to stick his tongue out. He was zany.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. People always point to that picture. "See, look how crazy he was." Got anyone else?

Josh Clark: Well, let's talk about studying that.

Chuck Bryant: Yes, Josh. A Purdue U study saw 423 gifted students and suggested that they were more susceptible to being bullied. So they're little mamby pambys, I guess.

Josh Clark: A little bit. Also, there was a study out of - was it Stanford? It was a 20-year study that ended in 1940 and actually gave children aptitude tests and personal adjustment tests, and found that there was a negative correlation between IQ and social adjustment.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: So basically, it's quantifying what we all already know, that if you're a smart kid you're going to eat mud several times in your life.

Chuck Bryant: Yes. I never ate mud. That's why I knew my IQ score was BS. One thing that geniuses have in common, I think we can all agree that you need to have to be a genius - and not just smart - is creative intelligence.

Josh Clark: And high-waisted pants.

Chuck Bryant: Creative intelligence and high-waisted pants. This is where it all comes together to me.

Josh Clark: Right. Yeah. I mean, we talked about this earlier. It's not good enough to just be smart. Then you're just a really intelligent person. The leap between intelligence and genius is bridged by creative prowess.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's how you break new ground.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: Why did you point at me?

Josh Clark: Because prowess was a horrible word.

Chuck Bryant: I like that.

Josh Clark: Thanks, man.

Chuck Bryant: The thing is, though, Joshers, is that this is another thing you can't quantify and study necessarily. So once again, it's hard to pinpoint creativity and imagination although researchers do think creative people have less latent inhibition, and I completely agree with that.

Josh Clark: Right. Yeah. We've talked about that with the thinking cap episode.

Chuck Bryant: Was that it?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: I knew it was something.

Josh Clark: Where schizophrenics have low latent inhibition. And they take this extra stimuli and their brain constructs hallucinations out of it. The idea was that creative geniuses who have low latent inhibition take this additional stimuli and use it in novel and creative ways.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Yeah, that's one way of looking at it. There's also a quantifiable method, or a couple of them, to determine how much creativity a genius has lent to the world, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: It was in that Time article you sent me.

Chuck Bryant: I thought that was lame, to be honest.

Josh Clark: It is lame.

Chuck Bryant: We should mention that.

Josh Clark: But it's funny that this is the level that we're at to try to survey genius, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, was this the guy who wrote the book, Simonton?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, Dean Keith - I almost said David Keith. What a great actor.

Josh Clark: What a chin.

Chuck Bryant: Dean Keith Simonton wrote a book called Genius 101: Creators, Leaders, Prodigies. And he came up with a little notion. Add up the number of times someone has been cited in a professional publication in the field, or the number of times a composer's work has been performed or recorded. And I just think that's stupid.

Josh Clark: There's one that's worse, and that's counting encyclopedia references.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's awful. Because I think you can be a genius who is undiscovered. You may have written 1,000 great compositions of music that you never show the world.

Josh Clark: Well, then you've been discovered. No.

Chuck Bryant: I think so. You can still be a genius.

Josh Clark: Well, then isn't that the same thing as just holding menial jobs? That's virtually the same thing as holding that stuff in your head. You have to share it with the world to be a genius or else you're just some smart schmo.

Chuck Bryant: I don't know if I agree with that.

Josh Clark: I don't know if I do either. I think you can still be a genius in and off yourself. You can be a genius in a vacuum.

Chuck Bryant: But not considered a genius by the populous.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: Who wants to own you?

Chuck Bryant: Right. I guess that's the difference. The difference I see in the gay, or gal, who wrote several great compositions that were never discovered and the guy who just got the menial jobs, is he didn't seem to have any creative genius going on. He was just really smart.

Josh Clark: Yeah, he was able to just learn. He was book learning - good at book learning.

Chuck Bryant: I don't know.

Josh Clark: Although, if you are trying to come up with a measure of creative genius, then counting encyclopedia entries does work. It's a way to go.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Malcolm Gladwell - should we talk about him?

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: He is of the belief; along with Galton - I think you were talking about with eugenics - that practice is really what leads to genius. Hard work and practice and practice and practice. I don't know about that, either. What do you think?

Josh Clark: I told you. I'm not talking about Gladwell.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, really?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: All right. Moving on then. Well, fine. Forget Gladwell. Let's talk about Anders Ericsson is a rival - they call him a friendly rival, which I thought was kind of funny - of the Simonton guy I was talking about.

Josh Clark: Their conflicts end in tickle fights.

Chuck Bryant: Right. It kind of reminded me of the Good Will Hunting - Robin Williams and that other guy. They were friendly rivals. But he is popular for the 10-year rule which has been around for a long time. That's a notion that it takes ten years or 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to master a complex endeavor. And Gladwell is a believer in that.

Josh Clark: So, Chuck, there's a guy named David Galenson, too, who's come up with at least a qualification of creative genius, right?

Chuck Bryant: I didn't like him, either.

Josh Clark: You didn't?

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: Well, doesn't that underscore where the field of genius or intelligence research is right now? That -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: - we've just poo-pooed absolutely every sector of -

Chuck Bryant: Well, it's all over the place.

Josh Clark


Chuck Bryant: But say what he says because I want to prove that -

Josh Clark: Well now he says there's three kinds - originally he said there's two types of innovators. There's conceptual innovators who think in bold dramatic steps, which Einstein would fall into. And do you know that among very smart people, he's considered a flash in the pan?

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: Yeah. Think about it. He did everything he was going to do by age 26. After that, he just went around canoeing with Walter Matthau.

Chuck Bryant: As Walter Matthau.

Josh Clark: Same thing.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Then there's experimental innovators. And they learn through trial and error over - this would be the Thomas Edisons of the genius world. And then everybody started shouting at David Galerson. Then he said, "Shut up! Shut up!" and went back to the drawing board and came up with the idea that genius can also be expressed in a continuum over time throughout a long lifetime of great contribution and work.

Chuck Bryant: That's my problem with it.

Josh Clark: What? Everybody shouted at him and he went back and was like -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: - "Here you go."

Chuck Bryant: He was like, "Well, you can either get everything done really early, or you can produce all your great work later in life." And they were like, "Well, what people who do it all their life?" He went, "Well, yeah. You can do that, too."

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: It's so lame.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: So should we just list out some geniuses through history that people generally consider genius?

Josh Clark: I didn't like this list either.

Chuck Bryant: We don't like anything about this one, do we?

Josh Clark: George Washington's number 45? And who's number one? It's starts at number two. And if one's Einstein, I'm going to literally eat this list.

Chuck Bryant: One was Einstein. I didn't copy and paste all of them. We have geniuses - like Tesla's three; da Vinci, number two; Isaac Newton, number four; Hawking, of course; Michelangelo; Archimedes - Josh is eating his list. Warren Buffet is on there. Not bad.

Josh Clark: Sure they had to round it out and make it as approachable to all the readers as they could.

Chuck Bryant: Aristotle; Picasso; Niels Bohr; Jefferson; Plato; Churchill; Benjamin Franklin - I think I'd agree with that one; Shakespeare; Sir Francis Drake; Michael Faraday; Chuck Darwin; Rene Descartes - or is Des Plain?

Josh Clark: Des Cart.

Chuck Bryant: Garry Kasparov. And I think Bobby Fischer was on there - both chess champions. I don't know. They're considered geniuses. It's all subjective, though.

Josh Clark: It is completely subjective. I think we're going to end this with this observation. Genius is like pornography. It's impossible to fully define, but we know it when we see it. Right, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: Who was that?

Josh Clark: Sudor.

Chuck Bryant: Ver Sudor?

Josh Clark: No, Bruce Jenner.

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: If you want to learn more about genius, I think there's more than just this article. There's a bunch of good genius articles on the site of howstuffworks.com.

Chuck Bryant: And there's also a bunch of articles on people that we've mentioned, because we're doing a whole new series on painters, right?

Josh Clark: Yeah, we are.

Chuck Bryant: Like Picasso and Van Gogh.

Josh Clark: Sure. You can type in the handy search bar, of course. Since I said that, it means it's time for listener mail. Chuck, first - before we do anything.

Chuck Bryant: Before anything?

Josh Clark: Yes. We should probably plug our new Facebook page. We were on Facebook for a while; this is nothing new to us. But we streamlined our stuff. We had a fan page and a regular page, and it was always strange.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. We consolidated.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: And we're actually active on Facebook now.

Josh Clark: Yes, we are.

Chuck Bryant: Personally.

Josh Clark: Yes, we are. Our brand new Facebook page is Stuff You Should Know. Just type that into the handy search bar at Facebook. Or I think it's facebook.com/stuffyoushouldknow maybe?

Chuck Bryant: I'm not positive, but it's easy to find.

Josh Clark: And also, buddy, we're tweeting. You are tweeting.

Chuck Bryant: I have tweeted twice.

Josh Clark: Yeah, you're 68 and you're tweeting.

Chuck Bryant: I know. I feel like a modern child.

Josh Clark: Right. If you want to follow us on Twitter, we have our Twitter name as SYSKPodcast, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. So that would be at - isn't that how they do it?

Josh Clark: Yeah, look at you go.

Chuck Bryant: SYSKPodcast. And we'll be saying funny things as well as sending out links to cool stuff. We're active now.

Josh Clark: That is true. So check us out, will you?

Chuck Bryant: Yes. On with the show?

Josh Clark: Yes.

Chuck Bryant: All right, Josh. Listener mail. For goodness' sakes, listener mail. I'm going to read a couple of quickies here from a young boy named Sam, from a trucker named Annette - Annette took us to task.

Josh Clark: Oh, no. Over what?

Chuck Bryant: We'll read it first. Annette says, "Hi, Chuck & Josh. I am a over-the-road truck driver and love your podcast."

Josh Clark: Over-the-road?

Chuck Bryant: That's what she says. "I would love for you guys to come along with me into the 21st century regarding truck drivers. I've been driving for almost 13 years and guess what - I'm a woman. In fact, I have two sons you all's age. When you talk about truck drivers - as in the McDonald's podcast - you always talk about big burly guys. Well, I may be big and probably more surly than burly, but I'm definitely not a guy. Don't forget us lady drivers."

Josh Clark: Nice.

Chuck Bryant: "Love, love, love the show."

Josh Clark: And how could we forget? I mean, Large Marge was a huge factor in -

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah. Sure.

Josh Clark: - Pee-wee's Big Adventure. That was Annette?

Chuck Bryant: That was Annette. And I told her that I would read this as our penance.

Josh Clark: Annette, I'm making the blow your horn sign for the tractor-trailer. So if you're hearing this right now, toot your horn.

Chuck Bryant: Awesome. Hope she didn't just cause an accident. This is from Sam, and Sam is just another cute little kid. I like these.

Josh Clark: I saw that. Lots of caps.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. "Hi, Chuck and Josh. I'm Sam" Blank - because I'm using your last name substitute. "I'm 11 years old. You guys help me get through many boring tasks like dog poop pick-up, my least favorite chore."

Josh Clark: Sure.

Chuck Bryant: It's mine, too, actually. That and the cat box!

Josh Clark: I just stopped. As an adult, I don't pick up dog poop anymore.

Chuck Bryant: You just don't go into the yard?

Josh Clark: Oh, I just watch where I'm walking in the yard.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, okay. "I think the funniest podcast was the Twinkie podcast. You guys make me laugh in my bed when I listen, also in the supermarket." So he listens went he goes to sleep and when he's grocery shopping - or I guess when his mom is grocery shopping - or dad - or two dads.

Josh Clark: I don't know. Kids today are pretty independent.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, you're right. "I think you guys are the funniest people in the world."

Josh Clark: That is true.

Chuck Bryant: "I have a few suggestions, like what does cat got your tongue mean and other phrases mean?"

Josh Clark: You love improper English, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: I do. "Also riot control" - really cracked me up. How does an 11-year-old kid know what riot control is? "And Legos" - so he wants to know about cat got your tongue, Legos, and riot control, and trading cards, and football. "So could you please, please read my shout out on the air? And here's my shout out." This is in all caps. "I TOLD YOU, MOM, I WOULD GET MY EMAIL READ ON AIR. HAHAHAHAHAHA." So that's from Sam W. And he said, "I thought Josh looked like Chuck and Chuck looked like Josh, but that change when I saw your pictures on the site."

Josh Clark: Yeah, we get that a lot.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Well, not that I look like you and you look like me, but that we look like different people.

Josh Clark: Oh, okay.

Chuck Bryant: That's always the case with the voice.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: I'm much uglier than you would think.

Josh Clark: That is not true. You are a lovely handsome man.

Chuck Bryant: Thank you.

Josh Clark: All right. Well, thanks Sam. Keep on shopping. And Annette, keep on trucking. If you have an interesting email that you want to roll the dice and see if we'll read it on the air, it costs you nothing in this digital age. You can send us an electronic mail. Just address it to stuffpodcast@howstuffworks.com.

Announcer: For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit howstuffworks.com. Want more How Stuff Works? Check out our blogs on the howstuffworks.com homepage.