Another post on the topic of genius.
And a propos of my last post, who should they be discussing on the radio this morning but the mathematician Gauss:
He was a child prodigy who had taught himself to read and write by age three and whose gift for mathematics was reportedly discovered by a teacher, who on trying to keep a class busy by asking them to add up all the numbers between one and a hundred (one plus two plus three etc) was astonished by Gauss immediately producing the answer: he had figured out a short-cut and reasoned rather than calculating. He then got a scholarship courtesy of a local duke. So far, so encouraging, but as an adult he seems to have become every bit as obsessive and sociopathic as other geniuses and reportedly, when told that his wife was dying, asked ‘Can’t she wait?’ This idea that genius demands total concentration; one hundred per cent dedication to the exclusion of all else, is deep in our psyche – and I want to question it. I simply don’t accept that being a genius equals being an arse. I am performing my own Gaussian calculations here:
genius ≠ arsedom is my first conclusion.
The programme went on to discuss the old infinite monkey argument. Gauss, when asked if his ability was innate or the result of hard work, replied that it was the latter plus concentration. Now, I am entirely on board with the idea that hard work is necessary to genius: the latest version of this being the ‘thousand hours’ theory; the idea that practising anything for ten thousand hours will make you an expert.
Well maybe, but have you ever tried to practise something when your heart wasn’t in it? Did you take piano lessons as a child and hate them? Surely if Gauss’s life proves anything it’s that the ability was there right from the start, way before he started to work on it.
So I think it all comes down to the inspiration-versus-perspiration question. It has been suggested that genius is 9% perspiration to 1% inspiration: I’d put it around 75/25 but the principle holds true. It is entirely possible that were I to practise music for 35 hours a week I would be thoroughly proficient within a year. I would also be climbing up the wall because, much as I love my guitar, I just don’t wanna. It is not in me to do this. Whereas writing for 35 hours a week, busting my gut trying to produce something worthwhile and not getting paid for it – is.
So, to summarise my calculations:
genius ≠ being an arse
10,000 hours ≠ genius
genius = 25% inspiration + 75% perspiration
So there you have it. Now go forth and multiply.
(In a good way.)
And here’s the programme: