Evolving a Theory of Genius

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:


Kirk out

A Better Class of Insult?

I’d like to thank two people: the person who knocked on our door at 1.30 this morning, getting me out of bed and then driving away before I got to the door; and the person who left yesterday’s enthralling comment:

You’re a fat, bourgeois bohemian and your blog sucks like a size-queen.

And I quote.  I don’t really know where to start with that one, except to say that Kevin, if you’re listening, you should really put a lot more thought into your insults.  I mean, ‘bourgeois’ hardly goes with ‘bohemian’ now does it?  You can’t be both… and I’m not fat, not by any stretch of the imagination.  And so what if I were?  Also, just to make sure he wasn’t calling me ‘queen-size’ I had to look up the phrase ‘size-queen’.  And no, it’s not the same thing as ‘queen-size.’  Frankly, I’m not sure I want to tell you what it means, but here’s a link if you’re really interested:


So if you want to insult me, please put some more thought into it than this guy did, otherwise I’ll just laugh and delete you.  Although, let’s face it, I’ll probably do that anyway.  Moving on… this comment reminded me of a recent news story about Mary Beard.  She’s an academic who you’ll probably only have heard of if you listen regularly to ‘In Our Time’ on radio 4

(just me then…)

Anyway she had the temerity to appear on television NOT looking like a babe and was subjected to horrific comments about her appearance via the internet.  What makes people think it’s OK to do this?  It’s like pelting someone in the stocks – except that if you’re in the stocks at least you have supposedly committed some crime.  Mary Beard was later talking in a very dignified way on Woman’s Hour about her response to the abuse.  Here’s the original story:


and here’s the Woman’s Hour programme:


So if you want to insult me go ahead – but be creative.  Use words thoughtfully – otherwise your insults will simply be trashed.

Kirk out

Crazy Sunday Afternoon

A good day yesterday, work-wise: the novel is really coming together.  The evening very dull, however.  And so to bed, where I am reading a Kathy Reichs about a woman whose life is somewhat more exciting than mine (oo!  Mark has just reminded me that they are talking about the Upanishads on the radio.  One of the key philosophical texts of yoga, the Upanishads are a collection of ‘teachings’ or ‘wonderings’ about – oh, gosh – you know: all that life, the universe and everything stuff.  The word ‘upanishad’ means to ‘sit down near’ and conveys the idea of students discussing ideas with a teacher.


Mark is off to make his video – today it will be on ash tree dieback.  Holly misheard this as ‘ash-tray dieback’: another common phenomenon of our times.  When was the last time YOU saw an ashtray?

Here’s today’s emerging poem – a parody of ‘Lazy Sunday Afternoon’ by the Small Faces:

Crazy Sunday Afternoon

Wouldn’t it be great to hang out with some good friends?

But the boss has made it clear, you gotta work the weekends

You can’t take a rain-check; it just isn’t fair

if you want a pay cheque, you gotta be there:

Crazy Sunday afternoon

got no time for coffee

Close the door and drive away…

Whaddaya think?  here’s the original:


I’m getting lots of ‘likes’ on this blog but not many comments; so come on people, leave me a comment – and not just the usual suspects!

Kirk out