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Can one choose to become a genius?
Can you choose to be smart, or even a genius?

The question seems odd, but a while ago one of the most impressive people I know, and clearly a genius, told me how when he was young he was rather stupid. At some point he didn't like it and decided he wanted to be smart. He succeeded.
Now, I would usually take such a testimonial with a grain of salt - do I really believe him? Obviously not. Not that he is lying only that he probably was already brilliant when making that decision. But his description remained with me, and then a few days ago I read in Watchmen Ozymandias, who is defined as the smartest man in the world, saying "Perhaps I decided to be intelligent, rather than otherwise? Perhaps we all make such decisions, though that seems a callous doctrine."   (Quote from 11-8-3; accentuations are his.)

The two together made me reflect on this. Could it actually be the case that intelligence is a choice? A choice which one's environment might influence, certain environments soliciting one answer more than another, but still a rather free choice?
Personally I always felt I was smart, but as a rather wild child that was certainly not the opinion of people around me who thought I was dumb. Was it a choice to become smart? Was it a free choice, that is could I have chosen otherwise? Definitely with different people around me I could see growing up very differently. Is it possible that I would have grown up stupid? It is hard to imagine (besides to the many people who think I have) but I have to say I think so. I could have grown up rather stupid, if I made different choices. It's a weird thought. It shows at the same time the importance of your environment and the ability to transcend it.

Until when is this choice available to us? Could one choose it when they're 60?
A discussion here asks: Can one's character really change? There is a certain core to us which always remains. Can it be that intelligence is simply not part of that core?

This idea of intelligence as a "choice," is quite interesting. In my head, it connects to the debate of nature versus nurture. Are we smart because we're born smart, with special natural talents, or does the environment as well as ourselves have a hand in it? And to what extent?

I believe that many people are born with certain specific talents. This talent doesn't mean that they're super duper great in something naturally, but that it may come to them easily, easier that anyone else. The popular areas of "easiness" have traditionally been maths and writing... for example.

However, as you said, people can transcend that in a way. Nurture has a really big part, not from your parents' side, or neighborhood's, or friends', but also by your own will.

Here's what I think: you couldn't have grown up stupid then turned smart. It's not genetic. You might have grown up lazy, careless, ignorant... And to become hard-working, careful and knowledgeable requires some work and earned skills. You can definitely choose that. In fact, you have a huge hand in that. And here's what: I don't think any person is utterly stupid. Those who think they are, or were, haven't found their niche, their specialty, yet... that's all..
This post reminds me of the kids in the Ender's Game series who all were blessed with supremely keen intellects from birth. They spoke multiple languages, had a deep understand of global politics and wartime strategy, and even moved through the ranks and quirks of society with ease (so-called street smarts).

But although they were all gifted with intelligence, it was easy to see that without the proper relationship to their default "genius," they couldn't even be considered special. When I break them down a few characteristics shine through, skill-building, goals, and competition.

And perhaps if we nurse those characteristics we really can train ourselves to be geniuses. (On a sidenote, for some reason I find the term "genius" ringing with cold-war connotation.) Those three characteristics I listed above really all fit together (see: how to become dedicated) They all encompass personal drive. So maybe that's all it means to be a genius, to fully employ what it means to be dedicated. In that case, it's not that we're choosing to be geniuses, but rather, we're choosing to employ our inherent genius.
 I don't even think the word genius is fair. More-so than the word smart, it signifies something superior, almost foreign.In the Ender series, Bean is a great representation for the alien-like stigma attached to being a genius. Bean is introduced as the cream of the crop of all the kid geniuses. He is easily smarter than them at all and is more like a computer in the way he processes information. Throughout his alternative side book series, he is constantly tackling the notion that his intellect makes him non-human.

I think you're right though Dalal, that the true genius is the foreign like mass in our head we call a brain. Everyone has one, and everyone can hone their own genius in whichever way they see fit. The historic image of a great scholar and thinker is just one manifestation of the genius of mankind.


On a side, Ender's Game is a great science fiction book worth reading. There are about a dozen books to the entire series and I've read a few, but nothing has compared to the idea and great story of the first one. Kind of like a Chocolate War set in a future space school.
Books Discussed
The Ender Quartet Box Set: Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind
by Orson Scott Card
Ender's Game (Ender, Book 1)
by Orson Scott Card

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Latest Post: April 20, 2011 at 4:50 PM
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