Far be it for me to come up with a definition for genius. As far as I’m concerned genius has as much to do with timing as it does with brain function. If your idea has traction, you’ll be hailed as a genius, otherwise just a crank.
Wikipedia goes on and on about Hildegard of Bingen. And rightly so; she was a genius. She was an 11th Century, uneducated nun, yet her entry is longer than that for Blaise Pascal. Proof, right? I mean if she was alive today, I’m sure her Klout score would be around 95. She was important.
Hildegard of Bingen was first and foremost a visionary in the literal sense. She had visions. Beyond that, she was a writer, composer, scientist and much more.
What Wikipedia doesn’t tell you, but the Internet History Sourcebook Project does, is that her genius, her visions stemmed from migraines.
I assume Wikipedia leaves that out because they don’t want anything to detract from her reputation as a unique thinker, a blaser of trails. As if she herself was not the genius but her affliction was. Or, maybe they don’t want anything to interfere with her canonization, scheduled for late 2012. They want no one questioning that direct line to her from God. Even if that was questioned, in my opinion, the fact that her extreme devotion and work that went into glorification of God and the church ought to get her sainthood. She left behind 100 letters, 72 songs, 70 poems, and 9 books, all dedicated to the Supreme One.
That’s a lot of hay.
But what was her genius? Was her art inspired by migrainous visions?
For anything to be considered genius it needs to have two things. The first is obvious: it must be unique. That’s harder than you think. David Klion says our culture has been frozen for the last twenty years. Even though more and more people find an outlet for creativity on line, we have less and less of it to show. We’re just regurgitating our past ideas. New ones are hard to come by.
Did Hildegard have a new idea? According to Wikipedia she was “creative in her interpretation of theology.” That blows me away. This was a nun. How much sway do nuns have today, let alone back then? It’s a miracle we even remember who she was. Women didn’t have voices back then. She’d have to be a genius with ideas radical and truthful enough to get noticed.
Which brings me to my second requirement for genius: the ability to recognize and sell an idea. You can’t just have one, you must realize its impressiveness and figure out how to convince others of its importance. Obviously Hildegard had that aspect of genius, that political talent.
At one point she was at odds with her local abbot, but they remained friends. And she was on speaking terms with higher ups, notably a couple of popes and Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa. She knew she had something to say and the ability to get it to the channels that would promote the work properly.
Do all geniuses have such brains? Do they all have a painful malady that leads to vision? Is there something in the average brain that precludes the ability to conjure something new? Something that is missing in the brain of a genius and therefore not in the way of visions?
Thanks for reading.
This essay was first posted on December 23, 2011 at the Singularity Watch blog.