Wednesday, February 23, 2011

what makes genius

What makes genius? Or perhaps the question we should first ask is whether genius can be made. Modern research answers in the affirmative (as you Malcolm Gladwell fans all know). The difference between becoming a good violin player vs. becoming a great violin player, becoming a good basketball player vs. becoming a great basketball player, is the amount of practice put in. Great achievers typically put in at least 10,000 of practice in their discipline, far more than others.

This came to mind when I read Gary Kasparov's review of a new bio of Bobbly Fischer. He writes in the NY Review of Books:
The focus is on Bobby and the chess, as it should be, though I was hoping for a little more meat on the topic of the nature of prodigy and Fischer’s early development, beyond his own famous comment “I just got good”—but perhaps there is nothing more. The nature of genius may not be definable. Fischer’s passion for puzzles was combined with endless hours of studying and playing chess. The ability to put in those hours of work is in itself an innate gift. Hard work is a talent.
As I've written before, I don't see any reason the same does not apply to Torah study. What makes a talmid chacham? In short: hasmadah, hasmadah, and more hasmadah. That does not mean anyone can become R' Akiva Eiger or R' Chaim Brisker (who were blessed with hasmadah + truly incredible amounts of genius), but it does mean that a person of "average" intelligence (whatever that means) who truly puts in the time can become an outstanding talmid chacham. The only catch, as Kasparov notes, is that hard work is a rare talent indeed.



  2. By the way, the Polgars are Jewish.

  3. the passuk says ubelev kol chacham lev nasati chochmoh. The medrash tanchuma brings on this the passuk yahav chachamh lechakimin - and explains with a moshol. If you have $100, you are more likely to lend this to a wealthy person although the poor person's need is greater becuase the wealthy person can pay you back.

    It is evident in the medrash (and also the baalei mussar) that chachamah is not an integral part of the person but is given to them in olam hazeh and taken from them when they leave the world.

    Classically this is evident in the mabit who says elyonim lematoh vetachtonim lemaalah is becuase someone who exerts effort to understand Torah in this world and it is difficult for him will knows more in olam habah than someone who found it easy and did not exert effort.

    In other words, the toil is a kinyan naphshi, not the hasagah.

  4. Did you ever read the Mabit's hakdama to the Kiryas Sefer about Moshe Rabbeinu after the second luchos? I used it in possibly the best speech I ever gave.

  5. As Edison was supposed to have said, "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." I know you don't consider Edison to be a true genius, but he was mechadesh in his way.