Martin Luther started a big thing – so did remarkable revolutionaries like Gandhi, Einstein, and Bach. Thomas Kuhn (1962) would identify them as revolutionaries—those who shatter dominant paradigms and are the architects of new ideas. In many instances, these phenomenal folks seem almost to be from another planet. Mozart is said to have composed many of his major works by writing out the score without pause (as if he was copying someone else’s finished work). Buddha, Jesus and Mohammad held visions that lay outside the normal perspective of those who dwelled on earth. Einstein, Bohr and Wittgenstein wrote about and debated about worlds that most of us (almost a century later) can still not comprehend.
How do we account for those who are often identified with superlatives that transcend the usual category of “genius”? Certainly, these ultra-geniuses benefited from history and social, cultural and political context. Martin Luther might have just been a discontented and discounted clergyman if the social and political forces weren’t aligned at one particular moment in Western European history with his radical vision. In fact, as we know, Luther was not really very supportive of much that occurred in conjunction with his reformation. Gandhi similarly released social and political forces that were not only beyond his control, but also counter to his own values and vision of a just society (how would he react to the current conditions in both Pakistan and India?) Could Einstein have been as influential, if he operated in the scientific community of 19th Century Europe (or even in early 20th Century Asia)? As Thomas Kuhn has noted, there are many potential revolutionaries who remain on the sidelines with regard to the formulation of new paradigms. Only a very few have the good fortune to be influential (let alone become the architects of new paradigms). Successful revolutionaries need sponsors, supporters—and critics.
Many factors obviously contribute to the success of ultra-geniuses. One of these factors is now emerging in the field of evolution. Perhaps these men and women are the genetic anomalies that lead eventually to gradual modifications (for good and ill) in the gene pool. Do these ultra-geniuses have too much of something or perhaps less than most people of something else that leads them to be particularly skillful in doing a few things or leads them to see the world in a different way? Neurobiologists are now often citing the capacity of our brains to adjust and shift priorities –a process known as neuroplasticity. Men and women who are blind often claim for other purposes those segments of their cortex that are usually occupied with visual matters. Those with extraordinary capacities in fields such as music (Mozart), scientific theorization (Einstein) or societal visioning (Gandhi) may have brains that are wired a bit differently from the brains most of us possess. As Howard Gardner (2011) has long advocated, there are multiple intelligences that allow all of us to be good at doing certain things – and that might allow a few of us to do these few things at an exceptional level. The rewiring might have occurred before birth (as genetic anomalies or “mistakes”) or after birth (neuroplasticity).Download Article 500 Club