Sebastian Pokutta's Blog

Mathematics and related topics

The Cult of Genius

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I just came across an interesting article on the Cosmic Variance Blog with the title The Cult of Genius. Ok the article is a bit older, i.e., from February 2007 but still worth reading.  I guess the title is self-explaining ;-) Although it, in particular, deals with physicists I suppose the message applies to other fields as well.

From the article:

While some physicists are known for their hearty support of atheism, even they can have some personal dieties. High in the physicist’s pantheon sits Richard Feynman, due not only to his obvious smarts and good work, but also to an outsized personality chonicled in a wealth of popular writings (and even a movie!). I’ve always had mixed feelings about Feynman as a cult figurehead, however. It’s nothing personal against Feynman in particular, but about the hero worship he represents. During high school or college, many aspiring physicists latch onto Feynman or Einstein or Hawking as representing all they hope to become. The problem is, the vast majority of us are just not that smart. Oh sure, we’re plenty clever, and are whizzes at figuring out the tip when the check comes due, but we’re not Feynman-Einstein-Hawking smart. We go through a phase where we hope that we are, and then reality sets in, and we either (1) deal, (2) spend the rest of our career trying to hide the fact that we’re not, or (3) drop out. It’s always bugged the crap out of me that physicists’ worship of genius conveys the simultaneous message that if you’re not F-E-H smart, then what good are you? In physics recommendation land, there is no more damning praise than saying someone is a “hard worker”.

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Written by Sebastian

February 13, 2009 at 10:24 pm

One Response

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  1. There is an article on the related subject by the Fields prize winner Terence Tao: Does one have to be a genius to do maths?

    Academic Career Links

    March 27, 2009 at 5:54 pm


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