May 3, 2013

The True Mark of Genius

She had held human brain tissue before, many times. But this time was different. This time, there was genius lying in her palm. "It was the ultimate brain as far as our society is concerned," says neuroanatomist Marian Diamond, Ph.D., recalling that moment in the early 1980s.

In her hands, she held a slice of Albert Einstein's brain. Alone in her University of California at Berkeley lab, Dr. Diamond carefully placed the section under her microscope. She slowly turned a dial and suddenly one of the few geniuses of this century came into sharp focus. "I knew I was looking at something very precious," says Dr. Diamond.

She looked where even Einstein couldn't see. What she found confirmed what many others had thought all along. Einstein's brain was special. "More glial cells were found in a certain portion of his left hemisphere as compared to the same area of the brains of normal males."

Glial cells nourish and support neurons and are known to increase in number with learning and experience, something Einstein obviously had a lot of.

Other researchers know that the true nature of genius can't always be measured under a microscope's lens, even though all behavior is a product of nerve and glial cells.

Most people believe that to be a genius you must have a high IQ - 140 or above. But researchers who study geniuses say that to be a true genius, you have to be more than just smart. "We have to distinguish between a person who does well on conventional tests and someone who makes really unique contributions to knowledge," says Philip Powell, Ph.D., associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.

"After 70 years of following a group of people with IQs over 180, we found that none of them turned out to be geniuses in their lifetime by anybody's definition," says David Feldman, Ph.D., professor of developmental psychology at Tufts University in Boston. "Genius is only very loosely related to IQ.”

Geniuses are like oysters. They can turn a tiny grain of sand into a sparkling pearl. Geniuses are driven. They get an idea and they continue to build on it, layer by layer.

"The operative word when describing genius is novelty," says Dr. Powell. "A genius is a person who comes up with unusual or unique ideas or products that end up transforming a generation."

Who does he put in this elite group? Buckminster Fuller was one, he notes. So were Shakespeare and da Vinci.

And, of course, Albert Einstein. (Boost Your Brain Power, by Ellen Michaud, Russell Wild and the editors of Prevention Magazine)