Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein, via Wikipedia

What is genius? Here is an assortment of opinion from Wikipedia:

Genius is something or someone embodying exceptional intellectual ability, creativity, or originality, typically to a degree that is associated with the achievement of unprecedented insight. – Introductory sentence to “Genius”.)

“Genius is a talent for producing something for which no determinate rule can be given, not a predisposition consisting of a skill for something that can be learned by following some rule or other.” – Immanuel Kant

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

In the philosophy of Nietzsche, genius is merely the context which leads us to consider someone a genius. In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche writes, “Great men, like great epochs, are explosive material in whom tremendous energy has been accumulated; their prerequisite has always been, historically and physiologically, that a protracted assembling, accumulating, economizing and preserving has preceded them – that there has been no explosion for a long time.” In this way, Nietzsche follows in the line of German Idealism.

A theory of multiple (kinds of) intelligences was proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983 as a model that differentiates intelligence into eight categories, rather than a single general ability.

Can you think of exemplars of genius in these categories? I propose in this post a list for us to consider. For convenience I have included examples of professions or occupations from Gardner’s Wiki page, although these are not exclusive  – for more detailed descriptions, see this link.

I have tried to put my nominees in roughly chronological order by birth date, just for convenience.  A few names intentionally appear in more than one category. Also, I have tried not to exclude those who exhibited opprobrious genius as well, so, fair warning.

Life Is Worth Losing

George Carlin, via Wikipedia

Spatial (artists, designers, architects, engineers): Leonardo DaVinci; Michelangelo; Caravaggio; Christopher Wren; Thomas Jefferson; Vincent Van Gogh; Isambard Kingdom Brunel; Guglielmo Marconi; Orville Wright; Wilbur Wright; Claude Shannon; Frank Lloyd Wright; Pablo Picasso; M. C. Escher; Nicola Tesla; Charles Babbage; John Von Neumann; Hyman G. Rickover; Eero Saarinen; I. M. Pei; Werner Von Braun; Alfred Hitchcock; Steven Spielberg; Steve Jobs
Linguistic (debaters, story-tellers, conversationalists, language experts, comedians): Shakespeare; Mozart (15 languages); Benjamin Franklin; Steven Douglas; Abraham Lincoln; William Jennings Bryan; Theodore Roosevelt; Father Charles Coughlin; Charlie Chaplin; Adolph Hitler; Joseph Goebbels; Jack Benny; Lucille Ball; Art Linkletter; Fred Rogers; Jerry Falwell; Carl Sagan; Johnny Carson; Jack Parr; George Carlin; Garrison Keillor; Rush Limbaugh, Barack Obama
Logical-mathematical (mathematicians, computer experts, scientists, inventors): Pythagoras; Euclid; Archimedes; Leonardo DaVinci; Isaac Newton; Galileo; Johannes Kepler; Rene Decartes; Blaise Pascal; Gregor Mendel; Ernest Rutherford; Dmitri Mendeleev; Charles Darwin; Alfred Wallace; Benjamin Franklin; James Clerk Maxwell; Marie and Pierre Curie; Samuel F. B. Morse; Thomas Edison; Niels Bohr; Nicola Tesla; Louis Leakey; Edward Jenner; Alexander Fleming; Albert Einstein; Kurt Godel; Jonas Salk; Alan Touring; Claude Shannon; Bobby Fischer; Steven Hawking; Roger Penrose; Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan; James Watson; Francis Crick; Rosalind Franklin; Martin Gardner; Stephen J. Gould; Steve Wozniak; Steve Jobs
Bodily-kinesthetic (athletes, pilots, dancers, actors, doctors, police, soldiers): Alexander the Great; Fred Astair; Ginger Rogers; Eleanor Powell; Jim Thorpe; Harry Houdini; George Herman (Babe) Ruth; Lucile Ball; George C. Marshall; Michael DeBakey; Douglas MacArthur; Gene Kelly; Jimmy Stewart; Elvis Presley; Erwin Rommel; Gregory Peck; Jack Nicholson; Marlon Brando; Chuck Yeager; Michael Jordan
Musical (singers, instrumentalists, disc jockeys and orators): Amadeus Mozart; Demosthenes; Abraham Lincoln; Steven Douglas; Irving Berlin; Vera Lynn; Louis Armstrong; Pablo Cassals; Richard Rodgers; Oscar Hammerstein; Judy Garland; Hoagy Carmichael; Bing Crosby; Nat King Cole; Sammy Davis, Jr.; Les Paul
Interpersonal (sales, politicians, managers, teachers; social workers):  George Washington; Thomas Jefferson; Benjamin Franklin; Abraham Lincoln; Clara Barton; P. T. Barnum; Charles Ponzi; Theodore Roosevelt; Albert Schweitzer; Mao Zedong; Wayne B. Wheeler; William Randolph Hearst; Benjamin Spock; Franklin Roosevelt; Joseph Stalin; Joseph R. McCarthy; Dwight Eisenhower; Winston Churchill; Hyman G. Rickover; Ronald Reagan; Steve Jobs; Bill Gates; Bernard Madoff; Michael Bloomberg
Intrapersonal (philosophers, psychologists, theologians, lawyers, writers): Socrates; Moses, Jesus Christ; Paul the Apostle; Gautama Buddha; William Blake; Mohammed; Martin Luthor; Daniel Defoe; Benjamin Franklin; Jules Verne; Mohandas Gandi; Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll); Sigmund Freud; Clarence Darrow; Samuel Clemons; Emily Dickinson; Jerry Falwell; Richard Dawkins; Sam Harris; Nelson Mandella; Martin Luther King Jr.; Christopher Hitchens; Isaac Asimov; William Manchester; David McCullough; J. K. Rowling
Naturalistic (farming, naturalists, geologists, mining, gardening): Gregor Mendel; Theodore Roosevelt; John Muir; George Washington Carver; Rachel Carson; Dian Fossey; Jacques Cousteau; Carl Sagan

The line between good and genius is blurry, but it seems to me that “genius” ought to be a very exclusive club. I am a little worried that my list for Logical-mathematical may be a too long, biased perhaps by my own background.  I would be pleased to receive comments for either additions or challenges. I found making this list fun but challenging, but because this is a subjective project, if in light of comments there appear to be any obvious changes to be made, and I’m sure I’ve missed some, I will edit the post accordingly.  Maybe we can arrive at an interesting sort of consensus.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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18 Responses to Genius

  1. Jennifer Lockett says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I’m a big fan of the models of multiple intelligences for many reasons – it highlights the realities that not everyone is wonderful at everything and that many of us are highly skilled in an area not readily recognized by others. Thank you for bringing this to the forefront!


  2. John Erickson says:

    Just a quickie to get signed up for notifications. I’d argue a bit with Steve Jobs under the technical category, at least in the earlier days of Apple when they focused on computers. Jobs was more of “the vision guy”- he could see what these strange new boxes could do for us. “Woz” was the real hard-core techie – the guy with a dozen soldering irons with different tips for different circuit board components. You know, the guy who thought Heathkit products were FAR too easy! (Let’s see how badly that dates me!) 😀
    Otherwise, an outstanding list!


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      I had the same thought and hesitated, but decided on Jobs for that because all indications were that his design sense seemed to be driving the whole business. Let’s see what other inputs we get for this. Thanks, John.


  3. Jim Wheeler says:

    @ All,

    After a brain flash I added to category “Spatial” the names of Charles Babbage, John Von Neumann, and Claude Shannon.


  4. afrankangle says:

    Brilliant post! Add the great American storyteller Garrison Keillor. Then again, I see the list as great examples, because certainly there are more.


  5. ansonburlingame says:


    I did a very quick scan of the folks you called “geniuses”. I was testing your list for “completeness”. I did not find Karl Marx, Lenin, Napolean, Henry VIII, Hitler, etc. just as examples, on your list. If I missed one or all of them, I request forgiveness. But if in fact they are not there, I am not sure how to “test the theory for completeness”, which of course is very hard to achieve.

    I also wonder if “genius is like porn” in that we can tell “it” when we see it on a personal level? Dictionary definitions aside, I also see no way to accurately define “genius” or even “smart” or “dumb” as well. We put a lot of emphasis on the “bell curve” of intelligence in political discussions. But we all know there may well be great exceptions to such “rules” or “statistics” as well.

    No, I am not arguing any points nor do I disparage your attempt to provide a thought provoking blog either. It is thought provoking, to me at least. But in this case I must remain “I’m Not Sure, Are You” on the questions and points raised.

    But as well, I have never been much of a philosopher and remain uncertain now just what the speed of light might be or become in the future as well!



    • Jim Wheeler says:

      @ afrankangle and Anson,

      As I said in the post, I fully realize the subjective and inexact nature of defining “genius”. I now am thinking it might have been more interesting to merely try to pick the top three or five in each category. And that brings up another thought I had, viz., that the categories are what makes the project most interesting. At least to me.

      I put Adolph Hitler in the “Linguistic” category.

      Garrison Keillor is a very good nominee, IMO, for the Linguistic category. Done.


  6. John Erickson says:

    You know, if you can argue that Hitler was a genius in Linguistics, couldn’t you make the same argument for Barry Manilow? After all, Hitler’s career barely spanned 15 years, and he had to keep writing new stuff. Barry’s career has lasted more than twice as long, and he gets paid millions for each appearance, using mostly the same words over and over! 😉
    (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist. It’s all Frank’s fault! No reason to blame him, but he’s convenient! 😀 )


    • Jim Wheeler says:


      Barry Manilow vs. Adolph Hitler! Only in the blogosphere, eh?

      My defense is in the criteria at the beginning of the post. “Unprecedented.” “Genius hits a target no one else can see.”

      Manilow has endurance, but so have many. Tony Bennett, for example, and yet I would not call him a genius. I don’t think lasting style qualifies, but if it did, it would be a crowded field indeed, would it not?

      Good point to clarify, however. Thanks


  7. ansonburlingame says:

    So I now vote as well for ELVIS!!!

    But again, good stimulation of thought, Jim.



    • Jim Wheeler says:

      It is unclear to me from your comment, Anson, whether you noticed it or not, but I do have Elvis on the list. I put him under “Bodily-kinesthetic” rather than “Musical” because I thought his genius was more a matter of innovative style than of the music itself. He blended several older styles of performance into a brand new one and inspired permanent change in not just American but world culture, and his physical performance was part of it for sure.


  8. ansonburlingame says:

    OK, then where is Louie Armstrong? Did I miss him?

    I am not in any way trying to make a joke of your effort. But any philosophical musing should be subjected to a test for completeness or so I learned in a political science course long ago at Canoe U. I even took tests on such matters to critique such musing by “masters” like Plato, etc.



    • Jim Wheeler says:

      The Musical category is very likely my weakest. (I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, although I do like to listen to many varieties.) Consider Louie nominated. If you or others would like to justify him relative to the criteria at the beginning of the post, I will add him to the list.


  9. Jim Wheeler says:

    Had another brain-burst: Harry Houdini. (How could I miss him?) I am adding him to category “Bodily-kinesthetic”.


  10. ansonburlingame says:

    Louie was a genius in my view in that he was the first to expose the world to the “black soul” expressed in music. Yes, it was revealed in the music of slaves as well, but Jazz and Blues became the epitome of “soul” music at least as far as i understand musical history which is NOT something I know much about as well.

    Think of JAZZ today and who, historically, pops into your mind? Einsteind and Bethoven are not there when I hear Jazz, today, or Blues either. Elvis on the other hand perhaps “brought” Blues to whites in the 1950s



  11. Pingback: Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 118 « A Frank Angle

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