Science, literature, medicine, art… when did we stop producing geniuses?

One of the most disappointing aspects of our time is that the knowledge explosion has not resulted in the proliferation of geniuses. The population is growing fast. Mass education has conquered all countries. The dissemination of knowledge has become universal through the Internet. The ability to share ideas – regardless of race, gender or race – should explode the potential number of geniuses. Look at the development of knowledge about Pluto. The image, posted online by NASA in 1994, is just a cluster of gray pixels. A quarter of a century later, we have access to extremely detailed mapping of the dwarf planet. Which usually sparks the vocations of aspiring astronomers.

Granted, genius doesn’t obey any definition. In addition, it is often retrospective, contemporaries do not always know how to measure it. It is the great story that later sculpts the legend. Yet the few quantitative analyzes of literary, musical, or scientific geniuses, such as that of Holden Karnofsky, attest to a diminution in the number of great men and women relative to the population of an age to produce ideas, works, or discoveries.

Don’t think in lockstep with your peers

“Everything would have been discovered” is one of the most commonly used arguments to explain the world’s cultural and intellectual decay. It is certain that many things have already been thought up in each of the specialties, but amazing discoveries await at the intersection of two disciplines. My two most brilliant scientific friends are each masters of two disciplines, one chemistry and biology, the other physics and electronics. This makes them think differently than their colleagues, who only understand one area.

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The other theory often formulated on this subject is that material life has finally overcome spiritual life. Entrepreneurship would have crowded out the sciences and arts and attracted the most creative minds. The hypothesis can be considered since I was able to meet entrepreneurs who had the characteristics of being brilliant researchers, artists or intellectuals. But it doesn’t resist the number. Entrepreneurship remains a tiny opportunity in relation to each generation. This shift is unlikely to be self-induced.

All eyes are on the school system. Dozens of studies have attempted to penetrate best educational practices at the level of a country, but also between several countries. They compared learning methods, teacher recruitment and accreditation, class size, access to IT tools, and were careful to neutralize the socio-professional or financial impact of background.

The observation is relentless: none of this matters much. Studies show that winning the lottery to attend the supposedly best school in the city has no impact on the academic and professional performance of happy people in Chicago, New York or China. Children who fail an elite school selection test with low marks will achieve results similar to those who passed it with low marks and gained access to the precious sesame.

The benefits of tutoring

The most interesting thesis on this topic is represented by the neuroscientist Erik Hoel. For him, the mode of production of geniuses is tutoring. Instruction, for centuries the mode of education of the aristocracy, consisted of one-on-one and persistent exposure of young children to an adult teacher, an expert in his field, instructing him, but also engaging him in intellectual discussions, without going to a predetermined exercise after the award search. These brilliant minds also served as role models.


Obviously, this extremely expensive form of education was reserved for an elite. By industrializing education, we created a system of mass production that improved the lot of the vast majority of people individually and the world at large, but we would have lost the artisan process that formed the most elegant minds and the brightest. Upgrading tutoring would be appealing, but at what cost…



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