How did definition of genius change?

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The definition of genius has evolved significantly over time, reflecting changes in cultural, social, and scientific understanding. In ancient Rome, a genius was considered a guardian spirit, a god of one's birth who accompanied individuals throughout life, connecting them to the divine1. This understanding of the term was far from the modern concept of genius, which is associated with exceptional creativity and insight14. The modern understanding of the term only gained currency in the eighteenth century1. The eighteenth century, also known as the Enlightenment period, marked a significant shift in the understanding of genius. Geniuses were conceived as individuals possessing rare and special powers, such as the ability to create, redeem, and destroy; the power to penetrate the fabric of the universe; and the ability to see into the future or into our souls1. This conception of genius was almost exclusively male, reflecting the long-standing prejudices of the time1. In the nineteenth century, natural and social scientists began to probe the nature of genius, seeking to understand its origins and the conditions that might foster it1. However, some scholars in fields like literary theory, art history, and criticism rejected the notion of genius altogether, arguing that it was a myth that should be deconstructed and dismissed1. In the modern era, the definition of genius has expanded to include not just intellectual ability and creative productivity, but also originality and exceptional insight in the performance of some art or endeavor that surpasses expectations, sets new standards, and remains outside the capabilities of competitors4. Walter Isaacson, a biographer of many well-known geniuses, argues that while high intelligence may be a prerequisite for genius, the defining trait of a genius may be the extraordinary ability to apply creativity and imaginative thinking to almost any situation34. In the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, genius is the ability to independently arrive at and understand concepts that would normally have to be taught by another person. For Kant, originality was the essential character of genius4. In the philosophy of Bertrand Russell, genius entails that an individual possesses unique qualities and talents that make the genius especially valuable to the society in which he or she operates4. In summary, the definition of genius has evolved from a divine guardian spirit in ancient Rome to a modern understanding that emphasizes creativity, originality, and exceptional insight. This evolution reflects changes in cultural, social, and scientific understanding over time.
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