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Yale University

The Nature of Genius

Yale University via Coursera


Today "genius" is all around us. Celebrities, athletes, child prodigies, even your local Apple employees, all are referred to as geniuses. But are they? And if not these individuals then who? In this course, Henry L. and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Music Emeritus and author of The Hidden Habits of Genius, Craig Wright, will begin by giving you his definition and prerequisites for true genius and challenge you to come up with your own.

From there we'll look at examples of geniuses both historical and modern to try to identify the threads that bind them together and understand what separates the true genius from the wannabe... We’ll explore where creativity, curiosity and passion originate and how geniuses are able to discover, cultivate and apply their prodigious stores of each so as to fashion world changing ideas and inventions.

Specific topics covered in the course include:
Genius and Gender
Genius and Money
Whether or not celebrities and athletes can be considered geniuses
Where and when genius happen
The morality of genius
Genius and inequality
And dozens more

While this course almost assuredly will not turn anyone into a genius, we hope it will serve to inspire you to cultivate your own creativity, explore your own curiosity, and pursue your own passion.


  • Genius Defined, Genius Denied , Genius and Geography
    • In Section 1 of Module 1 we determine, jokingly, whether you're a genius or not, provide examples of geniuses as opposed to mere celebrities or prodigies, and discover how what defines "genius" is highly subjective and ever-changing. In Section 2 we look at genius and gender. We discuss the disadvantages that the few female geniuses who do come down to us in our history book faced in their societies. We consider how far we may have progressed and what opposition still remains for women today. In Section 3 we look at genius in relationship to race, geography and society. We talk about the importance of originality in genius and about what societal factors can either encourage or discourage genius.
  • First Things First
    • In Section 1 of Module 2 we jump into the age-old question: is it nature or is it nurture? We'll talk about the growing science of epigenetics, the many forms of intelligence and how to best measure each. In Section 2 we consider neoteny in genius. How employing childlike thinking could be a key to genius. We'll also take some time to explore in-depth one of the more famous neotenic geniuses from our past, Mozart. Then we'll move on to discover how we deal with our young prodigies and savants in ways that may actually prevent genius from blossoming. In Section 3 we'll get down to brass tacks and talk about money's role in genius. Do you need to be rich to be a genius? What should geniuses do with their money once they accumulate it?
  • What Makes Genius?
    • Module 3 delves into the enablers of genius to see what drives them and what allows them to achieve such singular greatness in their lifetimes. Section 1 entitled "curiosity and a tolerance for risk," may go a long way to explaining the just-asked question. We'll study perhaps the single most curious person in history, the great, Leonardo da Vinci, and look in on a typical day in his life. In Section 2 we'll move on to explore creativity and great polymaths in history. We'll take time to examine how they think and where their ideas came from. In Section 3 we'll talk passions; the inevitable endpoint for anyone with great curiosity, is passion. Once these polymaths stumble on something of interest, they become passionate, and passion can carry them along some unusual paths. We'll explore a few of them.
  • Disruption, Genius and Morality, Genius and “Disability”
    • In Module 4 we start by looking at morality and genius. As you might expect by now, they do not always go hand in hand. We'll explore a few examples of the rebellious nature of most geniuses, and the personally destructive nature of several others, and we will consider the relationship between genius and so-called "disabilities." Finally, we'll step back and ask the following question: To what degree are we as individuals willing to tolerate bad behavior and, indeed, personal destruction, in order to benefit from the creative innovation that the genius brings to society? Finally, we end by suggesting the personal and societal implications inherent in the study of genius. We'll send you off by suggesting how you, and society, might employ the knowledge you've gained as you have explored "The Nature of Genius."

Taught by

Craig Wright


5.0 rating, based on 1 Class Central review

4.8 rating at Coursera based on 142 ratings

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  • What a thoroughly enjoyable class! I was thoroughly impressed. It's amazing to see so many brilliant individuals taking MOOCs around the world. Professor Wright has done an outstanding job researching this topic and sharing his findings with us thr…

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