Genius is a bizarre word, which is apropos because geniuses are bizarre people.
I disambiguate “genius” thus:
1. Very high general intelligence (common definition)
2. Precociousness (colloquial definition)
3. Extraordinary but overly specific talent (like virtuoso musicianship a la Paganini or Liszt; colloquial definition)
4. Origination of one or more important ideas (proper, etymological definition)
5. Extraordinary creativity (Cooijmans’ definition)
6. Pathologically altruistic, group fitness-enhancing creativity (Charlton’s definition)
7. Obsessive-compulsive, anxiety-downregulating creativity (my definition)
8. People who work for Apple (definition by people who work for Apple)
Well, here’s a guy who fits every reasonable definition, Leonhard Euler:
He is also widely considered to be the most prolific mathematician in history. His collected works fill 60 to 80 quarto volumes, more than anybody in the field.
Here’s a description of a typical day in the life of a man who writes 70 volumes of anything (math or otherwise):
>Go back to bed (optional)
(That’s not entirely true because he managed to have a social life and acquire wealth. Even more unbelievable.)
Not only did he write 70 volumes (picture how high that would be if you stacked them), but he wrote 70 volumes of nonstop brilliant mathematical ingenuity. It is downright excessive if you think about it.
Now, Euler was 43 years old in 1750. There were approximately one half billion people in the world in 1750. So now that we’ve had all this PROGRESS and DIVERSITY, being WINNARZ on the right side of history and all, then we should be able to find 14 Eulers in the world today. Certainly 10 of them, no sweat.
Show me five and I’ll vote Obama for a third term. Until then, I’ll stay on the wrong side of history looking back, thank you very much.
Anyway, the point of this post is to point out that Euler had ALL of the characteristics of a genius in great supply, and was also one of the greatest geniuses of all time. The same may be said of the other greats of his caliber: Newton, Gauss, Goethe. Surely we ought to take note of this confluence of factors.
All of that is to say, I believe the answer is yes, there is a general factor for creativity. In fact, I believe it has an extremely high correlation to the general factor g. Thus, being a high-order emergent phenomenon it is one of the first individual traits to disappear when breeding patterns tend to favor…well, breeders.
There are many, many ingredients required for the emergence of genius, not least of which is nationalism.