Sunday, November 6, 2011


Looking up the word "genius," I find myself amorphously dissatisfied with the dictionary definitions. They're OK, but somehow mediocre ... like using a bent nail to hammer a couple of boards together when a straight one would just be easier and more direct and more effective.

-- someone who is much more intelligent or skillful than other people
-- a very high level of skill or ability
-- exceptional creative ability
-- someone who has exceptional intellectual ability and originality  
-- someone who is dazzlingly skilled in any field
OK, it's a minor matter, but I still wonder what would satisfy my nudging dissatisfaction. What straight nail would I prefer? I honestly don't know. I do know that people can be exceptionally smart -- far smarter than others -- but does relying on others fill the bill? Or, would there be any meaning at all without relying on others?

Last night I was reading a poorly-edited Washington Post lifestyle piece about Dennis Hong, an engineering professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute who appears to be ass-over-appetite in love with robotics. For all I know, Hong is just another person who is "dazzlingly skilled" in his field -- another really, really, really smart guy -- but I was impressed with the inspirations he found in his work ... the ankle bone of a prehistoric deer, a mother braiding her daughter's hair, or a Chinese water-tube toy.

To others, such inspirations might seem to be fine examples of the ability to 'think outside the box,' but what struck me was the possibility that here was someone edging closer and closer to the chuckling humility that attends on the fact that there is no box... that everything is everything else and it's no big deal. The Zen teacher Rinzai once observed, "Grasp and use but never name." What a wonderful invitation to enjoying life ... maybe making robots, maybe riding a bicycle, maybe dancing. Just pay close attention, get out of the way and ... enjoy yourself.

None of this brings me any closer to a straight-nail definition of a "genius," but maybe that's because any definition in my mind would come up short. Perhaps genius is just what anyone -- everyone -- does. And if everyone is a genius -- when everything is everything -- what other course could there be except ... enjoyment?

I guess definitions don't help much.

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