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  The Nature of Genius

  There has always been an interest in geniuses and prodigies. The word ‘genius’, from the Latin gens (= family) and the term ‘genius’, meaning ‘begetter’, comes from the early Roman cult of a divinity as the head of the family. In its earliest form, genius was concerned with the ability of the head of the family, the paterfamilias, to perpetuate himself. Gradually, genius came to represent a person’s characteristics and thence an individual’s highest attributes derived from his ‘genius’ or guiding spirit. Today, people still look to stars or genes, astrology or genetics, in the hope of finding the source of exceptional abilities or personal characteristics.

  The concept of genius and of gifts has become part of our folk culture, and attitudes are ambivalent towards them. We envy the gifted and mistrust them. In the mythology of giftedness, it is popularly believed that if people are talented in one area, they must be defective in another, that intellectuals are impractical, that prodigies burn too brightly too soon and burn out, that gifted people are eccentric, that they are physical weaklings, that there’s a thin line between genius and madness, that genius runs in families, that the gifted are so clever they don’t need special help, that giftedness is the same as having a high IQ, that some races are more intelligent or musical or mathematical than others, that genius goes unrecognised and unrewarded, that adversity makes men wise or that people with gifts have a responsibility to use them. Language has been enriched with such terms as ‘highbrow’, ‘egghead’, ‘blue-stocking’, ‘wiseacre’, ‘know-all’, ‘boffin’ and, for many, ‘intellectual’ is a term of denigration.

  The nineteenth century saw considerable interest in the nature of genius, and produced not a few studies of famous prodigies. Perhaps for us today, two of the most significant aspects of most of these studies of genius are the frequency with which early encouragement and teaching by parents and tutors had beneficial effects on the intellectual, artistic or musical development of the children but caused great difficulties of adjustment later in their lives, and the frequency with which abilities went unrecognised by teachers and schools. However, the difficulty with the evidence produced by these studies, fascinating as they are in collecting together anecdotes and apparent similarities and exceptions, is that they are not what we would today call norm-referenced. In other words, when, for instance, information is collated about early illnesses, methods of upbringing, schooling, etc., we must also take into account information from other historical sources about how common or exceptional these were at the time. For instance, infant mortality was high and life expectancy much shorter than today, home tutoring was common in the families of the nobility and wealthy, bullying and corporal punishment were common at the best independent schools and, for the most part, the cases studied were members of the privileged classes. It was only with the growth of paediatrics and psychology in the twentieth century that studies could be carried out on a more objective, if still not always very scientific, basis.

  Geniuses, however they are defined, are but the peaks which stand out through the mist of history and are visible to the particular observer from his or her particular vantage point. Change the observers and the vantage points, clear away some of the mist, and a different lot of peaks appear. Genius is a term we apply to those whom we recognise for their outstanding achievements and who stand near the end of the continuum of human abilities which reaches back through the mundane and mediocre to the incapable. There is still much truth in Dr Samuel Johnson’s observation, ‘The true genius is a mind of large general powers, accidentally determined to some particular direction’. We may disagree with the ‘general’, for we doubt if all musicians of genius could have become scientists of genius or vice versa, but there is no doubting the accidental determination which nurtured or triggered their gifts into those channels into which they have poured their powers so successfully. Along the continuum of abilities are hundreds of thousands of gifted men and women, boys and girls.

  What we appreciate, enjoy or marvel at in the works of genius or the achievements of prodigies are the manifestations of skills or abilities which are similar to, but so much superior to, our own. But that their minds are not different from our own is demonstrated by the fact that the hard-won discoveries of scientists like Kepler or Einstein become the commonplace knowledge of schoolchildren and the once outrageous shapes and colours of an artist like Paul Klee so soon appear on the fabrics we wear. This does not minimise the supremacy of their achievements, which outstrip our own as the sub-four-minute milers outstrip our jogging.


  To think of geniuses and the gifted as having uniquely different brains is only reasonable if we accept that each human brain is uniquely different. The purpose of instruction is to make us even more different from one another, and in the process of being educated we can learn from the achievements of those more gifted than ourselves. But before we try to emulate geniuses or encourage our children to do so we should note that some of the things we learn from them may prove unpalatable. We may envy their achievements and fame, but we should also recognise the price they may have paid in terms of perseverance, single-mindedness, dedication, restrictions on their personal lives, the demands upon their energies and time, and how often they had to display great courage to preserve their integrity or to make their way to the top.

  Genius and giftedness are relative descriptive terms of no real substance. We may, at best, give them some precision by defining them and placing them in a context but, whatever we do, we should never delude ourselves into believing that gifted children or geniuses are different from the rest of humanity, save in the degree to which they have developed the performance of their abilities.

  Questions 14-18

  Choose FIVE letters, A-K.

  Write the correct letters in boxes 14-18 on your answer sheet.

  NB Your answers may be given in any order.

  Below are listed some popular beliefs about genius and giftedness.

  Which FIVE of these beliefs are reported by the writer of the text?

  A Truly gifted people are talented in all areas.

  B The talents of geniuses are soon exhausted.

  C Gifted people should use their gifts.

  D A genius appears once in every generation.

  E Genius can be easily destroyed by discouragement.

  F Genius is inherited.

  G Gifted people are very hard to live with.

  H People never appreciate true genius.

  I Geniuses are natural leaders.

  J Gifted people develop their greatness through difficulties.

  K Genius will always reveal itself.

  Questions 19-26

  Do the following statements agree with the information given in Reading Passage 2?

  In boxes 19-26 on your answer sheet, write

  TRUE if the statement agrees with the information

  FALSE if the statement contradicts the information

  NOT GIVEN if there is no information on this

  19 Nineteenth-century studies of the nature of genius failed to take into account the uniqueness of the person’s upbringing.

  20 Nineteenth-century studies of genius lacked both objectivity and a proper scientific approach.


  21 A true genius has general powers capable of excellence in any area.

  22 The skills of ordinary individuals are in essence the same as the skills of prodigies.

  23 The ease with which truly great ideas are accepted and taken for granted fails to lessen their significance.

  24 Giftedness and genius deserve proper scientific research into their true nature so that all talent may be retained for the human race.

  25 Geniuses often pay a high price to achieve greatness.

  26 To be a genius is worth the high personal cost.


  Question 14-Question 18

  答案: B C F H J

  关键词: popular beliefs

  定位原文: 第2段整体内容

  解题思路: A 对应“if people are talented…”意思是“如果一个人在某一方面具有天赋,他们必然在另一方面有缺陷”因此天才并非是在各个领域都具备天赋的,A错误;B对应“prodigies burn…” 意思是“神童只是昙花一现”B选项正确;C对应“people with gifts..” 言下之意也就是有天赋的人需要使用他们的天赋,C正确;F对应“genius runs in families” 也就是说天赋是遗传的,F对;H对应“we envy the gifted..”说明人们并不会真正欣赏天才,H正确;J对应“adversity makes…” 说明天才在困境中发展其天赋, J正确;其他选项没有提及。

  Question 19

  答案: TRUE

  关键词: nineteen-century, studies


  解题思路: 本题需要通读第3段,可以得知,原文只提到了研究会考虑 the method of upbringing,但是没有考虑到 uniqueness of the person’s upbringing,题目表述符合文意。

  Question 20

  答案: TRUE

  关键词: nineteen-century, objectivity

  定位原文: 第3段最后1句“It was only with…”

  解题思路: 通过本句首先可以推测出19世纪关于天才的研究缺乏客观性,然后通过if still not always very scientific得知,连20世纪有关天才的研究都并不总是很科学,那么就更别提19世纪的研究了,因此可以推测出本题正确答案是TRUE。

  Question 21

  答案: FALSE

  关键词: general powers, area

  定位原文:第4段第5句“We may disagree…”

  解题思路:定位句的意思是“但我们可能会对“各方面”这一点有所保留,因为我们怀疑是否所有的天才音乐家都可以成为天才科学家,反之亦然。”这句话表明了作者对于所谓全能型天才的质疑,正好与题干的表述相反,故答案应该是 FALSE。

  Question 22

  答案: TRUE

  关键词: skills, ordinary individuals, prodigies

  定位原文:第5段第1句“What we appreciate,…”



  Question 23

  答案: TRUE

  关键词: truly great ideas

  定位原文:第5段最后两句“But that their minds…”

  解题思路: 作者先是举出数个例子来说明天才伟大的思想或者作品已经成为日常生活中司空见惯的东西,这就对应了题目的前半句the ease...,接着又提出This does not minimise the supremacy of their achievements,正好对应题干后半句。因此此题选TRUE。

  Question 24


  关键词: giftedness, genius, scientific research

  定位原文:第6段第1句“To think of geniuses and the gifted…”

  解题思路:第6段开头提到了“geniuses and the gifted…”但是题目表述的观点没有被提及。

  Question 25

  答案: TRUE

  关键词: pay a high price

  定位原文:第6段最后一句话“...but we should also recognize…”

  解题思路: 这句话以及接下来的内容明确说明了天才在成为天才的道路上所付出的高昂代价,是本题中最容易判断的一道题目。

  Question 26


  关键词: high personal cost

  定位原文:第6段最后1句的后半句“...but we should also…”


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