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Are you a genius?

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Last week I played “Bridge over Troubled Water” for my students and described Paul Simon, the composer, as a genius. Yesterday I read a story about Carl Gauss, another genius, known for his contributions to mathematics. When Carl was in primary school his teacher gave him a task to keep him busy: Determine the sum of all the whole numbers 1 thru 100. The teacher imagined that Carl would use pencil and paper to add the numbers: 1+2+3… Instead, Carl looked at the teacher for a moment and gave him the answer. Can you determine the answer without any external help, even from pencil and paper? I couldn’t. I will put the answer below.

Was Charles Dickens a genius in writing novels? He saw extreme poverty and wrote about it with the goal of changing government policy, which had been very harsh toward the poor. After he published “Ä Christmas Carol”,” the government changed its policies, and the world had a story for the ages.

Other individuals are extremely talented in athletics, in organizing others, in helping others, in making others laugh, in parenting, etc. Howard Gardner of Harvard University invented the term “multiple intelligences” to describe ability in different realms of life.

Are you a genius in some aspect of life? If not, what would it take to move into the genius range? More effort, more learning, more experience?

For me as a scientist, I try to think of new ideas — novel ideas with power in them. What about you — which of your goals give you the opportunity to show genius?

The correct answer to the Gauss question is 5,050. My answer was 5,000, but I had a feeling I might be wrong. Here is one way to answer the problem in your head: Divide the 100 numbers into 1-50 and 51-100. The median is 50.5 (half way between 50 and 51). Assume that in a set of consecutive whole numbers, the median always equals the mean. Take the mean, 50.5, and multiply that times the number of numbers (100) to determine the total of the numbers. You can do that by moving the decimal two places to the right. Then 50.5 becomes 5050.0

John Malouff, PhD, JD
Assoc Prof of Psychology

Are names destiny?

Monday, April 9th, 2012

Last week I was interviewed by a radio-show host about my collection of good and bad surnames. The host told me later that the interview led to many calls to the station and and days of discussion among the radio-show staff members. Below is what I said.

When I was a law student I read a case in which one of the lawyers was Mr. Brilliant. I had a feeling his side would win, and it did. He had a great name for a lawyer or for anyone. I decided to start collecting good surnames and have continued to do so for decades. I often think of these names as just right for an expert witness for my side of a case: Dr. Wise, Dr. Winner, Dr. Smart. I also collected names I’d like for experts on the other side: Dr. Wrong (who was an expert witness in a case), Dr. Boring (a well-known psychologist), Dr. Loser. Other names in this category: Sillitoe (the name of a well known writer), Sicko, Carnage, Lipschitz, Mishmash.
Many of us have little or no choice in our surname, but women (and men in some places) can marry into a surname. A woman could become Mrs. Worm, Mrs. Toad, or Mrs. Death.

A person phoned in to mention Cardinal Sin (of the Philippines) as a person with an unfortunate name. I responded by saying that a high school classmate of mine had the surname of Doktor. If he had gone on with his education, he could have become Doctor Doktor.

The show host mentioned famous psychologist Karen Horney as having an unfortunate name. She also said that years ago when the Netherlands forced everyone to adopt a surname, some individuals protested by choosing absurd names, such as (in Dutch) Carrotonmyhead.

I ended the interview by saying that all the undesirable surnames I collected were from individuals getting positive media exposure — that’s how I heard of them. So, to answer my own question, names are not destiny, but some are certainly more appealing than others.

What memorable surnames have you heard?

John Malouff, PhD, JD
Assoc Prof of Psychology