Study Abroad Summer Session MyYSS

Brains of Genius Course Preview

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Dr. Craig Wright

Craig Wright is the Henry L. and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Music at Yale and Academic Director of Online Education.   He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard and an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Chicago, and is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  The “Genius Course” is a wildly interdisciplinary one of his own devising that intends to look at the question of exceptional human accomplishment by cutting widely across the arts and sciences. 

Mary Jones

Mary Jones is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Music. She is currently working on a dissertation about record producer Goddard Lieberson and the social, commercial, and cultural networks surrounding his work with composers at Columbia Records in the 1940s and 1950s. Her other academic interests include the philosophy of music, aesthetics, and sound studies. She has been a TF for several music history lectures at Yale, including "Listening to Music" and "Exploring the Nature of Genius" with Craig Wright. When she’s not studying, Mary can typically be found in the kitchen baking pies.


Welcome to "Brains of Genius," the summer version of "Exploring the Nature of Genius," or the "Genius Course" as it is known around Yale.  I and my friend TA Mary Jones (we've worked together in two other courses) will be leading what I think you will come to find is an exciting and intellectually stimulating experience.  

But fun as this will be, let the student beware: Summer Term comes at you fast--our mandate is to provide the same content in five weeks that we usually provide over a semester of twelve.   So please be prepared to work hard and get off to a strong start, as I'm sure you will.


The term “genius” is often used, indeed overused.   But does “genius” even exist, and, if so, how can we recognize, perhaps even measure it? “Brains of Genius” begins with a brief introduction to the changing meanings of the term, from the ancient Greeks down to the present day. Immediately, we will confront two important questions: why no female geniuses and no Asian geniuses?   Although intentionally provocative, these questions will force us to consider gender (especially through the words of Virginia Woolf) and race in fashioning a definition, even a stereotype, of “the genius.”  The next few weeks will allow us to establish modes of analysis for genius by examining the lives and working methods of several exceptional individuals: Leonardo da Vinci, Newton, Mozart, van Gogh, and Picasso, among others.  Issues such as nature vs. nurture, the prodigy, concentration, memory, exceptional process skills (photographic memory, perfect pitch), and oxymoronic thinking will be explored so as to define and establish markers for genius. Finally, a consideration of recent developments in neurobiology, which begin to hint at why some individuals possess preternatural powers, will conclude the course, suggesting where in the future the most promising  lines of research into the minds of superhuman individuals will reside.


You will attend a live class everyday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 11:00 a.m.- 12:15 p.m. EDT.  Videos with questions will be posted before each class.  It is expected that you will view the videos and respond to a series of questions (and submit your responses) by 9:00 a.m. the day of . each class.   In addition, for each class, you will be asked to read two or three articles, essays, or papers.   Each reading will be accompanied, again, by a series of questions, that are intended to lead you through the reading, emphasizing what your instructor thinks is important.  (There is no textbook for the course; all readings will be posted as PDFs or Word documents.)  We will begin each class (except the first) with a five-minute graded quiz on the reading, to assure that we are all together.


The student’s grade (based on a point score or 200) will be determined by 1) answers to question for pre-class videos (15 points); 2) approximately 14 quizzes on the assigned readings (55 points), 3) class attendance and participation (15 points) 4) five papers of increasing length:  500, 600, 700, 800, and 2,400 words (10 points, 15, points, 20, points, 25 points, 45 points)


Watch posted video material and send in answers to the posted questions inherent in the video.


1) Watch posted video material and send in answers to the posted questions inherent in the video, and 2) Read assigned articles following posted questions on that reading, and come to class prepared to take a 5-minute quiz on that reading.  All questions on the quizzes will be drawn from those of the question sheet.

 Course Syllabus