Thursday, August 29, 2013

Reading The Minds Of The Geniuses

"Why is it that nobody understands me and everybody likes me?" 
- Albert Einstein, quoted in the New York Times, 12 March 1944 

Everybody loves genius person. There's some sort of mysteries surrounding them...that elegant, incomprehensible mind that makes them tick and flourish. But it's a rarity nowadays to find a true genius. Most of excellent students we see today are far from genius. They are brilliant, but they are no genius. It would be a true privilege to meet and talk to a genuine one.

Where are they? Where are these geniuses?

When I was in primary school, I was rated highly by my peers, to the extent that anything that came out of my mouth would be accepted as the ultimate, holy truth by them.

Whenever there was an election for class monitor, I would win hands down, only to be vetoed out afterwards by my class teacher, cikgu Aliyah. I have no leadership quality, she would say. I just nodded in agreement. What else can I say? She was right, I guessed. I was too soft and powerless to control the whole class.

So why did they hold me in such a high regards?

Because I consistently scored good grades during my primary schools. We were in the top class of the school, the class where teachers expected the bulk of us to do well in UPSR. I remember on one occasion, most probably in primary three, I scored full marks (100 marks) for bahasa melayu, english as well as mathematics...but nonetheless only 86 marks for pendidikan Islam. My class teacher of that time decided that I should be the best student (yes, they didn't bother to count the total was a rarity during that period, all the calculations were done and recorded manually).

But a certain Najib Rahman (yes, Najib Rahman...not Najib Razak) disagreed...saying he should be made the top student of the school. I remember almost vividly how he and the teacher totalled his marks. Najib scored above 95 for every subjects, and he was correct after all...he ended up beating me in overall score. I cannot recalled his exact score...but it was in the region of 390 compared to 386 of mine (just do the math...he was averaging 97.5 for each subject!). That was the start of our prolonged adversaries right until primary six. We exchanged positions as number one in school as if that spot was only reserved for us...but for all that I remember, I always had the upper hands over him. The other usual challengers were Mukrish and Khairul Selamat. They were all my best friends in primary school. Najib was made the school's head prefect afterwards. Remember I didn't have leadership quality? I didn't even been appointed as prefect at all. But I harboured no hard feelings whatsoever...I didn't care that much.

So did that make us genius? A BIG NO. NOT A CHANCE. NOT EVEN CLOSE. Even though some thought of us of being genius, we were far from it. We were above average at best. Yes to a certain extent, I did succumb to the assumption that I maybe a sort of a genius freak, because everybody said so. But that was before I stepped  into my secondary school. A completely different world awaited me. Najib went on to study in Sek Men Agama Kedah, the premier school in Kedah for Islamic studies, while I was incredibly lucky to receive a corporate scholarship to study in a private school.

Enter Hazman (his real name is Hazman Helmi, if memory served me right), who was always glued to his mobile phone every night. Interestingly, he sweet-talked and laughed with his girlfriend on the mobile phone while his hand was busy doing his add math. I did try to imitate his trick but I could just finished half of the work, and tragically half of it was wrong answers. And Thaqina, who was purportedly able to memorize the pages of the textbook. When was the Pangkor Treaty signed? She would answer 1874, and she would then explain that the answer was extracted from page this and that from the textbook. Call that genius or crazy, I'm not sure. Maybe she was both.

Hazman was among the creme de la creme of the nation, I remember watching him appeared in Selamat Pagi Malaysia (TV1) programme to be interviewed after the SPM result was publicly announced. I didn't know Thaqina that well. We were both selected to feature as Master of Ceremony (MC) for the grandiose Talentime competition for three years running. It was among the biggest occasion of the school and billed as the perfect platform to promote yourself. I remember being in awed of her prowess in English. She was head and shoulders above me, no slightest doubt about that, and I felt truly humbled. I quit the task on the third year, citing fatigue as the reason, and it surprised many. Miss Judy, the music teacher supremo, indirectly telling me in front of my whole class to rethink of my decision. But I stood my ground. I didn't need all that limelight. I preferred to remain anonymous, even until today. My place was rightly filled by my close friend Mussadiq, who happened to have a secret crush on Thaqina. Hazman and Thaqina, however, both went to Oxford and LSE (London School of Economics) respectively.

There were plenty more of these geniuses around me during those times...Zaki Kastor also came to my mind. A big guy with a big heart and a big mind. Maybe I'll touch on them later when I have free time.

As I grew up into adolescent, my fascination with genius people continues. I tried finding a way to fathom their thinking...why are they so different from the rest? Was it nature or nurture? Can we train our children to be genius? Take Athens and Sparta for instance...geographically they are very close to each other, but their achievements differed greatly. Most of the great minds of yesteryear were from Athens, while all the tough boys were from Sparta. This was due to their differences in value, culture and lifestyles. So going by this line of thinking, if we could manipulate our value, culture and lifestyles, would more of these genius minds come up the ranks, no?

Sadly no...according to Albert Einstein, arguably the foremost scientist of all time. In one of his quotes, he questioned why when somebody does something great, people always inquired about where did he come from, his upbringing, his background etc? A good seed will grow into a good tree nonetheless, maybe that was what he had in mind. But this doesn't mean we shouldn't provide good environment for our future genius to prosper. Give them proper surroundings and their mind could flourish into a beautiful mind.

Back to my original question. Where are all these geniuses? I want to meet them. I want to hear them speak their mind. I want them to blow me into pieces with their sheer brilliance. Where are they?

Because of their small number (2% of overall population), it's really hard to find or mingle with them. Most of our best young minds are currently residing in boarding schools scattered across the country. But I don't want to meet these young geniuses. I want to meet the real, fully grown up genius. The polished, tried and tested genius. Sadly, I don't think I could ever meet one.

So what should I do? Give up?

My philosophy is simple...if you can't meet them, read them.

I've read plenty of essays and quotes by Einstein, books by prominent physicist Dr Michio Kaku as well as Richard Feynman. These are all considered genius in physics (I love physics very much by the way). Among Malay geniuses, I could only think of one name (and no, it's not Adiputra, for me he's got a serious attitude problem). It is Adlan Benan Omar.

The late Adlan Benan Omar.

Much has been said about him over the internet, and one thing they all agreed about him is he was a true genius. A walking encyclopedia, a sponge mind...he was a bigger than life persona, the one who could dazzle anybody with his gift. My meteorite quotes on my information page is actually attributed to him...because he struck everybody like a meteorite. But he died young, he could have achieved so much more if he was given more time. But Allah knows best.

The other is Amir Hafizi. I'm not sure to categorize him as genius or not, but one thing for sure, he's simply brilliant. He's still alive, in fact, very 'alive'. And blogging too. I've read all his postings (he deleted his blog somewhere in 2007, but I've already followed him much earlier than that. The other blogs that I read in full include Manamyz, Rockybru, JebatMustDie, CheDet, IzniArifah and puanmisi) and he could be summed up as bright, inexhaustible, flowing, original, and rebellious. He dislikes system. He could be lecturer / teacher easily and lead a steady life, but he chose to pursue his passion. This post is actually inspired by his "The Best vs The Beast" post, because I remember his average of around 97% was quite the same as my friend Najib.

I still harbour a faint hope of crossing path with a genius one day. It's a pleasure reading their minds, but it would be a different level of pleasure to actually meet one in person. Among my friends here in campus, there are some exceptional brains...notably Mugu, Zila and Firis. Mugu is extremely down to earth, Zila has a pleasant personality while Firis is a bit eccentric. And I heard good things about a certain Bong Kee Kai from biotech...he dominantly outscores the rest of his coarse-mate. I never really talk to him, I knew him through his reputation.

Keep working hard, Pancasara...because you are no genius. Then Allah will decide the rest.