Depicted above is Darwin's first depiction of the evolutionary tree, drawn and written shortly after The Voyage of the Beagle ended, the only time this extraordinary naturalist ever traveled outside of England during his long life. When looking at this, one sees just how intimate the creative process truly is as Darwin struggled to understand the profound implications of evolution and how it applied to life on earth. In essence, it was the underdiscovered country writ large, discovered by a charming and decent man who was a genius in every sense of the word.
When reading The Voyage of the Beagle, a detailed and fascinating view of the world unfolds, written by an ever curious person wanting to know why things are the way they are. When reaching the Galapagos, the first inklings of the why started to issue forth, a notion coming to full fruition in 1859 when Darwin published The Origin of Species.
To yours truly, the word genius is often connected to IQ tests and specific abilities in a given discipline like math or music but this description seems too narrow as there are many people who possess these kinds of skills and more. To me, genius is the ability to make connections, to see relationships and be able to articulate how the relationships apply to the task at hand. Newton had this as did Jobs, Einstein, Miles and ... without question, Darwin.
Darwin is a very interesting case. My interest in Darwin is part intellectual and part biographical, as is often the case. So intellectually, a little bit like Newton. He wasn’t at university; he was on a boat! He was sailing around the coast of South America with a very unstable captain. And on that boat, without funds, without qualifications, without colleagues, he formulates, essentially, in his red notebook, the theory of natural selection—based on empirical observations of an extraordinary kind. So that level of empirical synthesis, somewhat in isolation, is of great interest to me.
The other thing about Darwin that makes him an ambiguous figure, in fact, in discussions of genius relates to what attributes of mind he had, for example, in distinction to a Henri Poincaré or a great mathematician, and it’s because he combined what Howard Gardner would call, “multiple intelligences.” Darwin was both narrative and linguistic; he was visual; and he was analytical. So what makes Darwin somewhat unique in the history of science—and I think explains in part why he’s such a key figure—is that he had many attributes of intelligence—not just the analytical-mathematical or the linguistic-narrative. He had them all! And the taxonomic.
I think kind of says it all, doesn't it? :)