IF ONE were asked to state what seems to be the essential difference between genius and the ordinary mentality, the following general statement would probably be as near as any that could be made: The average normal man shares with his fellows a highly conventionalized view of the world that has come into general acceptance through the contagion of imitative thinking that is characteristic of mass psychology. His view may differ in details. There will always be a brisk conflict of opinion within the conventionalized view; nevertheless, the average man’s view of the world will be, in the main, that of his time and of the society in which he moves.

No view of the world is the only possible one, since all human views must be partial, fragmentary. Even generally accepted world views change constantly from generation to generation. Our present conven-tional view is very different from that which obtained before the French Revolution: and right now we are witnessing a profound change in our popular world view, as evidenced, notably, by shifting moral fashions. Some of us are scandalized; but new generations will be born into the new views as into a natural atmosphere.

It is necessary that there should be a conventionalized and generally accepted view of the world: otherwise there could be no cooperation between men, and the world would be a bedlam — as indeed it is during times of violent change. But this does not mean that the prevailing view is the right one. It only seems the right one because men are accustomed to it and know no other. So will the next one seem right, and for the same reason. There are those who profess to know what the human race is blindly striving to become. It is probable that they don’t. But one thing is certain, that if we are going anywhere we haven’t arrivedas yet. Therefore it is necessary that there should appear among us, from time to time, men and women who, owing to some unusual mental twist, are able, or rather obliged, to view the world as though no one had ever seen itbefore. If the view of such a person too greatly differs from the conventionally accepted view hewill seem, or may truly be, a madman or a crank. Or his view, though altogether valid, may be such as to require generations of slow change for general accept-ance. We then say that the man was born “ahead of his time.” Or the new view may be appealing in spite of its strangeness, and may result in a popular vogue.

An authentic vision of genius may, by the accidents of changing world views, never harmonize with any general view that men may achieve. In that case the man and his vision are simply forgotten. The world was not going in his direction and therefore never overtook him.