Most of you will not be able to relate to this feeling. You have not been introduced to others as a god or been described as such to anyone in passing conversation. You do not have impossible expectations to fill. You are a mortal person reading this post from some douche who thinks he’s a god.
I do not think I’m a god. I know I am a man, complete with faults and ambiguous purpose. It makes me extremely uncomfortable to be referred to as a god or genius or any other term meant to isolate me for my intelligence (it has happened before, and against my hopes, I know it will happen again). I must walk among other people, knowing I am mortal, just as they are, but I am destined for greater things than most people. I wonder how Einstein must have felt after he knew the theory of relativity to be true, but before he could prove it. He must have been a primadonna among his peers, ridiculed for his incessant ramblings, but respected for his unrelenting search for the truth. His peers undoubtedly fell behind his insights, failing to grasp what was obvious to him. He struggled to explain his thoughts to his friends and peers, who looked upon his work with awe, mystery, and fear.
But he was a man, just as I am. He feared, just as I do. He loved, just as I do. He pondered the great questions of the universe, just as I do. He had a distinct advantage over me. He was an innovator in science long before the world was a big place. When Einstein was working toward his theory of relativity, the notion of communication was crude and imprecise. Some of the biggest discoveries in modern science have evolved on crude media like paper, through in-person promotion of the written word of others. We of the internet generation take so much for granted.
I wonder how difficult it must have been for Chandrasekhar, living in a yurt, redefining the mathematics of supernovae. I wonder how it must have been for him, surrounded by uneducated peasant farmers who must have considered his work ridiculous. He must have endured great peer pressure, to give up his heretic pursuits, to abandon algebra and ideal gas laws, to “accept a simpler life.”
After reading Feynman’s autobiography, I found myself relating so well to him. He was a trickster. He used humor to mask his genius. I often do the same. Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard was that “one need not always appear as smart as one is.” I have embraced the role of jester, heckler, and even naysayer in my quest to find balance.
My curse is empathy. I look at the lives of these legendary figures, these men who immutably altered the course of human history. I look at their example, and I wonder what they went through. My curse is also arrogance. I wonder if we can do better. The price of pushing the boundary of what’s possible is that we always find ourselves fighting the ignorant to justify our existence, our pursuit of something bigger than war or power or economy, something real.
So, I accept this title, reluctantly. If my fellow man wants to elevate me above the common idiom, I accept that with grace and humility. I only hope that in the end, everyone can learn to appreciate what it’s like to be called a god, what it means to wield that level of power and responsibility, and what we do to humanize ourselves in the process, lest we forget our humanity entirely.