Posted by: Captain Easychord | August 20, 2009

The Problems of a Genius

I am a genius.  No, really… The (unconfirmed) story is that back when I was young, I scored (at least) 150 on an IQ test.  That score certainly would make me eligible to join Mensa and – by at least one technical definition – would make me, officially, a genius.

With the highest recorded score on an IQ test, Marilyn vos Savant is famous for being a genius.  This Financial Times article about her and intelligence measurement in general resonated with me because it highlighted some of the difficulties faced by highly intelligent people:

“High cognitive ability is very often a mixed blessing,” Patrick O’Shea, the president of one [high IQ] society, the International Society for Philosophical Enquiry (ISPE), told me. Too wide a deviation from the mean IQ of 100 brings with it an inherent isolation. “If you have an IQ of 160 or higher,” O’Shea explained, “you’re probably able to connect well with less than 1 per cent of the population.” Among the 600 or so members of the ISPE, whose IQs are all around 150 or higher, O’Shea described a “common experience of being socially marginalised” and the challenge of finding suitable outlets for their gifts. “It’s good to be smart, it’s good to get ahead, but past a certain threshold, you can’t be trusted: you’re a nerd, you’re a geek,” he said. “You have somehow a tremendous social deficit.”

According to John Rust, at Cambridge, to produce an extraordinary IQ score a mind must have two unusual qualities. The first is “mechanical facility” – useful but sometimes harmful in extreme cases, hence the preponderance of people with Asperger’s syndrome who have high IQs. And you must also excel at a wide variety of tasks. Intelligence tests measure a range of mental abilities, whereas most people naturally, and happily, concentrate on just a few. Abnormally high IQ scores, by their nature, often speak of a brain too general to be of much use. “Effectively,” said Rust, “you are mastering far too many things.”

There’s no significant reason to think I have Asperger’s syndrome, but otherwise, I can relate to all of these problems.  To an outsider, I can imagine that this might sound like Scrooge McDuck complaining that his pit of gold coins is too deep, but then again most situations come with problems that are less sympathetic to a third party… the grass is always greener on the other side.  I wouldn’t want to give up my smarts (the grass isn’t any greener over there!), but this aptitude, like many others, comes with a tradeoff.

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