Some online conversations that I've had recently have reminded me of a biography that I read several years ago. Bobby Fischer, the famous world chess champion of the early 1970's, degenerated into paranoia and other antisocial behavior that was so severe that by the end of his life, he was reduced to living as a recluse in Reykjavik Iceland. His biographer said that after becoming the champion of chess, Fischer was so paranoid about anyone using his talent to make money that he absolutely would not make any deal with anyone that involved playing chess in public, no matter how financially beneficial it might have been for him.
Since reading that biography years ago, I've wondered if Fischer isn't an illustration of a more general problem among the highly intelligent. I've known several very intelligent people, a large percentage of whom have seemed to be unhappy, and yes, paranoid. While looking into this question, I stumbled across something written by Grady M. Towers, to which I will provide a link at the bottom of this article. The publication date of Towers' article appears to be April 22, 1987, but I suspect, for a number of reasons, that it may be a rework of something he may have written in the early 1960's. Regardless, Towers' insights are the topic for today.
Towers bases much of his article on two primary sources: 1) Terman, L.M. & Oden, M., The Gifted Child Grows Up, 1947 and 1959 and 2) Hollingworth, L.S., Children above 180 IQ, 1942. Terman published the results of a study that followed a group of children with IQ's above 140 who were selected from a general population of 250,000 in 1922. The study followed these gifted children as they grew into their mid 40's. It apparently ran until at least 1959, when Terman's second publication cited in Towers' article was released. Hollingworth's 1942 book also follows a group of highly-gifted children as they grow well into adulthood.
Before I get into what Towers said about the findings of his primary sources, I would like to pause to mention our western society's current biases surrounding both individuals who are highly gifted and those who are mentally deficient. It seems with all the problems associated with political correctness that we have had for decades, we have been left unable to discuss intelligence in anything resembling an objective manner. While I am definitely not an expert in this area, to my knowledge, no such discussions have been widely publicized since about 1970. It seems that some groups in our society cannot tolerate being compared to other groups, regardless of the value of the insights gained. Therefore, most of the rest of us are afraid to do just that. This is unfortunate, because in my mind it makes us incapable of dealing adequately with either people of high intelligence or people of low intelligence. Having pointed this out, I would like to make clear that I have no agenda with this article, except to discuss some issues surrounding the gifted. I believe that a better understanding of these issues would benefit us all. Also, since you are getting this information very watered-down, third-hand from me, I encourage you to locate and read Towers' primary sources for yourself.
The rest of my article will be a summary of the major points that Towers makes. Perhaps the two most significant conclusions from his primary sources that he chooses to point out are:
With both of these conclusions, I think Towers is saying that people are not able to engage meaningfully with other people who are more than a certain level of intelligence above or below them, namely about 30 IQ points. This means that those of us separated by more than this amount of intelligence are not able to form meaningful relationships with each other. So, we are not able to have a close friendship or a marriage with a person who is more than 30 IQ points above or below us. Given that intelligence measured in IQ is normally distributed (i.e. Gaussian, or in other words, follows a bell-shaped curve) with a standard deviation of 15 IQ points, the math predicts that a person with an IQ of 130 is not able to have meaningful relationships with about half of the human population. A person with an IQ of 160 is not able to have meaningful relationships with about 97.7% of the population. This means that, for instance, in a normal work environment, a boss of average intelligence is unable to related to an employee with an IQ above 130, let alone someone who has an IQ of 160. It also means that there are very few acceptable mates for individuals with IQ's of 160 or higher. Very intelligent people are effectively socially isolated from almost everyone in our society. As a result, though they begin life as young children with the normal amount of gregariousness, they soon learn that they are forever and irrevocably "outsiders". It should not be surprising to learn that they respond accordingly.
With this isolation in mind, is is easier to understand why highly-intelligent people are more prone than average to display a number of symptoms of maladjustment to the rest of society, according to Terman and Hollingworth. Towers culls the following symptoms often displayed by the highly-intelligent from his primary sources:
Although Towers never specifically mentions paranoia, my thought is that this can probably be gathered from what he says about individuals' general symptoms of mental maladjustment, depression, and anxiety.
I have saved for last another important point that Towers makes. This is that, as one would quite reasonably expect, parents of a highly-gifted child can make a profound difference in the quality of the child's life later as an adult. Highly-intelligent children who receive the right amount and quality of attention can often grow up to be quite successful; whereas, children who are treated inappropriately (meaning that their needs are not met) are often unsuccessful at fitting in with society or at ever reaching anything close to their full potentials. As an example, Towers picks the story of William James Sidis, who had an IQ estimated to be between 200 and 300. Because Sidis did not receive the necessary parental care, he gave up his job as a Harvard professor, after having become the youngest professor in history. For the rest of his life, he took a series of menial jobs and shunned all public attention. He never became a normal human.
Towers points out that highly-intelligent individuals are qualitatively different from the average human. They have capabilities that we simply do not posses. As Towers puts it, people above an IQ of about 150 have "seemingly new aspects (potentialities) or characteristics", "those with IQs above 150 are different in kind from those below that level. [One Source] is saying that they are a different kind of mind, a different kind of human being." Towers says near the end of his article, "And so we see that the explanation for the Sidis tragedy is simple. Sidis was a feral child; a true man born into a world filled with animals--a world filled with us." When you stop and think about it, the difference between the estimated IQ of a canine and that a normal human is the same as the difference between a normal human and an individual with an IQ of 170. So it makes sense to compare one of those children raised by wolves that we used to hear questionable stories about in the press in the 1970's to a highly-intelligent person raised by normal humans.
The bottom-line message of Towers' article is that we, as a society, are not doing an adequate job of encouraging highly-intelligent individuals to live up to their full potentials. Whether that is due to neglect, or simply because our society is incapable of it, our failure is a terrible tragedy, because our civilization has received such tremendous benefits over the millennia from having the successful ones with us.
Here is a link to Towers' article.
Copyright © 2019 terraaeon.com.
All rights reserved.