The Correlation between being Intelligent and being Peculiar

On April 1, 1898, a man named William James Sidis was born in New York City. His father, Boris Sidis, PhD, M.D., had emigrated from Ukraine in 1887 to escape political and anti-semitic persecution. His mother, Sarah Sidis, M.D., and her family had fled the pogroms in the late 1880s. By the age of 6, William Sidis was known to be the smartest man who ever lived.

His parents, Boris and Sarah, both doctors, delighted in their gifted son, spent their money on books and maps to encourage his early learning. But they had no idea just how early their precious child would catch on.

When William James Sidis was just 18 months old, he was able to read The New York Times. By the time he was 6 years old, he could speak in multiple languages, including English, French, German, Russian, Hebrew, Turkish, and Armenian.

William also invented his own language as a child although it’s unclear if he ever used it as an adult. The ambitious youngster also wrote poetry, a novel, and even a constitution for a potential utopia. He was notable for his 1920 book The Animate and the Inanimate, in which he speculates about the origin of life in the context of thermodynamics.

William was accepted in Harvard University at the age of 9. However, the school wouldn’t allow him to attend classes until he was 11. While he was still a student in 1910, he lectured the Harvard Mathematical Club on the incredibly complex topic of four-dimensional bodies. The lecture was nearly incomprehensible for most people, but for those who understood it, the lesson was a revelation.

William graduated from Harvard in 1914. He was 16 years old.

Much speculation has been made of William’s IQ. For context, 100 is considered an average IQ score, while below 70 is often viewed as substandard. Anything above 130 is considered gifted or very advanced. Some historical IQs that have been reverse-analyzed include Albert Einstein with 160, Leonardo da Vinci with 180, and Isaac Newton with 190.

As for William James Sidis, he had an estimated IQ of around 250 to 300.

Despite his intelligence, William struggled to fit in with the world. He was a loner and spent most of his times in seclusion. After he graduated from Harvard at the age of 16, he told reporters, “I want to live the perfect life. The only way to live the perfect life is to live it in seclusion. I have always hated crowds.”

At age 46, William died of cerebral hemorrhage. Found by his landlady, the most intelligent man known to modern history, left Earth as a penniless, reclusive office clerk.

On May 22, 1942, Ted Kaczynski was born in Evergreen Park, Illinois, to working-class, second-generation Polish Americans, Wanda Theresa and Theodore Richard Kaczynski, a sausage maker. Ted was a bright child, and he demonstrated an affinity for mathematics from an early age. From first to fourth grade, Kaczynski attended Sherman Elementary School in Chicago, where administrators described him as “healthy” and “well-adjusted”. In 1952, ten years after Ted was born, the family moved to southwest suburban Evergreen Park, Illinois; Ted transferred to Evergreen Park Central Junior High School. After testing scored his IQ at 167, he skipped the sixth grade.

The neighbors would say that they “never known anyone who had a brain like he did”; others said that Ted was “strictly a loner” who “didn’t play. An old man before his time”.

He enrolled at Harvard University when he was 16, and he completed his undergraduate degree in 1962. He entered graduate studies in mathematics at the University of Michigan, earning a Ph.D. in 1967 and taking an assistant professor position at the University of California at Berkeley later that year.

Ted had never been a social person, and at Berkeley he developed a disdain for technology and criticized the modern life. He left Berkeley in 1969 and spent the next few years drifting from city to city. In 1971 Kaczynski and his brother David purchased a plot of land near Lincoln, Montana, and it was there that he would spend most of the ensuing 24 years.

The man that the world would eventually know as the Unabomber — code name given for the UNiversity and Airline BOMbing targets involved — came to the attention of the FBI in 1978 with the explosion of his first, primitive homemade bomb at a Chicago university. Over the next 17 years, he mailed and hand delivered a series of increasingly sophisticated bombs that killed three Americans and injured 24 more. Along the way, he sowed fear and panic, even threatening to blow up airliners in flight.

Kaczynski was the subject of the longest and most expensive investigation in the history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In 1979, an FBI-led task force was formed to investigate the “UNABOM” case. The task force would grow to more than 150 full-time investigators, analysts, and others. In search of clues, the team made every possible forensic examination of recovered bomb components and studied the lives of victims in minute detail. These efforts proved of little use in identifying the bomber, who took pains to leave no forensic evidence, building his bombs essentially from “scrap”; in other words materials available almost anywhere.

The big break in the case came in 1995. The Unabomber sent the FBI a 35,000 word essay claiming to explain his motives and views of the ills of modern society. After much debate, the FBI approved publishing the essay in hopes that a reader could identify the author.

After the manifesto appeared in The Washington Post and The New York Times, thousands of people suggested possible suspects. It was Ted’s brother David who provided old letters and documents written by his brother. FBI linguistic analysis determined that the author of those papers and the manifesto were almost certainly the same. On April 3, 1996, investigators arrested Kaczynski and combed his cabin. There, they found a wealth of bomb components; 40,000 handwritten journal pages that included bomb-making experiments and descriptions of Unabomber crimes; and one live bomb, ready for mailing.

So now one would ask, is there a correlation between genius and isolation? Or what is the relationship between high intelligence and being a loner?

In 1926, psychologist Lewis Terman studied a group of 1500 pupils from California’s schools with an IQ of 140 to 170 and he followed them for more than 50 years through the highs and lows of their life. Together, they became known as the “Termites”.

As you might expect, many of the Termites did achieve wealth and fame — most notably Jess Oppenheimer, the writer of the classic 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. Indeed, by the time his series aired on CBS, the Termites’ average salary was twice that of the average white-collar job. But not all the group met Terman’s expectations — there were many who pursued more “humble” professions such as police officers, seafarers, and typists. For this reason, Terman concluded that “intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated”. Nor did their smarts endow personal happiness. Over the course of their lives, levels of divorce, alcoholism and suicide were about the same as the national average.

Here is when it gets more interesting: Pitzer College researcher Ruth Karpinski and her colleagues emailed a survey with questions about psychological and physiological disorders to members of Mensa. A “high IQ society,” Mensa requires that its members have an IQ of about 132 or higher.

The survey covered mood disorders (Depression, Dysthymia and Bipolar), anxiety disorders (Generalized, Social and Obsessive-Compulsive), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism. Respondents were asked to report whether they had ever been formally diagnosed with each disorder or suspected they suffered from it. With a return rate of nearly 75 percent, Karpinski and her colleagues compared the percentage of the 3,715 respondents who reported each disorder to the national average.

The survey of Mensa’s highly intelligent members found that there was a correlation between being highly intelligent and having a psychological disorder with more than a quarter (26.7 percent) of the sample reported that they had been formally diagnosed with a mood disorder, while 20 percent reported an anxiety disorder — far higher than the national averages of around 10 percent for each.

To explain their findings, Karpinski and her colleagues propose the hyper brain/hyper body theory. This theory holds that, for all of its advantages, being highly intelligent is associated with psychological and physiological “overexcitabilities,” or OEs. A concept introduced by the Polish psychiatrist and psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski in the 1960s, an OE is an unusually intense reaction to an environmental threat or insult.

Psychological OEs include a heighted tendency to ruminate and worry, whereas physiological OEs arise from the body’s response to stress. According to the hyper brain/hyper body theory, these two types of OEs are more common in highly intelligent people and interact with each other in a “vicious cycle” to cause both psychological and physiological dysfunction. For example, a highly intelligent person may overanalyze a conflict that takes place with someone, imagining negative outcomes that simply wouldn’t occur to someone less intelligent. That may trigger the body’s stress response, which may make the person even more anxious.

What we know for sure is that highly intelligent people see the world with an excess of lucidity, realism and logic, that inevitably leads to isolation, or in other words being more selective with whom to hang out with and in their interests, simply because it is more difficult to them to find people who view the world in the same perspective. The way I see it, there is continuous evidence and correlation between being highly intelligent and being “peculiar”. On a more fundamental level, I see being selective with friends, with the way someone would invest their time and the choice of activities is very indicative of the type of person someone is. My personal observation has led me to believe that people with lesser friends, whose time consists of doing solitary activities, who are more realistic with the way they perceive life, are more intelligent than others, without taking to Kaczynski’s extreme certainly. At least for most people who don’t feel the urge to constantly widen their social network, interact with people and do group activities, this could correlate with being intelligent.

I am a certified negotiator infatuated with persuasion strategies, heuristics, biases and the behavioral economics that underlie the way we think and operate.

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