August 2, 2016

On 13 October 2014 at 9:32 A.M. my ninety-two (92) year old mother died of Alzheimer’s.   It was a very peaceful passing but as her only son it was very painful to witness her gradual memory loss and the demise of all cognitive skills.  Even though there is no cure, there are certain medications that can arrest progression to a point.  None were effective in her case.

Her condition once again piqued my interest in intelligence (I.Q.), smarts, intellect.  Are we born with an I. Q. we cannot improve? How do cultural and family environment affect intelligence? What activities diminish I.Q., if any?  Just how much of our brain’s abilities does the average working-class person need and use each day? Obviously, some professions require greater intellect than others. How is I.Q. distributed over our species in general?

IQ tests are the most reliable (e.g. consistent) and valid (e.g. accurate and meaningful) type of psychometric test that psychologists make use of. They are well-established as a good measure of a general intelligence or G.  IQ tests are widely used in many contexts – educational, professional and for leisure. Universities use IQ tests (e.g. SAT entrance exams) to select students, companies use IQ tests (job aptitude tests) to screen applicants, and high IQ societies such as Mensa use IQ test scores as membership criteria.

The following bell-shaped curve will demonstrate approximate distribution of intellect for our species.

Bell Shaped Curve

The area under the curve between scores corresponds to the percentage (%) in the population. The scores on this IQ bell curve are color-coded in ‘standard deviation units’. A standard deviation is a measure of the spread of the distribution with fifteen (15) points representing one standard deviation for most IQ tests. Nearly seventy percent (70%) of the population score between eighty-five (85) and one hundred and fifteen (115) – i.e. plus and minus one standard deviation. A very small percentage of the population (about 0.1% or 1 in 1000) have scores less than fifty-five (55) or greater than one hundred and forty-five (145) – that is, more than three (3 )standard deviations out!

As you can see, the mean I.Q. is approximately one hundred, with ninety-five percent (95%) of the general population lying between seventy (70) and one hundred and fifteen percent (115%). Only two percent (2%) of the population score greater than one hundred and thirty (130) and a tremendously small 0.01% score in the genius range, greater than one hundred forty-five percent (145%).

OK, who’s smart?  Let’s look.


  • Gary Kasparov—190.  Born in 1963 in Baku, in what is now Azerbaijan, Garry Kasparov is arguably the most famous chess player of all time. When he was seven, Kasparov enrolled at Baku’s Young Pioneer Palace; then at ten he started to train at the school of legendary Soviet chess player Mikhail Botvinnik. In 1980 Kasparov qualified as a grandmaster, and five years later he became the then youngest-ever outright world champion. He retained the championship title until 1993, and has held the position of world number one-ranked player for three times longer than anyone else. In 1996 he famously took on IBM computer Deep Blue, winning with a score of 4–2 – although he lost to a much upgraded version of the machine the following year. In 2005 Kasparov retired from chess to focus on politics and writing. He has a reported IQ of 190.
  • Philip Emeagwali-190. Dr. Philip Emeagwali, who has been called the “Bill Gates of Africa,” was born in Nigeria in 1954. Like many African schoolchildren, he dropped out of school at age 14 because his father could not continue paying Emeagwali’s school fees. However, his father continued teaching him at home, and everyday Emeagwali performed mental exercises such as solving 100 math problems in one hour. His father taught him until Philip “knew more than he did.”
  • Marlyn vos Savant—228. Marilyn vos Savant’s intelligence quotient (I.Q.) score of 228, is certainly one of the highest ever recorded.  This very high I.Q. gave the St. Louis-born writer instant celebrity and earned her the sobriquet “the smartest person in the world.” Although vos Savant’s family was aware of her exceptionally high I.Q. scores on the Stanford-Benet test when she was ten (10) years old (she is also recognized as having the highest I.Q. score ever recorded by a child), her parents decided to withhold the information from the public in order to avoid commercial exploitation and assure her a normal childhood.
  • Mislav Predavec—192.  Mislav Predavec is a Croatian mathematics professor with a reported IQ of 190. “I always felt I was a step ahead of others. As material in school increased, I just solved the problems faster and better,” he has explained. Predavec was born in Zagreb in 1967, and his unique abilities were obvious from a young age. As for his adult achievements, since 2009 Predavec has taught at Zagreb’s Schola Medica Zagrabiensis. In addition, he runs trading company Preminis, having done so since 1989. And in 2002 Predavec founded exclusive IQ society GenerIQ, which forms part of his wider IQ society network. “Very difficult intelligence tests are my favorite hobby,” he has said. In 2012 the World Genius Directory ranked Predavec as the third smartest person in the world.
  • Rick Rosner—191.  U.S. television writer and pseudo-celebrity Richard Rosner is an unusual case. Born in 1960, he has led a somewhat checkered professional life: as well as writing for Jimmy Kimmel Live! and other TV shows, Rosner has, he says, been employed as a stripper, doorman, male model and waiter. In 2000 he infamously appeared on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? answering a question about the altitude of capital cities incorrectly and reacting by suing the show, albeit unsuccessfully. Rosner placed second in the World Genius Directory’s 2013 Genius of the Year Awards; the site lists his IQ at 192, which places him just behind Greek psychiatrist Evangelos Katsioulis. Rosner reportedly hit the books for 20 hours a day to try and outdo Katsioulis, but to no avail.
  • Christopher Langan—210.  Born in San Francisco in 1952, self-educated Christopher Langan is a special kind of genius. By the time he turned four, he’d already taught himself how to read.  At high school, according to Langan, he tutored himself in “advanced math, physics, philosophy, Latin and Greek, all that.” What’s more, he allegedly got 100 percent on his SAT test, even though he slept through some of it. Langan attended Montana State University but dropped out. Rather like the titular character in 1997 movie Good Will Hunting, Langan didn’t choose an academic career; instead, he worked as a doorman and developed his Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe during his downtime. In 1999, on TV newsmagazine 20/20, neuropsychologist Robert Novelly stated that Langan’s IQ – said to be between 195 and 210 – was the highest he’d ever measured. Langan has been dubbed “the smartest man in America.”
  • Evangelos Katsioulis—198. Katsioulis is known for his high intelligence test scores.  There are several reports that he has achieved the highest scores ever recorded on IQ tests designed to measure exceptional intelligence.   Katsioulis has a reported IQ 205 on the Stanford-Binet scale with standard deviation of 16, which is equivalent to an IQ 198.4.
  • Kim Ung-Young—210.   Before The Guinness Book of World Records withdrew its Highest IQ category in 1990, South Korean former child prodigy Kim Ung-Yong made the list with a score of 210. Kim was born in Seoul in 1963, and by the time he turned three, he could already read Korean, Japanese, English and German. When he was just eight years old, Kim moved to America to work at NASA. “At that time, I led my life like a machine. I woke up, solved the daily assigned equation, ate, slept, and so forth,” he has explained. “I was lonely and had no friends.” While he was in the States, Kim allegedly obtained a doctorate degree in physics, although this is unconfirmed. In any case, in 1978 he moved back to South Korea and went on to earn a Ph.D. in civil engineering.
  • Christopher Hirata—225.   Astrophysicist Chris Hirata was born in Michigan in 1982, and at the age of 13 he became the youngest U.S. citizen to receive an International Physics Olympiad gold medal. When he turned 14, Hirata apparently began studying at the California Institute of Technology, and he would go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in physics from the school in 2001. At 16 – with a reported IQ of 225 – he started doing work for NASA, investigating whether it would be feasible for humans to settle on Mars. Then in 2005 he went on to obtain a Ph.D. in physics from Princeton. Hirata is currently a physics and astronomy professor at The Ohio State University. His specialist fields include dark energy, gravitational lensing, the cosmic microwave background, galaxy clustering, and general relativity. “If I were to say Chris Hirata is one in a million, that would understate his intellectual ability,” said a member of staff at his high school in 1997.
  • Terrance Tao—230.  Born in Adelaide in 1975, Australian former child prodigy Terence Tao didn’t waste any time flexing his educational muscles. When he was two years old, he was able to perform simple arithmetic. By the time he was nine, he was studying college-level math courses. And in 1988, aged just 13, he became the youngest gold medal recipient in International Mathematical Olympiad history – a record that still stands today. In 1992 Tao achieved a master’s degree in mathematics from Flinders University in Adelaide, the institution from which he’d attained his B.Sc. the year before. Then in 1996, aged 20, he earned a Ph.D. from Princeton, turning in a thesis entitled “Three Regularity Results in Harmonic Analysis.” Tao’s long list of awards includes a 2006 Fields Medal, and he is currently a mathematics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
  • Stephen Hawkin—235. Guest appearances on TV shows such as The SimpsonsFuturama and Star Trek: The Next Generation have helped cement English astrophysicist Stephen Hawking’s place in the pop cultural domain. Hawking was born in 1942; and in 1959, when he was 17 years old; he received a scholarship to read physics and chemistry at Oxford University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1962 and then moved on to Cambridge to study cosmology. Diagnosed with motor neuron disease at the age of 21, Hawking became depressed and almost gave up on his studies. However, inspired by his relationship with his fiancé – and soon to be first wife – Jane Wilde, he returned to his academic pursuits and obtained his Ph.D. in 1965. Hawking is perhaps best known for his pioneering theories on black holes and his bestselling 1988 book A Brief History of Time.


The individuals above are living.  Let’s take a very quick look at several past geniuses.  I’m sure you know the names.

  • Johann Goethe—210-225
  • Albert Einstein—205-225
  • Leonardo da vinci-180-220
  • Isaac Newton-190-200
  • James Maxwell-190-205
  • Copernicus—160-200
  • Gottfried Leibniz—182-205
  • William Sidis—200-300
  • Carl Gauss—250-300
  • Voltaire—190-200

As you can see, these guys are heavy hitters.   I strongly suspect there are many that we have not mentioned.  Individuals, who have achieved but never gotten the opportunity to, let’s just say, shine.  OK, where does that leave the rest of us? There is GOOD news.  Calvin Coolidge said it best with the following quote:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. “

President Calvin Coolidge.

I think this says it all.  As always, I welcome your comments.


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