Tesla, Edison, Genius, and Loneliness (part 2/2)

Part 1 is here.

“If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.” — Confucius

This quote is one of my personal mottoes, but I have added a corollary: “If I am walking with only one man, I still have two teachers, for I may learn to achieve goodness from a man’s good side, and to avoid evil from a man’s bad side.”

At any rate, Edison is a man whose goodness instructs us on how to take brilliant ideas and build the structures necessary for them to benefit humanity. Edison is a man who literally built civilization and deserves credit for both seeing how the structures needed to fit together to work, and for having the skills necessary to actually bring people together and build those structures.

Tesla is a lesson on how society should not manage its creative geniuses, (and I don’t mean the dumb pay dispute with Edison.)

Tesla is an interesting character. He appears to have been one of the world’s exceedingly rare true short sleepers, which appears to be a genetic condition:

“Ying-Hui Fu … studies the genetics and other characteristics of short sleepers at her neurogenetics lab.

“Currently, Fu knows of three types of genetic mutations that are related to the ability to function well on minimal amounts of sleep, which often runs in the family. In a 2009 paper published in the journal Science, she described a mother and a daughter who shared the same genetic mutation of the gene DEC2 that allowed them to thrive on six hours of sleep per night. So far Fu has identified about 50 families of short sleepers.

“This group of short sleepers is unique,” Fu said, describing them as optimistic and energetic, often holding more than one job. …

“Interestingly, these high energy levels typical of short sleepers can sometimes reach behavioral extremes. For instance, a 2001 study published in the Journal of Sleep Research that examined the sleep patterns and personality of 12 short sleepers, researchers found some evidence of subclinical hypomania — a milder form of manic behavior, characterized by euphoria, disinhibition and, in fact, a decreased need for sleep.”

Please note that drinking 10 5-hour-energy drinks in a row is not the same as having a genetic mutation that lets you get by on less sleep. Chances are extremely likely that you, my friend, are already not getting as much sleep as you need for optimum health. Also, since very few short sleepers have actually been studied, what we think we know about them may not be entirely accurate; they may suffer long-term consequences that have not yet been documented, for example. I do wonder if chronic lack of sleep eventually got to Tesla, reducing him to a state of waking-dreaming toward the end of his life, when he began going obviously loopy.


Tesla’s rigidity of personality, behavior, and dress are reminiscent of the compulsive, repetitive, and restrictive behaviors associated with autism/Asperger’s Syndrome (now just another part of “autism” in the DSM,) eg,

“People with Asperger syndrome display behavior, interests, and activities that are restricted and repetitive and are sometimes abnormally intense or focused. They may stick to inflexible routines, move in stereotyped and repetitive ways, or preoccupy themselves with parts of objects.

“Pursuit of specific and narrow areas of interest is one of the most striking features of AS.[1] Individuals with AS may collect volumes of detailed information on a relatively narrow topic such as weather data or star names, without necessarily having a genuine understanding of the broader topic.” (Wikipedia.)

I’ve long thought it a problem that these definitions/descriptions make no effort to distinguish between “Aspies” and genuinely intelligent people, who simply have more ability to memorize facts of any sort and will learn about any subject in more depth than someone of ordinary intelligence. If we want to define high IQ as a mental disorder, then, well, I guess we can, but it seems like a bad idea to me.

Autistic children apparently also have difficulty sleeping, which is why many of them are being prescribed melatonin as a sleep aid (as I discussed back in Melanin, Sexuality, and Aggression.) However, these autistic kids appear to actually need more sleep than they’re getting; they just seem to have trouble turning off their brains and keeping them off long enough for a proper sleep.

Anyway, to get extremely speculative: Much like Fu’s short sleepers, the autistic people I have worked with personally (N=small) seemed like they had brains on overdrive. Imagine that a normal brain is an Amish buggy, going along at a nice, reasonable clip, and their brains are Formula One race cars. Brain speed in this case may have nothing to do with IQ, per say, or may in fact be detrimental to it–autistics are far more likely than the general population to test as mentally retarded–but I favor a theory that having a small quantity of autistic-like traits may be useful for people in fields or occupations that require high IQ, but large quantities of autistic-like traits cause too many negative side effects, resulting in full-blown autism. In Tesla’s case, he got the benefits of the massively high-powered, sped-up brain, with a side effect that he couldn’t turn it off long enough to get more than a few hours of sleep and lacked the normal social instincts that lead people to marry, have children, and generally form stable relationships with other people.

There’s a certain irony to Tesla advocating for sterilization of the unfit and hanging out with Nazi propagandist George Sylvester Viereck at the same time as the Nazis were ignoring Hans Asperger’s plea that his subjects be employed as codebreakers and executing them as mental defectives instead. But then, the Nazis are kind of a great big case of how not to treat your smart people.

To be fair, this is not evidence that Tesla actually supported the Nazis or their policies.

Back in Is Genius Fragile?, I discussed a recent paper in Molecular Psychology that claimed to have studied 1,400 students with IQs of 170 or above, and found no rare genetic alleles that were more common in them than people of normal or low IQ, but did find rare, deleterious alleles in regular/dumb people.

Edit: I just realized that for scheduling reasons, “Is Genius Fragile” actually got moved to mid-November. The Molecular Psychology paper is here.

But are such alleles actually deleterious? Tesla never married and had no children; neither did Isaac Newton. Einstein had three children, but one of them seems to have died in infancy and one was institutionalized for schizophrenia.

In other words, perhaps some of these alleles they’ve noticed aren’t deleterious, but actually helpful in some way. Perhaps, for example, there is an allele that codes for processes that help you turn off your brain at night and transition to certain sleep states. Without that allele, your brain is more “on” all the time, you feel more alert and can think more clearly than others without getting tired, but ultimately there are some bad side effects to not sleeping. Or perhaps the brain’s ability to see patterns is normally regulated by another mechanism that helps you distinguish between real patterns and false matches, which might malfunction in people like John Nash, resulting both in increased pattern-matching ability and in schizophrenia. By the way, I am totally speculating and might be completely wrong.

Please note that from the evolutionary POV, traits–like IQ–are not inherently valuable. A trait is adaptive if it leads to the continuation of your DNA into future generations, and is deleterious or maladaptive if it hinders the continuation of your DNA. If high IQ people do not have children, the high IQ is maladaptive and being selected out of the population. (Please note, also, that different environments, both physical and cultural, select for different traits. Had Tesla remained near his family back in Croatia, they might have helped arrange a marriage for him, leading eventually to children and romantic entanglements with someone who wasn’t a pigeon.)

However, even if high-IQ people never reproduced under any circumstances, their existence in a population might still be advantageous to the population as a whole–you probably enjoy having lightbulbs, electricity, cell phones, and other such things, for example. The development of vaccines, industrial agriculture, and modern theories about nutrition and hygiene have vastly expanded the Earth’s human population over the past hundred years, and would have done so even if the people involved had not had any children at all.

This is a somewhat complicated issue that depends on the interaction of a lot of variables, like whether society can consistently produce high-IQ people even if the high-IQ people themselves do not have many children, and whether the innovations of modernity will actually help us survive (the Amish, after all, have more children than your average person with a cell phone.) See: “How–and why–genius is group selected–massive cultural amplification” for some more discussion on the subject.

Regardless, I am operating under the assumption that society benefits from the existence of people like Tesla (and, of course, Edison.)

Anyway, back to Tesla and his job difficulties.

In “The Improperly Excluded,” Micheal Ferguson theorizes that there exists a maximum IQ difference between two people beyond which they cannot effectively communicate, which he places around 20 IQ points. (I think I discussed it here and here.) So a person with an average IQ of 100 can understand and communicate with someone with a 120 IQ, and someone with a 120 can understand a 140, but the 100 and 140 are essentially speaking Greek to each other; the 100 IQ person cannot make heads or tails of the 140’s thoughts, nor distinguish their claims from those of a crazy person or charlatan. If the 100 trusts the 120, the 120 can take advice from the 140 and recommend it to the 100, but beyond that, people of, say, 160 IQ are just too far removed from the average population to even get their ideas effectively communicated. Extremely high IQ people, therefore, may be improperly excluded from positions where they could actually do important work just because average people have no way to understand what they’re saying. Additionally, since extremely high IQ people are very rare, they may have to cope with a world in which almost no one they meet is within their comfortable conversation zone.

Note: see Hollingworth Fan’s comment below for some very interesting quotes on this subject.

Tesla, a guy who could do integer calculus in his head, was undoubtedly brilliant far beyond the common walks of man, and so seems to have faced the constant frustration of being surrounded by idiots like Edison. Upon Edison’s death, Tesla opined in the NY Times about his former boss:

“He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene … His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 percent of the labor. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor’s instinct and practical American sense.”

That idiot Edison, by the way, had six children, none of whom seem to have died in infancy or gone crazy. Three went into science/inventing, two were women, and I don’t know what happened to the fourth boy. Edison was undoubtedly helped in life by living in the same country as his family, but he also seems to have just been a more stable person who successfully managed to balance his work and social life. Edison: better adapted to his environment than Tesla.

Tesla’s genius was undoubtedly under-utilized. Tesla could not manage his own affairs, and so needed, at the very least, the strong structural support of a family that would prevent him from doing stupid things like gambling away his tuition money and dropping out of college, as well as a sound employer or university that would manage the business end of Tesla’s laboratory expenses and design implementation. Immigration to the US left Tesla without the support of his family, and his own stubbornness lead him to quit what would otherwise have been a productive career.

Additionally, Tesla’s ideas may truly have been too far ahead of their time for even other smart people to appreciate and understand. There were few people in the world at his level, and he must have spent much of his life completely isolated from anyone who could understand him. Even an employer willing to finance his schemes might not have been able to understand (and thus implement) some of them.

Isolation, I suspect, leads eventually to madness. Not because (or just because) isolation makes people lonely, which makes them depressed. But because the human animal is not designed to work in isolation.

In the extreme example, we know from observing people in solitary confinement that it breaks their brains and drives them insane.

In everyday life, our brains require regular feedback from others to make sure our ideas and impulses are correct. To give a trivial example, suppose I mention to my husband that a friend of mine did something today that really annoyed me, and he responds that I am misinterpreting things, that he heard from my friend’s husband that morning about some extenuating circumstances that explain her behavior and that I should not be annoyed with her. Likewise, he might come to me with a story about a co-worker who seems to be stealing his ideas, and I could help figure out if the guy really is.

Isolation removes this feedback, leading to more and more incorrect ideas.

In his recent post, “Mysticism and Pattern-Matching,” Scott Alexander writes:

“Think of top-down processing as taking noise and organizing it to fit a pattern. Normally, you’ll only fit it to the patterns that are actually there. But if your pattern-matching system is broken, you’ll fit it to patterns that aren’t in the data at all. …

“So hallucinations are when your top-down processing/pattern-matching ability becomes so dysfunctional that it can generate people and objects out of random visual noise. Why it chooses some people and objects over others I don’t know, but it’s hardly surprising – it does the same thing every night in your dreams.

“Many of the same people who have hallucinations also have paranoia. Paranoia seems to me to be overfunctioning of social pattern-matching. … When a paranoiac hears a stray word here, or sees a sideways glance there, they turn it into this vast social edifice of connected plots.”

Tesla’s claims to have been working on a “Death Ray” that turned out to be an old battery, his romantic entanglement with a pigeon, claims that “thieves” had broken into his hotel room in search of his “Death Ray” but not been able to find, and the Mythbusters’ thorough busting of his claims to have built an oscillator that nearly brought down the building and had to be destroyed with a sledgehammer all sound a lot like what Scott’s describing. As a guy who could do calculus in his head, Tesla had an extreme talent for pattern matching–perhaps too extreme. Scott continues:

“So to skip to the point: I think all of this is about strengthening the pattern-matching faculty. You’re exercising it uselessly but impressively, the same way as the body-builder who lifts the same weight a thousand times until their arms are the size of tree trunks. Once the pattern-matching faculty is way way way overactive, it (spuriously) hallucinates a top-down abstract pattern in the whole universe. This is the experience that mystics describe as “everything is connected” or “all is one”, or “everything makes sense” or “everything in the universe is good and there for a purpose”. The discovery of a beautiful all-encompassing pattern in the universe is understandably associated with “seeing God”.”

Recovered schizophrenics I’ve talked to report the exact same thing: both a mystical sense of the union of all things, and joy at the experience (though they also report that schizophrenia can be absolutely terrifying, because sometimes the voices are evil.)

And finally (at least for the quoting):

“I think other methods of inducing weird states of consciousness, like drugs and meditation, probably do the same thing by some roundabout route. Meditation seems like reducing stimuli, which is known to lead to hallucinations in eg sensory deprivation tanks or solitary confinement cells in jail. I think the general principle is that a low level of external stimuli makes your brain adjust its threshold for stimulus detection up until anything including random noise satisfies the threshold.”

Isolation/ lack of stimulus has a direct effect of lowering the brain’s threshold for identifying patterns until random background noise gets interpreted as conversation. (The general correlation between schizophrenia and low IQ could be partially an effect of smarter people being better at avoiding severe isolation, and dumber people being more likely to end up in situations where literally no one has a real conversation with them for years at a time.

Tesla seems to have been isolated in his own way, both by being far more intelligent than the vast majority of people, and so unable to converse properly with them, and also by having none of his family, kin, or fellow countrymen around. He even had to communicate primarily in a language that was hardly his first.

Long term, I suspect such isolation had a negative effect on Tesla’s sanity and ability to wisely conduct his own affairs.


Tesla is a difficult case, because he willingly walked away from what were probably excellent career opportunities, and there’s hardly anything anyone could do about his family being back in Croatia. However, since most people do live in the same country as their families, we can still draw some general conclusions:

Some really smart people may require significant support from society and/or their families/employers in order to properly function and fully realize their potential. Their families should probably step in and help them get married if they can’t do it themselves, at the very least to help keep them happy and stable.

The Wikipedia quotes physicist Y. S. Kim on the subject of P. A. M. Dirac (one of my favorite scientists)’s marriage to Margit Wigner, sister of Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist Eugene Wigner:

“It is quite fortunate for the physics community that Manci took good care of our respected Paul A. M. Dirac. Dirac published eleven papers during the period 1939–46…. Dirac was able to maintain his normal research productivity only because Manci was in charge of everything else.”

Dirac and Manci in Kopenhagen
Dirac and Manci in Kopenhagen

Alas, the Wikipedia does not give the details of how an autist like Dirac managed to marry Manci.

Really smart people may have some ideas that are astounding brilliant, and also have a lot of ideas that don’t work at all, because that is just the nature of creativity, but the average person probably can’t tell the difference. They need other people like themselves to bounce ideas off of and generally converse with. Their eccentricities are generally harmless, and the community is better off tolerating them.

Above all, try not to abandon them. Humans are not built to be alone.

11 thoughts on “Tesla, Edison, Genius, and Loneliness (part 2/2)

  1. This was intended as a short comment. It has turned into an info-dump. Of quotes. Uh…sorry? ;)

    “Micheal Ferguson theorizes that there exists a maximum IQ difference between two people beyond which they cannot effectively communicate, which he places around 20 IQ points.”

    Leta Hollingworth is the one who originated this theory, back around 1920 or so, based on clinical observations of her high-(Binet-)IQ subjects. :looks: From /Gifted Children: Their Nature and Nurture/, 1926, Chapter 5:

    What has been termed “social intelligence” is no doubt merely a certain fortunate /combination/ of temperamental and physical traits, with an optimum amount of intelligence. What is here meant by “an optimum amount of intelligence” will immediately be explained.

    In observing who are the popular leaders in various groups of children, it appears to the present writer that the intelligence of the leader is related in a fairly predictable manner, other traits being favorable, to the intelligence of the led. Among children with a mean IQ of 100, the IQ of the leader is likely to fall between 115 and 130 IQ. That is, the leader is likely to be more intelligent, /but not too much more intelligent/, than the average of the group led. If there is in an ordinary group of children a child of about their own mean age, relatively large, handsome, amiable, courageous, generous, and strong, and of IQ between 115 and 130, such a child is likely to be a leader (due regard being had to social attitudes governing leadership as related to sex). Above 130 IQ, however, the chances of leadership among a group such as described, appear to decrease till, beyond [ratio] IQ of 160 [approximately equal to deviation IQ of 145], a child has very little chance of being a popular leader. In a group with a mean IQ at 130, however, a child of IQ as high as 160 may well lead, for such a group gives allegiance to a degree of insight above that which wins the average group, other traits being favorable.

    These remarks will be clarified by a concrete illustration, taken from among public school children of New York City. A nine-year-old boy of [ratio] IQ 190 [deviation IQ would be about 165 on an accurate test which went that high], whom we may call J., was found in the fifth grade of a public school. He had been in that school since arriving at school age and had never exercised any form of popular leadership at any time. On the contrary, attention had been called to his case because he lived in practical isolation from the play life of the school. He had never been elected to any office in his classes during his school career. After mental examination this boy was removed to a special opportunity class, where the mean IQ of the group was 164. Before the remainder of that school year had elapsed, he was elected first to be editor of the class paper and then to be classroom monitor; the former, “because J. knows so much”; the latter, “because J. will make us behave.” During the second year, J. was elected captain to lead in various contests of skill against other classes….

    To one who has repeatedly observed such incidents it seems clear that such leadership as J. now exercises is founded largely on the IQ’s of his group. Among his former classmates, or among others like them, he would doubtless be retired to his former isolation and obscurity. In one group he has “social intelligence”; in the other, he lacks it….

    It is apparently a fact of social psychology that a group does not seek of its own accord to follow one who is too intelligent to be well understood by its members, and that the individual, in turn, does not seek leadership in groups more than a certain number of degrees below him intellectually.

    Moving on. A reaction to both this and the previous post: Edison got himself removed from school after only three months. Tesla got himself kicked out of school also, but later. For one thing, that’s not a coincidence; for another, Tesla is not the one with the advantage there. What makes you think unaltered, age-in-grade school is good fit for very high-IQ people? All attempts at research say it’s a very bad fit.

    Since I have Hollingworth in front of me…ibid, chapter 9:

    Another generalization that can be made about these children [with ratio IQs above 180] is that nearly all have been school problems. They do not fit into the routine of the school. In many cases neither they nor their teachers understand the reason for the misfit. Even such gross misinterpretations are possible as that the trouble is due to stupidity, willfulness, or nervousness on the part of the child. Adequate analysis of the situation is possible only by means of mental tests.

    …and in chapter 10 she mentions Edison:

    Meadowcroft, in his biography of Thomas Edison, relates that Edison, “on account of his supposed delicacy, was not allowed to go to school at as early an age as is usual. And when he did go, it was not for long. He was usually at the foot of the class, and the teacher had spoken of the boy to a school inspector as being ‘addled.’” Hearing of this report, Edison’s mother, who was an experienced teacher, removed him from school and instructed him at home. The biographer gives us these facts about Edison’s early training:

    “The quality of the education she gave him may be judged from the fact that before he was twelve years old he had studied the usual rudiments and had read, with his mother’s help. Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Hume’s History of England, Sear’s History of the World, Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, and the Dictionary of Sciences.”

    Only 3 months of *education*? No.

    …and then there’s Hollingworth’s later (1931–“The Child of Very Superior Intelligence as a Special Problem in Social Adjustment”), more widely quoted summation:

    Where the gifted child drifts in the school unrecognized, held to the lock-step which is determined by the capacities of the average, he has little to do. He receives daily practice in habits of idleness and daydreaming. His abilities are never genuinely challenged, and the situation is contrived to build in him expectations of an effortless existence. Children up to about 140 IQ tolerate the ordinary school routine quite well, being usually a little young for grade through an extra promotion or two, and achieving excellent marks without serious effort. But above this status, children become increasingly bored with school work, if kept in or nearly in the lock-step. Children at or above 180 IQ, for instance, are likely to regard school with indifference, or with positive distaste, for they find nothing interesting to do there.

    Subsequent research has found the same. :shrug:

    Hollingworth also made many of your same points about isolation. You should assimilate her work. ;)

    …oh, here (1931):

    [T]he play of the highly intelligent works out in practice as a somewhat difficult compromise among their various powers. They follow their intellectual interests as far as they can, but these are checked in many ways by age, by degree of physical immaturity, and by tradition. An eight-year-old of IQ 160 may, for example, be deeply interested in tennis, but he is likely to be more or less kept from playing because his physical development is not yet equal to the demands of the game. He may love to play bridge, but others of his age who are available as playmates do not, of course, know how to play bridge, and he is not allowed to sit up at night when his elders play.

    By trial-and-error experience, the highly intelligent child has to work out an adjustment if he can, but there is likely to be noticeable difficulty if he tests above 170 IQ. In the ordinary course of events, it is hard for such a child to find playmates who are congenial both in size and in mental interests. Thus many of those who test very high are finally thrown back upon themselves, and tend strongly to work out forms of solitary, intellectual play…. Reading, calculation, designing, compiling collections, constructing an “imaginary land,” evoking imaginary playmates–these forms of play stand out prominently….

    Of six young children testing above 180 IQ, known to the present writer, only one [footnote: “This child attended a private school where a number of the pupils tested above 40 IQ.”] had no conspicuous difficulty in play, during early childhood. The other five were all so divergent from the usual in play interests that parents and teachers noticed them. They were unpopular with children of their own age because they always /wanted to organize the play/ into a complicated pattern, with some remote and definite climax as the goal. As the mother of one six-year-old said, “He can never be satisfied just to toss a ball around, or to run about pulling and shouting.” Children of six years are ordinarily incapable of being interested in long-sustained, complicated games which lead to remote goals, but are, on the contrary, characteristically satisfied only by the kind of random activity which bored this child of 187 IQ. The playmates of ordinary intelligence naturally resented persistent efforts to reform them and to organize them for the attainment of remote goals. Furthermore, they did not have in their vocabulary words that the gifted child knew well, used habitually, and took for granted. Literally, they could not understand each other. The result was that the child of IQ 187 did not “get along” with those of his own age and size. But when he sought to join the play of children /of his own mental age/ (above 12 years), the six-year-old was rejected by them also, as being “a baby” and “too little to play with us.” The child, thus thrown back upon himself, developed elaborate mathematical calculation, collecting, reading, and games with imaginary playmates, as his chief forms of play….

    The problem of how the play interests of these children can be realized is one that will depend largely on individual circumstances for solution. Often it can be solved only by the development of solitary play.

    What, if any, effect the habitual evocation of imaginary playmates, and the elaboration of the imaginary land, may exert on character formation and habits of adjustment in adulthood is at present unknown.

    And…back to school…Tesla’s experience in college reminded me of this case history:

    The history of J. M., a ten-year-old girl of IQ 190 (Stanford- Binet), was presented by Washburne, in 1924. This girl was a pupil in the public schools of Winnetka, Illinois, where the school system is operated on the plan of individual instruction and individual subject promotions….

    Her school record shows that she entered the Chicago schools in the first grade, in September, 1919. The teacher of first grade immediately discovered that she knew too much for that grade, and had her placed in the second grade. There she remained until the following April, when her family moved to Winnetka…. June, 1922, found her, therefore, doing advanced sixth-grade reading, through with sixth-grade spelling, almost through with sixth-grade arithmetic, and promoted to the seventh grade in language. She was then nine years old….

    In spite of the fact that she was so clearly ready for seventh-grade work in the fall of 1922, we hesitated about having her come from the lower grade school to our junior high school. She was smaller and younger than any of the children in the junior high, and we felt that she was already so far advanced that still more progress was perhaps undesirable. But she had formed a warm attachment for two girls a year or so older than herself, both possessed of high IQ’s, and she felt that there would be nothing for her to do in the sixth grade, if we held her back. This was so obviously true that we admitted her to the junior high school with an agreement that she would remain there until she was twelve years old.

    We felt that while she doubtless could do the work of the junior high school within a year, or at the most in a year and a half, since our junior high contains only the seventh and eighth grades, she ought not to go to the senior high school too young. We agreed to give her a widely enriched curriculum of electives and special courses, to keep her active and happy for three years. But it didn’t work!

    When she found that no effort on her part would get her through any sooner, she stopped making effort. The end of the first year (June, 1923) found her with 7th grade cooking, 7th grade art, and 7th grade pottery, all incomplete. She had taken up general science toward the end of the year, and of course had not finished it either….

    The general feeling of the teachers, and of J. M. herself…was that she had “loafed on the job” a good deal, had been over-confident, and had “let down” generally when the stimulus of rapid advancement was taken away. This gives us some inkling as to what would have happened to her in a regular school system, where the class lock-step is the rule. This year J. M. is taking a straight eighth-grade course with one elective, and is tying up the loose ends left undone at the end of last year….

    The child’s strong desire to move forward…and the undesirable effect on her of our last year’s experiment in holding her back regardless of her effort or ability to go forward, have resulted in our decision to let her graduate this coming June.

    Finally (relating to one more issue you touched on):

    At home, a special problem of discipline may arise occasionally due to the circumstance that a child, while still very immature in years, has come to exceed one parent or both in intelligence. For the best discipline, /the parent must be more intelligent than the child/ or the child’s respect for the opinions of the former will inevitably be lost. With the most gifted children this may quite early become a problem, since such children, by the age of ten years or before, are more intelligent than the average adult is. Very readily such a child perceives that in comparison with himself his parent is slow-witted and lacking in general information. Yet in self-control and in experience of life, the child is still very immature. Thus quite unfortunate developments may ensue in the parent-child relationship.

    and (/Children Above 180 IQ/, 1942):

    The very gifted child or adolescent, perceiving the illogical conduct of those in charge of his affairs, may turn rebellious against all authority and fall into a condition of negative suggestibility — a most unfortunate trend of personality, since the person is then unable to take a cooperative attitude toward authority.

    A person who is highly suggestible in a negative direction is as much in bondage to others around him as is the person who is positively suggestible. The social value of the person is seriously impaired in either case….

    It is especially unfortunate, therefore, that so many gifted children have in authority over them persons of no special fitness for the task, who cannot gain or keep the respect of these good thinkers. Such unworthy guardians arouse, by the process of “redintegration,” contempt for authority wherever it is found, and the inability to yield gracefully to command.

    Thus some gifted persons, mishandled in youth, become contentious, aggressive, and stubborn to an extent which renders them difficult and disagreeable in all human relationships involving subordination. Since subordination must precede posts of command in the ordinary course of life, this is an unfortunate trend of personality.

    …well, I didn’t set out to quote you this *much* Hollingworth…but hey. ;)

    Anyway, you’ve obviously gone farther than Hollingworth in some areas, and I basically agree with you. I usually have nothing to say (other than “I agree” or “Yeah I’ve had the same thought”), but I always enjoy reading your posts. :)

    In particular:

    “I’ve long thought it a problem that these definitions/descriptions make no effort to distinguish between “Aspies” and genuinely intelligent people, who simply have more ability to memorize facts of any sort and will learn about any subject in more depth than someone of ordinary intelligence. If we want to define high IQ as a mental disorder, then, well, I guess we can, but it seems like a bad idea to me.”

    We do. Partly because of the social problems it does cause: In the trenches, it feels like “He just has a social disability, he’s disabled, repeating a grade won’t cure his ‘social immaturity,’ oh and appropriate academics won’t worsen it” will defuse envy and maybe even get the kid appropriate academics. But I agree that long-term, it’s a bad idea.


    • Thanks for all the quotes! They have been very useful/insightful.

      I know a kid who could work with negative numbers when he was 4 and is in special ed for behavior/developmental issues at school. He already asks questions his teachers can’t answer (not many teachers of small children can tell you how many Plank times have occurred since the beginning of the universe.) His parents aren’t dumb; it’s just a genuinely difficult case to deal with, because the kid isn’t developmentally “normal”. (Even if he might be “normal” around other kids like himself, he has to learn how to cope with the rest of the world.)


  2. Intellectual stimulation doesn’t have to come from the face-to-face contact. Intelligent people cope better with isolation, because they have it easier if when it comes to keeping themselves busy.

    What about people who grew in a hostile environment? With not especially amazing human beings for relatives, for example? Patterns of behavior which lead to self-isolation are difficult to break. Add little positive motivation to do so (as for someone more intelligent a discussion with someone less intelligent forces them to reframe their thoughts into ‘baby-talk’, which is tiresome) and you could easily produce someone like Tesla.


    • The internet is a wonderful invention and I love the way it lets people converse, but I suspect it cannot fully substitute for real life interaction with people like oneself.

      Hostile environments probably make people unhappy and, yes, isolated.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s