You may have heard of a man by the name of Christopher Langan. I first learned of him a few years back, when he was profiled on some television show or other. He has, apparently, one of the highest IQs ever measured; it is said to be somewhere in the vicinity of 200. He has had, however, rather a different life than one might have expected: after a boyhood in Montana in which he suffered with a brutally abusive stepfather and a rural educational system that had no idea what to do with him, he drifted through various jobs and ended up as a bouncer in a Long Island bar.
I will confess that I am fascinated by his story. Although I am obviously not in his league — if the numbers are correct, it may well be that nobody is — I was also a precocious boy who didn’t fit in, and had many similar troubles with schooling, including being two grades ahead of my age group. I was utterly disaffected with it all by the time I got to high school, did not follow the academic path that was expected of me, and ended up making my living in a recording studio. (There the similarity ends, however.)
There is an interview with Mr. Langan available on YouTube, in three parts here, here, and here. He makes a difficult impression; we normally expect a certain diffidence from people, a bit of hand-waving dismissal when the conversation comes round to ways in which they exhibit superior traits. Mr. Langan, however, will have none of it. Asked if he is a genius, his answer is yes. Asked if he has ever met anyone as intelligent as he is, the answer is no. You can hardly blame him — if he actually has an IQ of 200, the question for him must be similar to asking Shaquille O’Neal if he is huge, or if he has met people that are as large as he is. (Similar, that is, but not the same: an IQ of 200 would make Mr. Langan a far more exotic specimen in terms of intelligence than Mr. O’Neal is in terms of size.)
Added to what must be the alienating fact of his cognitive uniqueness is the social fact that people tend to resent others who are obviously smarter than they are. Mr. Langan has been on the receiving end of that all his life, and it would be hard to imagine that he doesn’t feel rather alone. His manner is not, shall we say, chummy. Adding to the odd impression he makes is the complete absence, in his speech, of any of the little placeholders that we are used to hearing: the “ums”, “likes”, “you-knows”, and so on. He makes plain assertions in a grainy baritone voice, and then falls silent.
In the linked interview we have glimpses of his vision of the world: that it is a place ruled by dimwits, much in need of governance by an intellectual elite, and with little hope of improvement until the race is improved by eugenics. We are acculturated, these days to have a reflexively negative reaction to such opinions — but if we take an honest look around, it is awfully hard to escape the conclusion that the world is indeed run by dimwits, would benefit from governance by its most intelligent citizens, and that the gene pool could surely use a little chlorine. I am sure that at the very least Mr. Langan would like to feel less alone.
All in all, a most curious and unusual man.
Christoher Langan has published a paper outlining what he calls The Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe: A New Kind of Reality Theory, which I think I will have a look at. You can find it here.