Prometheus Society
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©By Grady M. Towers

(From The Prometheus Society's Journal, Gift of Fire Issue No. 22, April 1987. This article was re-issued in Issue 72, March 95.)
This was provided by Robert Dick who says "The Outsiders" is his favorite Gift of Fire article. As the [former] Prometheus Society Membership Officer, he recommends "The Outsiders" as a good view of the high-IQ condition.

His name was William James Sidis, and his IQ was estimated at between 250 and 300 [8, p. 283]. At eighteen months he could read The New York Times, at two he taught himself Latin, at three he learned Greek. By the time he was an adult he could speak more than forty languages and dialects. He gained entrance to Harvard at eleven, and gave a lecture on four-dimensional bodies to the Harvard Mathematical Club his first year. He graduated cum laude at sixteen, and became the youngest professor in history. He deduced the possibility of black holes more than twenty years before Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar published An Introduction to the Study of Stellar Structure. His life held possibilities for achievement that few people can imagine. Of all the prodigies for which there are records, his was probably the most powerful intellect of all. And yet it all came to nothing. He soon gave up his position as a professor, and for the rest of his life wandered from one menial job to another. His experiences as a child prodigy had proven so painful that he decided for the rest of his life to shun public exposure at all costs. Henceforth, he denied his gifts, refused to think about mathematics, and above all refused to perform as he had been made to do as a child. Instead, he devoted his intellect almost exclusively to the collection of streetcar transfers, and to the study of the history of his native Boston. He worked hard at becoming a normal human being, but never entirely succeeded. He found the concept of beauty, for example, to be completely incomprehensible, and the idea of sex repelled him. At fifteen he took a vow of celibacy, which he apparently kept for the remainder of his life, dying a virgin at the age of 46. He wore a vest summer and winter, and never learned to bathe regularly. A comment that Aldous Huxley once made about Sir Isaac Newton might equally have been said of Sidis.

For the price Newton had to pay for being a supreme intellect was that he was incapable of friendship, love, fatherhood, and many other desirable things. As a man he was a failure; as a monster he was superb [5, p. 2222].
There was a time when all precocious children were thought to burn out the same way that Sidis did. The man most responsible for changing this belief was Lewis M. Terman. Between 1900 and 1920 he was able to carry out a study of about a hundred gifted children, and his observations convinced him that many of the traditional beliefs about the gifted were little more than superstitions. To confirm these observations, he obtained a grant from the Commonwealth Fund in 1922, and used it to sift a population of more than a quarter of a million children, selecting out all those with IQs above 140 for further study. That group has been monitored continuously ever since. Many of the previously held beliefs about the gifted did indeed turn out to be false. The gifted are not weak or sickly, and although the incidence of myopia is greater among them, they are generally thought to be better looking than their contemporaries: They are not nerds.

Nevertheless, in his rush to dispel the erroneous beliefs about the gifted, Terman sometimes made claims not supported by his own data. In fact, in some cases, the data suggests that exactly the opposite conclusion should have been drawn. Terman's own data shows that there is a definite connection between measured intelligence and mental and social maladjustment. The consequences of misinterpreting these data are so grave that it will pay to re-examine them in some detail.

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