What’s It Like to Have an Extremely High IQ?

Albert Einstein
An undated portrait of Albert Einstein.

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Answer by Steven Mason, brand strategist and ideator, patent claims strategist, patent broker:

I was reading the newspaper (the news, finance, and sports sections) before I entered kindergarten (4 years, 10 months old). I also could add, multiply, and divide any numbers. I “discovered” the Fibonacci sequence when I was around 7, and when I was in first grade, I tested past eighth grade (the limit on the test) on both math and English. So did school bore me? Yes, to the nth degree. Almost everything I learned I learned myself. I read one to two books per day. Does this make some things easy? Sure—learning most things. I hear new ideas and new technologies I’ve never seen before and am able in a matter of hours or days of immersion not only to understand what’s going on but to explain them to others. I think faster, and I formulate thoughts whole. I barely need to edit anything I write; I barely need to break a sweat solving many difficult problems. Lawyers have asked me where I went to law school (I didn’t); doctors have asked me about my medical training (I don’t have any). If I’m interested in something, I learn it. But if I sit on my ass, that won’t make any difference, will it?

So if you have kids, don’t mainstream them. (I wasn’t intentionally mainstreamed; the schools were appallingly bad.) It’s torture. Like putting Michael Jordan in basketball camp with me.  Keep them challenged, and stoke their curiosity.

You have to learn how to communicate with others, and you have to also learn whom to choose as friends. I grok that Keeping Up with the Kardashians may really be “da bomb” for some people, as well as au courant gossip. But you also need to know how to explain recondite ideas, not only to your peers but to others. Because other people are in the real world, and unless you expect to live in a cloister, you need to know how to persuade and interact with everyday people you meet.

IQ isn’t morality. Ted Bundy had a high IQ. Obviously Osama Bin Laden wasn’t stupid either. Nor Mao, Stalin, or Hitler. (Stupidity isn’t morality, either, of course, but a smart sociopath can do a lot more damage than a stupid one.) So don’t presume that your high intelligence makes you morally superior to others: That’s up to your choices, and since you can likely see deeper, further, and more incisively, that’s a greater onus on you. Nor, of course, should you presume that those of average intelligence have a greater moral center. It’s individual choice.

So choose your friends wisely, seek challenges, and don’t be shy. Now, this doesn’t mean being an arrogant prick. But if you try simply to fit in and dumb yourself down (unfortunately, far more women than men fall prey to this), then you will bore yourself to death, and you will have sentenced yourself to solitary confinement. 

Look at it this way: If you were an elite mountain climber, you’d want to summit K2 and Everest and Denali. If you have great intellectual asperity, do you think that being (for life, not starting out) a barista or a bookkeeper or a receptionist is going to do it for you? No. It’s you who’s settling for such things, rather than demanding for yourself the challenge, wherever that may lie.

As to abilities: They are not distributed evenly, even among those of us who have very high IQs. I’m not good mechanically, so while surgery is intriguing to me, the fact that I’d likely butcher anyone I ever operated on makes that a nonstarter. I simply lack the 3-D and mechanical intelligence necessary to be a surgeon. Similarly, while I can imagine architectural greatness, I lack the ability to be an architect, so I’m not. Strive for the utmost in excellence where you possess those requisite skills needed to achieve said excellence. Don’t be Sisyphean in your approach to life. Know thyself.

Dating and marriage: You’re smart, very smart. So are you dating potential partners who are average in all respects? What in the world shall you talk to them about? When you’re questioning whether Nietzsche was actually a nihilist based on the most elegiac passages of Thus Spake Zarathustra, or when you marvel at Glenn Gould’s playing, or when you come up with a new sabermetric criterion, or when you think Black Adder is about 1,000 times wittier than The Big Bang Theoryjust what are you getting from your partner, and what are you offering him or her? There’s no there there. Choose wisely, and choose the wise.

Bosses: Not the capo di tutti capi kind. But face it: You can’t work for an idiot. If the person you’re working for isn’t very smart or at least capable of truly appreciating what you bring to the table, you’re in for a world of hurt. So don’t do that, either.

Instead, aim for eudaimonia, Aristotle’s term for the happiness in life that arises out of fulfillment. To be fulfilled, you must do things you like. You must associate with people, professional and personally, whom you respect and who offer something to you. You can be that solitary preacher inveighing against others or promoting something, but if you receive nothing back you become quickly an emptied vessel. If you find those more intelligent than you, have the self-confidence to welcome them and to learn from them. Otherwise you’ll be sitting atop the mountain and you may very well be a God, but whom precisely will you be ruling?

Also, join Quora. Don’t spend time arguing on Yahoo Answers. No matter who you are, you’ll find many people on Quora smarter than you—people from whom you can learn, as well as others to whom you can impart your own wisdom.

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