"Young geniuses" and adulthood

While looking at old issues of Guinness, I noticed the case of Kim Ung-Yong–a 4 year old who spoke four languages, performed integral calculus, and had an IQ of 210. Michael Tan, a New Zealander who started a BS degree in mathematics at age 7, was also mentioned. What happened to these children? Do children who are far above normal intelligence become highly intelligent and academically regarded adults? Do people like Nobel Prize winners and high level academic experts have highly elevated intelligence as children?

It depends. The story of one such prodigy:


Here’s the Wikipedia entry on Kim Ung-Yong:


Here’s a webpage about Michael Tan’s sister:

Give us the names of a bunch of such child prodigies and we might be able to search for what they are doing now. My suspicion is that they are nearly all doing O.K., but they aren’t the absolute tops in their fields. I suspect that they are seldom failures but are also not significantly better than people who finish their degrees on the normal schedule with top grades.

Intelligence surely doesn’t necessitate success in life. Usually the super-smart one’s wind up holed up in their home w/ themselves because they can’t relate to normal people. Sometimes they get fascinated by one arm of research and become great at it.

Whenever I think of child prodigies, I always think back to Bobby Fischer . It’s hard to argue he wasn’t smarter than 99.9% of the world’s population, but he sure done screwed things up pretty badly in the long run.

I’m sure it’s easy to let the intelligence go to your head too, especially if everyone’s telling you how incredibly smart you are from age 3 on up.

I noticed something in law school: people who go to law school grew up smart. All through high school and college, they’d gotten used to being the smartest person in the class. But in law school, everyone used to be the smartest person in the class. Falling from the top to “somewhere in the middle” can be psychologically hard for some of those people to take. Some of them couldn’t deal with it and had mini-collapses.

So what I’m saying, I guess, is that some smart kids can’t deal with it when they’re confronted with others who are close to their level of intelligence, and sometimes they just fold. It’s much easier to hang with the ordinary folks and shine a little, than hang with geniuses and shine brightly.

I remember reading the story of a young Indian boy genius who actually became a Doctor at age 12 and after so many years of missing out on his childhood, he left everything behind and does some shitty job like laying bricks or something. Don’t quote me on what he does now, but it was something weird and totally out of character for him to be doing. I think I may have it bookmarked.

I’m not so sure I agree. Fischer was a genius at chess - possibly the greatest player who ever lived (though there’s some debate about that) - but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he posessed above-average or even average intelligence overall. I read a book by some old master (I think it was Lasker) who spoke of a lot of history’s chess greats being illiterate. And though Fischer was the cream of the crop, chess-wise, the rest of his life was a train wreck. He made decisions in his personal life that no person of average intelligence would dream of making. He had zero control over his mouth - something that, IMHO, bespeaks a lack of intelligence. And he held political, religious and sociological views that a person of average intelligence would realize were crap.*

Mastery of one particular discipline does not a genius make, IMHO.

I, for one, was recognized a genius at an early age, went through my school district’s gifted program, yada yada yada. But I had a severe bout of depression when I was in college, never made much of an effort at academia, did just enough work to get by, and now I’m slugging it out in a cubicle day in and day out. Life’s ironies, one supposes.

*I get that a lot of intelligent people have bizarre views, but in general, I think that intelligence is something of a filter that, in most cases, can keep Fischer-like beliefs out of a person’s head.

Are you me?

No, he’s me. Didn’t you recognize me?

How fleeting fame … :wink:

Here’s Wikipedia’s list of child prodigies:


Notice the following:

It’s not true that many child prodigies fail at what they’re doing at some point because they were screwed up by their early training. In general, they do quite well. Oh, a few never get anywhere because they became mentally ill or messed up by the circumstances of life or just decided they didn’t care what they did and thus gave up trying, but there are no more cases of such prodigies on average than you might expect for any group of random people.

They don’t generally become famous geniuses either though. Put it this way. Consider a prodigy who finishes high school at 12, college at 15, and a Ph.D. at a top department where the professors think that he is one of their best students in years. Now consider a very smart person who graduates from high school at 18, college at 22, and gets his Ph.D. from a top department where his professors, again, think that he is one of their best students in years. On average, the prodigy will do no better in his field than the person who went through school at the usual rate. You’re probably thinking, well, isn’t the fact that he went through school so much faster mean that he is a super-genius. Won’t he become a full professor at 25, get his Nobel prize at 28, and at 30 be so universally acknowledged as the smartest person on Earth that the Galactic Overlords will come for him and absorb his brillance into the Galactic Overmind? Well, no. He won’t do any better on average than the person who went through school at the normal speed and did well.

I knew one.

He did well. Did important work and advanced the general knowledge in his field. Normal social life. Nice family. Just a nice nice guy.

And got paid!

Private jet, Rollers, numerous homes, etc.

As usual can’t find a cite, but I remember reading somewhere that really exceptionally intelligent children present as much a challenge to educators (in terms of special educational requirements) as those with exceptional learning difficulties.

Back in the mid-'80s I read an article about Doron Blake, who’d been born via one of those “genius sperm banks.” He was about 4 at the time, and his mother (his sole caregiver) was gushing about how smart he was compared to ‘ordinary’ children. The article definitely left me with the impression that his mom was a fruitloop who saw Doron as an experiment rather than a son.

A few months back, one of the TV news shows here did a report on Doron, now in his mid 20s. They first interviewed his mother, who didn’t seem to have let up one bit on the “my son’s a genius!” routine in the intervening two decades, and if anything seemed even loopier. One thing the show noted was when she commented that she emails her son about 5 times a day.

Then they interviewed Doron, who lives by himself around Boston (IIRC). He was working (very happily, it appeared) as an elementary school teacher. The camera turned to his bookshelf (his mom had been going on about his reading Greek and Latin philosophy throughout his childhood) and he talked about his favorite books: Harry Potter and Make Way for Ducklings. The interviewer noted that there weren’t any math books (his math abilities were another of Mom’s bragging points), to which he answered that it wasn’t something he really did anymore. He didn’t seem to want to talk about his mother, and wasn’t exactly rushing to answer all those emails she was sending.

Overall, I got the impression that his childhood wasn’t a nightmare, but wasn’t much of a childhood either, that he’d gotten over it and was now doing what he wanted with his life rather than what his mother had planned out.

I remember a radio interview with two highly intelligent (Mensa minority-level) men who couldn’t name any advantage their exceptional IQ had brought them. Instead they talked how difficult it is to interact with people of average intelligence and how it has caused them occupational and personal problems.

Gauss, princeps mathematicorum, is the obvious example of a childhood prodigy who “made good”.


That’s not an example of someone who was messed up because of his intelligence. That’s an example of someone who was messed up because of his mother’s determination to keep interfering with his life well into his adulthood. From your description, it appears in fact that he wasn’t any smarter than average. His mother just thought he was.

It’s difficult to compare across generations, but any shortlist of the World’s strongest chess players certainly has Fischer on it.
Fischer had an incredible memory, excellent concentration and determination to succeed.

There isn’t a lot of information about the early World Chess Champions.
However Steinitz was a journalist, Lasker was a mathematician, Alekhine was an author (as were most of these guys), Euwe was a Doctor of Mathematics, Morphy had a law degree when he was 20, Botvinnik worked on computer chess programming and Capablanca was an honorary Ambassador for Cuba.
Modern World Champions usually speak at least two languages and write excellent books. Kasparov was a contributing editor to the Wall Street journal.

Sadly it’s perfectly possible to be both prejudiced and intelligent.

You can’t have an IQ of 210. There isn’t any test that can measure that high or anywhere close to it. If you know anything about normal curves, IQ tests (or tests of most types for that matter) become highly unstable at IQ’s above 160 or so. 210 is so absurdly high that it implies the child is the smartest person that has ever lived by many orders of magnitude.

Damn straight. I frustrated my kindergarten teacher to no end when she tried to read books to us and I wouldn’t pay attention. I had already read them.

Shagnasty writes:

> You can’t have an IQ of 210.

Ditto. Perhaps this is using the old definition of I.Q., which measured the I.Q. of children by giving them tests that were normed for each age and then finding out what was the highest age test that they could pass. In any case, that’s an old and inaccurate definition of I.Q. The modern definition of I.Q. uses a normal curve. You can’t have an I.Q. higher than about 185, since that already means that you’re the smartest person alive. You can’t have an accurately measured I.Q. above 160, since I.Q. tests aren’t normed to measure anything higher than that.

installLSC writes:

> While looking at old issues of Guinness, I noticed the case of Kim Ung-Yong–a 4
> year old who spoke four languages, performed integral calculus, and had an IQ
> of 210.

It’s not actually that suprising that a 4-year-old child could speak three languages. It’s clear that if a child is spoken to from birth by three people, each of whom uses a different language, then he will grow up speaking three languages with native fluency. Perhaps this would work for four languages. Bilingualism (or trilingualism or even quadrilingualism) is actually pretty common among children in many parts of the world.

> Do people like Nobel Prize winners and high level academic experts have highly
> elevated intelligence as children?

Are they recognized as highly intelligent as children? Usually they are, although occasionally they aren’t. Are they child prodigies who go though their educational career much faster than usual. In general they aren’t. A few are, but not that many really.