High intelligence is a strange quality that people simultaneously deride and praise. Anyone who’s too smart is mocked as a “nerd”, but anyone who agrees with us is dubbed “brilliant” (and not in the overused English sense).
If you actually do have a high enough intelligence quotient for Mensa — 132 on the Stanford-Binet measure of intelligence — your experience of life is going to be different than that of those in the average range, which is generally accepted to be 85-115. If your IQ is over 145, you are considered a “genius”, and have an inner life even more removed from that of everyone else.
This can have a number of downsides. Following are seven of the worst.
7. Social isolation
All the other kids hate you because you’ve ruined the curve, and you also don’t understand their fascination with much of the popular culture. You’re reading “Lord of the Rings” and “1984” while they’re going to the mall to do nothing…which seems bizarre to you. This continues into adulthood, when everyone is tweeting about “Dancing With the Stars,” but you are speed reading blogs on hermeneutics or non-abelian gauge theory while binge watching “Firefly” again.
Kids might make some friends in an advanced studies class or gifted program, but they, like you, are overburdened with homework and overscheduled with activities. They may also be set up by adults as your rivals, which leads me to…
6. The pressure
Highly intelligent adults start off as highly intelligent kids, who are categorized and shoved into enrichment programs the moment any adult recognizes that they’re gifted. A skilled violinist may be eight, but she has three hours practice a day in addition to two hours homework. A math prodigy may be encouraged by her parents to start on college prep courses before she’s even received her first training bra. A kid who’s writing stories in first grade may be in four art camps each summer, which gives him no time to play (art camp is usually a college class, FYI).
True story: there was a little girl who took a math test with 5 extra credit points available. That little girl got 103 on that test, where her classmate, Kerri Rowe, got 104. The little girl’s father yelled at her for not beating Kerri Rowe, because how will she ever get into medical school without being the best?
That little girl was seven years old. She also hated Kerri Rowe, when they clearly should have been friends. Kerri Rowe probably hated me…um, I mean that little girl, right back.
5. Nobody understands you, and you don’t understand them.
It’s easy to imagine why normal people don’t understand high IQ people. It may be harder to see why high IQ people are perplexed by normal people. Here is a hypothetical (possibly paraphrased) conversation between a genius and a normal, well adjusted person.
Genius: Good morning, Phil! How was your weekend?
Phil: It was great! My Chiefs beat the crap out of the Raiders. Did you see it?
Genius: I’m sorry, to what are you referring?
Phil: Football, of course!
Genius: Ah, yes! American or FIFA?
Don’t get me wrong. A lot of geniuses love the NFL. They also confuse each other. Here is another such conversation:
Genius Boy: So, I was reading about Hegelian Dialectics this weekend…
Genius Girl: What? Why waste time? We have a calculus test on Monday.
Genius Boy: I find both pursuits admirable and enjoyable.
Third Genius: What are you people talking about? Oh, has anyone seen my notes on adenosine triphosphate?
First Two: What??
This would be like…trying to describe “The Twilight Zone” to someone who loves “Supernatural” while someone who digs “The X-Files” listens in. Oh, speaking of which…
4. It’s so hard to shut off your brain.
It is incredibly hard to just enjoy things. All TV shows are wrong. Just ask any lawyer, doctor, cop, or military vet. Every show portrays specialized work requiring specialized intelligence wrong. Maybe this is why so many hyper smart people love science fiction and fantasy…there’s nothing to mess up.
It is also hard to fall asleep, hard to unsee awful things, impossible to forget terrible social faux pas or slights, and you can be inspired to write an aria at three in the morning. The brain never stops going.
3. Achievement is not guaranteed.
This may seem counterintuitive, but many people really are too smart for their own good. Highly intelligent people can be paralyzed by choices. Should I be a medical doctor, a bassoonist, a lawyer, a particle physicist, an architect? ARGH!!
Some are so bored in school they actually end up dropping out, only to pursue an eclectic career path that yields little to no income. Some are so good at school and being rewarded by teachers that they flounder in the work world, where bosses can be capricious and jealous of smart employees. Heck, some teachers are intimidated by their gifted students.
2. Ignorance as to what isn’t known
This little monkey knows his intellectual and social limitations, which is more than we can say for our friends over 145. Am I saying geniuses are stupid? Well, sometimes, and in specific ways.
We’ve all called someone “book smart, but not street smart,” and that describes many geniuses to a tee. Some are so smart in their specific area of expertise that they discount and disdain those who are gifted in others (take doctors and lawyers, for example). You may also see some geniuses arrogantly making fun of people who watch “Dancing With the Stars”…if they knew what it was.
Meanwhile, the creators of DWTS are rolling around naked in their swimming pools full of money, while your average genius has taken on an adjunct teaching position to pay down student loans.
There’s an epistemological blind spot in many highly intelligent people that staggers normals when they meet them. “Wait, did he actually not know that the average person doesn’t join chess club?” I’ve personally witnessed brilliant people talk to everyone else like it’s normal for earthlings to have memorized the periodic table. This is both sweet and annoying.
This blind spot exists because geniuses frequently don’t recognize the importance of experience in acquiring knowledge. You have to go out and do regular stuff to obtain that experience, and hence a broader depth of knowledge. Not everything can be learned in a book, as much as that pains me to admit.
So, sometimes, brilliant people come off as arrogant, rude, spacey, or naive. It can lead to the number one worst part of having a high IQ, which is —
High IQ doesn’t cause depression, but there is a strong correlation due to a tendency to over analyze and agonize over a variety of things that do not even occur to other people. For example, when looking for pictures to accompany this article, I assiduously avoided anything with equations on a blackboard because I couldn’t tell if they were wrong or from a field of mathematics I don’t know. I might have been finished an hour ago if I’d just picked something “smart looking”.
Caring too much, in a way that isn’t emotional so much as custodial, is a hallmark of high intelligence. It causes arguments with relatives who don’t think things through and buy expensive products off the television without checking for their efficacy. It creates tension in relationships when you don’t want to say anything because you might have to deal with someone’s emotions. Then they perceive you as cold.
You notice things that are wrong that other people just kind of accept. Even if you had a wonderful, supportive childhood and have a great life now, you still fret over things that don’t bother anyone normal. This can be incredibly isolating.
The cure for high IQ, funnily enough, is wisdom. Once you are finally smart enough to admit that nobody is smart enough, you can poke fun at yourself, stop worrying, and learn to love Da Bomb (where before, you corrected everybody who used that expression). Wisdom is intelligence and experience combined, which is a very powerful combination we can use to do more good than harm.
Think Gandalf over Saruman. C’mon, fellow nerd. I know you get that reference.