Just How Weird Are Smarts? By Brian Simpson
I have been attacking the IQ fetish of fellow sites such as American Renaissance for some years. My view is that IQ smarts are only one aspect, and a minor one of what constitutes “intelligence.” But, for today, here is a great comment from the loveable geek site, Quora on the weirdness of one of history’s greatest mathematicians, Kurt Gödel: how weird was Gödel?
“David Moore, General Practitioner
Updated Mar 15
Poor Kurt. He is one of my heroes, but he is a tragic figure. He reminds me of this old sketch showing death by tetany:
As many Quorans would know, the effect of clostridium tetani’s toxin is such that muscle relaxation is prevented and all of our muscular tissue is driven to exert its full diabolical power. In such cases it is not uncommon for the errector spinae to (quite literally) ‘break one’s own back’. Kurt Godel undoubtedly possessed one of the most powerful minds in history. Many of us forget that his most famous ‘incompleteness’ theorems which brought him toe-to-toe with Bertrand Russel as he exposed the Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems were published when he was only 25. However, he stands as something of an example of the fact that intellectual strength is not a virtue in itself and that massive minds can become monsters, especially to those who manifest them. I like to suggest ‘all knowledge is ironic’ and perhaps this is exemplified best by the fact that perhaps our greatest Logician died as a result of his own madness.
In the last years of his life, Godel was consumed by a paranoid delusion that he would be poisoned. Perhaps he was right, but such poisoning was only the result of endogenous neurochemistry. He refused to eat anything but the food his wife Adele prepared, and his chain of trust (in cryptographic terms) was so indecipherable that when she was hospitalised for a physical malady he literally stopped eating. Kurt Godel, one of the most brilliant and logical men who ever lived, died of self-induced starvation in a state of insanity. In summary, just as the applications of his famous work appear unlimited, Kurt Godel is a figure of infinite irony. He is almost the epitome of weirdness - uncanny, other-worldly - and possibly fated. I personally believe his madness and his genius were disparate manifestations of the same properties of his enormous intellect. To me, his life nearly crystallises the hair’s-breadth fulcrum that separates perception from imagination and science from solipsism. He is a most rebuking reminder that with great power comes great pain and unbridled strength leads only to destruction. In a way, he is the very incarnation of his work: no matter how sublime his understanding was - no matter what the profundity of his perception involved - the very mind that produced them was incomplete and this fact was exposed by its own functionality. One of the modern demigods of mentality was by definition and quite formally ‘a sandwich short of a picnic’. What could be more weird?”
I have observed from conferences, and sitting in on maths and physics courses, that all of these people are in some shape or form weird if not crazy, and that is just the low-level grunters that we have in Australia. So, there is a dark side to genius, with high personal costs. The idea expressed in American Renaissance that there is a decline in genius, and civilisation will therefore collapse, is a bit hysterical in my opinion. Things will keep ticking over as it is with the mediocre intellects that presently exist. There will be no dramatic breakthroughs, such as occurred in the past in the dawn of the age of science, no more Newtons, but that’s just the price of a civilisation getting old.