I’ve mentioned the unusually high incidence of  certain kinds of weirdness among prominent mathematicians and physicists.  I wondered if there may be a few deleterious mutations that increase intelligence but make you squirrelly – and there may be, but  there is an easier way.   Imagine someone with very high intelligence who is much more interested in math than any normal person –  in a way that would  have reduced fitness in past environments, and likely in this one as well.  If you take two mathletes with equal talents and unequal obsessions, the guy who has a life is going to be far less productive.

This is fairly obvious, but I think that there is an interesting implication.  The sort of personality we’re talking about is something like autism.  I hate to use that word, because I think autism is probably a not a good natural category, but it’s useful in this case.  Anyhow,  high-functioning autism is far more common in males than females:  maybe as much as 15 times more common.

At the highest levels of achievement in math and physics, men far outnumber  women,  maybe as much as 100-fold.  This may account for a fair bit of that difference.





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97 Responses to Focus

  1. Gilbert P says:

    The ‘unfitness’ of the really smart is interesting – kind of opens the door for materialist analysis. Since analysis is hard, here is an anecdote:
    I know a guy who has barely done a day’s work, pushing fifty, he spends his time cultivating his 2600 (or something, I don’t know, chess appals me) world ranking. I understand father was a genial CEO type who never had the luxury to be a board-game bum. The IM naturally sees his father as a Philistine-with-trust-fund.
    I hate to sound like a Commie – my moustache is a lot narrower than Stalin’s – but hyper smartness is a bourgeois phenomenon; (and, yes, there were Soviet geniuses, but they ran on residual bourgeois fuel.)

    • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

      Well, of course there has to be a surplus to support all people who are not immediately productive.

      • Gilbert P says:

        You would need to know this fellow to fully appreciate your elegant understatement in ‘not immediately productive.’

    • jorge videla says:

      so true. but the soviets supported their chess masters and their biathletes. was that bourgeois?

      the marxists and the men of affairs will never get that ordinary everyday life is just not enough for human beings.

  2. dearieme says:

    A friend of mine – a particle physicist – used to do maths admissions interviews for his Cambridge college. One year he was pressed into service to do Computer Science admissions interviews on the grounds that he was experienced in interviewing Strange People.

    • little spoon says:

      The thing about weirdness is that it implies a lack of uniformity. It would be one thing if all mathematicians were weird in a consistent way (which they might be), but it becomes harder to analyze accurately if their weirdnesses are all weird to each other.

      Greg said-

      “If you take two mathletes with equal talents and unequal obsessions, the guy who has a life is going to be far less productive.”

      Yeah, the desire to focus on the abstract intensely for hours on end is unusual. Does this desire seem to be associated with a consistent kind of personality affect?

      If you would rather focus on math instead of people, you are not that interested in immediate social feedback. Perhaps that lack of interest allows for mathletes to develop in ways that go in their own direction, separate and different from normal social expectations. Perhaps the lesser need for social stimulation is connected with mathletes not really being aware of what normal social expectations are. Perhaps they cannot internalize them or perhaps they really do not care due to lack of interest.

      Also, is mathlete weirdness consistent across all ethnicities? Are jewish, chinese, wasp and Indian mathematicians all equallly likely to be strange? That would be interesting to know. I think if mathletes from one ethnicity were more likely to be weird than mathletes from other ethnicities, this would actually be the strongest implication that there math weirdness is some kind of a tradeoff deficit and not simply the result of a lot of abstract imagination.

  3. Antifreeze says:

    Back in the day, in Yeshiva there were prayer and Talmudic study fanatics (“illuim” or geniuses) we used to call “Aspergers people” ( as reflection of their semi-functional autism spectrum) . It was reflection of the frustration of relating to them on emotional and personal level. The situation was made worse because the culture considered these people the highest form of a human being and historically elevated them to the position of guidance and leadership (still true by the way as the very idea of Jewish cultural survival is the ability to abstract from reality no matter what). One might say the the birth of the Chassidik movement and Baal Shem Tov revolution of the 18th century was the rebellion against the dominance of these very types. With mixed results I might say.

    But here is more fodder to your ashkenazi selection thing.

  4. Antifreeze says:

    There were a smart take on the Talmudic genius (in the academic framework) in the Israel film Footnote

    You might enjoy it.

  5. pauljaminet says:

    This is an important point, but much more general. Genetic variations in tastes, interests, and desires may be as or more important in outcomes than genetic variations in intelligence. Especially if the outcome is the result of a choice, ie whether to follow careers in science — choices are driven by tastes, desires, and preferences.

    • reiner Tor says:

      There’s a correlation. Doing something that you’re good at is more rewarding than doing something where you fail. So I would enjoy doing mathematics than say Erdős Pál, because I’m worse, and part of the reason why I’m worse is because I practice much less – but even with his hours of practice I would be a miserable mathematician, especially compared to him. And I don’t enjoy party because I have less inclination to do that kind of thing, but also partly because I’m just simply worse.

      • pauljaminet says:

        Yes, talent and desire/pleasure are highly correlated, so it would be hard to disentangle their relative importance … both are clearly important.

      • jorge videla says:

        ” talent and desire/pleasure are highly correlated”

        why assume there’s any difference? just because there are two different words? why shouldn’t intelligence as measured by school achievement or iq tests not be partially the result of some personality traits?
        g actually falls apart for sufficiently large batteries.

      • Pincher Martin says:

        “why assume there’s any difference [between talent and desire]?”

        Because they’re not anywhere close to being perfectly correlated.

        Didn’t you say in another thread that you’re a math major?

        “why shouldn’t intelligence as measured by school achievement or iq tests not be partially the result of some personality traits?”

        I don’t know about “desire,” but school achievement and “conscientiousness” are correlated in a way not entirely explained by IQ.

        “g actually falls apart for sufficiently large batteries.”

        You mean like bodily-kinesthetic and moral intelligences? Well, if you’re going to consider athletes like Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning and Manny Cabrera and moral giants like Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and St Francis of Assisi geniuses, then yeah you will stretch g past the breaking point.

      • jorge videla says:

        so everywhere else the correlation between academic achievement and social pathology and iq holds, but not for the korean japanese?

      • jorge videla says:

        “Because they’re not anywhere close to being perfectly correlated.”

        in saying that you’ve already assumed there’s a difference as if both could be measured.

        no g falls apart for any large enough battery of perfectly objective cognitive tests.

      • misdreavus says:

        “so everywhere else the correlation between academic achievement and social pathology and iq holds, but not for the korean japanese?”

        Did you even read the papers cited in that blog post? Of course you haven’t, as obnoxious and self confident as you are. The only source claiming that Koreans score “15 to 16 points” lower on IQ tests than the Japanese comes from a paper by Robert Sternberg, which admits verbatim that there is no reliable IQ data on Koreans living in Japan. (And whether or not there is a difference in scores between the two ethnic groups, YOU made a quantitative claim about the IQ gap, NOT me.)

        Korean residents in Japan may be overrepresented in the Yakuza, but in every other domain they are no more likely to rape, steal, or murder than their compatriots everywhere else. My lying eyes don’t deceive me — there isn’t even a close analogue of the sort of social dysfunction you see in the favelas of Brazil or the crumbling ruins of inner-city Detroit anywhere in Japan, including Korean-majority ethnic enclaves in major cities such as Osaka. Enough with this nonsense.

      • Pincher Martin says:

        “in saying that you’ve already assumed there’s a difference as if both could be measured.”

        I assumed nothing. I simply responded to what you wrote.

        When a commentator said that “talent and desire/pleasure are highly correlated,” you rhetorically asked, “why assume there’s any difference? just because there are two different words?”

        The obvious answer is that desire and talent aren’t even close to being perfectly correlated. So, yes, you ought to assume there’s a difference between the two. Even just using a little commonsense and reflection, you ought to assume there’s a difference.

        “no g falls apart for any large enough battery of perfectly objective cognitive tests.”

        I don’t see that claim made in your Scientific American source at all. Schonemann does make it in your first link, but his argument is an old one, which Jensen accounted for long ago by breaking up the tests to represent various g‘s and showing the similarity of all their scores. Once we see that all the scores are similar and that they all have empirical validity, what do we care whether or not Jensen has changed Spearman’s original conception of g?

      • jorge videla says:

        “Korean residents in Japan may be overrepresented in the Yakuza, but in every other domain they are no more likely to rape, steal, or murder than their compatriots everywhere else.”

        i’ll have to look that up. i don’t believe it.

      • jorge videla says:

        “which Jensen accounted for long ago”

        was that a joke?

      • jorge videla says:

        >>“Because they’re not anywhere close to being perfectly correlated.”

        in saying that you’ve already assumed there’s a difference as if both could be measured.<<

        pincher, i suggest you reread my response and think about it this time.

  6. James says:

    At the very highest levels, I’m not sure. Gauss vs Erdos.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      Now this is what I call focus. It was reported that Gauss was interrupted while working on a problem and informed that his wife was dying. He responded with “tell her to wait a minute until I am done.”

  7. Patrick Boyle says:

    I think you’re right. Weirdness is an advantage in many abstract fields.

    I was very active in college activities. I was a participant in every single extracurricular activity as an undergraduate at George Mason and the head of most of them. I was the epitome of well rounded. I was also school Bridge champion. So I started going to the Bridge Center in a rotten part of downtown Washington DC. I needed better competition.

    But there I ran into ‘bridge bums’. These were what we would today call the homeless. They would literally sleep in the gutter – if the gutter was near the Bridge Center. I got my clock cleaned. I was interested in Bridge. They had nothing else in their lives but Bridge.

    Like the fighter in Mailer’s story “The Man who Fought Sugar Ray” when I met someone who was much, much more than a match for me – I quit. I never played Bridge again for twenty years.

    • Glossy says:

      This made me imagine Weird Al Yankovic doing a parody of RHCP’s “Under the Bridge” about Bridge geniuses who sleep under bridges. “I don’t ever WANNA bid the way I bid that day.”

  8. reiner Tor says:

    Nobody suggested yet Perelman might not be a genius, he might just have white privilege? Let me be first. If only Trayvon Martin could have received the education Perelman had, or some other kind of education better fitted for him, he would have resolved the Poincaré conjecture as well.

    OK, maybe it was the Yiddishe Mamma. But sure there’s nothing genetic about it.

    • jorge videla says:

      that take is itself “autistic”. black parents are about as bad as it gets. the heritability of iq for children raised in poverty is 0, and japanese koreans do even worse than american blacks relative to the majority. maybe no perelman, but newton and gauss weren’t jewish either were they? neither was euclid. i have a book with title, “great jewish mathematicians prior to 1800”. it’s got one page which says, “get some empathy already!”

      • Yes, 1800 was the year discrimination against jews ended 😉

        There have been so many great thinkers that came from the most destitute of conditions that I find your point rather weak. Faraday lived on a loaf of bread a week.

      • jorge videla says:

        there’s A LOT more to being a good parent than feeding your children.

      • misdreavus says:

        There is absolutely no evidence that Zainichi Koreans score lower than Japanese on IQ tests — and in either case, they sure don’t act like it. Why isn’t Osaka a decrepit shithole on par with Detroit or Newark, NJ?

      • jorge videla says:

        so everywhere else the correlation between academic achievement and social pathology and iq holds, but not for the korean japanese?

      • Pincher Martin says:

        Jorge Videla,

        Your link says nothing about the IQ of Koreans in Japan. It specifically says, “[t]here have not been any IQ tests on Koreans in Japan….”

        It then goes on to say that “…but [Korean-Japanese] show a similarly low achievement academically [to Burakumin]…”, but gives no proof for that claim other than a 22-year-old source filtered through John Ogbu, who would appear to be a questionable scholar to rely on.

        I’m pretty sure you know nothing about Koreans in Japan. A quite famous Korean-Japanese is Softbank founder Masayoshi Son, who according to Wikipedia is still the second richest man in Japan despite losing nearly 70 billion U.S. dollars since the bubble burst. Try finding the equivalent of an African-American who founded a high tech company in the United States and later became one of the richest men in the country. And, no, Oprah doesn’t count. (There are also far fewer Koreans in Japan than there are African-Americans in the United States, so the ratio of Koreans to the overall Japanese population doesn’t explain it.)

        Son adopted a Japanese name to avoid discrimination, but that probably made him unusual. Many Korean-Japanese of his era didn’t even go to Japanese-language primary and secondary schools or claim Japanese citizenship or marry Japanese spouses, which might explain why many of them didn’t bother to attend Japanese universities in the 1980s. Assimilation didn’t appear high on their list of priorities. Even calling them Korean-Japanese is something of a misnomer since to Americans that assumes citizenship or at least some desire to assimilate. Is it different today? Perhaps, but you don’t have a contemporary source. You have a 22-year-old source from John Ogbu.

        I find you a remarkably ignorant man. You’ve been filling up the comment section here over the last couple of weeks, and I’ve yet to see you make one informative post. Yet I’ve seen you brag twice that Steve Hsu wanted your saliva for his little experiment. If so, I’m beginning to see where he went wrong. I can tell you’re a moron and I didn’t even need your spit.

      • Wanderer says:

        there’s A LOT more to being a good parent than feeding your children.

        Indeed. For example, the genes you bequeath the are far more important than most things you do when they are growing up.

    • Jaim Jota says:

      Isnt autism what we used to call introversion?

    • Matt says:

      That may how things were…

      Jaim the distinction, now, as I understand it is that

      – people classified with autism tend to have poor understanding of social situations, reading emotions, etc, to the degree they become low functioning in terms of building an independent life and have various emotional problems.

      – where introverts show good social understanding and cognition but find social situations, particularly parties, exhausting or not that pleasurable, so avoid them.

      There are various sources of overlap (this is not exactly cleaving nature at the root) in that people who don’t understand social situations won’t generally enjoy them, while people who find social situations to be tiring won’t necessarily acquire as much social experience or be as motivated to please others, and so may have poorer acquired skills as a result.

      Still the basic distinction seems to be, introversion – “normal skill and cognition, but being in social situations tends to be exhausting and unrewarding” vs autism – “can’t achieve functionally normal levels of skill or cognition, and is awkward, with no variation in behavior due to effort”.

  9. bob sykes says:

    Two bloggers who write on creativity and psychoticism are:

  10. Glossy says:

    I think that on average there is probably a tradeoff between the quickness and the depth of thought. The sort of people who have quick reactions and are good at multitasking often find it difficult to concentrate on a single task for long periods of time. They’re extremely bored by it. The sort of people who can concentrate on a single task for hours, alone and in total silence, are often bad at multitasking and respond to stimuli slowly. One of the many problems with the movie The Social Network was its abundance of quick, witty repartee. Nerds can be witty, but not in real time.

    One can’t find math interesting if one doesn’t understand it. And it’s impossible to understand it without putting in a lot of time looking at books and computer screens, alone, concentrating very hard for hours on end.

    • IC says:

      Einstain fits classic nerds then. It is about type I and II intelligence according to Jensen.

    • “I think that on average there is probably a tradeoff between the quickness and the depth of thought.”

      This is not the case. There are IQ tests that contain very simple tasks, but that have strict time limits, such that very few people are able to finish them all within a given amount of time (not too unlike the general GREs or the GMAT). Then you have tests where the subjects are allowed to spend as much time as they like, but the tasks grow progressively harder and only a very few people are able to get the last tasks right. These two types of tests produce the same rank ordering.

      This is a classic result in psychometrics.

      • Glossy says:

        I would be more interested in the relationship between reaction times on the one hand and performance on tests like an untimed version of the old GRE’s analytical portion. The deficit that nerds experience during conversations ranges from fractions of a second to maybe 2 – 3 seconds at the most. That’s quite enough to throw one out of tune with one’s interlocutors, but would that really show up on a 30-minute test?

        The old GRE’s analytical portion was made up of the kind of questions that had to be diagrammed and repeatedly turned in one’s head to be answered correctly. That definitely measured focus and depth.

        I’m sure one could devise tests that would measure the ability to multitask. Someone probably already did.

      • little spoon says:

        “The deficit that nerds experience during conversations ranges from fractions of a second to maybe 2 – 3 seconds at the most. ”

        I never heard that IQ produces any kind of deficit in conversations. Nerds may think they are experiencing some kind of deficit- perhaps it is because of other personality factors or perhaps it isn’t real.

      • jorge videla says:

        they produce approximately the same ordering. if the result is that pure speed and pure power tests are correlated perfectly then there is no such result.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        “This is a classic result in psychometrics.”

        If people do the test, but in real-life the people who get bored fast might not take the test and go off and do something more fun instead.

        I don’t deny the results but i think age of puberty is also a factor because it effects the sit-still-ability needed to learn at those ages. So *maybe* mathletes are weird because they are *both* particularly high IQ *and* particularly late developers

    • Matt says:

      There may be two angles

      1) Faster brains and better thought on the one hand being largely the same thing, for the same reason that having a better clock speed on your computer allows you to write and allows it to run more powerful software.

      2) On the other hand, there is an element where brain networks switch / are actived/deactivated for different tasks in ways that may not be simply related to processing speed, and which might not be captured by batteries of timed-easy and untimed-hard tests that invoke the same networks (where no network switching element is involved).

      For instance,

      “In neuroscience, the default mode network is a network of brain regions that are active when the individual is not focused on the outside world and the brain is at wakeful rest … During goal-oriented activity, the DMN is deactivated and another network, the task-positive network (TPN) is activated.”

      “The default mode network is an interconnected and anatomically defined brain system that preferentially activates when individuals engage in internal tasks such as daydreaming, envisioning the future, retrieving memories, and gauging others’ perspectives. It is negatively correlated with brain systems that focus on external visual signals.”

      “In humans, the default mode network has been hypothesized to generate spontaneous thoughts during mind-wandering and may relate to creativity. Alternatively, default mode activity may represent underlying physiological processes going on in the brain that are unrelated to any particular thought or thoughts. In particular, reduced default network activity has been associated with autism, overactivity with schizophrenia, and the default network is preferentially attacked by the buildup of beta-amyloid in Alzheimer’s disease.”

      • Is the thinking that it is much harder for the one to switch out of DMN and the other to switch in? (You could view that from the other side, I suppose, switching in or out of the task network. It might matter.)

        I am reviewing in my head conversations with people who have fixed delusions. One characteristic is that many of them cannot even bear to listen to a challenge to their interpretation. They cannot sit and calmly let you finish and then quietly insist, “no, you’re wrong.” They have to leave the room, shouting, before you can even finish the sentence.*

        We don’t get so many autistic folks at my facility, so I have little intuitive sense of their conversation under pressure, but my nonclinical experience with folks on the spectrum is that they have no trouble listening to your alternate theory of why their marriage is falling apart – listening quite intently, even – but then launching into a narrow argument contradicting your theory on the basis of a very few immovable factors.

        Both are a very stark contrast with what most people do with information that does not fit their current understanding. One could say, inelegantly, that the one vomits it out while the other excretes it undigested.

        *Confusing this further, these are much more likely to have a secondary psychiatric diagnosis, especially OCD or some affective component (mania more often than depression). I could make up three or four theories why that is, but none that I buy.

    • norkuat says:

      I´m not sure about the tradeoff. What about Von Neumann? Or it is that what was shallow form him is very deep for us.
      Nerds like Zuckerberg have higher V than M (lots of techies with this setup) so they are witty and pedantic. More exuberant than your average asian nerd..

  11. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:
  12. IC says:

    You gain some thing and you lose some thing. A general rule of life.

    But most people can not see both side of coin in life.

  13. Do you think that autistic math geniuses have low genetic loads?

  14. dave chamberlin says:

    I am been struck by how much variation there is in humanity in intelligence. Compare it to height for example where a standard deviation is 3 inches which translates to only 4.5% of total height. A person with an IQ 15 points higher (1 standard deviation) than another can grasp in his minds eye a picture far more than 4.5% more complex than a person with an IQ that is 15 points lower. Mankind has evolved as a highly interdependent social group which rewards a large variation in intelligence. The one genius inventor living 10,000 years ago may not have reproduced because of his terrible social skills but he might create an invention that benefits thousands for generations to come. Contrast this to height. My NFL sized sons enjoy and benefit from being extra extra large, but before 1900 my wife would have died in childbirth trying to deliver them. We have evolved as a species to have a very large spectrum in regards to intellectual focus.

    • Dan says:

      A genius inventor living 10,000 years would have been more likely to benefit directly from his invention and reproduce, no? The fruits of his invention would have gone to him and those closely related to him.

    • dearieme says:

      It’s an interesting point. As a friend of mine used to say, for ability you really need to use a log-normal scale.

    • anon says:

      “I am been struck by how much variation there is in humanity in intelligence. Compare it to height for example where a standard deviation is 3 inches which translates to only 4.5% of total height. A person with an IQ 15 points higher (1 standard deviation) than another can grasp in his minds eye a picture far more than 4.5% more complex than a person with an IQ that is 15 points lower.”

      I agree with this to an extent, but there’s really no way to compare the two as it all depends on context–there’s no common unit of measurement. One could say that the complexity gained by 1 SD IQ is absolutely trivial when viewed on the scale of human intelligence vs. other mammalian species’ intelligence. Flipped the other way, six inches of height (2 SD) in a basketball setting certainly provides much more than a 9% advantage.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        I am comparing apples and oranges, I tried to contrast how differently evolution has shaped population variation in IQ as compared to height. There is no large reward to the group at large for one individual being 3 standard deviations taller than the average. But there sure can be for genius. I would guess that evolution has been stretching as it were the bell shaped curve upon which IQ variation lies for a very long time. There, I think I said what I meant to say in my first comment in a much clearer way. The social oddballs with asbergy like focus may not have had as many children but as Dan pointed out the fruits of his inventiveness would have gone to his relatives possibly for many generations to come so that evolution would have strongly rewarded their continued existence.

  15. Matt says:

    Depends a bit on if the guy who doesn’t have a life is depressed and dysfunctional about not having a life and about how the social interactions he inevitably gets caught up in collapse in dissatisfying and embarrassing ways. That could get in the way of achievement (IQ matched “autists” apparently don’t go to college at the same rates as normals, and that might be part of the reason).

    But assuming he’s blase about not having a life and is brisk and dismissive about his social mishaps…

    I would think male autists seem likely to be more arrogant and less in need of emotional reinforcement – more selection for competition, less for nurturing.

  16. 420blazeitfgt says:

    “At the highest levels of achievement in math and physics, men far outnumber women, maybe as much as 100-fold.”

    I’ve heard that in other species too males outnumber females at the extremes of traits. Is this true ?

  17. jorge videla says:

    mathematical talent is something which would have been invisible for most of human history, yet mathletes and physicists like steve hsu still think of math in the same way goethe thought of chess “the touchstone of the intellect”. but weren’t there smart people and stupid people before 1800?

    hardy admitted that most of higher maths is useless. his excuse was that he was NOT good at anything else. so much for g.

    ANY specialty makes the specialist stooped. and if the specialty never involves people then the specialist will lack people skills. adam smith describes pin making and its subspecialties. the sine quo non for a diagnosis of asperger’s is a restricted interest, an inch wide and a mile deep. but this is exactly the sort of personality the market rewards.

    • reiner Tor says:

      mathematical talent is something which would have been invisible for most of human history

      I’m not so sure. People were trading before the invention of positional notation (actually before the invention of writing itself), when arithmetics was considered to be very difficult. Methinks people with some mathematical abilities could probably often outsmart people who only had some hidden talents in other fields (like the hidden talent for basketball), so visible or not, it was probably very useful, even if you only occasionally engaged in commerce. If it was your job, then I guess it was even more useful.

    • norkuat says:

      He was talking about pure math. Some kinds of applied math are “very high”. But, overall, he was wrong. See:
      And then you also have finance.. 🙂

  18. jb says:

    I was under the impression — I read an article somewhere that seemed fairly authoritative, but I’m not going to try to dig it up right now — that women made up about 10% of the most elite physicists and mathematicians, and that for fields like biology the number approached 40%. Do you have an easily accessible source for that “100-fold” assertion? It’s not so much that I am disputing you, I’d just like to know what the best estimates are. (One thought that occurs to me is that I think my article might have defined “elite” by membership in the National Academy of Sciences, and that may not represent the absolute tip-top elite).

    • gcochran9 says:

      Nobel prizes, Fields medals. 2 women have won physics Nobels (out of 196 winners), none have won a Fields medal (out of 52 winners). Out of 14 Abel prizewinenrs, none were women. The top five scorers in the Putnam exam are named Putnam Fellows: out of the Putnam Fellows from 1938 to 2013, three were women.

      • jb says:

        But those are mostly historical measures, and represent an average over the past 100 years or so. For much of that period those fields were not really open to women.

        The question I am interested in is where do things stand today. Historical measures aren’t very useful in that regard, since things could have changed a lot in recent years. What you need are measures which allow a snapshot of the current state of affairs: examples of such would be membership in various societies; professorships held at prestigious institutions; publications; citations; and probably others I haven’t thought of. And of course there is still the question of just how elite are we talking about, and do we need to discount some of those measures for politics (i.e., affirmative action), and so on. Getting accurate current numbers for the percentage of women in the top ranks of various fields shouldn’t be impossible, but it doesn’t look trivial to me. (One exception to this of course is chess, because of the ranking system. I understand the numbers there are still very low).

      • little spoon says:

        It is possible that lifestyle decisions are affecting women’s lower math achievement in addition to plain old mental aptitude. Not that the decision to focus itself is unimportant, but I think we can basically assess the gender disparity in raw aptitude by looking at gender distribution of the top 10% of AIME scorers. People who take that test are all under 18, right? At that point women are not making sacrifices to focus on child rearing or anything. Being in the top 10% of AIME doesn’t make you great for generations to come or anything, but I think it’s a good enough estimation of aptitude for genius level math.

      • ziel says:

        JB – “For much of that period those fields were not really open to women.” Seriously?? The two female nobel physics prizes were won in 1903 and 1963.

      • Patrick Boyle says:

        The male-female disparity is also true in music. There have been many great women musical interpreters but no composers. (This is where some outraged woman offers up the name of some incredibly obscure female composer) Music is even more male-only than physics.

        Musical ability is supposed to be a function of the posterior superior parietal area. There is also some connection with music and the corpus callosum. The Corpus Callosum shows a lot of differences between the sexes.

        Nobody thinks music is part of ‘g’ while math and physics certainly are. I hope some smart guy figures all this out soon.

  19. jorge videla says:

    and ability at math would have gone unrecognized for most of human history yet mathletes thinks it’s the “touchstone” of the intellect. i majored in math because i was lazy. it was the easiest major for me, and when it required any effort i didn’t do very well.

    but the modern economy rewards specialization. i’ve never understood how anyone could love his job whatever it was, but many do. the rich don’t retire after they’ve made it. if they would have they’d never have made it in the first place.

    are mathletes any weirder than other specialists? one observations: math and physics tend to be for the smart kids with not so rich parents. smart rich kids major in other things.

  20. j3morecharacters says:

    There is another factor in focus: Motivation. A hungry rat searching for the cheese in a laberinth will not be distracted by noise.

  21. jorge videla says:

    hardly ever heard about autism until rainman. asperger’s just arrived a decade ago. diagnoses have increased 10x in 20 years. it’s bullshit. parents and schools suck more than ever, and greedy doctors let them get away with it.

    • Anthony says:

      Look up “diagnostic substitution”. Someone did a study across different age groups in Britain, and found the same rate of Aperture in older cohorts as in younger ones, but the older ones were far less likely to have been diagnosed as Aspies previously, even though their symptoms were not new.

      There’s probably a lot of misdiagnosis so that parents can get their kids benefits in school, too.

      • jorge videla says:

        people aren’t all the same. what a discovery. there is an obvious business motivation to pathologize as much difference as possible. and individuals want to explain all of their problems with such a pathology. there are people with real problems, but psychiatry by finding pathology in the individual rather than the society has a clear ideological function.

    • Autism-spectrum disorders used to be grouped under the umbrella term “childhood schizophrenia” back in the day. I definitely agree that media exposure has a lot to do with it, but autistic/strange kids have always seemed to exist, they were just called something else.

    • No, there was a split in the past. We hear how the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders has dramatically increased, but not how the diagnosis of mental retardation (now developmental delay) has decreased by about the same amount. If your ability to block out stimulation was good enough and your abilities fit with your culture, you could be absorbed as a functioning but strange adult. If you couldn’t you were considered retarded and sent to special schools. The old stories of “idiot savant” may come to mind.

      I think there is more room, not less, for people with Aspie tendencies to survive these days.

      BTW, I’m betting that your evidence that the schools suck (more than those of 50 years ago, anyway) is deeply flawed, right down to the root. Old schools were terrible, and while the schools of other countries have some features we might wish to emulate, they are essentially inferior to US schools in terms of meeting the approximate needs of all students.

      • jorge videla says:

        “Old schools were terrible, and while the schools of other countries have some features we might wish to emulate, they are essentially inferior to US schools in terms of meeting the approximate needs of all students.”

        i’m sure you’ll be promoted soon.

        my public high school was ranked 3d in the state by us news. the jesuits wouldn’t take me for some made up reason. my teachers were with one or two exceptions lazy and stupid. and the only blacks in my high school were children of pro athletes. the school lunch was pizza or hot dog covered in french fries. the lunch room was too small. consequently there were french fries on the floor all over the school after lunch.

        if schools in finland and japan aren’t any better then that’s it, life is not worth living, man was a mistake, gun in mouth, bang!

  22. Jim says:

    Top-level female mathematicians are close to non-existent. There are some excellent female mathematicians, Mary Ellen Rudin for example, but really top level only a handful, Emmy Noether, daughter of Max Noether, is one of the few. Gurevich and Young come to mind. Eminent male mathematicians vastly outnumber eminent female mathematicians.

  23. Anthony says:

    The word you’re looking for is monomania, not autism. Autism is a defect in certain social functioning, and while it seems to pattern with monomania, it’s easy to think of exceptions. (Trivial example – the pickup artist who compulsively seduce new women every day or so. The perfect anti-autist, but still monomaniac. This type does exist, but is rare.) I would think that monomania is closer to OCD than autism.

    • Maciano says:

      I’ve been called monomanic. Sometimes I literally can’t sleep, whole weeks fly by like minutes, thinking/crunching just figuring out a concept I stumbled upon. I have to master it before I can let it go. Heck, I even forget to eat, can’t even think about other stuff.

      Around 2006, I studied demographics so intensely, it was the first thing I thought about when I came out of bed, the last thing I thought about before entering. It stopped when I figured out the cause of low birth rates.

      But, I’m no genius, so the world will be safe from me.

      • TWS says:

        Well what’s the cause?

      • ben says:

        Yes, tell us.

      • Maciano says:

        Well, I need a bit more than a blogpost, but here goes.

        1) Modernity has created a society that is high-tech, capitalist & (semi-)rationalist. This has created a whole different environment with different selective pressures. We’ve moved from a society that was physically demanding, tribal & religious to one that rewards brains, egalitarianism & secularism. These environmental pressures do not reward the most fertility prone groups: etnocentric or religious people.

        2) The TFR is misleading, it’s an average; some groups are still having children. These are groups who seem resistant to modernist approaches. In my country (Neth), orthodox Calvinists outbreed everyone else. Even muslims.

        3) Then there are other anti-fertility drivers like female education levels, liberalism, urbanism. I’m not saying these are bad things, but they do have consequences for the birth rate.

        4) Tbh, I don’t think feminism matters as much as people think. In the Nordic countries/France feminists even seem quite pro-natalist.

        Also, there was sort of a joke hidden in my comment. I also realized that low birth rates have a lot to do with young people being unaware of the very fact. If you’re constantly thinking about society at large, you never think about what’s good for YOU. Like starting a family.

  24. JIm says:

    During the 7-8 years that Andrew Wiles worked on Fermat’s Last Theorem he says that he went to bed thinking about it and woke up thinking about it. He says that went he went on walks he thought about it.

    • dearieme says:

      Newton said that his secret was his power of concentration. Still, though a mathematician, physicist, alchemist, and scriptural obsessive, he was capable enough to be a successful Master of the Royal Mint. The most impressive mind in history, I’d say.

    • ziel says:

      Well he would, wouldn’t he – but at least he’s thinking about the topic. “I take the position of zero direct enzymatic influence. That is, there is no enzyme (remember gene’s operate through enzymes) that produces more efficient mental processing without a change in environmental stimulus.” He sounds confused.

    • norkuat says:

      He´s such a liar

  25. Xenophon Hendrix says:

    Out of curiosity, using Google and Wikipedia, I looked up the number of children engendered by various mathematics and physics geniuses, number in parentheses. The (hd) stands for “horndog” and was used to indicate behavior I noted that might have led to more children than indicated. I selected the geniuses as they occurred to me, so it’s the opposite of a random sample. I stopped when I got bored.

    No Known Children

    Jean le Rond d’Alembert
    Daniel Bernoulli
    Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot
    Henry Cavendish
    John Dalton
    Paul Erdős
    Michael Faraday
    Joseph Fourier
    Évariste Galois
    Kurt Gödel
    Joseph-Louis Lagrange
    Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz
    James Clerk Maxwell
    Gaspard Monge
    Isaac Newton
    Blaise Pascal
    Wolfgang Pauli
    Jean-Victor Poncelet
    Leó Szilárd
    William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin

    One to Three Known Children

    Jacob Bernoulli (2)
    Johann Bernoulli (3)
    Hans Bethe (2)
    Max Born (3)
    Lazare Carnot (2)
    Augustin-Louis Cauchy (2)
    René Descartes (1)
    Paul Dirac (2)
    Albert Einstein (3)(hd)
    Enrico Fermi (2)
    Richard Feynman (1)(hd)
    Galileo Galilei (3)
    Stephen Hawking (3)
    David Hilbert (1)
    James Prescott Joule (3)
    Pierre-Simon Laplace (2)
    Hendrik Lorentz (3)
    Maria Goeppert-Mayer (2)
    John von Neumann (1)(hd)
    J. Robert Oppenheimer (2)(hd)
    Ernest Rutherford (1)
    Erwin Schrödinger (3)(hd)
    Edward Teller (2)
    Stanislaw Ulam (1)
    Steven Weinberg (1)
    Eugene Wigner (3)

    More Than Three Known Children

    Niels Bohr (6)
    Ludwig Boltzmann (5)
    Freeman Dyson (6)
    Paul Ehrenfest (4)(shot one of his kids before suicide)
    Leonhard Euler (13)
    Pierre de Fermat (5)
    Carl Friedrich Gauss (6)
    Werner Heisenberg (7)
    Roger Penrose (4)
    Max Planck (5)
    Siméon Denis Poisson (4)

  26. dearieme says:

    Descartes’ illegitimate daughter, of whom he was very fond, died when she was five.

    Einstein’s illegitimate daughter, whom he never saw, was apparently a mental defective. There are people who suspect that she was done away with; others surmise that she died of an infection. Presumably nobody will ever know.

    • ziel says:

      I believe he has commented here linking to his website where he elaborates on this claim. As I recall no one took the bait.

    • That Guy says:

      Crazy as it seems on first blush, I think this should not be rejected out of hand… these are extraordinary claims and there seems to be some good evidence… though I’m not qualified to evaluate this evidence accurately.

      I’m keeping open-minded on this, but would love other scientists to denounce particular parts of it, if it is false, especially:
      1. That the pig skull has a vascular system that allows for much better heat dissipation than a proto-hominid skull – thus allowing for the evolution of a larger brain. This is either True, False or Unknown.
      2. That pig and human kidneys are almost identical, and different than Chimp kidneys – this I think is likely accurate, due to kidney transplants of pig kidneys into humans. This is either True or False.

  27. Pingback: Autism and Genius: Danger! Not Politically Correct | al fin next level

  28. Pingback: Intellectual Ambergris | West Hunter

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