The Intelligence Quotient or “IQ” has become the go-to term during discussions of a person’s mental abilities. By trying to measure someone’s intelligence, a debate has been fueled about whether that person has any control over his IQ whatsoever. Some believe that it might simply be affected by the genes they inherit, while others believe that it is nourished through hard work as they grow older. Whatever may be the case, one thing is for sure. IQ is the best measure of intelligence, as of now.
The highest IQ score ever recorded (in ascending order)
- Stephen Hawking (IQ score – 160)
- Albert Einstein (IQ score – 160 – 190)
- Judit Polgar (IQ score – 170)
- Philip Emeagwali (IQ score – 190)
- Garry Kasparov (IQ score – 194)
- Christopher Michael Langan (IQ score – 190 – 210)
- Edith Stern (IQ score – 200+)
- Kim Ung-Yong (IQ score – 210)
- Christopher Hirata (IQ score – 225)
- Marilyn Vos Savant (IQ score – 228)
- Terence Tao (IQ score – 225 – 230)
- William James Sidis (IQ score – 250-300)
What is IQ?
Although we might have come across this term plenty of times during our lives, we still need to set some standards so that we can distinguish a great score from an average one.
IQ is nothing but the number that a person scores after taking one of the many standardized tests to measure the intelligence level of individuals. Originally, the intelligence quotient was calculated as the ratio of mental age and chronological age (IQ= MA/CA x 100, where MA is mental age, CA is chronological age). However, today, intelligence scores are calibrated against values of actual population scores. Here is a graph that shows how people fare when they take an IQ test:
This is, as you can see, a bell-shaped curve. It depicts that most measurements fall in the middle, and fewer fall at points farther away from the middle. What this means in our case is that most people’s IQ scores fall in and around the average range, while much less people score very low or very high.
The general score of 95% of the population from these tests ranges between 70 and 130. Since there are quite a few different classifications, the Stanford-Binet Scale of Human Intelligence is the most commonly used one and we shall use that as a reference. According to this scale, people who have a score higher than 145 are considered geniuses.
You already saw the list of the people with the highest IQ in the world; let’s meet these geniuses, but please remember that IQ tests are not necessarily all that accurate in estimating someone’s overall intelligence, even if they are good markers for specific cognitive skills, such as mathematical ability and logical reasoning. Also, note that this list is NOT an exhaustive one, and therefore may not feature the name of every high-IQ individual.
Stephen Hawking (IQ-160)
This man needs no introduction. Considered one of the greatest minds of our time, he was a professor, author and world-renowned theoretical physicist. His book “A Brief History of Time” has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. Moreover, he was the undisputed champion when it comes to the study of black holes, which was also his particular field of study at the time of his death in March 2018. Due to his inspiring battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and his undying love for physics, Hawking was viewed as a symbol of knowledge and intelligence in pop culture, an honor he definitely deserved!
Albert Einstein (IQ- 160-190)
Speaking of ‘symbols of knowledge’, the name of this scientist is actually synonymous with genius. It cannot be denied that he shaped the future of science. He received a Nobel Prize for the discovery of the law of photoelectric effect. The theory of relativity was also his brainchild. Although there is no scientific method of calculating his IQ posthumously, researchers have had to resort to estimating his score through careful analysis of his papers.
Judit Polgar (IQ-170)
Chess Grandmasters rarely aren’t geniuses, and by rarely, I mean never. Judit Polgar became the youngest one at the age of 15 and still proudly holds that record. She is not only viewed as a pioneer for women in chess, but also as one of the greatest chess players to ever live. She defeated Garry Kasparov, the reigning world champion, in 2002 and went on to conquer 10 other world championships.
Philip Emeagwali (IQ-190)
Philip Emeagwali is a Nigerian-born engineer, mathematician, computer scientist and geologist. He left school at an early age of 13 due to the Nigerian-Biafran War. Through hard work and self-study, he earned a degree in Mathematics. He went on to win the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize, a prize from the IEEE, for his use of a Connection Machine supercomputer to help detect petroleum fields. Even after facing rejection due to racial discrimination, he didn’t give up and continued to inspire people worldwide by earning three Master’s degree in Mathematics, Environmental and Marine Engineering from various universities.
Garry Kasparov (IQ-194)
Being ranked world No.1 225 times over the course of 228 months is no small achievement. Russian by birth, Kasparov is considered by some to be the greatest chess player of all time. As a testament to his brilliance, he once tied a match with IBM’s Deep Blue, a chess computer that could calculate 3 million moves per second! He is also the proud record holder of the highest number of consecutive wins.
Christopher Michael Langan (IQ – 190 – 210)
Born in San Francisco, California, Christopher Langan began speaking at the age of 6 months, and taught himself to read when he was just 3 years old. It is said about Langan that he managed to hit the perfect score in SAT despite falling asleep during the exam! He is frequently hailed as the ‘smartest man in America’. He has also developed a theory called “Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe” (CTMU) which basically deals with “the relationship between mind and reality”.
Edith Stern (IQ – 200+)
Born in 1952 to Aaron Stern (a concentration camp survivor whose cancer treatment was paid for by Albert Einstein), Edith Stern could communicate with cards when she was no older than 11 months. At 1, she could identify letters and by 2 she could speak the entire alphabet. At 12, she had already entered college and 4 years later, she was teaching trigonometry there. Her IQ score is reported to be more than 200. Currently, she holds a PhD in Mathematics, and is a distinguished engineer and inventor at IBM.
Kim Ung-Yong (IQ – 210)
Born in 1963 in Korea, Kim Ung-Yong started speaking when he was just 6 months old. By his third birthday, Kim Ung-Yong could already read English, Korean, Japanese, and German. As if this wasn’t mind-boggling enough, he was writing poetry and had completed two short stories by the time he was four years old! His drive and thirst for knowledge made him decline enrollment in Korea’s most prestigious university at the age of 16 and he instead started to pursue a PhD in Civil Engineering. Presently, he spends his time doing invaluable research and teaching students at Chungbuk National University in South Korea.
Christopher Hirata (IQ – 225)
A former child prodigy, Hirata became the youngest American to clinch a gold medal at the International Physics Olympiad in 1996, and e accomplished the incredible feat when he was just 13! He was involved in a project at NASA when he was 16, and obtained his PhD from the prestigious Princeton University at a young age of 22. Presently, he is a visiting professor of astronomy and physics at Ohio State University.
Marilyn Vos Savant (IQ – 228)
Marilyn was born in Missouri, US in 1946. She believes that one should keep their premarital surnames, and hence she kept the surname of her mother, Marina vos Savant. As a teenager, she worked at her father’s general store and wrote articles for local newspapers under different names. She rose to fame when she first topped the Guinness Book of World Records list of the “highest iq” category in 1986 and stayed there until 1989. She was reported to have an IQ score of 228.
However, a psychology professor and author of IQ tests named Alan Kaufman challenged this and claimed that…
Miss Savant was given an old version of the Stanford-Binet (Terman & Merrill 1937), which did, indeed, use the antiquated formula of MA/CA × 100. But in the test manual’s norms, the Binet does not permit IQs to rise above 170 at any age. So, the psychologist who came up with an IQ of 228 committed an extrapolation of a misconception, thereby violating almost every rule imaginable concerning the meaning of IQs.
Terence Tao (IQ – 225 – 230)
Born in 1975 to a Chinese family, Terence displayed exceptional aptitude towards Mathematics from a very early age. The fact that he had started attending university-level Math courses should be proof enough of that. He had acquired his PhD when he was just 20, and perhaps more importantly, he was the co-recipient of the Fields Medal in 2006. For the uninitiated, the Fields Medal can be thought of as the Nobel-equivalent awarded in the field of Mathematics, only they give out that award once every 4 years. Presently, Tao resides in Los Angeles with his wife and kids and focuses on theories regarding partial differential equations, algebraic combinatorics, harmonic analysis and analytic number theory.
William James Sidis (IQ ~ 250-300… probably)
This man simply plays in an altogether different league. Born in 1898 in New York City, and raised in a family of intellectuals, he was gifted from the very beginning. At the age of 5, he could use a typewriter and had learnt to speak Latin, Greek, Russian, French, German and Hebrew. He was denied admission to Harvard at the age of 6 because he was called too emotionally immature.
Later, at age 11, they were forced to admit him, after which he gave his well-received first lecture on 4-dimensional physics! He was threatened by some fellow students at Harvard, so his parents assigned him to a teaching job in Texas. Due to this he could not pursue academics and instead decided to focus on his political career. He died of a stroke at the age of 46 as a reclusive, penniless clerk.
It should be noted that the fact that he was the smartest man ever is often challenged, because William’s sister and mother had developed a reputation of making exaggerated claims about the Sidis family, (source) and it was his sister who told a famous psychologist and author Abraham Sperling that his brother had an IQ score of 250+.
To quote Sperling, author of the 1946 book Psychology for the Millions:
Helena Sidis (William’s sister) told me that a few years before his death, her brother Bill took an intelligence test with a psychologist. His score was the very highest that had ever been obtained. In terms of IQ, the psychologist related that the figure would be between 250 and 300. Late in life William Sidis took general intelligence tests for Civil Service positions in New York and Boston. His phenomenal ratings are matter of record.
However, it seems that Sperling never actually gave Sidis an IQ test himself in order to test his IQ. Because if he did, then why didn’t he talk about it in A Story of Genius, which is basically Sterling’s account of Sidis’ intellectual prowess?
The controversy pertaining to Sidis’ real IQ score aside, he undoubtedly was an extraordinarily intelligent individual (a fact that is evidenced by the outstanding feats he accomplished so early in his life), and there is no telling what Sidis might have accomplished in the fields of mathematics and science if his talents had not been squandered.
A high IQ doesn’t necessarily indicate ‘smartness’
Having a high IQ does not necessarily mean that the person is intelligent or very ‘smart’. The problem with IQ tests is that although they’re pretty good at assessing our deliberative skills (which involve how we use our working memory and reason), but they are not able to asses our inclination to use them when the situation demands. This is a very important difference. According to as Daniel Kahneman, a professor at Princeton University, intelligence is about brain power whereas rational thinking is about control.
“Some people who are intellectually able do not bother to engage very much in analytical thinking and are inclined to rely on their intuitions,” says Jonathan Evans, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Plymouth, UK. “Other people will check out their gut feeling and reason it through and make sure they have a justification for what they’re doing.
A high IQ is like height in a basketball player. It is certainly a crucial trait, provided all other ‘things’ are equal. But if all other things aren’t equal, then the player needs a lot of more than just height in order to be a good basketball player. Similarly, there is a lot more to being a good thinker than having a high IQ.