Friday, October 29, 2010

The Smartest People in the World

Who are the smartest people in the world? Can you even name one of the top 100?

I think that absolute intelligence is defined by complex problem solving. The ability to take huge complex ideas and comprehend them. The problem with this argument is that a person who simply studies a system long enough will have a much greater understanding of it than a newbie who does not know the intricacies of the system.

This occurred to me on a run and I started thinking... The smartest people I have ever met at my age where physics majors. How do I know? You can tell by the questions someone asks. Can I give an example? No, I'm sorry. All of the most complicated questions I can ever recall seeing my peers ask were far enough beyond me that I do not even remember.

Let me explain, stumping a professor does not entail being really smart. I've done that enough times. It is asking an expert a tough question in his or her specific field of research that they can answer, but only because they have years of experience in that field. The most prominent example I can remember was in a physics class when I was having trouble simply following along. One of the students asked a question that made the professor pause and turn. He started explaining the answer using words that completely confused me. I watched the student and he was nodding along as though everything made sense. These were people who seemed to do three dimensional gradients in their heads, which I can understand using a sheet of paper, and they were talking in a language which meant nothing to me. For those that are not rocket scientists, the ability to do gradients is about as hard the math ever gets. There is more complicated stuff but once you master that, you can do anything. At least it feels like you can do anything.

I considered the richest people in the world. However, after reading about Warren Buffet and Bill Gates I was not so sure being rich means you are the smartest. I stumbled on an article about the growing mathematic ability on Wall Street and the short-sighted growing income inequality in the United States and it seems that the very smartest people sure aren't the ones managing the money.

I considered bank robbers, like Ocean's 11, but that seems more dangerous than requiring the smartest people on the planet.

I considered IQ tests, but those are not always the best indicator of intelligence and they can vary based on your background. That is to say the more math you do the easier math questions will be. I did take three online tests to see how well I scored. I scored a 132, 120 and 125. On the 125 I scored 10/10 but it took me 6:20, apparently getting under 5:00 gives a better score. Also, the plight of Christopher Langan confuses me a bit after reading Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. I would imagine that the smartest people all do some money management so that they enjoy at least some luxuries and are spared from some of the hardest physical labor.

I considered politicians. Briefly. In my opinion the job of President of the United States has to one of, if not the absolute, worst job on the planet. Just look at how presidents age in four or eight years. So much stress on one person. I understand the smartest people in the world might want to conquer the most difficult problems. At the same time, there is a good possibility that they see some futility in one person trying to change the world from such a public position.

So who are the smartest people in the world? I don't know. What profession would the smartest people in the world likely have? I don't know. How do you even define the smartest people in the world? I don't know. What do I know? Not enough.


  1. Not that he is necessarily the smartest person ever, but Einstein did his wrote his two best-known papers while working as a patent clerk.

    Perhaps the world's smartest person is waiting in the wings, doing something relatively mundane.

  2. I did not know that. I also think you have a good point about someone waiting in the wings.

    By the way, work hard and have fun tomorrow! I'm really looking forward to hearing about NEWMACs!