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Bobby Fischer Dies:

Former world chess champion Bobby Fischer died on Thursday. Fischer was the only non-Soviet player to become world champion between 1948 and the fall of communism. Many experts consider him the greatest chessmaster of all time. During his last three years of competitive play (1970-72), Fischer not only defeated his opponents but totally dominated all the other top players in the world to a still-unsurpassed extent. His achievement is all the more remarkable in light of the fact that he mostly worked alone and was up against a massive chess "machine" lavishly subsidized by the Soviet government. Dmitry Plisetsky and Sergei Voronkov's fascinating book, The Russians vs. Fischer (based on internal Soviet documents released after the fall of the USSR), has numerous details about the Soviet effort to prevent Fischer from winning the world championship. It also documents the enormous respect that Fischer won from his Soviet chess rivals.

Unfortunately, as the AP obituary linked above notes, Fischer rapidly descended into delusional paranoia and anti-Semitism after winning the world championship in 1972. He refused to defend his title in 1975 and spent most of the rest of his life in seclusion, becoming increasingly more deluded as time went on. While no opponent could consistently beat him at the chessboard, the demons in his own mind ultimately defeated him far more completely than any rival grandmaster ever could have.

UPDATE: Garry Kasparov comments on Fischer's death here.

Kovarsky (mail):
I think it's fair to say that Bobby Fischer dominates the american iconography of child prodigy, in so many ways. I'm trying to think of analogues, and I can't come up with any. I know that Einstein dominates the iconography of genius, but I think of that as more of an adult thing.
1.19.2008 1:34am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Fischer's anti-Semitism was ironic. Although he was not culturally or religiously a Jew, he was technically a Jew since his mother was a Jew.
1.19.2008 2:03am
Waldensian (mail):

Fischer rapidly descended into delusional paranoia and anti-Semitism

They're pretty much the same thing, in my view.
1.19.2008 2:08am
bellisaurius (mail):
There is something about eccentricity and chess, dating back to the beginning of international competition. Morphy went crazy as champion, for example. This quote from "Characteristics of a Chess Genius" kind of sums it up:

Other aspects of character and background are difficult to be specific about and the following thoughts are all subject to the usual provisos about false generalisations. The typical chess genius, though one should avoid clichés like the plague, would be a slightly neurotic, Russian, Jewish male from a broken home. Is there anything in this? Some of the statistical evidence supporting these stereotypes is quite striking so it is worth looking for possible reasons why. Let us consider them in reverse order:
Relatively few top players come from ‘normal’ family backgrounds - divorce or early death of a parent is much more prevalent amongst the chess greats than in the general population. In fact, this applies to other fields too and creative (and also psychologically disturbed) types are three times as likely to have lost a parent before the age of sixteen. Winston Churchill once wrote that ‘solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong’. It seems emotional turbulence is likely either to do real damage and/or make a child tougher. I think it is fair to characterise top players as being emotionally tough with strong egos (in the original, Freudian sense of the word), so one can begin to see possible reasons for the surprising statistical results.
1.19.2008 2:22am
alias:
If Barack Obama fails to denounce Iceland and pledge sanctions until it apologizes for sheltering Bobby Fischer, then Obama is not who he says he is.
1.19.2008 2:22am
Justin Johnson (mail):
Fischer made a specific claim about how the Russians cheated: they chose a champion in advance and then threw matches to allow that candidate to advance to the final round without exerting himself, fresh for a real challenge (while Fischer had to fight all the way there). Does the book speak to the accuracy of that claim?
1.19.2008 2:36am
Kovarsky (mail):
justin -

i believe he made two claims - that several russians deliberately played to draws to focus on their games against him and that one russian threw a game deliberately. i think the latter was discredited, but the former is generally believed to be true.
1.19.2008 2:41am
Hoosier:
Waldensian--Wow. Good observation: anti-semitism /does/ seem to go hand-in-hand with "the Joos are screwing people like me." (Whatever group the anti-semite happens to belong to.)

I suppose I'd just say that paranoia and anti-semitism aren't the 'same thing,' since not all paranoid delusions are anti-semitic, even if all anti-semites are paranoid. (As an illustration: Not all dogs are poodles, but all poodles are dogs.) The mom of my girlfriend in college had severe schizophrenia, and was convinced that the Statue of Liberty, among others, was watching her though a water-stain in the livingroom ceiling.

But for some reason the Jews never played a role in this persecution. Perhaps they were too busy counting their profits from the slave trade and planning new ways of secretly running US foreign policy for the benefit of Israel. Oh, and collecting the blood of Gentile children to make biscotti. Or something.
1.19.2008 7:45am
Thinker:
I know Fischer became abhorrent. I know he eventually espoused views so antithetical to my existence that I should have passed over his obituary without a glance.

But, in truth, I was genuinely saddened. I'd studied, briefly, his games. I always had the secret vision that he'd come back up from ashes and play again. I held the NY Times obituary in my hands and read through each word. In 1972 he was such a ray of hope. The young, odd genius can change the world. Giving hopes to all geeky middle-schoolers throughout the world.
1.19.2008 8:15am
Hank :
Fischer rapidly descended into delusional paranoia and anti-Semitism

They're pretty much the same thing, in my view.


That is not really your view. Obviously, delusional paranoia need not be accompanied by anti-Semitism, and anti-Semitism can exist in the absence of delusional paranoia. So why would you say otherwise?
1.19.2008 8:54am
Hank :
Fischer's anti-Semitism was ironic. Although he was not culturally or religiously a Jew, he was technically a Jew since his mother was a Jew.


Sorry to nitpick again, but "technically a Jew" means a Jew according to Jewish doctrine. But not everyone adheres to Jewish doctrine in defining who a Jew is. Others might, for example, allow a person to define himself. And some of us don't define ourselves in an either/or manner, but say that we are of Jewish heritage but not otherwise Jewish.
1.19.2008 9:09am
tckurd:
Kovarsky, consider Van Cliburn.

As a child, my parents, born in the 30's, idolized him and I was to be the "next Van Cliburn." Thus my 12 years of forced labor at the piano.

Although I appreciate the dedication and skill I acquired, it would have been fun to play with the other kids in the neighborhood whilst growning up, know what I mean
1.19.2008 9:29am
Randy R. (mail):
I remember how he took the world by storm. Our elementary school started a chess club, and I became really fascinated by the game.

I was terrible, and still am. But I did read several books on chess. Without Bobby, I would not have known much at all. Certainly nothing about 'castleing.'
1.19.2008 9:55am
Alan Gunn (mail):

There is something about eccentricity and chess, dating back to the beginning of international competition. Morphy went crazy as champion, for example.

True, but for an example of a sane, easygoing chess champion, there's Capablanca.
1.19.2008 10:38am
Gaius Marius:
Well, I personally know that studying Bobby Fischer's games for hours each day helped keep a particular latch key kid out of trouble when there were no supervising adults in the house. As for Jose Raoul Capablanca, who wouldn't be sane if they were living in pre-Castro Havana inhabited by exotically beautiful Cubanas (some of the most beautiful women in the world, I must say), sipping Cuban rum, and smoking freshly rolled Cuban cigars each day???
1.19.2008 10:57am
ys:

There is something about eccentricity and chess, dating back to the beginning of international competition. Morphy went crazy as champion, for example.


True, but for an example of a sane, easygoing chess champion, there's Capablanca.


And an extremely sane and enterprising Kasparov (although one might say opposing Putin is insane, it is still less so, than what dissidents of yesteryear who were subjected to phsychotreatment faced).
1.19.2008 11:02am
ys:

As for Jose Raoul Capablanca, who wouldn't be sane if they were living in pre-Castro Havana inhabited by exotically beautiful Cubanas (some of the most beautiful women in the world, I must say), sipping Cuban rum, and smoking freshly rolled Cuban cigars each day???

That might be a recipee for insanity for some.
1.19.2008 11:05am
SenatorX (mail):
I am impressed by Kasparov as well. More power to him.
1.19.2008 11:14am
Cornellian (mail):
Mikhail Tal was a pretty laid back guy as well. Odd considering his hyper-aggressive playing style.
1.19.2008 11:23am
Dave in Alexandria (mail):
Alekhine.
Philidor.
1.19.2008 11:46am
Javert:
No mention of his cheering of the 9/11 attacks?! Or of his virulent hatred of America?! No man's achievement can counterbalance that degree of nihilism.
1.19.2008 12:28pm
Ilya Somin:
No mention of his cheering of the 9/11 attacks?! Or of his virulent hatred of America?! No man's achievement can counterbalance that degree of nihilism.

Both of these are mentioned in the article I linked, and both were very likely products of his mental ilness.
1.19.2008 12:33pm
fishbane (mail):
I'm not sure I would call Kasparov a balanced person. While unlikely to defenestrate himself (a popular method of suicide amongst strong chess players), he is well known to be monomaniacal, subject to extreme mood swings, and contemptuous to nearly everyone.
1.19.2008 12:58pm
neurodoc:
No mention of his cheering of the 9/11 attacks?! Or of his virulent hatred of America?! No man's achievement can counterbalance that degree of nihilism.

Both of these are mentioned in the article I linked, and both were very likely products of his mental ilness.
There are "sane" people who cheered the 9/11 attacks and have a virulent hatred of America. The vast majority of them come from the Islamic world. Hard not to view Fischer as a loathsome person, but one can't be too judgmental about him, since he was so clearly a paranoid schizophrenic, that is a mentally ill person who count be held fully accountable for things he said. (I'll leave it to the forensic psych types or attorneys with experience defending/prosecuting "not guilty by reason of insanity" cases to say what might have happened if he had ever been a criminal defendant.)

FWIW, when I was 9 years old I played Samuel Reshevsky, several times US Chess champion, as one of 50 going against him in a simultaneous exhibition match at the Detroit JCC. I think one person out of the 50 may have tied or even be beaten the grand master that day, and it wasn't me. I was quite pleased to have lasted 25 or so moves against him, though he didn't break a sweat.

Question: how closely correlated with IQ or math aptitude is chess playing ability? More or less highly correlated than musical ability? Any true idiot savants in the upper ranks of chess players?
1.19.2008 1:24pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

Sorry to nitpick again, but "technically a Jew" means a Jew according to Jewish doctrine. But not everyone adheres to Jewish doctrine in defining who a Jew is. Others might, for example, allow a person to define himself. And some of us don't define ourselves in an either/or manner, but say that we are of Jewish heritage but not otherwise Jewish.


True, but for the same reason Fischer was also a Jew by the definitions used by many anti-Semites, including the Nuremberg Laws.
1.19.2008 1:24pm
neurodoc:
I'm not sure I would call Kasparov a balanced person. While unlikely to defenestrate himself (a popular method of suicide amongst strong chess players), he is well known to be monomaniacal, subject to extreme mood swings, and contemptuous to nearly everyone.
Monomaniacal, meaning having "an exaggerated zeal for or interest in thing, idea, subject or the like"? Wouldn't that term have some application to just about everyone at the very top of any sport or competitive undertaking? Is Tiger Woods other than "monomaniacal" about golf? (Is chess a game or a sport? I would say the former, but I briefly roomed with someone who insisted it be counted as a sport, since chess players prepared physically for the rigors of tournament play.) Kasparov is most impressive when interviewed and seems to have a broader range of interests than many.

The husband of one current presidential candidate usually appears quite genial, but is supposed to be given to intensely angry outbursts when not in public view. Not a "balanced" person? (Does "extreme mood swings" mean that Kasparov is given to bouts of depression? Or he is emotionally labile?)

"Contemptuous to nearly everyone." He comes across as a rather appealing and highly admirable person, at least to me. He is, in fact, unpleasant to be around?

I know relatively few details of Kasparov the man. Is he married and a father, which might be taken as some evidence of ability to maintain personal relationships. Clearly, he would beat Bobby Fischer in that department.

[Ilya Somin, care to say whether you regard Kasparov's efforts to change things in Russia as noble and/or quixotic?]
1.19.2008 1:46pm
neurodoc:
Sorry to nitpick again, but "technically a Jew" means a Jew according to Jewish doctrine. But not everyone adheres to Jewish doctrine in defining who a Jew is. Others might, for example, allow a person to define himself. And some of us don't define ourselves in an either/or manner, but say that we are of Jewish heritage but not otherwise Jewish.
I don't think I have ever heard it debated who is/isn't a Catholic, a Protestant, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, etc. Is "who is/isn't" much of a question for other religious groups? I am aware that some may regard others as heretics, not following the "true" path of their religion (e.g., Sunnis vs Shiites or other "branches" of Islam), but that I think is rather different from the threshold "is/isn't" for Jews.
1.19.2008 2:01pm
Ilya Somin:
Ilya Somin, care to say whether you regard Kasparov's efforts to change things in Russia as noble and/or quixotic?]

I have blogged about them several times. They are definitely brave and praiseworthy, though the odds against short-term success are high.
1.19.2008 2:30pm
Waldensian (mail):

That is not really your view. Obviously, delusional paranoia need not be accompanied by anti-Semitism, and anti-Semitism can exist in the absence of delusional paranoia. So why would you say otherwise?

I meant what Hoosier said. So we apparently disagree in one respect. Although you are likely correct that anti-Semitism might exist in the absence of what a doctor would call "delusional paranoia," in my experience anti-Semitism is routinely, almost uniformly, characterized by what a layperson would call delusional and paranoid thinking.
1.19.2008 2:49pm
Ilya Somin:
in my experience anti-Semitism is routinely, almost uniformly, characterized by what a layperson would call delusional and paranoid thinking.

That may well be true in your experience. However, anti-Semitism is far too common for that to be true universally. Polls show that hundreds of millions of people in the Muslim world, Russia, and elsewhere hold strongly anti-Semitic views. I doubt that they are all paranoid and deluded (at least in the clinical sense). They are of course deluded in the sense that their views are wrong.
1.19.2008 3:01pm
ys:

Dave in Alexandria (mail):
Alekhine.
Philidor.

I would not put Alekhine in a laid-back and well adjusted category (obviously very far from Fischer level, although he also bore a controversial anti-semitic stain not alleviated by mental illness) . That was one of his several dramatic distinctions from Capablanca that made their 1927 match the first "chess match of the (20th] century"
1.19.2008 3:06pm
JosephSlater (mail):
The husband of one current presidential candidate

Don't be coy. Are you talking about Hucakbee's husband, or Thompson's?
1.19.2008 3:08pm
ys:
And to follow up on contrasts and balanced champions, I did meet Spassky about 20 years ago in Massachusetts at local chess club. He came across as very calm, courteous and relaxed. This was of course much later than the turbulent 1972, but Spassky was presented this way in the media before and since. A nice contrast for the second "chess match of the (20th) century". As is known, he retained a friendly relationship with Fischer, Bobby's madness notwithstanding.
1.19.2008 3:14pm
Joe Bingham (mail):
Many experts consider him the greatest chessmaster of all time.

I like your post, but is this bit really true? My impression was that Kasparov was pretty universally acknowledged to be better in his own prime than Fischer was in his. Maybe I'm wrong.
1.19.2008 4:25pm
Ilya Somin:
Many experts consider him the greatest chessmaster of all time.

I like your post, but is this bit really true? My impression was that Kasparov was pretty universally acknowledged to be better in his own prime than Fischer was in his. Maybe I'm wrong.


That depends on what is meant by "greatest." If 1990 Garry Kasparov were to play a match with 1972 Fischer, Kasparov would likely win. However, by that standard, later champions will almost always be considered better than earlier ones. Even an average quality modern grandmaster would probably crush the greatest players of 50 or 100 years ago.

Thus, people who compare the quality of chess players (and athletes) across eras usually try to determine how high each stood above his contemporaries. Fischer dominated the chess world of 1970-72 more completely than Kasparov dominated the rivals he faced in his own prime (though Kasparov's prime was much longer due to Fischer's abrupt withdrawal from chess). There is therefore a serious argument that Fischer was greater than Kasparov, though of course the contrary view also has many adherents.
1.19.2008 4:35pm
Libertarian1 (mail):
Sorry to nitpick again, but "technically a Jew" means a Jew according to Jewish doctrine. But not everyone adheres to Jewish doctrine in defining who a Jew is. Others might, for example, allow a person to define himself. And some of us don't define ourselves in an either/or manner, but say that we are of Jewish heritage but not otherwise Jewish.



My definition has been would the Nazi's have made you wear a yellow star. I don't think they asked you how you define yourself.
1.19.2008 4:36pm
Cornellian (mail):
I like your post, but is this bit really true? My impression was that Kasparov was pretty universally acknowledged to be better in his own prime than Fischer was in his. Maybe I'm wrong.

It's somewhat difficult to compare the great players of history, especially those who have never played each other. I suspect that the majority (maybe a significant majority) would regard Kasparov at his prime to be a stronger player than Fischer at his prime but I doubt that view would be universal or even near universal.
1.19.2008 4:38pm
Peter Wimsey:
My definition has been would the Nazi's have made you wear a yellow star. I don't think they asked you how you define yourself.


Why in the world should we let the Nazis, of all people, define who is Jewish?
1.19.2008 5:20pm
Joe Bingham (mail):
Thanks, was just wondering. I wouldn't have thought of that as an accepted use of "greatest," but it makes perfect sense now that it's been explained.
1.19.2008 6:32pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Why in the world should we let the Nazis, of all people, define who is Jewish?
So Hank doesn't want Jews to define it, and you don't want Nazis to do it. Who exactly should?
1.19.2008 6:40pm
Hank :
So Hank doesn't want Jews to define it, and you don't want Nazis to do it. Who exactly should?


Perhaps you're trying to be funny, but, in case you're not, I didn't say that I don't want Jews to define it; I said "not everyone adheres to Jewish doctrine in defining who a Jew is." I'm happy to have Jews define it -- for themselves, just not for me. My mother was Jewish, and Jews are free to consider me Jewish because of that, but I don't consider myself Jewish, so what's the point of Jews considering me Jewish?

As I said in my prior posting, however, I recognize my Jewish heritage, but that just means that my ancestors were Jewish and that unavoidably plays a part in the type of person I am (e.g., one who posts comments like this one). Neurodoc made an interesting point about never having heard it debated who is/isn't a Catholic, a Protestant, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, etc. No doubt that is in part because those religions, unlike Judaism, are not generally also viewed as ethnicities, but perhaps it is more complicated than that.
1.19.2008 6:56pm
David Smith:
The man is dead. He murdered no one, and so let us be charitable towards him in the one field at which he had virtue and was the best: Chess.

I am a US Chess Federation candidate master (nothing more than a flea as far as world rankings, but if you are are an average chess player, you really don't want to bet your bankroll against me in a casual game, as I am in the top 15% of all *tournament* chess players in the country). Fisher's popularity brought me into the game.

And in all the news reports I am seeing, he has been maligned in regard to his not playing a rematch. Here is the truth: All the while that the Soviets controlled the world championship (controlled is the right word), terms for any challenger were fairly onerous. You had to *beat* the world champion to wrest the title away. Now, however, after Fischer was champion, all of a sudden, the Soviets were much more interested in a match format that reduced the champion's match advantage. Gee, what a surprise. And what Fischer demanded was actually *less* of an advantage than Soviet World champions had always enjoyed.

The details are not as important as the concept I stated above. You can find details on Wikipedia I am sure.

So, while I cannot say for sure that Fischer would certainly have played if his terms had been met, I can say that his demands would have resulted in less of an advantage for him than the ones usually enjoyed by Soviet champions when they played. Look it up.
1.19.2008 10:16pm
ys:

As I said in my prior posting, however, I recognize my Jewish heritage, but that just means that my ancestors were Jewish and that unavoidably plays a part in the type of person I am (e.g., one who posts comments like this one). Neurodoc made an interesting point about never having heard it debated who is/isn't a Catholic, a Protestant, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, etc. No doubt that is in part because those religions, unlike Judaism, are not generally also viewed as ethnicities, but perhaps it is more complicated than that.

All well and good - it's a free country. You can declare yourself many things. E.g., I can find justification for checking off all the ethnic options on the census form, save maybe Pscific Islander, if I want to. But I would suggest that the definition really counts where the world recognizes it in some way that has real impact. It just so happens, that if you want to get in in some important ways, it is decided by Jews and if you want to get out, it is decided, I am sorry to say, by Nazis or their likes.
1.19.2008 10:26pm
Mike Keenan:
blockquote>
Even an average quality modern grandmaster would probably crush the greatest players of 50 or 100 years ago.<

What is your evidence for that? True in athletics, but has chess progressed like that?
1.19.2008 10:47pm
David Smith:
Chess has progressed like that, in several respects, wrt 100 years ago.

1) Opening theory, the first 5-15 moves, has radically changed. You cannot spot a grandmaster such an opening advantage.

2) Theory of the game: Overall approaches, such as pawn strategies, have developed enormously.

True, a world class player would weasel out in many circumstances, simply based on strength of play. But overall, the modern GM would win.
1.19.2008 10:55pm
Waldensian (mail):

I doubt that they are all paranoid and deluded (at least in the clinical sense).

I don't think we disagree. Again, I'm sure there are lots of anti-Semites who don't meet the clinical definition of paranoia and delusional. But I have never met an anti-Semite who was not deluded about Judaism, and who was not paranoid about the activities of Jews, all in the lay sense of those words.

I hasten to add that my very minor observation is not an effort to "pathologize" anti-Semitism in a way that would reduce or eliminate individual responsibility for holding anti-Semitic attitudes. On the contrary, I'm trying to pile on in my condemnation of anti-Semites, as in: "what a bunch of deluded, paranoid a-holes."
1.19.2008 11:55pm
Cornellian (mail):
Even an average quality modern grandmaster would probably crush the greatest players of 50 or 100 years ago.

That is probably true if you operate on the assumption that the two players sit down to play a match today, but the GM of 50 years ago still knows only what chess players knew in 1957.

If, however, you took Botvinnik (for example) through a time machine to today AND gave him a year to study modern chess theory, I'd bet on him over an "average quality modern grandmaster" any day. Ditto for Smyslov, Petrosian etc.
1.20.2008 2:20am
Professor moriarity:
Max Euwe, a grandmaster, and a psychologist, wrote a book on chess genius, what it consists of, and how it was related to other type of mental strengths.
1.20.2008 10:05am
markm (mail):
I don't think I have ever heard it debated who is/isn't a Catholic, a Protestant, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, etc. Is "who is/isn't" much of a question for other religious groups?

"Jew" refers to ethnic origins more than to practicing a religion. Even the religion, Judaism, is intimately bound up with ancestry: One can convert to many Protestant faiths simply by coming to their church. To convert to Catholicism and be officially recognized as a member of that church, I think one has to go through the same things Catholic children do: study their catechism and be baptized and confirmed, but nothing more than every adult Catholic has done. AFAIK, to convert to Judaism and be accepted by an Orthodox or Conservative synagogue (at least), you have to go through a deliberately difficult process, which goes far beyond what they require of children raised as Jews or even of children of Jewish mothers that were not raised as Jews.

And, as other posters have pointed out, it's impossible for a Jew to cease being a Jew to the world. In the eyes of most antisemites a descendant of Jews is a Jew even if he has never practiced the religion. If your father was the child of Jews but married a gentile and never practiced the religion as an adult, Hitler wouldn't care that the Jews didn't recognize you as one of them - although as a half-Jew if you behaved yourself you could earn the privilege of being exterminated last...
1.20.2008 12:26pm
NI:
I'm not only a member of Mensa but hold office in Mensa and I can tell you that there are plenty of highly intelligent people who are completely dysfunctional. And we have our share of racists, anti-Semites and homophobes. In fact, I have a theory that the human brain operates best within certain ranges and being too high above the range is just as harmful as being too far below.

On the subject of anti-Semitism (and any other prejudice), it strikes me that just about any grouping of humans tends, as a general rule, to exhibit certain obnoxious traits, and it doesn't take Mensan to notice and list them, if one is inclined to do so. Of course not every member of the group will exhibit those obnoxious traits, but many or most will, which is how these sterotypes got started in the first place. So when someone who is prejudiced comes along and lists all the reasons he dislikes Blacks/homosexuals/Jews/women/Catholics/etc., most of the time what he says has at least a grain of truth to what he's saying. So the interesting question about prejudice is: Why does he find that particular group's idiosyncrasies more annoying than equally annoying idiosyncracies of other groups that he's not prejudiced against?
1.20.2008 12:34pm
Kovarsky (mail):
I'm not only a member of Mensa but hold office in Mensa

Mensa is for self-congratulatory losers.
1.20.2008 12:37pm
NI:
OK, obviously I should have read that before hitting "post comment". Sorry about the bad grammar and syntax. I still stand by my points.
1.20.2008 12:37pm
NI:
And Kovarsky, whining about Mensa is obviously for wannabes. Actually it's a social group for people with something in common -- any idea how wonderful it is to not have to explain my jokes?
1.20.2008 12:38pm
alias:
Agreed with Kovarsky. I (and probably most of the people I work with) have the qualifications, so it's not a wannabe thing.
1.20.2008 12:59pm
NI:
Kovarsky and Alias, I then go back to my original point: Ok, so you've found something about Mensa not to like, just as you could find something not to like about any other group, and why exactly do you find what you dislike about this particular group more deserving of comment than what you don't like about any other group?

I just got back from a Mensa regional gathering. In addition to interesting workshops on space exploration and cosmology, I found a bunch of people who are socially awkward anywhere else surrounded by friends and having a great time. For some of them, Mensa is the only place that's ever happened. I'm sorry that point seems lost on you.
1.20.2008 1:10pm
Waldensian (mail):

I'm not only a member of Mensa but hold office in Mensa and I can tell you

Wow. I think we have at last found the fabled ATOSMLTCMNTRTROAP*

Also, I threw up in the back of my mouth, just a little.

*All Time Opening Sentence Most Likely To Cause Me Not To Read The Rest Of A Paragraph
1.20.2008 1:22pm
Waldensian (mail):
I couldn't resist. All I did was type "Mensa" into the Youtube search box, and this is what came back:

Oh my.

Mensa actually makes me feel well-adjusted. Trust me, that's incredible.
1.20.2008 1:31pm
NI:
May I ask why the hostility to Mensa? I only mentioned it to show that I had a basis for an opinion about intelligent people. And nobody has even tried to respond to my substantive points.

"Self congratulatory losers" could apply with equal force to people involved in religion, politics, or waste their time posting on blogs (no disrespect to the host). Candidly, the hostility my comment generated is sufficiently intense that it sounds far more like a psychological issue than a rational one.

P.S. -- OK, so one of our members is a belly dancer. I will admit to knowing several people on the YouTube production. Are you saying belly dancing is a sign of maladjustment?
1.20.2008 2:01pm
mediocre chess player (mail):
Y'know, I like chess, and I'm okay at it but not great.
But for God's sake, it's just a game. It's a game, people.
Yes, it takes intelligence to play at a high level, and no doubt for people who play at that level, there are all sorts of aspects to it that normal people like me just can't comprehend.
But it's just a game. There's a king, a queen, two rooks, two knights, and two bishops, and a bunch of pawns, on either side. That's it.
All the crap I've heard about "styles" and "classical v. romantic playing" and "multi-layered strategies," etc., strike me as absurd exaggerations of the game's qualities.
It reminds me of wine-tasters. No doubt there's more to it than amateurs can understand. But there's only so many ways to describe a wine. "This wine has a fragility that draws out it's noble inherent majesty." Blah blah blah.
And so you hear about a chess player who moved his queen to one place instead of another, and oh how brilliant, because it indicates a modernistic twist on an otherwise mundane attack. Blah blah blah.
It's a game, folks. It just ain't that big a deal.
1.20.2008 3:46pm
dps (mail):

May I ask why the hostility to Mensa?


Imagine there were a similar organization for physically beautiful people. My criticisms would apply to Mensa in the same way.

1. I'd object to a group defining beauty so narrowly that it can be tested for.

2. I'd object to members segregating themselves into groups of beautiful people, with the suggestion being they benefit more from interacting with those beautiful, like themselves, and that non-beautiful people have less to offer them. I'd object to the stigma it places on those individuals supposedly not beautiful enough for the club.

3. I'd object to the suggestion that if beautiful people have trouble interacting with non-beautiful people, then the fault lies with the non-beautiful people, and that limiting interaction with non-beautifuls is an appropriate response.

4. I'd object to participants taking a capacity they (mostly) lucked into, and capitalizing on it - if only in their own minds - so brazenly.

5. I'd object to people taking a basically superficial quality and making it so central to their identities; superficial compared to compassion, perseverance, integrity, friendliness, courage, charity, etc.
1.20.2008 4:04pm
Waldensian (mail):

May I ask why the hostility to Mensa? I only mentioned it to show that I had a basis for an opinion about intelligent people.

You pretty much answered your own question with that second sentence.

OK, so one of our members is a belly dancer. I will admit to knowing several people on the YouTube production.

It's like a game of battleship, and my first shot is a hit!

Are you saying belly dancing is a sign of maladjustment?

Under these circumstances, unequivocally "yes."

Actually, let me Rumsfeld this question for increased clarity: If you're asking whether I think convening what you call a "Smartigras" complete with a belly-dancing Mensa-ite is a freakish, self-congratulatory, loser thing to do, the answer is: Yes. Oh, yes.
1.20.2008 4:08pm
Vovan:
[Poster banned for failing to heed my warnings about posting anti-Semitic and pro-communist/totalitarian material].
1.20.2008 4:13pm
Waldensian (mail):

It reminds me of wine-tasters. No doubt there's more to it than amateurs can understand. But there's only so many ways to describe a wine. "This wine has a fragility that draws out it's noble inherent majesty." Blah blah blah.

I don't know enough about chess to compare it to the wine-freaks, but I think you're onto something with respect to wine. It reminds me of the running feud between Skeptic magazine and the audiophiles.
1.20.2008 4:13pm
NI:
Waldenisn and dps have obviously not had much contact with real life Mensans (and Waldensian, I'm so glad you think you're making hits; the fact that you would ignore substantive points to gratuitously ad hominem actually says far more about you than it does about me). So just to clear up a few points:

1. A Republican national convention, in which people wear papier-mache elephants on their heads, enough campaign buttons to sink a battleship, and red-white-and-blue tights is no more a reflection of what most Republicans are like day to day than a Mensa convention is a reflection of what most Mensans are like on a day to day basis. A Mensa convention is mostly a party, for God's sake, with some discussion of serious topics thrown in.

2. DPS, there is some question as to the value or testability of intelligence, but you simply don't get the reason why Mensa exists. Intelligent people are stigmatized almost from the day they are born -- if you think back to high school, the most popular kids weren't the smart ones. The smart ones were uniformly ridiculed, and their intelligence was discounted; when I got an A on a test everyone thought it was because I was lucky enough to be smart and nobody thought hard work had anything to do with it. Whenever I raised my hand in class the teacher said, "Oh, I know that YOU know the answer; I want to know who else does," which would result in either laughter or resentment. Trust me, being smart is a burden far more often than it is a benefit. If you think I'm wrong, look at the reaction I got when I mentioned my Mensa membership here, and this is a group that's probably of above average intelligence. Most Mensans leave Mensa off their resumes for precisely that reason.

Add to that the fact that the highly intelligent tend to be socially awkward, as I mentioned before, and for many of us this is the first time we've found a group of others like ourselves, where our accomplishments won't be ridiculed and our intelligence won't be devalued. Mensans assemble in groups for the same reason gay people assemble in groups; to be with other people where we don't have to explain ourselves and where we won't be sat upon in judgment by others.

At one level you're right; I'm far more likely to be intellectually challenged by other Mensans than non-Mensans. But why is that a bad thing?

DPS, I was once with a group of Mensans when somebody who thinks like you do asked us if we could add another 30 points to our IQ in exchange for a disfiguring facial scar. A woman said that she would not, and the questioner said, "Of course a woman would say no." She replied, "Actually, scar or no scar, I wouldn't want to add another 30 points to my IQ because then my IQ would be 182 and I would have absolutely no one else to talk to." She gets it. You don't.
1.20.2008 4:31pm
NI:
One other thing I forgot to mention: Non-Mensa spouses and guests are welcome at Mensa events. My spouse, who is not only a non-Mensan, but is of slightly below-average intelligence, loves Mensa because that's where most of his friends are at this point. He says it's the most unpretentious, down to earth group of people he's ever met.
1.20.2008 4:51pm
JWW:


That may well be true in your experience. However, anti-Semitism is far too common for that to be true universally. Polls show that hundreds of millions of people in the Muslim world, Russia, and elsewhere hold strongly anti-Semitic views. I doubt that they are all paranoid and deluded (at least in the clinical sense). They are of course deluded in the sense that their views are wrong.


What's even more, this state of affairs has persisted for centuries. The question I struggle with is it, and has it always been irrational? In nature, we don't generally label the behavior of animals as right or wrong. If we look close enough there is usually some type of evolutionary basis for the behavior in question.
1.20.2008 5:15pm
neurodoc:
Antisemitism is a most unfortunate pathology, one well worthy of thoughtful discussion. Bobby Fischer case offers few insights to the phenomenon, though. This was a person who had the filings in his teeth removed because he thought the Russians were somehow making use of them to read his mind. One could talk about Fischer and his antisemitism for however they wanted and they would never come up with anything of much if any relevance to the likes of a David Duke, a Pat Buchanon, a Henry Ford or others of their ilk, to say nothing of lesser (and greater?) antisemites of various varieties.

I do think it interesting, and possibly useful though, to consider his intellectual capacities, expressed so incredibly narrowly in this board game. The NYT said that Fischer had an IQ of 181, which presumably was arrived at by testing, not someon's guesstimate. So do that mean if he wasn't something like an idiot savant and he could have been pretty awesome at a variety of endeavors (e.g., math) other than chess, if he had chosen to pursue them and his mental illness did not incapacitate him for purposes other than playing chess?

If Fischer had continued to compete notwithstanding the ravages of his mental illness, is it likely that he would have gone on trouncing the opposition, or would he have been unable to manage even this monomaniacal pursuit? (Schizophrenia is seen as a "thought" disorder, but I heard a researcher maintain once that if schizophrenics were properly tested, they would all be found to have some degree of cognitive impairment too.)

David Smith, on the occasion of Bobby Fischer's death, any thoughts about IBM's Deep Blue computer that narrowly defeated Kasparov. Would a top tier player likely fare better against it than Kasparov did in his famous match against the computer? With a little tweaking, could the IBM team have brought their program up to date, maybe making it so awesomely powerful that it would beat the best players today with greater ease than it did Kasparov? Would greater computational power be the difference, or is it about "understanding" the game and capturing that understanding in code, which then with the computational power will always triumph over humans? Was Deep Blue the high water mark for chess playing machines or have others continued improving chess programs since IBM got out of the business?

Are there any feats of memory like the recall of past moves in their own games and those of others by a Fischer or a Kasparov? Or for someone with an international grand master's understanding of the game is it not as extraordinary a feat of memory to recall all those moves as it seems to a patzer like me?
1.20.2008 5:17pm
neurodoc:
What's even more, this state of affairs has persisted for centuries. The question I struggle with is it, and has it always been irrational? In nature, we don't generally label the behavior of animals as right or wrong. If we look close enough there is usually some type of evolutionary basis for the behavior in question.
Right, when a lion kills an antelope, we do not label the behavior right or wrong. Nor do we when two bull walruses fight to determine who will have all the females and who will be forced out of the group. But it is at best reductionist to view humans as but animals a little higher up the evolutionary tree. Not even the most ardent sociobiologist would seek to explain the phenomenon of antisemitism in simple terms of animal behavior, though ethnology may have some insights to offer.

A knowledge of history, especially European history, is surely a prerequisite to any meaningful understanding of antisemitism. In particular, the origins of antisemitism and its manifestations over the course of centuries will be less mysterious, if you study the rise and evolution of those monotheistic religions, namely Christianity and Islam, that came along after Judaism. And then some grasp of psychiatry/pschology will be of further help. (You weren't looking for the Cliff Notes version, were you?)
1.20.2008 5:36pm
not a doc (mail):
"Right, when a lion kills an antelope, we do not label the behavior right or wrong."

I think it's wrong. I label it wrong. Shame on the lion.

"Nor do we when two bull walruses fight to determine who will have all the females and who will be forced out of the group."

That's wrong too. Those are bad walruses, especially the one who wins. You shouldn't treat members of your own species that way. No. Not for any reason.
1.20.2008 5:48pm
Waldensian (mail):

My spouse, who is not only a non-Mensan, but is of slightly below-average intelligence,

Okay, I get it. You're a troll. You totally had me going there with the "smart people are victimized" sob story from high school stuff, but this is just too much.
1.20.2008 6:15pm
NI:
What's too much? That someone who's smart might have a long term relationship with someone who isn't, because he recognizes that there's more to love than intellectual stimulation, or that someone who's not smart might enjoy the company of Mensans who treat him like a human being?

You're the one who picked this fight with your gratuitous ad hominems so don't call me a troll. And you still have yet to respond to a substantive point.

I get it. You're a bigot. So nothing I say will make any difference. So I quit. If you want to tell yourself you won, be my guest.
1.20.2008 7:19pm
NI:
Clarification: "He isn't as smart as I am" isn't a moral judgment but a mere statement of fact, just as "he isn't as tall as I am" or "he weighs more than I do" or "he makes more money than I do" or "he's better at carpentry than I am." Only a bigot such as yourself would have read that as a moral judgment. I rest my case.
1.20.2008 7:54pm
JWW:

A knowledge of history, especially European history, is surely a prerequisite to any meaningful understanding of antisemitism. In particular, the origins of antisemitism and its manifestations over the course of centuries will be less mysterious, if you study the rise and evolution of those monotheistic religions, namely Christianity and Islam, that came along after Judaism. And then some grasp of psychiatry/pschology will be of further help. (You weren't looking for the Cliff Notes version, were you?)


I appreciate your comments neurodoc. I will have to study the subject more. I have found Thomas Szasz's work on the Inquisition of some value, especially with respect to the pschology/psychiatry angle.
1.20.2008 8:06pm
Waldensian (mail):
I'm fascinated by this. How often do you and your spouse discuss his relatively lower IQ?
1.20.2008 9:55pm
NI:
We don't. Neither do we discuss the fact that he's a better carpenter than I am or that I'm a better cook than he is. We don't discuss that I'm better with money or that he's better at sports and fixing cars. All of that said, in point of fact he's better than me at carpentry and sports and fixing cars, and I'm better than him at cooking and handling money. Oh, and it's also an objective fact that I have a higher IQ. So what? My Mensa friends like him because he's funny and witty and kind and pleasant to be with, and he likes them because they're down to earth and unpretentious. You seem to think that all smart people are snobs, or at least that anyone who notices that some people are smarter than others are snobs, or certainly that smart people who enjoy grouping with other people with whom they have that in common are snobs.

All of which takes us back to my original point. You obviously are comletely clueless about what Mensans are like, either individually or in groups, and if you are really interested in reality rather than this fantasy you've constructed, I can get you in to the next Mensa gathering near wherever you live.

But never mind all of that. I will concede that Mensans as a group have idiosyncracies that others may find annoying (though in my experience snobbishness really isn't one of them). The real question is why you find the idiosyncracies of this particular group so much more annoying than others that you have a hostile reaction whenever the name comes up. And I would submit that your hostility level is so high that it's obviously psychological rather than rational. Which isn't a moral judgment either; I have prejudices of my own.
1.20.2008 10:57pm
Elais:

Clarification: "He isn't as smart as I am" isn't a moral judgment but a mere statement of fact, just as "he isn't as tall as I am" or "he weighs more than I do" or "he makes more money than I do" or "he's better at carpentry than I am." Only a bigot such as yourself would have read that as a moral judgment. I rest my case.



Differences in height is is beyond moral judgement. Being five feet tall is no better or worse than being six feet tall.

Basically calling someone dumb or less smart than you certainly is a moral judgement.
1.20.2008 11:04pm
neurodoc:
I have found Thomas Szasz's work on the Inquisition of some value, especially with respect to the pschology/psychiatry angle.

I don't know what Szasz has to say about the Inquisition, but do be aware that as a psychiatrist he is shall we say rather "aberrant." (Szasz is certainly provocative and when I first heard him speak 40 years ago, I was enormously impressed. Then, after I attended medical school and completed a residency, I wasn't so impressed. As a physician, I can't imagine refering anyone to him for care.)
1.20.2008 11:24pm
NI:
Elais, suppose you have two people, X and Y. X has an IQ of 100; Y has an IQ of 110. Y is smarter than X. How exactly is it a moral judgment to state the objective fact that Y is smarter than X? It doesn't mean that Y is more virtuous or a harder worker; it just means he's smarter. Nobody is pretending otherwise.
1.20.2008 11:31pm
Jeffrey Hall (www):

Y'know, I like chess, and I'm okay at it but not great.
But for God's sake, it's just a game. It's a game, people.
...
That's it.
All the crap I've heard about "styles" and "classical v. romantic playing" and "multi-layered strategies," etc., strike me as absurd exaggerations of the game's qualities.


Right on, bro! And what's up with all of these picture galleries in museums? Rooms and rooms full of pictures and people just staring at them. They're just pictures, people. And don't even get me started on the whole Bach and Mozart mumbo-jumbo. It's just noise, people.
1.21.2008 11:43am
neurodoc:
David Smith, if you're still out there, please share with us about chess playing machines, in particular Deep Blue. I really am curious to know what happened after that historic achievement of chess playing machine beating a chess playing human, with both the machine (Deep Blue) and the human (Gary Kasparov) retiring. Are chess playing machines getting much better with time, while chess playing humans are getting only a bit better with time?
1.21.2008 2:37pm
Waldensian (mail):

So nothing I say will make any difference. So I quit.

Guess not.

Oh, and it's also an objective fact that I have a higher IQ. So what?

If it's so unimportant, why did you bring it up? Probably for the same reason the Mensans convened a meeting and called it... wait for it... Smartigras

Face it, you like pointing out that you are smarter than other people. I offer this entire comment thread as Exhibit A.
1.21.2008 6:24pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I'm not only a member of Mensa but hold office in Mensa and I can tell you that there are plenty of highly intelligent people who are completely dysfunctional. And we have our share of racists, anti-Semites and homophobes.
I've never held office in Mensa, but I confess that I agree with you. I've met some truly strange (and not in a positive way) Mensans. I'm not sure if their intelligence was a cause, or just a coincidence, but it was a reminder that sometimes high intelligence carries enough baggage that it isn't particularly useful.

I only occasionally attend Mensa meetings. I know that I am probably in the lower half of the bell curve of Mensa members--and yet, as near as I can tell, I am dramatically wealthier than any of them. This is not what I would expect, if intelligence is positively correlated with income or wealth.

A co-worker who was really, really brilliant, didn't just join Mensa, but also a group called 4 Sigma (four standard deviations above the norm--roughly the top 2% of the top 2%). He was strange, but in a nice way!
1.21.2008 6:36pm
NI:
Waldensian, the reason I brought it up was because the troubled life of a super-intelligent person (Bobby Fischer) was the subject of this thread, and I mentioned it to show that i have some life experience to back up my opinion. And I don't know if you're Mensa-qualified or not, but you sure as hell aren't stupid enough (despite your repeated efforts to look stupid) to honestly not know that.

But instead of responding to my substantive points, you launched into an ad hominem broadside. And after I've responded to what few substantive points you've made, you're still doing ad hominems. Frankly, I think you're scared half to death that somebody somewhere might be better than you are at something, so you lash out with insult at anything that looks better than you do. If Tom Brady posted here you'd make ad hominems about sports jocks. If the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court posted here you'd make ad hominems about judges. Because a Mensan posted here, your ad hominems are about smart people. Your issue isn't about Mensa; your issue is about your own need to cut down to size any tree that looks taller than you do.

By the way, I never met Bobby Fischer, but I will bet a month's salary that part of the reason he suffered from the emotional problems that he did is that as a super-intelligent person he spent his whole life dealing with jerks like you.
1.21.2008 7:54pm
not a doc (mail):
"And don't even get me started on the whole Bach and Mozart mumbo-jumbo. It's just noise, people."

Comparing people playing chess to the creative process involved in great music is just f'n ridiculous.
1.21.2008 8:54pm
Wondering Willy:
I find it hard to blame Fischer for his nutty views on things. There was something different about his brain that allowed him to be a chess prodigy. I think that whatever unusual modification gave rise to his chess skills also caused the nutso political ideas.
1.22.2008 12:18am
alias:
May I ask why the hostility to Mensa?

Because its whole raison d'etre is bragging about test scores, which I've been taught since age 15 or so is impolite and a sign of a self-congratulatory loser.

Most (or a substantial minority, at least) of my classmates in high school, college and law school would probably qualify for mensa. The same is true of the people I work with, I think. But no one I know has ever felt the slightest inclination to join.

If your IQ is 140+, you're over 30, and your greatest achievement in life is cracking 1500 on the SATs, then you're the definition of wasted potential, and the only reason to seek out similar people is for group therapy.
1.22.2008 9:55am
alias:
That's wrong too. Those are bad walruses, especially the one who wins. You shouldn't treat members of your own species that way. No. Not for any reason.

One of 5 or so VC comments that's made me laugh out loud at my desk....

"bad walruses..."
1.22.2008 9:58am
Prufrock765 (mail):
I think the poor Mensa members may be getting rather more guff than they deserve here, but I can't resist:
the justifications for joining Mensa offered by its members here include being so smart relative to the general population that social maladjustment or maltreatment set in.
Now how hard is it, really, to meet a Mensa-level intellect? They are not THAT rare. It maybe a tough go for the guy Clayton talked about--a 1:2500 intellect, but 130-150 IQ people are everywhere.
And how do people you meet in adult social situations even know you have, say, a 145 IQ as opposed to a more terrestrial 125 unless you make it explicitly or implicitly clear by how you comport yourself? How complicated could your jokes really be?
BTW, I like many of those who blog here am Mensa- eligible, but have never quite found an adequate rationale to join.
1.22.2008 10:37am
alias:
the justifications for joining Mensa offered by its members here include being so smart relative to the general population that social maladjustment or maltreatment set in.

If your IQ is 180, your high school summer job at Taco Bell might make for some interesting conversations, but if you're only comfortable talking to smart people there are many significantly more useful organizations (e.g. employers) out there that one could associate with.

The whole Mensa thing seems to be based on a desire for praise without having actually achieved anything. The reason that people respect Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein is that those people had productive careers using their intellect. Marilyn vos Savant probably has a higher IQ than either of them (and her Parade column is great, btw), but there's a reason that she's not mentioned much in the same breath as the other 2.
1.22.2008 11:18am
NI:
Alias, the whole reason for Mensa is not to brag about test scores. It is to socialize with other people with whom someone has something in common. I'm sorry you find that so disreputable.

Look, nobody takes any offense when the New England Patriots socialize with each other instead of with a local football club, and nobody takes offense when law professors socialize with each other rather than blue collar workers. None of which is to say (although I'm sure alias and waldensian will twist it to say) that Tom Brady can't enjoy a beer with someone of less talent or that a law professor may not enjoy lunch with a blue collar worker. What it means is that people prefer to be with other people who are like themselves. Most blue collar workers probably wouldn't be comfortable going to Eugene's for cocktails either.

I agree it's impolite to rub someone's nose in the fact that he's less talented, but that's not what preferring to be with others like oneself is. Neither is Mensa the greatest achievement of most of its members, any more than stamp collecting is the greatest achievement of most people who join stamp clubs.

Prufrock, most of our jokes aren't that complex, and we tend to like really, really bad puns (the worse the better). On the other hand, I made a speech to a group of Mensans not long ago in which I told a joke the punch line to which required knowing the difference between exo-thermic and endo-thermic, and I didn't have to explain it to anyone. Maybe I wouldn't have to explain it to you. The difference is that when I talk to Mensans I know up front that I'm not going to have to explain it to anyone.
1.22.2008 11:24am
NI:
Oh, and alias, I'm sorry that whomever taught you that bragging is impolite didn't also teach you that so are ad hominems, as are gratuitous attacks on what other people are justifiably proud of.
1.22.2008 11:39am
Prufrock765 (mail):
NI:
What, exactly, do you "have in common" with fellow Mensans qua Mensans?
I can understand people getting together who share a common sub-cultural interest--whether it be in the Patriots or World of Warcraft(sp?)or Spinoza or Longaberger baskets.
But the only thing that you "share" with fellow Mensans, as far as I can see, is that you all did very well on a particular test...Unless it is that you are each quite proud of your score.
Also: with regard to your final comment at 11:39: of what, specifically, are you "justifiably proud"?
I think the snarkiness that you are hearing is a consequence, if I may, of statements like that.
1.22.2008 12:40pm
alias:
I've been a bit too harsh... Not so long ago, I looked up the Mensa web page because someone suggested that I join. I formed my impressions then and haven't revisited it since.

But if the point of Mensa is just a harmless social forum, then why brag about it? It seems like something that people should just enjoy for whatever it's worth and otherwise keep to themselves.

Look, nobody takes any offense when the New England Patriots socialize with each other instead of with a local football club, and nobody takes offense when law professors socialize with each other rather than blue collar workers.

Right. Football teammates and law professors have jobs. Those jobs require a good percentage of their respective waking hours and a great deal of their energy. People who spending much of your waking time and your energy at something tend to care about that something and tend to have a great deal in common with other people who care about that same thing to the same degree.

Most people tend to hang out with people of roughly equal intelligence, and no one thinks that's unnatural.

Mensa takes it a step further, though. The socializing comes with a consistent theme. Also, the webpage is riddled with smug self-pitying sentiment. It's like every mensan thinks of him/herself as living out the movie "powder" or something like that. Children can be cruel to their high-achieving classmates, but usually the smart people go on to honors programs or entire colleges full of similarly intelligent people, or they grow up and get past worrying about what others think... or they learn a few social skills along the way like not to brag about their test scores or not to call their classmates "troglodytes" or Phillistines."
1.22.2008 1:08pm
NI:
Prufrock,

First, of the 300 million people in the US, approximately 6 million (i.e., 2%) are Mensa eligible (including of course infants and others whose circumstances prevent them from joining). Mensa nationally has about 50,000 members, which means that less than 1% of the people who are eligible to join Mensa actually do. So we're talking about a small, self-selected group of the small percentage of people who are even eligible. And people come and go -- we have a certain number who drop out after a short period of time, or who pass the test just for bragging rights but don't even join -- but those of us who are there long term are there because we enjoy one another's company. And we also understand that someone who fails the test but whose IQ is in the top 3% or 4% of the population is still a very smart person, but the cutoff had to be somewhere.

So, why do we enjoy one another's company? Well, because the specific personality type that is both highly intelligent and likely to be drawn to a group like Mensa means that it's a comfortable fit, like old shoes. Most of the people at a Mensa convention are people who enjoy talking about the same types of things, enjoy playing the same kinds of games (in fact Milton Bradley uses Mensa to test new products), enjoy workshops on the same general types of topics. Mensans tend to be people who do other interesting things -- I went mountain climbing in Antarctica two antarctic summers ago. I have never gone to a Mensa hospitality suite and not had great conversation. Mensa has special interest groups for pretty much whatever special interest you may have. I get to talk to physicists who are sending people to the space station; I get to talk to people on the cutting edge of cosmology; I get to parse philosophy and theology and history and current events with the leading lights in the field. The Journal of Mensa allows me to read what the smartest people in the world are thinking about and writing about. I don't remember the last time anyone said anything at all about how much smarter we are than everyone else; why would we when we've got so many more interesting things to discuss?

On the "justifiably proud" part, are you suggesting I should be ashamed of my intellect? Are you saying that the ability to solve problems is something to be embarrassed about? I think people should be proud of whatever they can do well. I'm sorry others here seem to think that the fact that I'm proud of my own accomplishments somehow means I discount the accomplishments of others whose talents lie elsewhere.
1.22.2008 1:12pm
NI:
Alias, I think most of what I said in my 1:12 posting is responsive to your most recent comment. I would only add that you should really attend a Mensa function and meet some live Mensans before passing judgment based on a Web site that apparently rubbed you the wrong way. And I don't remember ever hearing anyone call anyone else Philistines or troglodytes (well, someone said it about George Bush once on a political forum).
1.22.2008 1:15pm
Prufrock765 (mail):
In general, NI: more power to you.
But, a couple of things in response:
I maintain that, yes, it strikes me as strange to hear someone profess to be "justifiably proud"--not merely "proud" but justifiably so--of his IQ.
To say that is not, of course, equal to saying that you should be "ashamed" of that quality, anymore than saying that a person should not profess "justifiable" pride in height or his 40 yard dash time is to say that he should be ashamed of those characteristics.

Also, I suppose that your "thing" could just be a ravenous curiosity for all things "intellectual". If so, then, like I said, more power to you. But then why not expand the admission criteria and give fascinating people in the 96th, or the 90th, percentile a shot?
To the casual observer, Mensa does look like a group of insecure people congratulating one another over (sorry...) not much.
1.22.2008 1:33pm
Kent G. Budge (mail) (www):
I'm probably one of the many here who could easily qualify for Mensa but doesn't see the point. In fact, I'd guess that the overwhelming majority of folks qualified for Mensa don't see the point.

That strongly suggests that a high test score is not the only common characteristic of Mensans. From what's been posted, I'd guess that extreme social awkwardness is another common trait.

Curiously, I am also extremely socially awkward. Yet I haven't felt much desire joined Mensa. So there must be a third common trait as well.

I suggest the common trait is a willingness to retreat from the social challenges members face, rather than confront them? I have gone a long ways towards becoming more socially capable. I've married an intelligent but non-geeky woman, I'm raising three kids, I've accepted volunteer positions in my church and community that require me to develop some skill with social interactions. It's been very much worthwhile. Membership in Mensa would have run counter to this.

Has my intellectual potential been wasted? Well, I'm not in line for a Nobel Prize, and I never became a college professor. But I'm involved in scientific research at a national laboratory, I have never had a problem supporting myself or my family, and I don't vote Democratic. That has to count for something.
1.22.2008 1:45pm
ys:
Nobody is reading this thread by now, I suppose, but if you are, here is an interesting and I think reasonably balanced account of Fischer's last years from Iceland. And note, this is not about Mensa!
1.22.2008 3:14pm
NI:
Prufrock, I don't know why it was set at the 98th rather than the 96th or 90th. That decision was made 40 years ago when the organization was founded. I imagine wherever it was placed, somebody would say that it should be lower.

On the justifiable pride issue, my intellect allows me to accomplish things I would not otherwise be able to accomplish. True, I still have to go out and actually accomplish them, but I'm proud to have the tools I need.

I think that it is possible to discount any achievement you want by saying that the person didn't really earn it. Someone who works hard and does well was likely born with a temperament that made it easier for him than somebody with a different temperament. I don't have substance abuse problems because I'm not attracted to those substances; do I really have the right to sit in moral judgment of people who are? I'm sure Tom Brady worked very hard to get to where he is, but he started off with a well-performing body, and if I had his body maybe I could be a superbowl quarterback too. Etc. So yes, a lot of what we have is pure undeserved luck, and maybe none of us should be proud of anything we accomplish. Or, maybe people should be proud of what they do no matter how they got the tools to do it.
1.22.2008 3:28pm
alias:
Alias, I think most of what I said in my 1:12 posting is responsive to your most recent comment.

I think so too. Thanks.
1.22.2008 4:33pm
Jeffrey Hall (www):


"And don't even get me started on the whole Bach and Mozart mumbo-jumbo. It's just noise, people."

Comparing people playing chess to the creative process involved in great music is just f'n ridiculous.


not a doc:
I couldn't agree more. The piano hardly ever fights back.
1.22.2008 4:48pm
Hoosier:
NEWSFLASH:

Bobby Fischer is Still Dead!

(Franco too.)

But the thread continues. See below.
1.22.2008 4:55pm
neurodoc:
Thanks ys for the Fischer-related post with its link. Interesting to learn the he died of kidney failure and that he rejected "western medicine." Tempting to speculate that had he not rejected "western medicine," which counts dialysis as one of the arrows in its quiver, he might have lived many more years.

I do wish that David Smith, or someone other knowledgeable person, would inform me about how far advanced chess playing machines (computers) are these days. Was IBM's Deep Blue, which narrowly triumphed over Gary Kasparov, the most accomplished ever, or has it been surpassed?
1.24.2008 1:02am