Re: Famous thinkers and their IQs

Nick Bostrom (
Tue, 24 Nov 1998 23:26:40 +0000

Alexander 'Sasha' Chislenko wrote:

> I just received the following request for assessments of IQs of famous
> thinkers. Just thought I'd share it. Maybe you could give a better
> answer than I did.
> >From:
> >
> >I am Aileen Pariņas, working as a researcher in an advertising agency in
> >Manila, Philippines. I am doing a research right now on famous people who
> >have very high IQs. I visited your site on Great Thinkers and it has helped
> >me a lot. I was just wondering if you know the actual or estimate IQ level
> >of these famous personalities (dead or still living) such as Einstein,
> >Darwin, Gandhi, Galileo, Da Vinci, Picasso, Siddhartha, etc.

I've heard a figure of 180 for Einstein, but I don't know the source or how reliable it is whether they used a standard deviation of 16 or 24. I know there are IQ figures available for the leading Nazi war criminals (though not for Hitler I think). They were typically well above average, as one would expect for successful politicians. I think Herman Goering's IQ turned out to be especially high and that he took some pride in this during his captivity. A few famous personalities are members in Mensa, so their IQs should have been measured at some stage (e.g. Asimov).

An exceptional IQ is by no means a guarantee or even a strong indication of exceptional performance. On the other hand, I think exceptional performance in many fields require a high minimum IQ. Any IQ points above this minimum IQ (needless to say there is surely a considerable grey area) will perhaps not correlate strongly with performance. The minimum IQ varies from field to field. For a Nobel prize in theoretical physics, you presumably need at least two standard deviations above average (plus a knack for mathematics, the ability to concentrate on abstract things for extended periods of time etc.). A painter like Picasso could get away with much less, I think. (Of course, Picasso neeeds other talents, which however may only weakly correlate with IQ.)

Though the field still holds some fascination for me, I have become more skeptical of the relevance of IQ in recent years. I was a member of Mensa for a year, and I have to say I failed to detect any form of intellectual excellence in the people I met. Perhaps my contrast group was skewed though, since many people I normally interact with are professors or postgrads. Maybe if I had been living in a mining community instead I would have found the Mensa people incredibly bright.

BTW, contrary to what was said on another thread some weeks back, there seems to be a fairly substantial correlation between IQ and brain size. I've heard figures of correlation coefficients of up to .4. It would be interesting to try correlate the size and complexity of specific cortical areas with performance measures of the sort of activity they are thought to be responsible for. Maybe one could find even greater coefficients then.

Nick Bostrom Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method London School of Economics