Join 3,553 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


I Still Work at a Bar
February 5, 2007 1:13 AM   Subscribe

Christopher Michael Langan is a bouncer by trade, a genius in his spare time (.pdf). Errol Morris documents the essence of a working class hero.
posted by basicchannel (63 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
intelligent design? really? really?
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 1:21 AM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


To whit: genius != Genius. Fascinating character, nonetheless.
posted by basicchannel at 1:26 AM on February 5, 2007


Being intelligent (or even hyper-intelligent) does not preclude one from holding erroneous beliefs. This is a continuing theme in human history.
posted by moonbiter at 1:27 AM on February 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


"Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe"? File under timecube and mindpixel.
posted by mr. strange at 1:30 AM on February 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


According to the wiki, he thinks Genesis is true but metaphorical, which I'm pretty much behind since it doesn't eliminate the truth of either the Bible or of science. But intelligent design?

Uuuurg... intelligent design makes me mad! On the science end: Evolution doesn't need such direction for complex organ systems/changes to arise. On the faith end: an all powerful, omnipotent God is capable of a lot more creative elegance (a universe governed by physical law that governs biological evolution) than what intelligent design outlines him to be doing.

Ok, so as not to get off topic:

"Regarding evolution and creationism, the linkage is simple: since Biblical accounts of the genesis of our world and species are true but metaphorical, our task is to correctly decipher the metaphor in light of scientific evidence also given to us by God. Hence, the CTMU."

Sounds a bit different from what I've heard of intelligent design proponents, and if this fellow can steer things more in that direction I'd feel more comfortable calling myself a Christian. But there's danger in what that metaphor is made out to be, and I hope it doesn't espouse the idea that there might be a single absolute metaphor in Genesis; my cynicism wants to say that it could be turned to whatever is politically expedient for intelligent design proponents.

Addressing the interview: man, that'd be really super annoying to be hounded all the time to answer questions that are a mix of answerable and completely ridiculous. Of course, the second thought I had was, "I wonder what askme would be like if he were on there. Would the rate of best answers increase?"
posted by Mister Cheese at 1:46 AM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Langan appeared in filmmaker Errol Morris' The Smartest Man in the World episode of the television documentary series "First Person." Langan also appeared in one episode of Walker, Texas Ranger.

that just about says it all, doesn't it.
posted by pruner at 1:47 AM on February 5, 2007


The thing about unschooled genius is that it never learns humility in the face of being wrong. The ability to read and remember everything is not the same as having the ability to *sythesize* from what you know. You can read all the books you want about philosphy but, doing so doesn't make you a philosopher. It makes you a hobbyist. Having not been schooled in the important ideas of the past, the unschooled simply repeat them thinking them to be new and original.

Also, knowing alot of big and obscure words doesn't do anyone any good if you can't write a syntactically coherent sentence.

Of course, I could just be too stupid to understand the CTMU.

But I doubt it.
posted by jaded at 3:45 AM on February 5, 2007 [4 favorites]


I think Errol Morris is kind of a genius himself.
posted by zardoz at 4:03 AM on February 5, 2007


Oops, I've got more: a few years ago Morris invented a new type of camera for his interviews. The interviewee looks directly at the camera which has a screen with Morris' face. It creates an added dimension of intimacy and you can imagine the person is talking directly to you. Cool stuff.
posted by zardoz at 4:08 AM on February 5, 2007


jaded?

Sorry. That was a question.
posted by hal9k at 4:42 AM on February 5, 2007


I briefly met Errol Morris as he once came to my counter at a previous job looking for directions. I found him to be quite personable and sublimely ordinary. He is, indeed, kind of a genius.

That show "First Person" was awesome. The episode on the giant squid hunter is great and the credit card guy is unbelievable.
posted by dogwalker at 4:55 AM on February 5, 2007


Biblical accounts of the genesis of our world and species are true but metaphorical

An interesting view. The use of the word "metaphorical" in such a context seems to imply a narrative-based view of the universe (eg, a belief in karma, which can be summed up as "the most emotionally satisfying outcome will happen").

He seems to view God's function (where God is the intelligence behind intelligent design) as that of author of the story of the universe. That's a view that appeals to voracious readers, but it makes no testable predictions and so is ultimately no more (dis-)provable than any other ID theory or ideological grandstand.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:37 AM on February 5, 2007


my cynicism wants to say that it could be turned to whatever is politically expedient for intelligent design proponents.

My cynicism does say that religions with a non-interventionist but judgemental deity are only ever turned to whatever is politically expedient for the proponents of that version of the religion.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:44 AM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


The thing about unschooled genius is that it never learns humility in the face of being wrong.

I can think of quite a few highly schooled morons who aren't particularly good at the "humility in the face of being wrong" thing, either.

Having not been schooled in the important ideas of the past, the unschooled simply repeat them thinking them to be new and original.

Is this always true? If it were, there would never be any "new and original" thoughts, because the only thoughts that matter are the ones in which the student has been "schooled" (indoctrinated to believe as gospel).
posted by Enron Hubbard at 5:59 AM on February 5, 2007


Yeah, it seems like there are a lot of really smart people who never really interacted with people at their level, and so for them it seems as though they are smarter then everyone else in the world. This makes it harder for them to accept that other people might be right about something.
posted by delmoi at 6:18 AM on February 5, 2007


After watching those videos I can't stop thinking about some alternate universe out there where this guy isn't horribly abused when he is young, where his father didn't die and his mother didn't marry a monster, and where he is encouraged at all on any level in school.

How sad is it that the man with the most potential of anyone on earth is so emotionally and physically traumatized that he can't accomplish anything of any significance?
posted by aburd at 6:20 AM on February 5, 2007


intelligent design makes me mad!

No no no! Intelligent design made you mad.
posted by srboisvert at 6:40 AM on February 5, 2007 [5 favorites]


delmoi: "Yeah, it seems like there are a lot of really smart people who never really interacted with people at their level, and so for them it seems as though they are smarter then everyone else in the world. This makes it harder for them to accept that other people might be right about something."

Nice observation. If you come from the working class, and have never had any contact with the professional classes, possessing even a slightly above-average intelligence can make you believe that you're Einstein.

Eventually though, you surely have to end up posing the question to yourself: "If I'm so smart, why is it that I'm still working as a taxi driver/bouncer/whatever and can't afford a new pair of shoes for my kid?"

At that point, I guess they either bite the bullet and get a job that brings them into contact with *other* genuinely smart people. Or they've got some sort of personality flaw - drug addict, rageaholic, etc. -- that makes them pretty much unemployable in those sorts of positions.

My own (admittedly somewhat limited) experience is that this is actually quite a common trait among that group. Perhaps because of the usual flaws, but sometimes because they can't actually come to terms with being a medium fish in a larger pond.

And such people often struggle to grasp the notion that intelligence is just one component in a range of skills that are necessary to succeed in the areas that intelligent people tend to be ambitious in. Intelligence without things like staying power, social intelligence, the ability to organize and manage your time, etc. tends to be hugely overrated. Necessary, but not sufficient, I suppose.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:41 AM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


More recent news coverage of Langan.
posted by O Blitiri at 6:49 AM on February 5, 2007


The discussion of head size is inane. I'm not sure what to think about his claims to intelligence, but a lot of his responses in the video aren't too impressive: the head size thing, for one, but also the evident surprise that physical violence might change what he's thinking about, along with all the hoopla about his lost piece of paper detailing a "whole new way to think about neural networks." Then the disingenuous response to the question about wanting to be in violent situations, after all the talk of "applying authority." The guy may be smart, but he seems like the worst kind of douche.

Enron Hubbard writes "...the ones in which the student has been 'schooled' (indoctrinated to believe as gospel)."

Learning about something is not the same thing as being indoctrinated. That should be evident without much thought.
posted by OmieWise at 6:55 AM on February 5, 2007


Sorry, anyone who is an associate of William Dembski's cannot possibly qualify as a "genius" (or even a middling scientist). Oh and the "Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe"? Amazing how his "work" in this arena doesn't appear in peer-reviewed scientific journals or pop up in graduate symposia on the subject (!). This guy seems far more interested in being the keynote speaker at his regional MENSA conference than anything else.

Familiarizing yourself with scientific questions as a layperson is fascinating and relatively easy, however there are limits to what one can reasonably said to contribute to such matters without proper background and years of training. Advancing revolutionary theories of cognitive science or cosmology as a layperson is fine, but it's also a bit like teaching yourself surgery from looking at the diagrams in Grey's Anatomy. In more honest times it was called charlatanism.
posted by inoculatedcities at 7:04 AM on February 5, 2007


Incidentally, the "scientific journal" Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design is not actually a scientific journal. It's a publication put out by Dembski's Discovery Institute to add a veneer of "scientific" respectability to his crank ideas about "irreducible complexity". Dembski, by the way, has no background or degrees in any scientific discipline.
posted by inoculatedcities at 7:12 AM on February 5, 2007


It is dangerously seductive to define oneself by ones potential. It is as easy as it is ultimately deeply fragile. Any real test of potential imperils it, so in the end those that take pride in what they could do, what the might do, rather than what the do, or have done. Don't.

This is cautionary tale.
posted by I Foody at 7:12 AM on February 5, 2007 [7 favorites]


Here you have it: definitive proof IQ tests are useless.
posted by tehloki at 7:17 AM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


So which came first, Christopher Michael Langan or Good Will Hunting?
posted by cavalier at 7:20 AM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Whoa, I hadn't gotten to the nice plug for eugenics when I wrote my first comment. What an idiot.
posted by OmieWise at 7:22 AM on February 5, 2007


As genius bounders go, he has nothing on James Dalton, Head Bouncer at the Double Deuce Club.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:35 AM on February 5, 2007


I remember seeing Langan's episode on "First Person" at 2am in the morning last winter, and being so psyched that he existed that I punched the air and let out a ridiculous howl.
posted by gcbv at 8:12 AM on February 5, 2007


zardoz: a few years ago Morris invented a new type of camera for his interviews.

It's called the Interrotron, which I like almost as much as the invention itself.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:17 AM on February 5, 2007


Eugenics isn't an empirically stupid idea; it's more on the "morally despicable" side. I'm not surprised somebody with such high intelligence yet such a giant ego/bizarre belief system would want to espouse an idea like selective human breeding. Intelligent design, however... gah. Maybe this is evidence for the "religion is a mental illness aggravated by conditioning in childhood" theory.
posted by tehloki at 8:44 AM on February 5, 2007


Here you have it: definitive proof IQ tests are useless.

I don't see that at all. The IQ test is a measure of human potential. If you have an IQ of 150, you have the potential to grasp a whole pile of stuff, and to do so much more quickly, than somebody else who is studying the same material that has an IQ of 85.

Of course, if you're talking about the IQ test as a measure of somebody's moral worth, or their entitlement to a certain standard of living, then yes, that's pretty much useless. And it's probably not that useful at predicting how well people will perform in certain positions either.

And it may be discriminatory and unfair, but I'll take a pass on hiring a lawyer or a surgeon with a below-average IQ.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:57 AM on February 5, 2007


After watching the video, there's no doubt in my mind that this dude is a completel wing-nut. I'm glad he's not in a position of authority or power.
posted by tiger yang at 8:59 AM on February 5, 2007


tehloki writes "Eugenics isn't an empirically stupid idea; it's more on the 'morally despicable' side."

Which is what makes it such a good gage of idiocy.
posted by OmieWise at 9:02 AM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Interesting fellow...and seems like a real blowhard too.

I'll take someone with interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence over someone with language or math intelligence any day.
posted by django_z at 9:03 AM on February 5, 2007


Okay, yeah, I phrased that poorly in a mouth-frothing rage at how ignorant somebody of high intelligence could be. I reframe my statement:

Proof that IQ tests are useless for determining anything other than proficiency in solving problems of logic, geometry, and arithmetic.

ie. You can have an extraordinarily high IQ yet the value of the ideas you hold and the way you look at the world will completely be a function of how you are raised.
posted by tehloki at 9:03 AM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


He's a crank and a wingnut. And I have no respect at all for pseudoscientists who think that they get to redefine peer review.

What a waste of potential.
posted by solid-one-love at 9:29 AM on February 5, 2007


After seeing Morris's Langan episode and the one on Rick Rosner, I spent an afternoon googling these guys and reading about their involvement in the weird internecine politics of high-IQ societies. There's another FPP in there somewhere.
posted by gubo at 9:33 AM on February 5, 2007


Good link, gubo, to the politics of the high-IQ societies.

I used to be very fascinated by IQ, and attempted to measure myself and get a gauge of my 'worth'. In my defense I was only 12, and grew out of it the same way I grew out of Ayn Rand's brand of doltery, and that general childish need to define myself as "superior". These high-IQ wankers (meaning, not genuinely high-IQ people like a Jim Gray, but those who create "mega societies" and are way too fascinated by charts such as this one) are a pathetic lot, and I've long since stopped seeing a difference between them and for example those people who are way too obsessed with penis size, even creating sites whose membership is exclusive to large-penised men. Not only that, but their alleged high intelligence is belied by their apparent misunderstanding of how IQ is measured and what it means.

At best, IQ is as tehloki notes a very limited measure of logic and geometry skills, and not a particularly good one at that. Besides, IQ is a z-score, by definition: any statistician worth a damn knows that you basically can't measure beyond 3 standard deviations, at least not reliably, precisely because the sample size of people who fall into that range gets so increasingly small that they are self-defining. There exists no test or method whatsoever to measure a "190" IQ, because if by definition being 6 standard deviations beyond the norm means you're roughly one in a billion- how on earth do you craft a test for that? Presumably the tester who slapped the label "195" on this Langan guy was just making a number up, or strangely extrapolating from a comparison to a more measurable IQ (i.e., "he finished the test 34% faster than that guy I tested with a 145 IQ").

The basic nature of IQ tests is to craft questions, give them to a random sample population, and determine which questions were answered correctly the least, and weight accordingly. Those weights are then used to 'measure' the rest of the population who takes the test. It's a moderately flawed method for measuring the general population for anything useful, and outright impossible or simply useless for measuring anything beyond just "pretty smart". In my own experience, you can usually tell who the smart people you meet are, and that may have nothing to do with their SAT scores or IQ results.

Nothing this man has said makes him sound particularly intelligent or insightful. Even on its worst day, Metafilter is populated by countless posters who demonstrate more knowledge, insight, articulation and flat out intelligence than the typical "high IQ society" member. The sad truth is these are likely smart- but not especially smart- people who have reacted to their own fears or inability to accomplish something meaningful by retreating into a make-believe world of "high-IQ societies" that never achieve anything. While actually smart people are out getting things done, these people are pretending they're somehow "off-the-charts" special, when in fact they are not special at all. It's a fantasy world they create, as silly, narcissistic, and baseless as attempting to measure one's Thetan level with an E-Meter.
posted by hincandenza at 10:46 AM on February 5, 2007 [5 favorites]


The etymological root of genius is gignere "beget, produce." I don't care what your test scores are, if you don't make or do something smart you are not a genius in my book.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:59 AM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thanks, solid-one-love...I read the talk page you linked to and, while be may be extremely intelligent, he's also clearly an asshole.

I don't have as high an IQ as he does by any means (though still too high for some people's comfort) but I like to think I'm not a crank, wingnut or jerk like this guy.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:17 AM on February 5, 2007


It sounds like he had an extremely traumatic childhood, characterized by vicious physical and emotional abuse and a keenly-felt lack of normal socialization. Normally, I would be hesitant to extrapolate too much about the extent to which the circumstances of someone's early life may influence their later identity, desires, and psychological modes, but what the hell.

I can see why someone like that would be very comfortable as a bouncer, being enabled to abuse strangers (and by the property of their stranger-ness, perhaps to imbue them with the identity of other people, like that horrible step-father of his, who he says he beat up nearly to death); additionally, I wonder if there isn't something about that psychological situation which would lead one to construct such fantasies of utopic social control, or even to formulate logically tortuous models of the universe, which one suspects may be compromised by begging the question, whatever the value of the logical methodology.

I don't mean to dismiss his ideas, though. His assertion that some sort of ideological or practical basis for global cooperation seems both reasonable and commendable, if difficult to achieve. I think that would be a much more worthwhile use of minds like his.
posted by clockzero at 12:10 PM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


anyone who has played any RPG knows that intelligence is only one stat out of many.
posted by perianwyr at 12:30 PM on February 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


The Rick Rosner videos are also really good.
posted by OmieWise at 12:35 PM on February 5, 2007


perianwyr : anyone who has played any RPG knows that intelligence is only one stat out of many.

And a dump stat for most classes at that.
posted by I Foody at 12:47 PM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Also, any test that is mostly designed to figure out whether you have to wear a helmet to school will not tell me if you're the greatest mind of this age.
posted by perianwyr at 1:03 PM on February 5, 2007


Chris Langan is to true genius what Paris Hilton is to true celebrity. All of this media exposure espouses on how he is off the charts in terms of IQ and is the "Smartest Man in America", yet as many here have pointed out: What has he accomplished?

As far as I can tell: nothing but self-promotion.

Anybody who gains inspiration from this joker should realize that in terms of achievements he's lower than Sudoku champions and the world's best Scrabble players.

It irks me that this guy is getting all this media exposure, while the engineers and scientists who are developing and innovating innovative technologies toil in obscurity.

I think it shows some weird need for people to think that the educated are nothing special, and this tough-talking bouncer has them all beat with no formal training.

This whole thing reeks of anti-intellectualism.
posted by toftflin at 1:15 PM on February 5, 2007


Yeah, it seems like there are a lot of really smart people who never really interacted with people at their level, and so for them it seems as though they are smarter then everyone else in the world. This makes it harder for them to accept that other people might be right about something.

Really? I can't think of anyplace where people might think like that.hmmmm...

Nice observation. If you come from the working class, and have never had any contact with the professional classes, possessing even a slightly above-average intelligence can make you believe that you're Einstein.


That entire paragraph is predicated on the false assumtion that the working class is made up entirely of stupid people.

Smart people (and FWIW, I consider myself fairly smart, but compared to this guy I'm fucking retarded) might have all kinds of reasons for not seeking solely the company of other intellects. Maybe having an undemading job leaves their mind free to wander. Maybe they find other intellectuals boring. Maybe they're just satisfied with what they do and don't feel they owe anybody anything. There's all kinds of reasons for anybody doing what they do.
posted by jonmc at 1:21 PM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Anybody who gains inspiration from this joker should realize that in terms of achievements he's lower than Sudoku champions and the world's best Scrabble players.

Acheivement isn't everything, mister. This is where so-called nerds start sounding as tiresome and insecure as the jocks they love to hate.
posted by jonmc at 1:23 PM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


The thing about unschooled genius is that it never learns humility in the face of being wrong. The ability to read and remember everything is not the same as having the ability to *sythesize* from what you know.

After reading that, I was waiting for the first "Good Will Hunting" comment to come up. Ding ding ding! cavalier for the win!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:42 PM on February 5, 2007


Yeah, jonmc, you're really demonstrating your own laser-like mind by not understanding that this isn't about blue-collar heroes (like yourself) versus pencil neck eggheads... jesus man, not everything is a class issue! The comment about thinking he's the next Einstein is obviously more a commentary about him not buying into peer review, about him avoiding working with very smart people who've also put years of effort into refining their knowledged and understanding because it's easier to impress the average person with a few $20 words, than it is about suggesting that all people wearing flannel = stoopid.

The point being made is that jokers like this guy aren't "standing up for the little guy" by being smarter than the "nerds", but that they are sad little men who want to play My Little Ivory Tower without putting in the effort- and that the evaluation of intelligence by some silly number is far less meaningful than actual accomplishment by people in all walks of life.
posted by hincandenza at 1:51 PM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Acheivement isn't everything, mister. This is where so-called nerds start sounding as tiresome and insecure as the jocks they love to hate.

I am not saying that achievement is everything, but output is definitly a requirement if people are going to proclaim you as the "Smartest Man in America" and if your comparing yourself to Einstein and Darwin.

Einstein probably never took an IQ test and Darwin definitly did not, but if you proclaimed them to be geniuses you would have a fairly good argument based upon their output.

As for nerds sounding as tiresome jocks, what's the problem with that? When the idea of genius is brought up, then intelligence is just like any other competition, and if all you have to show for your so-called super ability is the dead weight record down at the gym, then you shouldn't be put in the same league as Muhammad Ali.

(That analogy is fairly muddy, but I think it gets my point across)

I also think this "story" plays into the hands of those that are bitter at being intelligent but find themselves not living up to their self-perceived potential.

I guess that's what an IQ score gives people - a certificate that says their smart with as little effort as possible.

Certainly much less work than peer-reviewed independent research...
(or winning a scrabble championship)
posted by toftflin at 2:00 PM on February 5, 2007


jonmc: You're right, achievement isn't everything. I have a few utterly brilliant polymathic friends who have never achieved much status or recognition for their intellectual gifts... BUT at the same time they don't spend their days doing interviews for the local CBS affiliate about how they're in the top .0000000001% of extremely intelligent people or organize conferences where they get together with other self-proclaimed geniuses and talk about themselves to one another.

They generally read, discuss, and write books.

The peculiar angle with Langan, as toftflin correctly noted, is fiercely anti-intellectual: "Yeah, I'm one of the most brilliant people who ever lived...I didn't even need to go to some fancy school." What are the fruits of his supposedly gigantic intellect?

For all his purported "genius" he's obviously not read Joyce: "Exile. Silence. Cunning."
posted by inoculatedcities at 2:00 PM on February 5, 2007


Whoops, switch the first two...but you get my point.
posted by inoculatedcities at 2:02 PM on February 5, 2007


it's easier to impress the average person with a few $20 words,

Heh, I know what you're talking about there. In high school I hung out with the thuds because I liked their company, but also because it was kind of cool to be the smartest guy in a room full of 'dumb' people (although they weren't really dumb, necessarily, but that's a whole other discussion). And when I'd be around the 'smart kids' they were into the same petty bullshit as anybody else, intelligence isn't an inoculation against human foibles. Sometimes all we (myself included) do with our big brains is construct elaborate justifications for our own bullshit.

hincandenza, (potshots and online personas notwithstanding), I don't know if any of this is that simple. I've spent plenty of time around academic types and around self-proclaimed regular slobs and the only conclusion I've managed to come to is that just about everybody is full of shit, myself included, but at least around the slobs there's less pressure to prove anything.

As far as this guy goes, (all I know of him is what I saw on a TV show a few years ago), I always think of a song by James McMurtry called 'Where's Johnny,' about a high acheiver who 'opens up his eyes and snapped out of the groove, he saw both sides of everything and found he could not move.'

You're right that people should ultimately be judged (professionally anyway) on what they actually do. But a part of me actually understands this guy turning his back on all that, is all I'm saying.
posted by jonmc at 2:07 PM on February 5, 2007


The peculiar angle with Langan, as toftflin correctly noted, is fiercely anti-intellectual: "Yeah, I'm one of the most brilliant people who ever lived...I didn't even need to go to some fancy school." What are the fruits of his supposedly gigantic intellect?

If I recall correctly, Langan came from a fairly abusive family background. That could go a long way towards explaining a chip on the shoulder.
posted by jonmc at 2:09 PM on February 5, 2007


Let us give Mr. Langan much more credit than he probably deserves and conduct a thought experiment:

Supposing you had developed a true theory of everything -- not, say, some piddling grand unified theory as sought in physics but a true theory of life, the universe, and everything -- where would you send it for peer review? Who would your "peers" be?
posted by little miss manners at 2:14 PM on February 5, 2007


Arthur Dent, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillian and Marvin The Paranoid Android, but they're unavailable.
posted by jonmc at 2:16 PM on February 5, 2007


Who would your "peers" be?

Well, logically his theory would make coherent sense to a learned mind. The point of "peer" review in this case would be to ensure his logic and arguments stand up to the collective knowledge of humanity.

Ideally, there should be a collective slapping of foreheads when everyone reads his work and realizes how elegant his solution is.

Being able to describe it such a manner is true genius.

Also, it's laughable to think that Langan has evolved to the point where describing his theories to our non-genius level is too difficult even for his genius mind.

I'd sooner entertain the thought that he's a being of pure energy.
posted by toftflin at 2:32 PM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


I heard he was recently on a plane with the Pope, Jesse Jackson and the President of the United States.

But I’ve heard this whole story before - Scudder Klyce. Same basic Bio.

Bu Twhy’s he a bouncer? Hell, even Mr. T got out of that. I used to bounce, the bartenders make way more money, unless you’re doing some things you shouldn’t. Bodyguard work pays way more and is more challenging. Bu Tyou have to develop those skills. You have to invest in yourself. This guy doesn’t seem to have done much of that. Self-taught whatever. One of the most rewarding things that comes of investing in oneself is that you get to play at those higher levels and interact with people operating at those levels with as much passion as you have in - whatever. Otherwise it’s just ego and beating on drunks.
Granted owning a horse farm might be fufilling, but if he’s really into the life of the mind then he’d be doing something in it.

And indeed, CTMU is amusing as a concept, but it cuts no ice downtown. I abandoned a similar concept around 6 years old. I mean how does one determine from first principles which creation theory from which religion is the most valid for drawing analogous (albeit metaphoric) scientific conclusions? Indeed, the bible isn’t even philosophically consistent. Certainly much of Christ’s teachings are swell, and present a very workable framework for moral reasoning. But that isn’t evidence of anything material.

Meh. ‘Smart’ is tautological.


(Also - a working class hero is something to be *Lennonfilter*)
posted by Smedleyman at 3:00 PM on February 5, 2007


One can be a certifiable genius and still be, well, certifiable: Example 1, Example 2

See also William James Sidis
posted by starkeffect at 3:08 PM on February 5, 2007


Well said, toftflin. Einstein's theories were genius, and there was a collective slapping of heads: once people understood it, which they could because it was elegant and simple at heart, peers all but universally agreed on it, and every experiment so far has basically borne out his theories. Langan has produced nothing concrete so far, and an untestable nothing at that from what we've heard.

Jonmc: didn't mean to potshot you, just saying that my own experience is that the type of "smart" people who rub it in your face tend to not actually be that smart. See, the smartest people I've met are also the coolest, most well-adjusted, the most likely to have fascinating lives and interests: they don't brag about their minds because they don't have to and they don't want to. I think the annoying "smart" people are, if anything, in that uncanny valley of intelligence: smarter than normal by a small amount, but not by enough to make a difference. Their frustration is such that they become boorish and unlikable, which I suspect are the people you've encountered. Some apparently form "high IQ" societies for other malcontents who secretly know their place in the world and are not happy with it.


on preview: starkeffect, good links except every person you linked has either accomplished something significant (a Nobel Prize, a profound impact on mathematics) or just demonstrated unquestionable levels of prodigy in the case of Sidis. No one argues that highly gifted individuals may be "touched by fire" in some way. This Langan is claiming to be smart, but we however have literally no evidence of it outside of his alleged IQ: no Scrabble championships, no early college degrees, no speaking of ungodly numbers of languages, and despite supposedly doing two decades of independent research, no peer-reviewed published papers much less any that have had an impact. My belief is that this Langan guy isn't even that smart.
posted by hincandenza at 3:29 PM on February 5, 2007


Their frustration is such that they become boorish and unlikable, which I suspect are the people you've encountered.

Well, I don't know, maybe they'd have the same type of personality even if they weren't so bright. And a good rule of thumb is to always give everybody some credit for their strengths, be they intellectual, emotional or whatever. I forget who said this but there's an aphorism "You don't truly know something until you can explain it to your grandmother," so I've alwyas taken the ability to explain complicated ideas clearly and concisely as the mark of true genius, or at least a species thereof.

smarter than normal by a small amount, but not by enough to make a difference.


according to an IQ test I took my senior year of high school I fall somewhere around there (IQ:127, FWIW). As my old coworker Cullie put it, I'm just smart enough to know how smart I'm not, which is a better approach to take to brains, I think.
posted by jonmc at 3:44 PM on February 5, 2007


I don't know errol morris really, but that definitely felt like the filmmaker was basically taking the piss outa this guy. The questions were polite but often pointed toward errors or idiocy (eg, the "isn't 210 somewhat unusual?" since most people understand IQ to be pretty much completely meaningless past 200, even if you're going to buy into the notion of IQ to begin with). THe camera shot when he asked "What if you ran the world" was fucking priceless. He sort of nodded and looked thoughtfully into the camera, as if to say, yes, I have often considered that...

Is there anything beyond the guy's claim that he once scored really high on a magazine quiz to even back up the notion that his IQ is unusually high? I'm not saying it's impossible, but he didn't display anything outside the norm, nor were there any comments from people around him. Perhaps that's what made it seem like a purposeful mocking; in a real interview with a real genius, there would have been a lot of commentary from other people, and a lot of discussion of actual ideas, whereas all the ideas brought up here were either vague or simplistic.

as said above, it seems as if he's gotten used to being a big fish in a small pond, and his experience at Reed of being a medium sized fish in a slightly larger pond did not feel as good - he had less authority there, and he openly admits that what he likes best is applying authority.

And it's true that bigger ponds can be tough to adapt to; recognizing that you're not as special as you thought you were is a blow to the ego, and having to work hard to keep up when you're used to just breezing through and impressing people without effort can be difficult. People who habituate hard work from an early age may find it normal to spend hours and hours practicing or studying; people who weren't particularly challenged when they were younger might just not realize how much time and energy is spent on achieving things.

Those passing insights you scribble down on a bar napkin are not genius; they may be the moment of inspiration, but inspiration without perspiration is really for stoned high school students. At a certain point you have to recognize that the ideas you have are not completely new, and that there is a lot of material out there which has already addressed similar problems or theories. You have to understand what all that material is saying, and then determine in which ways your vision differs, and whether what you're trying to say would be a contribution. What he dismisses as "not being allowed" to alter things too significantly is just a result of the scholarship generally being pretty well-grounded, once you understand it. Which even goes along with his whole "2+2=4" thing (obviously the guy has no background in epistemology but I'm not interested in arguing the point, just noting the contradiction)
posted by mdn at 6:49 PM on February 5, 2007


« Older The Rålamb Costume Book. Illustrations of Turkish ...  |  Randy Newman has "A Few Words ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments