You may not realize it by taking a quick glance at the pop culture material we collectively consume, but intelligence is the most highly valued human trait there is. Sure, sometimes the smart kids have it rough in school; athletics and popularity play a big part in perceived social status at such a young age. Fortunately, in the real world all people generally care about is what you can get done. Being of above average intelligence is therefore a massive advantage when compared to people who are living their lives at the top of the normal curve – comfortably average.
The importance of intelligence has sparked many debates on the subject, particularly determining whether intelligence is innate or developed. In other words; is intelligence an ability that can be nurtured and grown over time, or is it a seed that’s only planted in individuals who won the genetic lottery? This question has puzzled developmental scientists since the dawn of the field. In antiquity, the general consensus was that intelligence was an innate trait that some people had and others lacked. If a child didn’t demonstrate any noticeable ability from a young age then it was a foregone conclusion that he or she lacked the spark to develop true wisdom later on in life. In the modern era, that consensus was thrown on its head. Intelligence wasn’t an innate trait, but rather something that could be developed in any child so long as they were in the right environment and raised by the right people. People and environment that would foster learning rather than exploit or suppress it. After all, what good is intelligence to a society if their brightest mind withers in a bad schools or is raised by criminals – and goes on to create ransomware rather than pursue more humanitarian efforts?
In practice, we now believe the truth to be a combination of the two. Yes, intelligence must absolutely be developed over time and in the right conditions, but there are also genetic factors at play. It’s the reason why two children, raised in very similar environments by similar people, will inevitably have some variation when having their intelligence tested using the most common measurement available, the IQ (intelligence quotient) test. Although it may not calculate all the varying dimensions of intelligence (and is prone to cultural bias), there is certainly a correlation between high IQ scores and intelligence in action. These are the 10 highest IQs ever recorded.
#10 Stephen Hawking – IQ 160
We open with a familiar name and face, that of English theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. He is best known for his presence in popular science, most notably his book A Brief History of Time, published in 1988, which portrayed his discoveries in the field of theoretical physics – including his development of the ‘Big Bang Theory’ – written in layman’s terms for an audience of the general population. The book spent weeks on best-seller’s lists across the world and has since sold upwards of 10 million copies. Hawking’s contributions in the field of theoretical physics have revolutionized the field and advanced the sum of human knowledge substantially.
#9 Albert Einstein – IQ 160-190
The exact IQ of the man famous for essentially jumpstarting the field of theoretical physics is unknown as he never took the test, but experts peg his IQ somewhere between the range of 160 and 190. Albert Einstein was born in 1879 in Germany, and is best known for developing the theory of relativity, which is (alongside quantum mechanics) one of the two theories that provide the foundation for our entire modern understanding of physics. He also participated in developing nuclear fission, an endeavor he later regarded with mixed feelings when it was weaponized as the atomic bomb. He died in 1955 from an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
#8 Judit Polgar – IQ 170
Chess is a game that has been long associated with intellectual prowess. Naturally top chess players often measure their IQs as well, and some of the world’s brightest minds have gravitated towards the old and respected game. Judit Polgar has been described as the greatest female chess player of all time, and achieved the rank of grandmaster at the age of 15 years and 4 months, the youngest player to do so at the time. She is a pioneer for women in chess, and was the first woman to defeat the world’s #1 ranked player in competitive play, which she accomplished by defeating Gary Kasparaov. She remains on the competitive chess circuit to this day.
#7 Leonardo da Vinci – IQ 180-190
Like Einstein, we cannot give an exact figure to represent da Vinci’s IQ as neither the concept nor the test existed in his time. However, experts have retroactively deduced that da Vinci’s IQ was most likely in the range of 180 to 190 – which would make it among the highest ever. Given all that he accomplished, it’s certainly plausible. Leonardo was the first famous polymath (an expert in various fields) and epitomizes the concept of the ‘Renaissance Man’ more than any human since. Da Vinci was an expert in painting, sculpting, music, mathematics, engineering, geology, cartography, and was an impressive writer to boot. Feel unaccomplished yet?
#6 Marilyn Vos Savant – IQ 190
The appropriately named Marilyn Vos Savant is, as her name suggests, a genius. She was born in 1946 and rose to fame late in life after being listed in the Guiness Book of World Records under ‘Highest IQ’ in the 1980s. At the time, her score of 190 was the highest measured result recorded. She later became a writer famous for her column ‘Ask Marilyn’, where people sent in their questions asking her advice – like a more mathemtatical oriented version of ‘Annie’s Mailbox – which she then published and answered. She continues writing her column to this day.
#5 Garry Kasparov – IQ 194
Garry Kasparov is a Russian chess grandmaster that is widely considered to be the single greatest player of all time. From his professional debut in 1986 to 2005, Kasparov was the #1 ranked player for 225 out of 228 months, a feat unheard of that has yet to be replicated. His champion status made him a celebrity in his native Soviet Union (later Russia), and his competitive matches against IBM’s Deep Blue computer and political activism against current Russian Prime Minster Vladimir Putin have made him well known in the western world outside of the chess community. Kasparov had a recorded IQ of 194, one of the highest ever measured. He is currently retired from Chess and serves on the board of the Human Rights Foundation.
#4 Kim Ung-Yong – IQ 210
Kim Ung-Yong is an interesting character for things he chose not to do rather than things he has done. Born in South Korea in 1963, Ung-Yong started speaking at 6 months old and was able to read English, German, Korean and Japanese by his 3rd birthday. After his gift was publicized, Ung-Yong went to the United States to study and later ended up working for NASA for the better part of a decade. Disillusioned with life at NASA, Ung-Yong returned to his native Korea to be a teacher, which he continues to do to this day. It’s remarkable that after a lifetime of fame and opportunities brought on by his intellect, he chose to live a normal and low-key life.
#3 Christopher Hirata – IQ 225
Christopher Hirata is another child prodigy that made waves when he became the youngest American to win a gold medal at the International Physics Olympiad in 1996 at the age of 13. He enrolled in the California Institute of Technology at 14, and successfully obtained his PhD from Princeton at the age of 22. He later returned to the California Institute of Technology to teach astrophysics, which the 31-year-old still does today.
#2 Terence Tao – IQ 225-230
Terence Tao is an Australian mathematician who rose to fame as a well-known child prodigy. Born to parents who immigrated to Australia from Hong-Kong, Tao specializes in the study of harmonic analysis, additive combinatorics, and other fields of mathematics. He was co-recipient of the Fields Medal in 2006 , an award that celebrates excellence and innovation in mathematics to recipients under 40 years old. He teaches at the University of California in Los Angeles.
#1 William James Sidis IQ 250 – 300
William James Sidis is another individual whose exact IQ score is unknown. Experts have pegged his IQ somewhere in the range of 250 to 300, which would give him the highest IQ score in history. What did Sidis do to earn such an accolade? Born in 1898, he entered Harvard at the age 11 to study mathematics, which at the time made him the youngest person to ever enroll at the prestigious university. After completing his studies he began teaching, but found that the students in his class who were older than he was did not take kindly to being educated by what they perceived to be a boy. Because of his rapid rise through the educational system he suffered socially, unable to maintain close friendships. The rest of his life was marred by legal trouble after participating in socialist movements, and a stint in a sanatorium after his parents who attempted to reform his political views put him there. Upon his release in 1921, the troubled genius stepped away from mathematics and academics entirely, and lived a relatively normal life. He died at the age of 46 from a cerebral hemorrhage.