A Tale of Two Geniuses: A Personal Reflection on the Nature of Genius and the Human Condition
Nathan Rockwell Haselbauer
Professor Stephen Hawking
Seems that Synchronicity has stricken once again. Several days ago I had been planning to write a post about genius. And, voila! One of the world’s foremost geniuses in history has just ascended into the celestial realm.
Regarding the concept itself, though, I wanted to explore the essential nature of genius and the way in which it tends to find manifestation in the realm of externality. My working interpretation has always been that genius is not so much a fixed capacity to absorb and reproduce a seemingly inexhaustible array of facts as it is an organic process of synthesis of various realms of knowledge in order to create or reveal new realms. In fact, I made this very observation in a Facebook post a couple years ago, about two weeks to the day (the date of the posting was 3/28/2016). On that post, I followed up with the caution that if one ever happened to run into a genius, to be patient with them, as you would a person of limited intellectual capacity. You may get bombarded with numerous strands of seemingly disconnected thought, which is simply evidence of the fact that some geniuses are simply better at synthesizing than others.
Initially I had been planning to more or less limit my exploration of genius to this working interpretation, which of course is essentially entailed in most conventional definitions of genius. But I was actually moved to delve more deeply into the human component of genius not only in light of Professor Hawking’s ascension, but also upon recently learning of the tragic suicide of Nathan Haselbauer at 40 years old in March 2015.
Nathan was pretty much by all accounts a genius. His IQ was tested to be around 162, and his keen intellect helped propel him into a very lucrative career as a Wall Street speculator at the tender age of 18. He would go on to develop a variety of logic puzzles, IQ tests and brain games, and had even established an international high IQ organization on par with Mensa.
I first took notice of him when he appeared as a guest on a BBC Horizon documentary episode called “Battle of the Brains” in 2007. The documentary was basically an investigation into the nature of intelligence and an exploration of some of the current theories about what intelligence is, including Howard Gardner’s famous theory of multiple intelligences, the concept of emotional intelligence, and the nature of creativity. Nathan was one of several guests who were by all accounts very intelligent and highly successful in their respective fields.
There was a child musical prodigy, who at 14 was already composing his own symphonies and other works. There was a supersonic jet pilot, a career which needless to say requires not only an extreme amount of intelligence, but also a highly-advanced problem-solving capacity, keen attention to detail and a transcendent level of focus. There was also a very talented self-taught artist who never finished high school, but who routinely sold her paintings to art collectors and galleries for thousands. There was a dramatist/playwright/literary critic, who began writing plays as a young girl. Aside from plays, she has also written several novels, musicals, radio plays, films, TV shows, even an opera. There was also an internationally-accomplished chess grandmaster, who had been called the “female Bobby Fischer.” And last, a quantum physicist who is currently a distinguished professor at MIT.
The guests went through a battery of tests in a competition-like setting in order to determine which brilliant mind would emerge as the most quintessentially intelligent, who most accurately represented the concept of intelligence in human form. The tests were really fun to watch, and included a variety of exercises designed to gauge each person’s aptitude for creative expression, creative thought, spatial awareness, IQ testing ability, and so on. Nathan, the quantum physicist, and the dramatist/playwright/critic all emerged as the “winners” at the end, indicating that, at least within the scope and purview of the show’s testing structure, they each most closely represented the “true” definition of intelligence (I was particularly proud of the literary arts being represented, being a poet and all. Lord knows we’re generally not the first thing people think of when they are asked to picture a ‘genius,’ hahaha, Shakespeare of course being an uncommon exception
Back to Nathan’s story. I took a liking to him almost right away. Aside from being incredibly smart he also had an air of gentleness about him. You could say he was even soft-spoken. I never once picked up an attitude of grandiosity or narcissism, despite being the guest with the highest IQ and the wealthiest to boot. I learned that he was living in a small Colorado town at the time of his demise. He generally kept to himself, and it was learned some time after his death that he simply dreaded the thought of living a lonely life. He suffered from depression and was given to extreme isolation, and finally decided to end it all shortly after his 40th birthday.
Nathan’s story moved me deeply, because I just as easily could have been him. I am 3 years away from 40, and have been assessed by at least one clinical psychologist in the past who, let’s just say, was astounded and very encouraged by cognitive/intellectual ability, specifically as it relates to language. That’s as far as I’ll go with that, because I don’t believe in talking about IQ and I am certainly loath to self-aggrandizement, aka “tooting my own horn.” (If anyone is interested in hearing more about my experience with the clinical psychologist, message me).
Anyway, I also suffered as Nathan suffered. I have battled clinical depression and feelings of loneliness for a very long time, and just last year when I was at my life’s lowest point, I, too, dreaded the thought of going through my 40’s and 50’s with little prospect of meaningful social interaction. I guess you could say that I was tricked, as I am almost certain poor Nathan was, into thinking that the only thing I needed to live a purposeful, fulfilling and self-actualized existence was my intellectual capacity. I romanticized the hermit, the recluse, the lone wolf who retreated into the hidden depths of a forest to dedicate his entire life to the constant acquisition of knowledge for its own sake.
And boy was I wrong! In fact, that thinking had caused me so much emotional anguish and despair that it nearly took my own life. So what have I learned? Simple, that we as human beings are BY DESIGN to be involved in humanity, and we thrive the most when we dedicate our lives not to isolated study, but to the advancement of civilization towards greater and greater enlightenment. The more we fight this design, the more we suffer.
Professor Hawking accepted this design; nay, embraced it fully, dedicating his entire life to advancing humanity through a ceaseless and unconditional commitment to curiosity. I admired him very much, and was especially inspired by his perseverance through tremendous physical adversity. ALS is a devastating degenerative condition, and the fact that he managed to survive nearly 50 years with the condition is nothing short of remarkable. But it is also a testament to the fact that once you decide to open the precious intellectual gifts in your mind to the world, you are pretty much destined to thrive, in spite of whatever adversity life tries to throw at you. It is not lost on me that Hawking lived to be about the same age as Einstein, and that the date of his ascension, 3/14, has brought many things in life, well, full circle, or at least much closer to it.
Be well everyone. And dare to be brilliant. And compassionate. And loved.
“The intellect is good but until it has become the servant of the heart, it is of little avail.” ― Abdu’l-Bahá
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