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Curse Of The Gifted (2000) (vanadac.com)
632 points by luu on Feb 11, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 356 comments

I am miles away from Eric or Linus, but the "curse of the gifted" is very real.

Thankfully I wasn't smart or gifted enough that I could ride it for long, but when it comes to math and problem-solving I rode it well into my high school years. I never learned to do algebra "by the book," because I didn't need to. Or maybe because I wasn't smart enough to.

The math teacher would teach "3x + 6 = 9." Basic algebraic problem-solving says you subtract the 6 from both sides, then divide by 3. So "3x = 3" then "x = 1." Easy. But I learned pretty early on that I could do it in my head. It was a little bit challenging, but then I wouldn't have to waste the time of writing it out, and I wasn't handicapped like all of those suckers who had to go through the motions no matter how simple the problem was. If the teacher wrote "x + 1 = 6" I didn't have to subtract 1 from each side, I just thought about it logically and knew the answer. Of course, the math got more complex, but I was good enough at doing it in my head that, at least for a long time, it never really mattered.

I thought it was because I just "got" math, and the other kids were on a lower level. But as the math grew in complexity, I fell behind. By the time we reached Calculus I was still doing most of it in my head, as I had never really learned to write it out on paper. And the complexity of the math outgrew my capacity to visualize. I showed up to my AP calculus test without a calculator, partially because I was forgetful and partly for fun, and it wasn't until I got my score back (a failing 2 of 5) that it finally hit me: I was actually behind. In school. I was cocky enough that this was a slap in the face.

I had to start from scratch, and I'm still not sure if I've made up for a lot of that. I ended up in more creative fields, mostly because I felt inferior to those who had learned the rules and not been cocky douchebags like I had been in the beginning.

This really sucks to write. I frequently wonder what could have been.

It's bad in more ways than one. Not only do you eventually hit a wall in the subjects you are naturally gifted in and find yourself without the skills to keep going, you also probably avoided the subjects your weren't naturally gifted in. So for example, maybe you can't keep going in math because you can no longer do it in your head and never learned how to do it on paper, but you also never learned to write well, so moving over to some liberal arts major isn't going to be any walk in the park either. Even if you find something else that you are really good at, you are only keeping the house of cards standing a little longer.

Although this may be just deflecting the blame, I do think that the educational system in the US by and large poorly serves gifted children. The underlying notion seems to be that gifted children are already ahead of the game and so don't deserve any special attention. Another piece of the puzzle is grading-as-certification rather than grading-as-progress report or some other scheme. Straight As can mask a lot of problems.

>Straight As can mask a lot of problems.

I've got a room mate who was put ahead a grade in middle?late-elementary school and missed the whole foundation of algebra. They did so because he got straight A's so obviously he's smart enough; he could just skip that. (They promised to give him a text book so he could learn on his own that summer, but never got around to giving it to him.)

Of course, he started struggling in school the next year. Now math is one of his worst subjects. They completely screwed him over because they were distracted by his grades.

I have never, ever, ever met someone who was well-served by skipping a grade. Myself included. Ever.

Skipping a grade means giving up a full year of education. If that proposition doesn't give you pause, you probably don't have enough respect for the value of education. Even if you you get absolutely nothing out of that year aside from the soft skills you develop by sitting in a class with other kids and listening to lectures and grinding through homework (even stupid and boring homework), it's still vastly more valuable than the fleeting ego boost you get in exchange when you sacrifice it in order to skip a grade. Parents, please, this is one marshmallow test[1] you and your kids really don't want to fail.

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment

It's not entirely a marshmallow test and I disagree with your blanket categorization of it as such.

During elementary school, a friend and I got a hold of a Math review book meant for college-age folks who didn't really grok Math in High School. We enjoyed competing with each other in learning math, but it resulted in us going into 6th grade knowing everything we would be learning for the next three years. In Math alone. We were falling asleep in class, waking up at the end, and getting perfect-score-plus-bonus on every daily quiz.

We made the choice (not our parents, mind you) to try and skip a grade in Math alone. The school fought against us in this, and we eventually broke through, skipping two grades in math. Because our middle and high schools were next door to each other, we could walk across the street to take more advanced classes. The only downside was that I ran out of Math classes to take after my Sophomore year.

This isn't a brag. Far from it. All that this did was bring us into the level of math we were already prepared for, and which some private schools or wealthier schools already teach at that age-level, without skipping grades. I am grateful for the opportunity to not sit on my hands for two additional years, and to not be artificially disadvantaged by a system that moves too slow for the current standards of college preparation.

I have bumped up against the "Curse of the Gifted" in several places in life. I suspect I am hitting one right now in some aspects of how I produce software. But skipping two grades in lower-level Math was not one of them. In fact, it is now standard at my middle and high school, among the top students, to simply skip ahead at least one year in math. You end up with either more free time, more time for arts/personal pursuits, or more time to load up on AP sciences.

It is not a failed marshmallow test. It is a sign the curriculum is inadequate for the student's needs.

You skipped two grades in one subject with a peer so you weren't by yourself among the older children. I can certainly believe that worked out fine.

Maybe even in the more extreme case of a child skipping several grades altogether by himself, that's the best of a bad set of choices. But we shouldn't be offering only bad choices. At least in/near any decent size city, there should be a large enough population to create classes of a reasonable size of same age students at roughly the same level.

The concept of being in one grade across the board is a bit broken to begin with. The system of classes and prerequisites used in college and sometimes in high school makes so much more sense: you can be a few terms ahead in one subject without being ahead across the board. So if you test out of a class, you can skip to the next one, while remaining at the same level in subjects you aren't ahead in.

>You skipped two grades in one subject with a peer so you weren't by yourself among the older children. I can certainly believe that worked out fine.

We actually ended up separated in our advanced math, and I was bullied heavily because I had to end up eating lunch with 8th graders while only being in 6th and 7th grade. It was socially sub-optimal and it sure wasn't rainbows and unicorns. However, I was already an outcast amongst my own grade level, so being an outcast amongst older kids wasn't much of a difference.

My point is that it was not intellectually hobbling, it did not set me up to feel a Curse of the Gifted in Math, nor did it teach me bad habits as the analogy with the marshmallow test would imply.

> At least in/near any decent size city, there should be a large enough population to create classes of a reasonable size of same age students at roughly the same level.

Why? There is great educational value in being in a class which has different levels.

If you are smarter: learning to help others, working together with people that are slower than you are, learning that usually intelligence is not one-dimensional and kids that are not very good at math might be great at writing…

If you are less smart the benefits are across the board. I remember reading a study about mixing kids from different incomes in the same school as opposed to wealth segregation (you might argue that smarts and wealth are not the same, but they are often highly correlated at least when starting out) and the conclusions were that there was no drawback for the rich kids, but huuuge advantages for the poorer.

i skipped a grade too in school, and i skipped through a year university, also helping higher semester students in classes i never had.

the problem ended up being that i lost all my peers to study and eventually lost interest in the university. the result was that all my peers now have a ph.d and i struggled to get back in many years later to now write a master thesis...

>you probably don't have enough respect for the value of education

I have absolutely no respect for the current educational system.

The grades kids usually skip are teaching 90% review every year, and skipping one just lets you get out of that worthless grind sooner. I've known multiple adults who skipped grades as kids, and all have said it was a good thing.

What can mess things up is throwing a kid into a group of older kids if they aren't socially prepared for it.

Stupid and boring homework is worthless. There's no point in defending it. Kids who have no assigned homework ever (in primary and secondary school [1]) can still grow up with a work ethic, a top college degree, and a great job. Heck, I know adults that were "unschooled" [2] as kids and who got exactly the jobs they wanted when they were ready.

Learning isn't something that should be restricted to school, hard or soft skills. You can develop way more soft skills interacting with others than you can being forced to sit still and not talk for hours at a time. What skill does the latter teach, exactly? I don't know why the constraints of school are celebrated when they should be condemned.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudbury_school

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unschooling

>I have absolutely no respect for the current educational system.

Can't agree more. -- someone who's happily skipped two grades at school (not in the US, mind you) and sometimes wishes he had skipped all twelve.


I skipped both 5th and 8th, and while I obviously don't have an external perspective, it still feels like it was the right thing to do.

Fewer years of "writing/literature" could have weakened my writing skills, but I think that was primarily from my non-application due the incestuous lit-crit regurgitate-the-themes-the-teacher-says educational approach, and more of this certainly wouldn't have helped. I applied myself just fine when I was in technical classes in college and therefore had something real to write about.

Socially, I actually did better when being placed with the older kids. There was less Idiocracy-style jockeying for social position, or at least I just wasn't involved.

In science/math, most school years involved spending half of the year "reviewing" the previous year's material. My recollection of elementary arithmetic class is that you learn multiplication tables up to 6 one year, up to 10 the next, and up to 12 the next. For someone who gets it, will remember it, and just wants to move on, I'd say being held in these doldrums is more harmful than simply letting them go closer to their own pace.

The hatred for the study of literature at school comes up again and again on hacker news, and grates. At my high school (independent school in australia), literature was one of the best things about the place. The teachers were driven by a love of good narrative, and cultivated students to develop their own essay writing techniques. My final year teacher scorned the exam system, and would give us tips on how to pass the exam at the beginning of the lesson, and then move onto the stuff he cared about for the rest. There was also a long-standing emphasis on public speaking, and the place developed a great history department while I was there.

Narratives are central to human identity. Particularly for young people who haven't yet developed the ability to reason in the abstract. If you want to create people who can follow, who can lead, who oppose tyranny, who oppose corruption, who believe in the ability to change the world, and who understand why they believe what they believe - narrative is the most powerful at your disposal.

Literature may be the only important subject at school. It teaches us about the use of the language we use in our every day interaction, and pushes the study of narratives about life. You guys who got bad literature teaching really missed out. You will have compensated for it somewhat through film and independent reading.

Sounds like you went to a shitty school. Mine spent maybe a few weeks over the entire school year reviewing previous material.

>you probably don't have enough respect for the value of education

I value education, just not schooling, despite the attempts to equate the two.

>Parents, please, this is one marshmallow test you and your kids really don't want to fail.

Except that pushing yourself harder and earlier is analogous to waiting for the two marshmallows, not eating the one.

I don't think you can make such a strong, categorical statement. It's wholly dependent on the student's environment and largely, if they are mentored. Let me share with you a story of one of my good friends.

He started school a year ahead by being skipping Kindergarten. He progressively began testing out of math courses, and eventually took BC Calculus when he was in 9th grade. He then decided to skip tenth grade, but since he was already so far ahead in math, he really just had to test out of three courses -- English, Chemistry, and World History. He ended up graduating valedictorian, and he finished his undergrad in two years. He's now completing his masters in physics at Cambridge. He will likely do his Phd there as well.

Interestingly, he couldn't speak as a young child. But his father was able to teach him math, which he soaked up like a sponge. Most notably, his father instilled in him the importance of what my friend calls "the grind." He was taught that he couldn't be truly successful in mathematics unless he practiced hard, and this discipline has served him well to this day.

I benefitted massively from skipping kindergarten (2 weeks I got bumped into first grade) and at the same skipping ahead a grade in math.

I think it hurt me socially a bit during high school, but I closed that gap very comfortably in college as well, so I really don't see any downside and think there was massive upside to completing my schooling 1 year early, essentially giving me one additional year of freedom as an adult.

In many ways, that's like getting an extra year of "life" (and specifically at age 21). What would you put as the fair value for that? For me, it's enormous.

There are all sorts of valid reasons for skipping a grade. They can even be social! After fourth grade in the Virginia suburbs of DC, my father was high on stock options from Litton and Teledyne (not quite FU money) and got a wild hair to move our family to St. Thomas, the Virgin Islands (license plate motto: "Vacation Adventure"). The pubic schools were a disaster, so I ended up in a Lutheran school, where I was the only white kid in the class. I guess I was doing too well on the tests, because I was getting beat up everyday at lunch. Suddenly I'm in sixth grade, where the class had a handful of other white children, and generally a more enlightened, or at least less violent, outlook.

My dad was well-served by skipping a grade. He went to university when he was 16, and eventually got a PhD. I think I would have done better if I'd skipped a grade. By the time I got to university, I'd grown so lazy I couldn't deal with courses that required actual work. A bit more challenge a bit earlier would have served me well.

My son goes to a Montessori school that has two different grades in each class, so you hear not just the stuff for your grade, but also for the next (or previous) one. I think that's a perfect environment for skipping grades, because you get to condense two years into one.

I benefitted massively both from skipping a grade, and from skipping ahead in math, science, german and french. I was obscenely bored, and wouldn’t have learned a thing (except for how to goof off more effectively) and would have distracted my fellow students to boot. You develop the soft skills of sitting in class whether or not the other kids sitting there with you are a year or two older than you. I don’t think ego enters into it at all.

I skipped a grade and I haven't had any problems whatsoever. I was the youngest kid in my classes, but luckily I was relatively big, so I was never physically bullied. I was at the top of my class throughout high school, so in retrospect it worked out great for me because I probably would have been bored being held back by a year.

I skipped from the middle of second to the middle of third grade. The negative academic consequences for me were negligible. The social consequences were not great though. That messed me up for a while.

It's definitely not a marshmallow test, especially if it conditions you to be bored and drift off in classroom-like settings. Especially when getting more advanced concepts earlier on pays compound interest by exposing you to the topics you're more likely to explore on your own.

(A rough hack around not being able to skip a grade (if the institution is inflexible) is to supplement the school's curriculum with textbooks from other countries. China and Russia both have textbooks with harder problem sets for the same topics, which are great prep material if you've joined, say, a math team. What makes me sad is, that's their regular material for the same age group, not some super-advanced track.)

And gods forbid, the day comes when the kid who's held back by not skipping a grade goes to college and finds that their new peers had gotten more advanced material in their other schools while they themselves whiled away their years being inadequately challenged. And they're now hopelessly behind, or at least have to paddle that much harder just to keep up. There is no purpose to holding a kid back against their will. If my parents stopped me from skipping a grade, it would only have been punishment for doing nothing wrong. And I would have fought them tooth and nail.

I skipped 6th grade and I'm still glad that I did so. I spent years before in school just being incredibly bored. Some years, I would write plays for my fellow students to perform, sometimes I would take "advanced" math, but I just felt like I wasted a lot of time.

I wanted to skip my senior year in high school as well, but my parents wouldn't let me. I have to say that I'm glad they didn't. I actually enjoyed that year a lot. One of my favorite classes was a humanities course that was rather unique. We had a team of teachers and would study the music, art, literature, and history from a period in time and gradually marched our way forward. It was great! Also, in college, the only humanities course that I took was science fiction, so if I hadn't taken that course, I would have missed out on a lot!

At least for me, skipping grades isn't about an "ego boost" it's about time. It's the same thing with AP courses--some people say that they aren't equal to college courses, but if you take them, pass, and the school accepts them, then it saves you an incredible amount of time.

Generally speaking, you don't want to skip grades because the stuff in each grade is supposedly valuable and you should take it. So, the solution is to take two grades at a time. Unfortunately, not many institutions are prepared for this.

In my case, I just studied at regular speed at school, and at home my older brother kept me up on what he learned about the topics that interested me (math & science). During regular school classes I enjoyed the ability to re-think about the stuff I already knew, and the extra time I didn't need to devote to them was time I did spend thinking and experimenting with other subjects like philosophy, writing, or computers and videogame development (I designed, drew, encoded and compressed the maps for our first two commercial games all by hand during class - but this was back in the 8 bit days).

I think the chance to experiment and pursue my interests without pressure or obligation was incredibly valuable.

Well, now meet one! I skipped grade 2, and I think it was the right choice. I would have skipped grade 1, but my parents held me back in order to let me ease into full-length school days. I was incredibly fortunate to have good outlets for creativity available to me and a dedicated and wonderful teacher that year, who kept me engaged.

The reasons skipping that grade was good: I avoided a poor teacher, whom I would not have gotten along well with. Part of the reason for me skipping a grade was that the disparity in reading levels was actually detrimental to the class, because of the diversion of the teacher's resources. Second reason is that I have an early birthday, so I was never tooo far behind my peers in the next grade, and in fact I felt much more comfortable in that situation and made friends better.

Just for an alternate perspective!

The amount of redundancy in our public education is such that skipping a grade doesn't really mean missing out on education...

I suppose it can have an impact on socialization, but it still seems like a good trade if you gain a year of your life. I made the trade once the normal way and twice more by starting college early. Stuff was hard, but I can't imagine boring myself to death for three extra years in a town isolated from civilization would have been better.

There's a Quora question that has some quite interesting varying perspectives on the issue: http://www.quora.com/Education/Do-people-who-have-skipped-gr...


But I was one of the oldest in my grade (so I was still sorta in the right age band), and it was the second grade (so our social structures weren't all that well-developed).

Skipping a year worked very well for me.

> Skipping a grade means giving up a full year of education.

Education doesn't stop with schooling.

In high school, a relatively good high school (public, but my year MIT came recruiting, and the year before three guys went to Princeton and ran against each other against some fourth SOB for President of the freshman class), I took four years of math. Since my brother was in a private college, to save money I did my freshman year at a not very good state college. There they wouldn't let me take calculus and, instead, forced me into some 'college algebra' -- from my four years in high school I already knew 99% of it. So, a girl told me when the tests were, and I showed up only for those. Teacher said I was "The best math student I've ever had.". Well, maybe, but the main reason was I'd long since learned the material.

So, for calculus, I just got a good book and dug in. So, yes, first I did the chapters on analytic geometry, i.e., the conic sections -- hyperbolas, parabolas, ellipses -- and then one with calculus. For my next year, my brother was out of the good, private college, so I transferred in as a sophomore and hopeful math major. So, I started with their sophomore calculus. Did fine. Wrote my honors paper in math and got 800 on my GRE Math knowledge test.

But, right, I 'skipped' freshman calculus, never took it! Didn't get credit for it, either.

In grad school, there was an advanced course in linear algebra. I'd never had a course in linear algebra but still told the faculty that I didn't need that course. They said, with a patronizing smile, "Take it anyway.".

Okay. I blew away all the other students with by wide margins the highest scores on homework, tests, and midterm and final exams. Prof wrote, "Best performance in the class. Knows this material cold.". Yup. I told them so! Heck, I'd wanted to study optimal control theory, not waste time with linear algebra. How'd I do that? That is, essentially 'skip' a first, and, really, an advanced, second course in linear algebra? Easy? I already knew the material from independent study of a stack of books, including some of the best, especially Halmos, 'Finite Dimensional Vector Spaces'. But in total it was a big stack. How? Why? A long list of various projects in school and in my career in physics, signal processing, applied math, numerical analysis, multivariate statistics, and more along with some careful independent study.

Lesson: Independent study can work fine. Then can 'skip' about whatever you want, at least in math.

Really, guys, what the heck do you think a research prof or any researcher does? Actually know all that stuff just from sitting in classes in school? Heck no! Instead they learn, from texts, papers, seminars, etc. Actually, if need to know something and can get a good text, then usually can get good understanding of just what need from that text for less than 10% of the effort that would be required if had to learn the text well enough to get an A on all of it. Net, independent study is crucial.

Don't you have to challenge the material for a grade and pass the final exams before you could skip a grade?

> I do think that the educational system in the US by and large poorly serves gifted children

I was gifted. I ran through years, absent-mindedly attending courses, handwaving tests and scoring incredible marks. The best thing that happened to me is getting into prépa[0]. They make you hit the wall on purpose. The jump from the previous years is purposely high. The only way to get through it is to snap yourself out of your gift/boredom/ego vicious circle and start to learn to discipline yourself. Only by surrendering your gift and unlearning what you know can you build a solid foundation and make your talent truly shine.

[0]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classe_pr%C3%A9paratoire_aux_gr...

We home schooled our kids prior to high school and one of the more interesting challenges was this 'doing the steps' part. My eldest was very much like you, look at the problem, tell you the answer. Which was 99% of the time correct, and 1% of the time wrong. She was really annoyed that we focused on that 1% but eventually we got to the point where by writing down all the steps you could then see where in your thinking you had been mislead. The trick was differentiating between "doing math" versus "learning math." (and the nice thing about math at this level is that if you get all the steps right you cannot help but get the right answer). Once we got past the big fight about "always showing your work" not being a 'for all time, forever' edict but instead for a 'these problems while you are learning' edict, it became possible to do math in this ponderous way, but only when learning and only when training our minds on the steps and alerting ourselves to the places we were likely to make mistakes.

I was (and still am in many ways) this undisciplined kid. I never learned the value of a good work ethic, of effort.

One of the most important thing I want to teach my 4 months old son, is the value of effort.

I am glad you shared your experience, I will keep it as one of the many tools I am gathering so that I can be able to teach what I haven't learned to my children.

Thank you, this is especially useful advice when your child is able to get the kind of one-on-one attention that home schooling can provide.

Almost exact same here, except I failed college calculus - twice. It's always been a sore point for me that people who are obviously not as 'smart' as I am somehow all managed to pass it - I couldn't even understand it. Can I lay a little blame on bad professors? perhaps. others complained about the profs too, but ... they still managed to grok enough to pass.

I only managed to satisfy degree requirements by taking 'logic' (a philosophy class) instead of calculus. I was warned off trying this route by a few people though, as it was "hard". I'd been hobby programming for... 10 years at that point - there's little about 'logic' that could possibly be 'hard' in a logic 101 class, so I passed by doing something I was naturally good at. I simply couldn't afford (financially) taking calculus another 2-3 times to keep trying to pass.

It's still a sore point even now... 20+ years later, and a source of secret (perhaps not so secret now that I post this!) shame. :(

I'd never even had to try at anything (except music, perhaps) until well in to high school, at which point I'd mostly just given up. I scored in the top 2% of the ACT test (back when it was scored differently, in the 80s), and I'm not actually 100% sure I finished all the questions - I know I didn't study for it, nor was I particularly well rested. Yeah, as someone else wrote, schools are simply not oriented towards helping 'gifted' students, assuming that they're already 'ahead' of others, and seem to be left on their own - I know I was.

Did you ever read Calculus Made Easy? If you just want to understand enough calculus to know why a thrown ball follows a parabola, that really isn't hard. The typical university course aims higher than that - it's trying to instill a way of thinking that's required to progress towards a third year course in Generalised Nonsense Theory. That way of thinking is quite unnatural, and makes the calculus course harder than it needs to be.

Thanks for the Calculus Made Easy reference. It's here, to save anyone googling. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/33283/33283-pdf.pdf

The prologue is great:

"Considering how many fools can calculate, it is surprising that it should be thought either a difficult or a tedious task for any other fool to learn how to master the same tricks.

Some calculus-tricks are quite easy. Some are enormously difficult. The fools who write the textbooks of advanced mathematics (and they are mostly clever fools) seldom take the trouble to show you how easy the easy calculations are. On the contrary, they seem to desire to impress you with their tremendous cleverness by going about it in the most difficult way.

Being myself a remarkably stupid fellow, I have had to unteach myself the difficulties, and now beg to present to my fellow fools the parts that are not hard. Master these thoroughly, and the rest will follow. What one fool can do, another can."

A long time ago, I struggled in Calculus AB. Having just done a college visit to a school where I really wanted to go and where I sat in a college calculus class for Freshmen, I knew I wanted to place high enough on the AB test to get out of taking that with the other liberals arts majors. My teacher in a gentle manner tried to discourage me from taking the test. As I was a solid B- all year. Maybe he didn't want me to lower his average. I ended up discovering the book below - a book that explained Calculus concepts using stories set in a fantasy math magic land. I studied hard, practiced hard. And I got a 4. And placed out. And showed that teacher that I could do it.


no - have not revisited it at all. I've been encouraged to, and may do that later this year or next depending on my schedule. thanks for the tip.

The Humongous Book of Calculus Problems is also a very good self-teaching resource. It doesn't jump steps so you don't get lost when studying.

Agreed. And it starts way back with algebra, then trig and then in chapter 9 you start with limits. A great book.

This story sounds almost exactly like my own...except I failed r times...got a B the 4th. The funny thing is that I probably remember more calc 15 years on than most oothers that passed because I took it 4 times :)

i just feel you only have your self to blame if you are in this situation. somewhat seems like you are still blaming the school for not getting you to do the work required of you. (I was the same way, but i caught myself and have tried to change it)

I got burned by this too. Problem, unfortunately, goes deeper than just not learning how to do math. You skip learning ability to structurally learn new things at a young age, because you simply "get" how things work. So by the time you hit the wall you not only not know how to do math correctly, but also have no idea how to structurally learn correct way and must do both at the same time. Here most people give up and say they are bad at math.

My daughter has gotten burnt in a similar way. She's grown up in the teach to the test era. She has been a straight A student and sadly I did not see it but what she is gifted in is memorization. You tell her 300 answers to the upcoming test and she will be able to recall them. It is now becoming apparent that she is stunted when it comes to actually reasoning and learning, PSAT kicked her butt and as a HS Junior she is struggling to maintain a B. Not sure how to fix this...

I can tell you what worked for a friends daughter: Music. They steered her (somewhere around her sophmore year) into playing piano and eventually she found the guitar.

As she described it "I needed to rewire my brain and music was the way to do that". From her perspective learning to play music helped her begin to understand how things "fit" together in her head. Her ability to memorize things was incredibly helpful (so she was initially a step-up in confidence), but as she played more she began to see how chords build on each other to form songs. She went from rote memorization to actually building a mental model of music.

In the end she became not only a fantastic musician but a MUCH better student.

Try and find something she's interested in. I was this way all throughout high school because nothing ever interested. When I got to college and started studying CS though, I was extremely interested and always wanted to know how things worked, I still knew most of the answers without trying, but I would dig in to see why the answer worked. This saved me my Junior year when we started getting into complex concept that I couldn't just "figure out". Having something of interest (to the person) to study will almost always lead to better study habits.

This. I managed to keep this up through even the reasonably prestigious STEM school I attended for undergrad. It was only when taking reasonably challenging graduate physics courses in grad school and having to do research that I finally was forced to break myself down and learn how to learn.

It happened to me during second semester Calculus. In first semester, the professor found out that I didn't do the assigned homework (worth no points) and said that I would "die" in next semester. Sure enough, it happened. What I learned over the years since that time is that some things just take practice or effort. The difference in Calc 2 was that the problems became non-intuitive and virtually everyone is forced to learn some identity or transformation to solve a problem (usually involving trig functions). Basically second-order formula plug and chug, but "effort" required to be able to do it right with time constraint.

I still didn't espouse the value of hard work until I've gotten out of college. I tried to cruise by like I always did, though it increasingly became untenable. What made me really understand working hard was actually through sports. There, I had no illusion of being superior, and it's established that you get better through practice. You get to see yourself getting better each time, and put yourself to the test. True iteration.

I had a similar experience. Breezed through my first calculus class. No studying, no homework (also no points), not even necessarily paying attention in class. Easy A.

Then I took Calc 2. I don't think I've ever failed so hard in my life. ... Except freaking english...

Integrals are the devil's handiwork. Derivatives are almost too easy, and then you get to Calc II and suddenly you're supposed to be able to do it inside out and backwards, with the help of all those dozens of identities you must now memorize. I went from an A+ in Calc I to a C- in Calc II.

Yup. I bombed calculus twice simply because I have a lot of trouble memorizing things like that. I ended up taking the sucker's way out: I took it online in a class where Mathematica was encouraged. I use derivatives and integrals pretty often now, but I've yet to need to do them by hand since.

I can relate to that.

College-level calculus burned me so much, I didn't had the algebra background necessary to grok it, much of it is memorizing heuristics and "tricks", and college professors (specially in my public uni) didn't had much patience either. I even did well in other math-related classes, but calculus was a chimera. Unfortunately, I fell so much behind the curriculum that I had to drop out of college to start working full-time.

Lately I've been picking up other math-related online classes, and I finally realized that I had never had real exposure to mathematics, and that high-school curriculum is something else. So, there's that too... we are mostly scammed into thinking we've learned something during high-school, and then life happens and you actually figure out you don't know shit. Hopefully I'm a curious person, so I'm always learning something by myself, mostly to broaden my knowledge in other topics, but to not let the gears grind too.

It is very rare for an incoming calculus student to know algebra. In fact, I often tell my students that the first goal of college-level calculus is to make them actually learn algebra. It's an extremely sad state of affairs for me (a mathematician).

Relevant (an article I wrote): http://j2kun.svbtle.com/you-never-did-math-in-high-school

I can vouch for your article. I believe you captured the problem with school-level math.

As an anecdote for you, since you're a mathematician: during school I had zero patience for math. I would often study just enough to get a passing grade. On the other hand, I enjoyed physics classes a lot, it involved more problem solving and holistic vision than memorization (since you can just memorize a couple formulas and derive everything else you need - e.g. the second and third equations of motion from the first). Maybe I would have enjoyed math classes more if it involved more intuition and less rote? I'm sure you'll come across kids like I've been during your voluntary lectures.

PS: I'll be following your blog.

My high school curriculum was deliberately set up so that Calculus is where we really learn algebra. 9th and 10th grade were designed to teach mathematical thinking. In 11th grade you have the choice of taking 11th grade math or Calc 1 (with permission of your 10th grade math teacher), both of which would instill algebra (technically, you are aloud to take any math elective, but I think everyone takes at least one of these two). The concept is that, because algebra is being used as a tool to solve a more complicated problem, there is no choice but to actually learn it. Having said that, we did go into it being passingly familiar with algebra, which may be more than you observe in your students. Also, I don't think it is possible to go through the 9th and 10th grade courses without developing some feel for meaningful symbol manipulation.

EDIT: I just read your article, I think our math program is like you describe it should be.

That sounds fantastic.

I agree there is some baseline level of rote manipulation people can't get away with, but it's gone too far.

Thanks for posting the article. I wish I had known more about this when I was in high school. I have recently found myself becoming much more interested in mathematics when thinking about very simple concepts and asking why it is a certain way vs. memorizing the rule. I think my 10+ year aversion to the subject is rooted in the fact that it felt like nothing more than rote memorization in high school, and thus a dreary subject to learn anything about.

I just want to say, as someone who is now re-educating themselves in Math, I really love your Math ∩ Programming site. Thank you for this lovely resource.

Uh, don't most students take calculus senior year of high school?

In the U.S.? Not really. This source --


-- says that in 2009, just 16% of U.S. high school students took calculus. And a common complaint by college professors is that high school calculus courses teach rote procedures without explaining calculus in any depth -- the students know how to solve calculus problems, but they don't actually understand the subject.

That's my perspective on it. I first took calculus as a junior in high school, and the majority of it boiled down to memorizing what the derivative of `x` type of function is and what the integral of `y` type of function is.

When the AP test rolled around I was really struck. The problems were about the flow rate of water descending into a tank and what happens when you put a drain here with this rate of flow, etc. Completely different from our earlier problems which could be solved by rote memorization. And from my perspective - one of a student who knew a bunch of calculus "rules" but lacked understanding of how calculus really worked - this was incredibly difficult.

I got a 3, which is passing, but opted to take beginner-level engineer's calculus when I got to college anyway. Even if you "learn" calculus in high school, it does not teach the level of mathematical maturity required to understand the higher level manipulations. This kind of thought is the foundation for any good engineer, and I have no regrets about retaking the course.

I definitely remember the first time I could no longer slack off, take 0's on homeworks, and ace tests to get a C+/B and it was in high-school :(

I jumped to AP Calculus without taking the pre-requisite AP class everyone else had taken, and I thought I was so cool and smart. By the weeks end I no longer felt so cool and smart - I was completely lost.

Calculus sucked more for me because here in Brazil the education system doesn't include it in the high-school curriculum, so unless you're on some top private school, you only first hear about "calculus" in college. In the USA and other places there's exposure to it prior to college, which I believe is sensible.

As a side note, I can't stress enough how bad the education system is in Brazil (in the sense of lack of structure, motivation, etc.), even at college level. Almost everything I know is self-taught (including English). I sometimes hear complaints about public school in the USA, and there's a meme that americans are "dumb", but it seems miles ahead to what I had access to.

In India we had pretty advanced calculus in our senior and pre senior year. This included extensive use of calculus in physics courses. Electrodynamics was totally calculus based and we used to have lots of 'word problems' involving calculus. This was pretty standard across most schools, so much so that when I went to college to do my engineering we had zero basic calculus classes and went straight to advanced calculus. I have no clue if learning advanced calculus this early helped us or not. Or exposing the whole class to these courses was such a good idea. However now they are easing these courses a bit and moving some of the tougher parts out.

I don't know if things differ by location or have differed by time, but in my observation many U.S. high school students don't see calculus either.

Yeah, luckily the area I grew up in happens to have one of the top rated public school districts in the nation, so most things that were offered in private school education-wise were offered in public school as well.

From my experience, there's probably much less calculus-taking going on in American high schools than you think. Of that, even less is anything resembling calculus.

Out of curiosity, whose online math have you done?

Some I can recommend that are still available on Coursera:

- Introduction to mathematical thinking [1]

- Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy [2]

- Machine Learning (actually a CS course, but involves linear algebra and some calculus) [3]

- Calculus: Single Variable [4]

[1] https://www.coursera.org/course/maththink

[2] https://www.coursera.org/course/mathphil

[3] https://www.coursera.org/course/ml

[4] https://www.coursera.org/course/calcsing

Many thanks!

I would highly recommend going back and learning maths properly.

In my case, I actually gave up on maths in year 7 because I wanted to hang out with friends more than study. I consistently failed in high school despite being pretty promising in primary school ... but that's just 'cause I "wasn't trying", right?

Well, maybe so, but maths is a skill. You can't ignore it for 4 years and then pick it up in the same way you can with English or Japanese or Sociology.

So when it came to year 11 and 12, when I actually wanted to do well at maths, I couldn't, so I borderline failed high school maths.

A foible of the (Australian) state in which I went to year 11/12 meant that, despite not using maths towards my university entrance score, I was still allowed to use it as a pre-requisite to get into a university course.

I didn't go to uni straight away because I didn't really know what I wanted to do. At age 21 and on a whim, on the last day that you could mail your applications in, I picked Mechatronic Engineering from the handbook and sent in my application. Why? Because I thought it sounded cool (I used to love Robotech :) but I had no idea that Engineering was so maths heavy (that's how ignorant I was of the field).

First year I failed everything. The only thing I did well in was programming, so I took 2 years off and got a job as a programmer. In the last 6 months before I started uni again, I went through my Calculus text book from the beginning, going over my first year uni notes and assignments at the same time. Answering all the problems in the book, etc.

As it turns out, the things that were most nobbling my ability to do calculus was lack of understanding of algebra, trigonometry, geometry ... things like logs and graphs and functions, factorisation, all that stuff. Once I'd learned that, I discovered the rest wasn't so bad.

I re-did my first year subjects in summer school that year and passed (even got some Credits which is 65+!) and then managed to get a low distinction in one of my second year courses.

You never saw a guy so happy with his 75 in Vector Calculus :) all the engineering geeks were crying in their pillows because they got a 98 instead of a 100 but I was punching some serious air.

Getting past this personal myth that I was "just bad at maths" is one of the most important things I've ever done. It really taught me that, with persistent execution and incremental improvement, you can learn and do anything (within reason: ie. I probably can't learn to levitate although I'd love to be proven wrong :)

"I am miles away from Eric..."

ESR "grandpa" was at the Wharton Computer Center when I was there. [1]


At Wharton, at the time, this was definitely true:

"When you were in college, did you ever meet bright kids who graduated top of their class in high-school and then floundered freshman year in college because they had never learned how to study? It's a common trap. A friend of mine calls it "the curse of the gifted""

I was lucky that I had to work hard in high school. I definitely noticed a bunch of kids that were actually depressed when they were surrounded by others equally gifted and got their first "b" grade. No adversity experience.

[1] APL was big back then. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/APL_%28programming_language%29

I did the same thing and would get 0 credit for assignments or tests because I didn't "show my work". It made the 15 year old me furious and I basically swore math off after that.

This stuff makes me laugh looking back on it. Also teachers saying stuff like, "If you do all of your homework, no matter what you will get at least a B."

Pretty much high school was an obedience test. "Monkeys, if you do exactly what I tell you, when I tell you, I will rate you all 'Above Average'."

Me too, but it meant that I ended up learning how to fake showing-the-work after I knew what the answer was, which I think in turn taught me what they were trying to get across in the first place...

Yes, it's real. In my case, overconfidence in high school led me to not devote the effort -- to not know how to devote the effort -- to securing acceptance to a prestigious college. It ended up OK -- I graduated a year early at the college I did attend -- so I'm not complaining, but I still notice effects of the "curse" impacting my behavior every day, especially when faced with intimidating work or with looking the fool.

For me it was never exactly learning-how-to-learn, but struggling with the anxiety of difficulty once I got past the level where everything was trivially easy.

It's not something I've entirely conquered either, frustration leading to shut-down still happens from time to time.

Hear you on that, I had no discipline in high school compared to my contemporaries. Then I went to college and had my first CS classes. I couldn't handle the load, couldn't get the discipline to study between the distractions of college life and stubborn refusal to learn how to study. I ended up getting really into martial arts and that discipline transferred over. When I went back to school. Thank God for that, because I'd be in a very different place without it.

> "x + 1 = 6" I didn't have to subtract 1 from each side, I just thought about it logically and knew the answer.

I don't see the difference. In my mind, thinking about it logically is recognizing that one side has an excess and removing it from the other side. That's subtracting.

To you is it like looking at 5 * 4 and knowing it's 20 rather than thinking about 2 * 5 is 10 and two of those is 20?

I was the kind of rule-following kid who went through the algebra steps because you were supposed to rather than out of necessity. (Or so I like to think: I'm not good at math in my head because I always wrote it out or maybe I relied on paper since I couldn't do it in my head.) I recall rebelling against memorizing multiplication tables in grade ~4 because I thought my time was better spent leaning new stuff (or maybe understanding how to multiply faster -- wouldn't that be ironic!).

It's always interesting to hear how someone else's brain works. Thank you.

But there's doing it, and there's knowing how you're doing it.

I think we're the same person. Up until grade 12, I could show up late, stoned, or not at all, skip all the homework, and end up at the top of the class due to tests. I was on-track/ pre-accepted into engineering until calculus came, and my natural "getting" math completely tapered off. When the problems became abstract enough that I couldn't understand what they were asking for (or more importantly, why) I dropped out of my first course.

Switched to a more creative field, and circled back towards engineering-type jobs 10 years later. Happy (enough) with where I am now, but can't help but think things would have been better if laziness, hubris and structure of the school system didn't keep me from learning how to learn earlier.

I'm with you. I made it to hardware architecture in undergrad without ever pulling out a book to study. Then I had a rude awakening and ended up on academic probation and failed a few classes while I figured out how to study. Luckily I was friends with a couple of girls who were driven (finished school with 4.0s after finishing HS with 4.0s, etc...) who basically taught me how to study. They also showed me the effort required to really learn something.

I think in the end, the slap in the face came at the right time and made me more capable later. No matter how smart a person is, there are things they do not know and have to go learn. Learning how to learn it skill, and like all skills it takes practice.

> I showed up to my AP calculus test without a calculator

In my Calculus class we weren't even allowed to use a calculator on the test. Actually, almost all my math classes through college wouldn't let us use calculators during tests.

Yes, but if a test is designed to be taken with a calculator, not bringing one is an invitation to disaster (especially if the test is timed), because the arithmetic is probably not designed to be easy. I once forgot a calculator in my discrete math class and ended up having to do long division in the test margins.

Believe me I've been there before. My point was rather that I think the person who was giving the test was wrong to offer that students use calculators.

I believe the parent was referring to the AP Calculus exam, based off of his 2 out of 5 score[1]. For non-Americans, AP exams are standardized tests administered by the College Board (company behind the SAT university entrance exams)[2]. Most universities will accept passing AP exam scores as the equivalent college credit (e.g. a score of 3/5 is usually accepted as college credit for Calculus I).

AP Exams/Courses are offered in many subject areas and each have very strict guidelines (like which calculators to allow), which are dictated to the instructor by the College Board.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AP_Calculus#Exam [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/College_Board

Upvoted because you realized that we're not all American and don't all have any idea what "AP Calculus" was.

No problem! At many US high schools, you'll have up to three levels of a class offered: standard, honors (advanced), and Advanced Placement (college level). Some schools may only offer one or two AP classes (depending on student interest), while others may offer dozens[1]. Any AP class must have it's curriculum certified by the College Board to be called "AP" and for the students to be eligible to take the AP Exam for the subject area. A really good way to get college credit; I tested out of an entire semester of college classes via AP exams!

[1] https://apstudent.collegeboard.org/apcourse

As was already pointed out, the AP Calculus test has been designed assuming that you have a calculator to handle the 'easy' number crunching portions for you.

The test is designed so that you still need to have a fairly high-level understanding of calculus and how the functions work. They aren't testing your ability to crunch out 56/7, but your ability to understand that the rate of flow of a liquid out of an irregular trough changes as the fluid level drops, and that you can model each portion of the equation correctly. A calculator isn't going to help you know that you need to account for a changing volume, and that the volume is directly correlated to the outflow.

It'll help you get the right formula for the area of a circle or volume of a cylinder, but not the higher-level reasoning that is really important.

Since 1995, the AP Calculus exam has been designed to require a graphing calculator.

In my opinion, that's silly, as none of the 3 semesters of college calculus I took allowed the use of a calculator, but that's the test that was mentioned.

That calculators are used on the AP calc test isn't exactly one teacher's decision, though.

(I actually did the same thing on mine, but fortunately extra calculators were provided, possibly because of their past experiences with students pulling this kind of stunt).

I was lucky enough to get hit by this early. I always cruised through math with very little effort, doing any required homework in the 5 minute break before class, etc, and getting near 100%. In grade 9, I didn't fail hard or anything, but I did struggle with the final exam, and ended up with a B in the course. Fortunately that was enough of a wake-up for me, and at that point it was still early enough to correct course without a massive upheaval. I'm thankful I didn't continue to cruise until hitting a real wall in university.

It's also an example of why it's poor practice to teach the gifted along side of lower performing students -- they realize they can get by easily without working hard and it becomes a habit.

Ideally, the gifted should have their own programs where they are forced to compete with other exceptional students the entire time they're in school, rather than follow a program meant to pander to the lowest common denominator students in society.

Also, I'm with you bro, fell into the same trap. It sucks.

I never hit a wall with mathematics. My approach was to write down what I have to and do everything else in my head.

I hit a wall within the first five minutes of programming. I know I will mistakes and I make up for that by making small, clear code commits and trying to make my code easy to read.

I'm a much better programmer than I am a physicist. I am also much happier working as a programmer than I was studying physics.

I definitely make mistakes, so one tactic I use is liberal use of code comments. I start with a comment about what the overall task is about, so that I can keep perspective, and then I will use a series of "TODO ..." comments to break things down into smaller steps.

The nice thing about this is, some of those survive revisions and can then be line comments which explain the next few lines of code:

    # Frob the Foo.womble, so that Bar gets its input 
    # in the format it expects
Similarly, I have grown to use commit messages longer than one line, even if I expect to later rebase it together with something else.

I tend to design stuff on paper with logical boxes and arrows, then add that as a large comment at the beginning of a complex section, then implement it without any comments in the code. That way, the code is still readable but there is a reference above it. Just like you have in books on programming languages.

Reiterating austennailred, despite being miles way from ESR or Linus, the "curse of the gifted" is 100% real, but I think it can actually be beneficial in the long run for a certain type of "gifted".

There is one on hand the "gifted" who runs on his own fumes with no other form of external effort. Much like @austennailred notes about his efforts in high school mathematics, this type of "gifted" often suffers from something similar to the Dunning-Kruger effect in the long run --> in other words, a sense of superiority can potentially drive you into believing you are better than you actually are.

This, I believe, can happen when people attempt to pursue things which do not particularly satisfy their innate curiosity or their genuine interests. Sure you can be great at math naturally, but your view of how good you are limited by the population size of those you compare yourself against can leave you damagingly unprepared when you realize that you actually aren't as great as you thought you were.

What makes the "curse of the gifted" the "blessing of the gifted" on the other hand, is when that moment where you realize your own fallibility seems to provide a moment of illumination rather than a sense of dejection.

For me, my first attempts at genuine college level discrete mathematics versus having used basic counting, permutations, probability, number theory principles in the past showed that computer science or at least the mathematics of computer science can be difficult. I had a similar issue in chemistry as well. The difference was even though I was always a strong math and science student, approaching college level chemistry made me just feel inferior and made me drop it. On the other hand, when faced with adversity in mathematics/CS I tended to take the difficulty as a challenge. Rather than drop it, realizing that perhaps there were others who could be better at mathematics, CS in this new environment drove me to pushing myself to a place of intense focus I had had before.

Now this is where I think passion crosses with the concept of the "curse of the gifted" to make it more of a blessing than a curse. When you love something and you know what it feels like to be best, realizing your own shortcomings can sometimes cause you to miss that feeling. Now in order to get back to a place where you "feel gifted" you have to be in love with the work to get there over "the idea of being gifted" and this I think can happen to those who are put in a position where the feeling of "being gifted" is compromised.

Anyway, just my view, first "longer" post I've written on HN but I thought austennailred had a great point and just wanted to comment.

Great piece by both Eric and Linus and crazy to think how 14 years later, we have Git.

ugh, the way you did it, I thought that was the way most people did it. Usually you see the answer and only "show working". Though the mechanical approach can facilitate more complex problems.

When he was about 20, Yehudi Menuhin, one of the best concert violinists of the 20th century, concluded that suddenly he didn't know how to play violin.

Why? Because before his teachers, back to his age 7 or so, had carefully walked him through the music note by note and bar by bar and, likely then, the artistic expression. But, still he was darned gifted. So, a few years later, relearning violin, he was fine again for the rest of his life.

Being able to do arithmetic, algebra, and other mathematical operations in your head is fine. E.g., during WWII, John von Neumann, one of the best mathematicians of the 20th or any century, sometimes went to people working on war projects to see if he could help them out. At one stop, a guy was unsure about how to find a solution, so von Neumann suggested, "Let's try a local solution via infinite series and look at a few terms. So, von Neumann did the arithmetic in his head [he could take two eight digit numbers and multiply them together in his head]. When von Neumann left, the guy was near tears. Why? Because he had been up all night using a mechanical desk calculator to get just some of that arithmetic right!

I found in doing research in math (I've published such stuff), once get into the problem well then do most of the thinking for the actual research just between the ears and writing very little. Can even do some of the algebraic derivations just between the ears. The actual research, at least the way I do it, is heavily 'conceptual' where writing isn't very efficient anyway.

From what you wrote, I see nothing wrong with your abilities. If you are not handy with paper and pencil, then it is not too much to expect you to become handy with just some usage. So, try, and soon you will 'get it'. It sounds like your problem with calculus was mostly just a problem with paper and pencil -- so, 'get it' with paper and pencil. Unless are, say, another von Neumann, can't expect to do significant derivations in calculus, say, integration by parts or multiple integrals, without writing down the expressions step by step.

But, of course, for calculus, long ago some software efforts for integration worked out what expressions could be integrated in closed form and what ones could not and wrote software to do the integrations for all the ones that could. The results are in at least one of the old computer algebra packages! So, with that software, "Look, Ma, no pencil or paper!".

About your suspected faults, don't be the least discouraged about them! Some are just your imagination. Some can be easily enough corrected. Essentially all the rest can be circumvented.

In particular, it appears that you are concerned about some skills that were supposed to take you from a few days to at most a few months to get good enough with way back long before you shaved! Doing catch up on that material now should be a few days' walk in the park. E.g., in K-12, I didn't learn English grammar and punctuation very well. In college I was in math and physics where this gap was not very important, and otherwise I just wrote only sentences where I did understand the grammar and punctuation. Now I've long had a 12th grade English grammar book right at hand and look up details when I'm in doubt; long ago I got nearly everything I missed in K-12.

Back to working without writing, in plane geometry I refused to do the homework the way the teacher wanted, write out in full detail proofs of just three problems. Instead I worked all the non-trivial problems and then also the more challenging ones in the back of the book, often writing nothing, sometimes writing in the margin of the book, sometimes on scraps of paper, and only for a few of the most difficult problems in the book, actually writing out a complete proof. Worked fine! When the teacher wanted to see my homework, I showed her nothing, and she was torqued. When I came in second in the class on the state test, she was 'confused' since she thought that I didn't do any of the homework! Heck, I solved every non trivial problem in the book and, thus, likely did the most homework of anyone in the class. Also, I slept in class -- I learned from the book in a quiet room, not when she was making noise in front of the class! Being able to learn math just from a book proved crucial, the main way I got my Ph.D.!

Lesson: You don't always have to do it their way!

For those curious about the context: https://lkml.org/lkml/2000/8/23/97

Note that noone replied to Eric and the thread continued on. Also go back and read some of Linus's posts before this. Eric writes using vague generalizations about age and experience; Linus writes with specifics about his experience with the kernel. The former style makes for popularly read posts but the latter seems much more effective.

Also, compare this message from Linus earlier in that thread https://lkml.org/lkml/2000/8/22/52 with a post of his from yesterday: https://lkml.org/lkml/2014/2/10/575, especially regarding abstraction.

Yes, I came here looking for that. The lack of any specifics about the kernel issue at hand and the general attempt to project Age and Wisdom made me immediately suspicious.

ESR is known for this.

Even more relevant to this thread: http://geekz.co.uk/lovesraymond/archive/specificator

i had to scroll down this far to find people who actually read the link. everybody above just wants to tell us how much of a curse their high intelligence is.

I wonder if they want to use their experience with the "curse" as proof of their intelligence? I'm sure anyone here could find some example of it. But I can think of way better things to do than talk about being smart on HN.

I modded you up for your accursed intelligence or giftedness :-)

It ought to be called the curse of the lazy until you bring Linus or someone else gifted into it.

I would recommend you try reading hn on a mobile device. Apps allow to tap a comment to hide the whole thread, which make it really easier to cycle top level comments (this one is actually the third)

You can try Hacker News Enhancement Suite if you're using Chrome.

Although noone replied directly Matthias Andree wrote:

"(I have read Eric's folloup to Linus' mail I'm replying to, but not following that one up in AOL style. I second Eric mentioning the "curse of the gifted" from own experience. You start something without design, it succeeds for your talent, experience, whatever, it evolves and grows and eventually disembogues into a rewrite from scratch, that time with a design before the implementation.)"

My guess is that most of them thought Erics Mail too off topic to continue in that direction on the kernel list. I'd like to know what they thought of Erics arguments though. Exspecially Linus opinion at the time would have been interesting ...

Source: https://lkml.org/lkml/2000/8/23/103

"[ESR's] style makes for popularly read posts but [Linus'] seems much more effective"

That seems to be a recurring theme. While ESR was writing opinionated tomes, LT wrote a successful OS kernel and a widely used source control system.

Haha, that post from yesterday is great. I have trouble disagreeing with Linus even when I know he's being a jerk.

How did your first link give context? It seems to be the same content as the OP.

The menu on the left in the link I posted shows the thread. I saw no way to see that in the original link.

It's weird to see Linus on the other side of being disciplined, and a pretty stark contrast to his own slightly more abrasive style.

For example: https://lkml.org/lkml/2012/12/23/75

I would never want to work with a person like that. If one of my coworkers wrote an email that abrasive and outright mean, I would request to be transferred to a different project.

I don't understand why people allow themselves to be spoken to like that! Incredicle...

Holy shit. I would never work with someone who addressed me like that after I asked an honest question. It's a wonder that there are enough competent people working on Linux who are willing to put up with this. Getting a message like this once would lead to a personal e-mail or in-person conversation explaining that this is in no way an acceptable way to communicate with me, followed by a prompt beeline for the exit if it occurred again.

I knew that stuff like this goes on in mailing lists; I've grown up in the computer culture. But seeing this as an adult, after learning some people skills and how interpersonal communication works, it's really shocking what to see kind of destructive tone prevails in some prominent tech circles.

an honest question

But it wasn't "an honest question"; that's the point. It would have been an honest question for you or me, but you and me are not Linux kernel hackers. (At least, I'm not, and I assume you're not.)

Getting a message like this once would lead to a personal e-mail or in-person conversation explaining that this is in no way an acceptable way to communicate with me, followed by a prompt beeline for the exit if it occurred again.

And I expect Linus would be absolutely fine with that, because if you were unable to understand why he was so emphatic about the point he was making, he wouldn't want you hacking on the kernel anyway.

The key thing to recognize is that Linus treats the kernel as what you might call "mission critical" software. Think of it as like, say, the operating code for the Space Shuttle. If someone came along and changed the operating code for the Space Shuttle so that, say, the program that fired the retro-rockets stopped working, and when asked about it, their response was, "well, that looks like a bug in the retro-rocket program", you would not want that person doing that job. And since the retro-rocket code is mission critical, just saying, "no, that's not a good idea" might not get the point across emphatically enough. You might have to use strong language to make sure it is 100 percent understood that breaking the retro-rocket code is unacceptable. In a situation like that, you do not want to leave any room for misinterpretation.

Also, if you look at Linus' posts, you'll notice that he does not always use that strong language. He only uses it when, in his view, it's warranted--meaning, when someone has done something that is so wrong that just saying "that's wrong" won't get the point across strongly enough. That's why we have strong language: for those (hopefully very rare) occasions when no less strong language will do justice to the situation. There are certainly plenty of people in our culture who abuse such language; but looking at Linus' posts as a whole, I'm not sure he's one of them.

It's perfectly possible to get an important point across without being an asshole, and it's really an indication of the social dysfunction that some hackers are unable to. Maybe that's what working with code and little in-person human contact for decades does to you.

I've seen the same tone from crypto hackers, also under the guise of writing "mission critical" software. It's not an excuse. You don't see airline pilots or doctors yelling at each other for making the occaional honest mistake, which happens in every field and can with the correct routines be caught before it causes any damage.

You don't see airline pilots or doctors yelling at each other for making the occaional honest mistake

You're right, you don't. But my point was that you also don't see Linus yelling at other kernel hackers for making honest mistakes. The mistake he yelled at someone for in the case under discussion was not honest; it was a mistake nobody qualified to hack on the kernel should have made in the first place.

>You don't see airline pilots or doctors yelling at each other for making the occaional honest mistake

Whoa, whoa whoa. I don't know about pilots but speaking as someone whose significant other is in medicine, those people are FIERCE. Yelling, crying, and having massive holier-than-thou outbursts is so common that I'm surprised anyone puts up with it.

Linus is a kid compared to what several other linux-kernel denizens could reply to you.

Though, I agree, sometimes there is an excessive amounts of public humiliation on the list.

It's interesting to speculate that the actual intention is to reduce communication. Elsewhere on the thread Linus quoted with approval:

Alan put it well at some point: the way to create working open source software is to minimize the amount of communication needed.

As in, the intention is not to communicate, but to maintain a kernel. If occasional derision of the "shared code reduces bugs" meme is required, Linus will provide it.

Why is that not a right way of communicating? He's right. Could Linus deliver the same message beating around the bush? The message is clear and to the point.

I honestly don't see an alternative, even though I would never communicate in such a way.

You can talk sternly without telling someone to go and fuck themselves, in as many words.

"It's unacceptable to break userspace. I've fixed the issue personally on this occasion. Look after your area or I'll be forced to find somebody else who can." would suffice

It would be an honor to work with someone as articulate as Linus (Eric too). I'm constantly surprised they were (and are) able to do so much with email as opposed to the typical lets have a meeting approach.

The world _needs_ more people like them- not just because of what they've built, but because of their approach to it and that sheer brutish honesty of opinions.

Cat herding _is_ brutish.

There is no contradiction between discipline/hard work and abrasive style.

I think callmevlad was contrasting ESR's style of 'disciplining' (I'm not sure if that is the right word) less experienced colleagues with Linus's.

I'm surprised nobody's mentioned this curse's endgame: getting a typical corporate job.

Everything about it is against your nature: fixed schedule, dictated product and process, micro management and arbitrary accountability compared to the creative freedom of your life when delivering academic performance on a timescale of weeks or months was your only responsibility. Worse still, it's not an "X year work program," it's designed to be endless.

Not that an entrepreneurial career is for everyone, but if you can be dumb enough to try and smart enough to make it work at a sustainable scale, it sure beats a guaranteed slow corporate death.

This is so true.

I hated my life for years because I knew if I could have just been more disciplined, then I would have been free from all the horrible, mind numbing, soul crushing stuff I had to do at my corporate job.

It took me years to finally leap into self-employment.

>It took me years to finally leap into self-employment.

What do you do? How did you start?

I was a teacher for a few years, so I transitioned that into a tutoring company and I am doing some freelance web design as well.

This is really how to fix this:


I was an undergrad with Cary, and he got A's, I got B's with the odd C and this is exactly why. Until I took the Discrete Math course ( w/ the Eggers book - which is fantastic ) , I was floundering. I knew what the rules were, roughly, but I didn't KNOW know them.

I'm not name-dropping Cary. It's just a coincidence, but I googled him and found the essay. I bring up the "we were undergrads" thing because it's a nearly perfect natural experiment.

Use one of the Algebra sections in junior high or high school to teach rigor. There are no moves in a solution unless you name the principle by which the move was made.

I know it seems impossible to implement, but there can't be a better time than 8th or 9th grade to do this. You get exposure to rigor for the kids that aren't pointed at STEM, the kids that are will actually be prepared - win-win. If we have to hire ringers as math teachers - people outside the education industrial complex - so be it. Whatever it takes.

That seems like a positively annoying and pointless thing (see the line where they eventually just start referencing them by number; it's become just another 'thing to do').

Not the value of teaching math through axioms and deriving everything you do from them! That's very useful and proper preparation for higher math.

But just because I can express everything in propositional logic with just NAND, I don't do that. Just as I would prove the mean-value theorem once and then simply invoke it when appropriate, I define conjunction, disjunction, negation etc. once and move on with the world. This is the lecture you are trying to teach, after all: you can deconstruct the universe into very simple blocks.

Just to reinforce things: we are talking about kids very early in their math career. And math is drill; Khan academy, all that. It's an investment.

You can do drill in 8th grade, or you can do it in your freshman year of college.

The point is:

1) I thought it annoying and pointless in the 8th grade. Oh clever me, I knew so much better.

2) People who sucked it up and did it, with whom I shared classes, blew my doors off in college math courses for a couple of years. A teacher made this the central fact of the algebra class they took.

3) Then I took the discrete math course, and stopped having trouble.

There is something to this. Rigor is not natural. Learning rigor is essential to being able to operate your life well.

What's the Eggers book? It doesn't seem to be referenced in the linked blog post, and I can't seem to find anything with a Google or Amazon search on "Discrete Mathematics Eggers".


My bad - I mispelled "Eggen" as "Eggers"


That was excellent. One big part was that the kids agreed on the rules together, before they started using them.

Soon after this exchange, Linus started using a real source management system (BitKeeper, followed by git) for the kernel.

I'm assuming there was at least some scm in place before, but my few google searches haven't turned up what it was. Do you know?

*edit: Didn't look hard enough, according to this: http://git-scm.com/book/en/Getting-Started-A-Short-History-o... it was just files and patches from 1991-2002. Seems crazy from a modern perspective...

Yeah, check this out from 1998 (two years before OP) https://lkml.org/lkml/1998/9/30/122

Wait is this where the original idea for git came from?

Larry McVoy was the BitKeeper guy. This was early in terms of distributed version control, but I have no idea if it was the first or just (for a while) the most popular. Linus wrote git using several lessons he learned from using BitKeeper. It's not just a copy, though.

...but it totally wasn't because of what Eric Raymond said, right?

Why not?

joke - I can imagine Linus grudgingly beginning to use version control, but never admitting that Raymond's rather pointed tough love led him to do it.

Linus wasn't against version control. He thought that CVS and SVN (the leaders at the time) were just not beneficial enough for his use case. The kernel developers worked with "patches" as their unit of work and neither of these could handle them well. More fundamentally they were centralized and Linus had experience from watching the BSDs and knew that a centralized version control was actually worse than none. He both explicitly didn't want to have anymore authority or convenience than any other developer and at the same time wanted absolute authority over his own version. Neither of these were possible with CVS/SVN.

>More fundamentally they were centralized and Linus had experience from watching the BSDs and knew that a centralized version control was actually worse than none

Watching another group from the outside is not experience. But what makes you say he even had that? He's pretty consistently suggested he has no time to pay any attention to any of the BSD projects going right back to 1993.

BitKeeper, not bitbucket

d'oh, updated

I think, in context, Linus was probably right. There are some situations where having 2 very different project/modules depend on common code could be hell. Just remember the multiple WebKit debacles or the BSDs. It might be better to keep an eye on each other, pick the specific updates, but have total independency. Else, you end up in commit wars and endless arguing on mailing lists.

ESR is way overrated, IMHO.

>Just remember the multiple WebKit debacles or the BSDs

I don't know anything about webkits, but how are "the BSDs" relevant?

They split off a common codebase, but they share a lot of code and patches fly across the multiple codebases without major problem. What takes the most effort is porting across big new features. But that is expected.

Oh, it read as though you were giving them as an example of problems.

This is so inadvertently affectionate. It's like a grandparent trying to calm down their overconfident, arrogant child. So eloquent.

As a side note, I can't even imagine how Torvalds worked with others without source control. That sounds like absolute hell.

ESR is a dick. I really don't know why others don't see it here. He's always been a bit of a long-winded blowhard, even when he's right.

People worked without source control because CVS was not real version control. It was a bad joke, and Linus was right. Without integrity guarantees, a source control system is just a pain in the ass you'd rather not have to deal with. Tarballs, patches, and email worked fine back when the community was small and tight-knit.

except for the part where he mentions that they all gossip behind Linus' back.

That's actually good grandfatherly advice too. It's worth knowing when people are talking behind your back.

pointing it out in a public forum?

Sure - why not? It is generally best to shed as much light as possible on gossip.

> It is generally best to shed as much light as possible on gossip.

Do you say that as benevolent moralist or is it your personal preference that any gossip concerning you be addressed at you before an audience?

More the latter, though the former holds true too. I'd rather people say things to my face before going behind my back. Organizations where there is more private than public communications tend to be very disfunctional.

fair enough. I suppose your view is a form of radical honesty. In my observations, it takes a particularly mature person to take public shaming in stride, and I tend not to credit most people with that level of maturity.

There are degrees in how harsh and public you should shame.

If as a manager, I allow people to frequently complain about their peers with the other people absent, it sets up a terrible precedent. As manager I would become the bottleneck as people focus their energy on politics rather than problem solving.

It's not black and white, but how you lean.


Not that it isn't relevant, but it is 14 years old and the title should probably reflect that.

yeah seriously this might have been the suggestion that led to bitkeeper that led to git.

Which Linus invented and coded up essentially to solve some of the problems brought up here

Which (git) today arguably has done more for programming groups than all the new languages and frameworks of the past fourteen years combined.

So, it is interesting. But mostly interesting because of how massive Git spawned from it.



"I was writing code when this email thread was in diapers!"

Already pointed out by someone else further up in the thread but Linus is still sticking to his guns 14 years later: https://lkml.org/lkml/2014/2/10/575

There are now lots of articles suggesting praising people for effort rather than intelligence. Seems like Raymond was ahead of the curve.

2 examples of many:

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9862693/P...

[2] http://consumer.healthday.com/kids-health-information-23/chi...

"Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

Calvin Coolidge 30th president of US (1872 - 1933)

I've read a lot of quotes like this, but I used to wonder, "Is this just people downplaying all the other things that led to their success, like family money?" It's interesting that modern psychology is providing some proof as to why these quotes are true.

So wise. Thank you.

In the world of music instrument performance, it is well-known that one's skill is the product of their talent and practice. And since talent is more or less given, practice can be applied to overtake someone else's ability. Up until some limit of practicality :) And there are zillions of examples of practice, or "woodshedding" leading players to overtake those with inherited skill who don't practice.

Really, it's all about momentum. Not practicing = no effort = no moving momentum = no growth = no movement. (

Anyone explain what "splitting a driver" in kernel parlance and code sharing is? Modularization is just breaking large pieces of the program up into small pieces right? Is code sharing just the same thing or are they talking about something different?

I believe in this case that the driver existed as one piece or module and each hardware version was handled as a different case in branch logic in an attempt to keep the code consolidated and modular (code sharing). As the hardware matured and new versions came to be it gets harder to reuse existing code and that's the context of this thread.

Linus wants to split the driver and create a new module to house that handles only that specific flavor of hardware instead of adding new edge-cases to the existing code.

At least, that's how I read it. I wasn't working on the Kernel back in 2000 so I can't say.

Nothing's quite as destructive as being told over and over that you're a natural at something so it'll be easy for you. It's a shame that well-meaning parents and mentors will sometimes undermine someone's potential by discouraging them from learning necessary skills.

Except assuming that if you did a bad job at something, it's because you were lazy.

The message I got growing up was that "you're so smart, but so lazy". This was principally because of my terrible fine motor coordination combined with my intellect.

So I'd try to do some sort of "posterboard" or "project" and it'd look like a slapped together mess no matter how hard I tried. My handwriting was often illegible to me, even when I tried to write very slow.

ADHD was also an issue, but the fact that every project I poured so much effort into was derided as lazy... yet I could ace every test... told me that effort wasn't, well, worth putting in.

I bet you're left-handed like me.

No, actually. But I suffered nearly as badly as most. I think it almost took legal intervention to stop them trying to force cursive on me.

Being allowed to type assignments - in the early 90s - was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.

Then again, I met other problems caused by my terrible organizational skills in creative ways. For instance, I ran a webserver that had had a folder that pointed to where I did all my assignments. When I inevitably forgot to print something... there it was.

Still. My experience, especially prior to high school (and prior to ADHD medication, now that I think about it) was completely dominated by working my ass off and being told that I wasn't trying at all.

Here's a great (and by now almost classic) article on that subject: http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/

If Linus always did things the "right" way he wouldn't have invented git (or Linux). Sometimes, it's important to be obstinate.

I'm reminded of the author of BDS C compiler. He didn't know how other compilers worked using multiple passes, so he wrote one that ran in a single pass. The result was smaller (important in the 80's) and faster than other compilers.


The introvert's dilemma.

Because while I exactly agree (and while that's always cool with Paul B!), I think ESR factored into git indirectly in a way. Provided part of the impetus to want to rewrite things.

Think about it: maybe the most important thing in that email is that ESR lightly compared Linus to Ken Thompson and maybe that kept him thinking along the lines of rewrite everything. All the dialogue factors in, I think ultimately..

You are missing the point.

I'm making a different point.

Okay, how about backing that up. What point is OP missing?

This is what Alan Kay means when he says, "IQ is a lead weight." [1]

Also see Rich Hicky's talk "Simple Made Easy." [2] In which he suggests that nobody's that smart; you will always hit a brick wall without the tools to manage complexity. "A juggler can juggle 3 balls. A really good juggler can juggle 9. But no juggler can juggle 90 or 900 (paraphrased)."

[1] http://www.tele-task.de/archive/video/flash/14029/ [2] http://www.infoq.com/presentations/Simple-Made-Easy

At least no one can accuse ESR of coasting on his native gift of bloviation. The man perfected his blowhard style more than 10,000 hours before that "it takes one to know one" email. (Which is why it's irritating when he's right.)

"Another is your refusal to use systematic version-control or release-engineering practices."

And then Linus went on to use Git. I'm not a native english speaker so I may be wrong on this one but I feel like there's quite some irony there: Linus got criticized for not properly using version control and... A few years later he went on to write the most succesful version control system ever!

The same person created both Git and Linux ffs! ESR was probably right: Linus is the 2nd coming of Ken ^ ^

That's not irony, that's simply someone listening and changing his mind. That is a normal and healthy thing to do.

Interestingly enough:

"He who has never failed somewhere, that man cannot be great. Failure is the test of greatness."

-Herman Melville

This is quite true.

The best thing I ever did to preserve and improve my brain was find things, really hard things, about which I was passionate. It's not so much about studying as it is about finding subjects and venues of learning that just kick your ass. If you don't have the experience of getting your intellectual butt kicked, and if you don't have the ability to learn from the experience, you can only grow so much.

The easy stuff shouldn't be avoided; you should just expect yourself to pick it up as necessary. If you are not getting challenged, if you don't encounter people who are way ahead of you in some subjects, then you are doing it wrong. The feedback is key. Getting stopped in your tracks, just when you thought you were running along at a good clip is invaluable.

Not that I ever achieved greatness, and I do sometimes ask myself why, even in my private life, I always pick the really hard to study (and have for decades now). I'm sure masochism is involved, but the good stuff is just hard, and you have to be willing to be someone's idiot some of the time to learn.

Thanks for posting this. I've taken up studying statistics and machine learning lately after having never faced any challenging quantitative classes in college (I studied a liberal art). Lately I have been struggling with linear algebra and started to wonder if perhaps I'm just intellectually mediocre and not able to accomplish my dream of working in machine learning, even though I really enjoy learning about it. You've given me something to think about.

Also, stepping back and reflecting upon what I've learned even in just the past few months has helped put things in perspective; the stuff that I'm learning now would have been completely unintelligible to me then. Suffering from the "curse of the gifted" I never really learned how to study and often get easily discouraged, but I see now that I just need to keep focused and not give up so easily.

And in grad school, you can salt this with wondering where your next meal is coming from and camping out under your office desk!

Ah yes, I jumped into a PhD program after the college experience. That's a great butt-kicking too, because suddenly you are responsible for justifying anything and everything you might say or write about something.

At least I learned how to live on far less than 20K a year. I mean, it was the 90's, and it was in new Jersey, but that still wasn't a fortune (and I had a bad book buying habit).

Has Linus ever really failed? It's pretty amazing how young he was to have developed the Linux kernel, in comparison to other open source authors (like creators of Perl/Python/Ruby/etc. who were at least a decade older).

I read his biography "Just For Fun" and it says he basically spent his entire childhood messing with computers. But it doesn't seem like he really failed as an adult. People like Andy Tanenbaum kept telling him he would fail -- i.e. the kernel would reach a point where complexity prevents further change, which is actually an extremely common failure mode for software. But with hindsight they were wrong.

Why is everyone here so self-bashing about how you should've seen this earlier?

The solution is to make the gifted people working on something that _is_ challenging to them. You can't expect gifted people to work on annoyingly simple problems in school, yet still develop discipline. If you want them to develop discipline, give them hard problems, that will require discipline of them.

I see this as a failure of the education system, not the gifted people.

Or, put another way, you can't blame Linus for not having discipline if he never needed it. It's the educational system's fault for not showing him he will need it.

This should be required reading for any developer, if only to hopefully instill the belief that you will eventually reach a problem that you cannot lean on pure ability alone to solve.

Fortunately, one frequently transitions to management and/or dies before this happens because one's career is finite.

Linux and other such runaway success stories are true Black Swans and Linus's subsequent embrace of source code control IMO demonstrates you can teach new tricks to old dogs.

I don't remember that Linus was against source control -- it's just that none of the solutions at the time really fit the methodology that the Kernel was developed under. That was his main argument.

And actually, there was source control all along. Every version of the kernel was a separate tarball sitting on many ftp servers, and there was a patch / set of patches to bring it to the next version. It just wasn't a database-backed automated version control system.

But is that really what this thread shows? It didn't show that for me.

What I got out of the thread was that Linus had a solid & rational argument justified by actual technical reasons, which was ignored by Eric.

I did not see where Linus was leaning on pure ability.

I'm not gifted, I'm actually pretty dumb. Can anyone help a stupid normal person relate to this article?

I never studied up to my second year of college.

I took geometry in my first year of high school and struck a deal with the teacher that if I got an A on every test I wouldn't need to turn in any homework. I never took notes.

I entered college passing several AP tests and jumped right in to advanced math and physics courses.

I started getting cocky and would skip a week of classes at a time.

Eventually I met a course that I couldn't think my way out of, thermodynamics. There was something about it I couldn't wrap my head around. I failed the midterm and decided not to show up for the final. Electricity and magnetism was no picnic either. I got a D in that one.

I had hit rock bottom. I eventually had to leave this college and start over with a fresh outlook to do the work and try to enjoy it.

I still never took notes in class but I did all the coursework. Eventually I earned a BS in computer science.

Lots of good explanations in this thread, but I'll add my own:

I'd call it the trap of the gifted, rather than the curse. That trap has three prongs:

1) Gifted people get concepts right away, almost effortlessly.

2) Because it's so easy for them, they never have to work at learning. It just happens for them.

3) Being so good at something earns praise from their teachers, parents, friends, etc. This often becomes central to their self-esteem.

This is fine until the day when their giftedness alone simply doesn't cut it. It could be in high school, or college, or graduate school or maybe even at some point in their professional career. But eventually it stops being easy and this is usually a very traumatic event.

Because of the three prongs of the trap, the gifted person finds themselves in a very hard situation. First, they are not used to frustration because previously they got everything right away. Second, they have no persistence because they've never had to work hard. Third, they become anxious and afraid and possibly even become depressed because they are no longer "smart" (at least by their own definition).

Being gifted isn't a curse or a trap in and of itself, but it can lead to a certain kinds of bad habits. Schools and parents tend not to do a very good job correcting these bad habits, which can lead to big problems.

This is the best written post in this whole thread. a+

Very good point.

Gifted kids often do not learn to study and do not learn patience or discipline because it just never comes up for them. They get enough right in school without those things that it is not part of their background. Then, one day, after they are adults, they need good study habits or patience or something like that and don't have it and it bites them in the ass.

(There are ways around that but most parents and teachers don't know how to help a gifted kid with those areas.)

Does that help?

Imagine you were always good at throwing a javelin. You could throw it further and faster than anybody else in your school. You would watch as other students painfully go through the motions of getting their form down: positioning the javelin at just the right angle, doing that weird prancing motion as they run, and gripping it just so. All the while your natural strength and ability bested their most valiant efforts. However, over the course of months and years of training, their form improved. Their technique got better. And soon, they were constantly besting your every throw.

This is the point at which your natural talent is exhausted and now you too need to learn the technique in order to make any advances. The problem is that your fellow athletes have already put in their 10,000 hours mastering the technique and building their muscle memory to achieve the best possible throw. And you rapidly fall behind, unable to keep up with their slow but relentless progress.

This is actually a poor analogy for knowledge work, but a similar principle applies. Many people get by being able to easily soak in the knowledge and intuit the correct solutions without having to put in much effort at all. Even if they fully understand the theory and practice of how to mechanically arrive at a solution, the habit of not having to invest significant energy in determining a solution stays with them. The problems get harder, beyond what their capacity to intuit affords them. Gaps in their knowledge become magnified and soon their understanding of a subject is shown to be a shallow house of cards. At this point, they could choose to accept that they need to completely change strategies, fill in the gaps, and no longer rely on their intuitition. However, habits die hard and many struggle in vain to wrap their heads around the problems instead of working through them systematically. Unwilling or not realizing that they need to change, they lose motivation and burn out.

I don't know if I'm "gifted" or not (how does one even determine such things outside of test scores and such?), but I suppose I'll try to rephrase. I don't know how much help I can be, and in-fact austenallred's post may be more illuminating.

What it seems to come down to is that some people are just naturally better at some things than others (for whatever reason). People have often told me that I have a pretty good memory (I disagree, but that's what they say), mostly due to the fact that I've been able to, on occasion, drudge up meaningless trivia with little exposure to it. I don't know why or how I can do it, I just can.

Though I'm sometimes "pretty good" at remembering things, problems would likely arise if I were to, say, try to skate through a course or six on organic chemistry based on this "ability" alone. Because past expectations have led me to believe that I don't need to work hard to commit things to memory, it may be a nasty shock if I one day find out that I'm wrong. If that happens and I haven't made good use of time that others have spent studying, I'm suddenly behind.

I hope that makes sense.

Off-topic because I'm curious: what makes you think that you're dumb?

Suppose you play baseball. You have a teammate who is less talented than you are. You are the best hitters on the team. He works hard; you don't. You both play Little League, then High School, then when you encounter American Legion pitchers, he can adapt and you can't - because he'ds developed a structure in which to learn to improve. You have now encountered a massive opportunity cost from not properly evaluating how to use your time.

Here's the full thread by way of Google Groups:


edit a little stream of consciousness follows

Curse of being gifted is very real. I wonder sometimes how many people couldn't break out of it and have ended up in bad jobs, or worse.

Probably like many HNers I also suffered from it mightily in K-12 and by the time I realized what was going on, I was already so far behind that escaping school, rather than redoing years of what I missed, was the easier option.

It took me a few years of milling around before I finally got my head together the right way and turned my life around into something productive.

One thing that still comes up to this day for me is a profound sense of isolation and loneliness. It's hard to relate to people because the kinds of problems most people have seem trivially simple to me and are not the kinds of problems I have and the kinds of things people want to talk about are not of interest to me. I try to stay intellectually engaged by turning the issue into one of how to communicate with people who aren't as quick as I? Adult education, how people learn, are a small hobby of mine. I even did a short stint as a teacher.

I'm consumed with relationships with mapping out the other person's cognitive limitations and patterns and trying to work within and around those. This is not a good habit, but I find I end up doing it with most everybody. The people I tend to keep around me are those that I haven't been able to conclusively do this with. I guess they keep me interested? I'm rarely surprised by people.

I remember I mentioned this to an associate one time. He asked me if I had done this with him. I answered yes. He challenged me to prove it. I went down a list of his cognitive biases, how they fed into his decision making process, and how this created a pattern of where I could even start inventorying what I thought he had in his apartment (I'd never been to his apartment). I missed the color of his couch, but guessed correctly where he bought his furniture, what kind of car he drove and was likely to buy and why, what TV shows he watched, what music he listened to (and had listened to in the past), the clothes he did and didn't have in his closet, what kind of food he liked and where he liked to shop, I picked his neighborhood, choice of home computer, where he wanted to retire and even a handful of books he probably had in his home library. I think it hurt him, or his sense of individuality, to be deconstructed like that. It was the last time I ever did this to another person. On the flip side, he tries to mix his life up, make random vectors in his life now and not be so predictable. But I know also that he does it because of what I did. It's just another behavior to slot into his patterns.

Relating to people impacts me in many ways, from coming up with product ideas to finding a mentor, to the closeness of friends. It's tough, I have very few close friends but I hold onto them fiercely. With most people I interact with I feel like we're simply in a status of mutual understanding and shared purpose, but not friendship. Maybe out for some laughs and a good time, but that's it.

I got very lucky and found a wife who's smarter than me, and she keeps me on my toes and from drawing the world down into my brain and further isolating myself with walls of internally consistent, but bad ideas. I've never figured out how to predict her thinking process beyond some high level abstract patterns. I think she does it on purpose, to keep me appreciative of her.

Not having a mentor has probably been the hardest. I feel like I have nobody helping me find my path most of the time and have to literally carve a path in the universe for myself. My parents were simply not equipped to deal with a kid like me at all and made many mistakes over the years. From moving to the country (thinking the quiet would help me grow, when it just isolated me more) to schooling choices, etc. School didn't know how to handle me and in business I've found woefully few people I look up to.

I yearn for a simpler life, but realize I couldn't live that life for long, I would quickly lose interest. I start to crave novelty and surprise. New things are interesting to me. But I've also found that once I start to understand the pattern of newness in something, an entire field will start to bore me.

Actually most of the life skills I have I learned from my school's music program. How to break a problem down, how to communicate with people of various levels, how to tutor and teach, how to lead a group and present, setting and keeping schedules etc. Most of my adult years have been spent trying to adapt these skills from orchestra into the rest of my life, while most people would have learned them in more context appropriate ways.

But I guess I turned out okay. I do not look back on most of my childhood with much fondness, I do look back on it with a great deal of sadness and regret and wish I could redo it all. I found out a few years ago that my mother had saved all of my report cards growing up, lovingly stored in a scrapbook. When I found out she had done this, in a fit of anger, resentment and deep embarrassment I tore them up and threw them away.

There's no solution, it just is this way. I live a very fulfilling life that I enjoy and I try to minimize regrets and find joy. I think I'm on a path towards simplifying my life, but I have a notion that I'll find a more minimal life dreadful and boring after a few months.

I do seek out others who I sense have a similar story, but I find that none of us ever really build close bonds with each other. We exist more in a group of mutual acknowledgment than in friendship. I'm drawn towards groups that promise an intelligent gathering, but I'm frequently disappointed by what I find once I get there.

My mother once asked me why so many smart kids end up in drugs and drink, I responded that, at least for me, it slows the thinking down and clarifies the thoughts. It's like having an engine in your car that's always at full rev, and then finally taking your foot off the accelerator for a bit. It also lets the emotions flow a bit easier, the ones that we have to keep bottled up during the day, the slow accumulation of small frustrations from dealing with people who I can't relate to. It's like a sore I can pop and let the puss flow out for a bit.

It's hard staying positive, not falling into hopelessness and depression. I've had very close scares a couple times where I thought about disengaging from everything and ending it. Feeling like you're in the wrong world all the time is maddening. I found a way to continue on, and it works for me. But that endless well of despair still sits there, but it's like I'm walking around the edge of it, like walking around the edge of a swimming pool, trying to make sure I don't fall or jump in.

> I'm drawn towards groups that promise an intelligent gathering, but I'm frequently disappointed by what I find once I get there.

Maybe you're looking in the wrong place. I don't think groups promising intelligence are a great place to look for intelligence (unless that "promise" is just your supposition, and not their claim).

Either that, or you're looking for the wrong thing. I'm not sure what you're trying to find there, but I find most people purporting to be intellectuals really just want to spew opinions and not be interrupted.

I enjoy the company of people with passion, more than I do that of "smart" people. Passionate people are experts at something, and they have something to teach me.

> Either that, or you're looking for the wrong thing. I'm not sure what you're trying to find there, but I find most people purporting to be intellectuals really just want to spew opinions and not be interrupted.

> I enjoy the company of people with passion, more than I do that of "smart" people. Passionate people are experts at something, and they have something to teach me.

I wish I could upvote this a million times over.

I've often found that groups proposing to be built of smart people are often as not built of over-opinionated pretentious people who've come to believe they are intelligent through one way or another. It's why I've avoided high-IQ societies and the like. It's just a bother and I don't think I'm particularly enriched by them.

I've actually found that I do like energetic, "passionate", self-aware people more, which is probably why I've hung around HN so long.

> groups proposing to be built of smart people are often as not built of over-opinionated pretentious people who've come to believe they are intelligent through one way or another

Dunning-Kruger societies.

I used to associate with a bunch of people who self-identified as "being smart". Trying to fit in led me to form the terrible habit of never saying "I don't know".

I've since met a number of genuinely smart people, and they are typically driven by curiosity and delight in learning, not pretension.

> the kinds of problems most people have seem trivially simple to me

This sounds a bit narcissistic. If you think other people's problems are trivial, maybe you're just not being empathic enough to understand their full scope.

If everything looks like it follows simple patterns, maybe you just aren't looking close enough.

When you learn something new, there's often this point where you feel you understand it all. If you're a quick learner, you will reach this point quickly. But things only seem simple because you don't understand them fully yet. You have to continue learning, specialising, looking at the details, and only then will you learn that the subject isn't quite as simple as you thought.

You get bored when you figure out what kind of car someone has, or what color their furniture has. You think you have them all figured out. But if you continue talking to these shallow people, you might see there's something beyond these superficial details.

> This sounds a bit narcissistic.

I know. That's the trouble with talking about growing up or being highly intelligent, you end up sounding like a narcissistic prick.

Even saying something like "I've tested in the top 1-2% of dozens of aptitude and intelligence tests" sounds like I'm lording it over those who haven't. But I don't think it's really all that different than saying "I'm taller than 99% of the population". Except tall people, or people with some other exceptional attribute can get together and commiserate about their exceptional attribute without the kinds of social stigma attached to it that intelligence does.

It's very hard to have an honest discussion about being smart without diving into lots of euphemisms and using lots of humbling verbiage.

Most people's problems are simple. They just don't want to fix them because the emotional cost for them is high. So they endlessly try to find ways to solve their problems with the minimum of emotional impact and they make no progress. Getting past your own emotions to make forward progress with your life is the best skill almost anybody can make with respect to solving the problems in their life.

It's not easy, and I don't mean to minimize the impact emotions have. It was definitely a difficult skill for me to learn (and I'm still learning it).

But take money, every single person's money problem is solved with the very simple "don't spend more than you earn". Yet there are literally hundreds of thousands of pages written on financial advice and dealing with personal debt. We think it's a complicate topic, and we treat it like it is, but it's not.

I've found that most problems people deal with are similar.

I'm pretty overweight, and when I think it's a problem, I come up with all kinds of excuses about it and how to solve it and endlessly mill about not doing anything. But it's hilariously simple for me to solve: exercise more, eat less. But I struggle with it like many people struggle with money or relationships or whatever.

> I know. That's the trouble with talking about growing up or being highly intelligent, you end up sounding like a narcissistic prick.

You've framed this incorrectly. The reason you ended up sounding like a narcissistic prick is because you were being a narcissistic prick. Perhaps you were just reducing his point to something a little too trivially simple.

There's nothing wrong with saying things like "I've tested in the top 1-2% of dozens of aptitude and intelligence tests". That doesn't sound narcissistic. Making the unsubstantiated claim that you are so smart that the problems of 'normal' people are trivially simple to solve and shall be disregarded is narcissistic. Especially when, once called out on that claim, you respond with an example fit perfectly to your honestly very narrow solution and cover every other scenario with an aloof "well, some problems do get complex".

Honestly, it sounds like jakobe was dead on. If the world seems so simple to you, you're probably not looking close enough. If you really are so good at coming up with solutions to the problems of the world, I hope you're spending your time improving it for yourself and those around you in truly substantial ways.

I didn't say every problem was simple, just that most problems most people struggle with are. I also didn't say every problem has a simple solution. You read too much into it.

> If the world seems so simple to you, you're probably not looking close enough.

Funny, the closer I look, the more locally simple everything seems. It's how we learn, how we work and how we simply do things. Take things that are too big to do and break them down until they're simple enough to do. You can't move a mountain all at once, but you can move it if you blow it up into truck sized pieces.

There's nothing in the world that a person does that's more complex than what a person can do.

If the world seems complex too you, maybe you should just look more closely?

> If you really are so good at coming up with solutions to the problems of the world, I hope you're spending your time improving it for yourself and those around you in truly substantial ways.

I hope I am too. With great power comes great responsibility, no? I'm definitely not working on the next photo sharing app if that's your implication.

Oh fuck you. You're just being judgmental.

Looks like you have extremely high IQ. But IQ is not the only merit leading towards a successful and fulfilling life.

When you think most problems people deal with are simple and similar. Take your example, overweighted. You think the solution is simple: exercise more, eat less. Usually it's from an engineer's brain. But probably, you forgot to take your excuses into consideration, that's why you over simplified it. Then you struggled with it like many other people. If you do take all of the aspects into consideration, it's no longer simple any more.

When you easily felt bored after you have learn something new, I think it's lacking of depth to learn it more or to find more fundamental problems in it before you skip it.

I agree with you in most of the points, but I wish I could see that you can really dive into something and make it a big different for the world. If you cannot find anything with enough challenge for you, you may want to visit here: http://kck.st/JNqv8z because most people think that they are overwhelmed.

> exercise more, eat less. Usually it's from an engineer's brain. But probably, you forgot to take your excuses into consideration, that's why you over simplified it. Then you struggled with it like many other people. If you do take all of the aspects into consideration, it's no longer simple any more.

But it is, that's my point. If I went out and jogged instead of being on HN, and cut my portions by 25-30%, I'd be fit as a fiddle. But I simply don't do it because <excuses>. There's nothing complicated about it at all.

I found it was much easier to cut my daily calorie intake and increase fat burning by skipping an early breakfast and regular lunch and moving to coffee for hunger suppressant, a low-carb brunch and some other low-carb afternoon snacks instead. Before dinner, I do about 20 mins of mostly body-weight exercise. Then have a regular dinner including carbs and then some more high-glycemic carbs. Keeping low-carb for a long continuous part of the day lets your body burn a lot of fat for fuel, and it's easier to deny myself those things I like to eat if I know I can have them later in the day, and it's a very nice carrot to do regular exercise. I've also had the impetus to discover low-carb recipes I enjoy, making it a nice feedback loop. To help this process I began by going two weeks without carbs, as that was recommended to help get your body used to burning fat for fuel. I've enjoyed a much improved body composition and it's still getting better.

Losing weight is not that simple. A short term effect can be made easily. But after a while, your bad habit will drive you back and even your body will feel better to stay at a certain weight, refuse to reduce more. The worse case is it usually bounces back. So short term weight loss does not count.

This is a problem that so many people are fighting against, and mostly we are losing. Exercise may help, eat less may help, they are not ultimate solutions. The fundamental thing or the root cause is that our metabolism becomes slow which tends to accumulate more fat, and the energy being absorbed from food is not enough per meal, so we tend to eat more. Increasing the quality of food without junk, all organic and fresh, no transgenes, no trans-fat, is the ultimate solution along with regular exercise. But we may not be able to afford or be willing to pay the cost for staying healthy. It has a long term impact.

It's hard on a non-intellectual level. Humans - even highly intelligent ones - don't work on pure logic. Why do people smoke? It's deadly. It's not logical. Same applies to overweight, sport, drugs, etc.

You have an interesting point. If we think we are rational enough to do things according to the right logic, there are still a lot of chances we fail. Most of the case, it's hard to control our body to follow logic because we are not only driven by our brains.

To lose weight, it's easier to eat less than to move more. You really just have to have a daily calorie deficit of 500 calories from your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) to lose weight at 1 lbs/week. Since your pretty overweight you can probably easily afford a 1000-750/day calorie deficit and still eat over 2000 calories a day.

Just go here and get your TDEE: http://www.1percentedge.com/ifcalc/

Then calorie count by being a lazy man and getting all of your meals from various chains and easily measured prepackaged foods. A good combo that works for me is a small breakfast of egg whites & salsa, or some sort of veggie or yogurt snack of about 200 calories max. Then for lunch I have a 750 calorie footlong sub from subway and a 700 calorie burrito bowl from chipolte. I avoid liquid calories, take a multivitamin and drink a bunch of water before every meal. I snack on raw vegetables without dip and I also measure the calorie impact of that. I also measure myself every day with a fitbit aria scale so I don't even have to both to write it down. After you get to your goal weight you keep on measuring with the scale to nip weight gain trends in the bud. This works and is fairly affordable.

Just eying your meals and reducing portions is too imprecise. A small burger that fits in the palm of my hand can have the same amount of calories as a footlong sandwich 3 to 4 times the size and you can infuriatingly torture yourself for months on end with no progress. Just be precise and do it right the first time.

I agree with most of what you're saying, except for "every single person's money problem is solved with the very simple 'don't spend more than you earn.'" Sometimes it's not being able to earn enough money that's the problem--there's a baseline level of income needed to pay for very basic no frills food and rent in any given area.

> Sometimes it's not being able to earn enough money that's the problem

This is going to come across as prickish, I'm not meaning it with that tone, but here's an example:

1) Costs are more than income? Earn more money.

2) "But where I live has a shitty economy and there are no jobs that pay more that I'm qualified for"

Then your options are: move to someplace with better pay potential, work more jobs, downsize your life, earn the necessary qualifications for more money. Can't decide? Roll the dice and pick one.

3) But I have <insert expense here>.

Then get rid of that expense. It's possible to live on very very little. When people here talk about what they need to live vs. what they want, even those that advocate for the most spartan existence way over inflate the basic needs.

Oh, it's your children? Yeah, that's tough. I didn't say I could solve all your problems, just that they were simple. You shouldn't have had kids if you couldn't afford to support them. If you are in that bad of shape, you might want to consider giving your kids up for adoption. Sucks, but it's probably best for them.

Yeah of course there are unexpected "shit happens" problems, got cancer or hurricane wipes out the local economy or whatever. And sometimes that does make things complex. But most people I've encountered have problems like this notional money problem because they:

a) buy more stuff than they can afford, going into massive debt

b) make poor life choices that feel emotionally good at that time, and assume expenses they can't handle, but could have controlled at some point and now want a solution for the pile of disaster they're in. It's sometimes buying a new car, or having kids or buying too big a house or whatever.

For example, I have a close friend who has a habit of making poor life choices. He's divorced twice, different kids by each mother, pays over 65% of his income in child support and alimony, buys used cars with exceptionally low reliability and poor gas mileage, never educated himself or got any work certificates or anything so his salary without those weights isn't all that great anyways, and now that he's in this pinch wonders how to solve his rather significant money problems. It seems very complex to him and trying to emotionally process and talk about the well of failure he's found himself in has gotten him nowhere.

Here's the simple solution in 10 steps with a 3 step discount.

Step 1) Stop getting married and producing children.

Step 2) Stop buying shitty cars. In the long run it costs more. Go to the free library, get a copy of consumer reports and find cars that have exception reliability and low mpg as a used car. Buy that.

Step 3) Get an education or at least a certificate in something to make you more marketable. The library and internet is free and has all the information he needs to at least get read up to pass a basic certification in something.

Step 4) Stop getting fired from jobs for "getting sick" and not showing up on time.

Step 5) Use that work history and education/qualifications to get another, better job/fight for promotions at work.

Step 6) In the while, do side jobs that pay only in cash and don't report it. (I didn't say solving it was legal or ethical, only that it's simple)

Step 7) Stop buying useless shit he can't afford. He tells me all the time about this or that concert he just went to, or the new costume he's getting for the cosplay competition at the local comic convention or the new game he just bought. Stop it.

$1/10 packs Ramen noodles, rice and 1/3 can of spam or a can of tuna per day with vitamin supplements should be his new diet. Splurge once a week at Taco Bell for a treat.

Option) Think about a different career path. IT isn't working for him, maybe working at Costco is a better option. Decent pay, excellent benefits, good work environment.

Maybe go be a waiter, there are always jobs available waiting tables. It's a quick road to $3 or $4k a month, which is more than he makes. Plus lots of tips are cash making it easy to come home with a pocket of spending money that he wouldn't need to report and keep away from his ex-wives.

It'll take a few years to dig out of, but it's completely doable and not quantum rocket surgery to solve. It's not complex, it's simple. He just needs to do it.

thats fine if you come from a perfect background but it sounds pretty ignorant, like you have no empathy for others and can't relate to others situations. for example, if you fucked up as a kid, but want to turn your life around it can be really difficult/impossible. furthermore, life can throw unavoidable things at people, like maybe they had to take care of a sick relative instead of getting an education. you sound like someone whose always lived in a suburb/nice area and has no perspective. i'm telling this to pop your bubble, go to africa or china or brazil, or even the ghetto. there are men there who work harder than you ever will and still can't survive on the money they make, regardless of how much their expenses are.

I appreciate your comment and the spirit it was presented in. You should dig back through my comment history to find out more about my background.

The TL;DR, grew up pretty poor, came out of that environment with lots of burdens, did exactly what I said above and now am not poor anymore. It sucked, hard, but it's possible. And it's more possible to do it before you make lots of bad decisions that make it even harder to crawl out of. But it's not very complex to do.

Yeah it gives me sympathy, but it gives me a realistic pragmatism too and practical experience simply doing it.

But regardless, I've seen and helped many people who came from much worse backgrounds than I did to do the same and live comfortable productive lives.

I've traveled quite a bit, to some pretty hellish areas, and I know what you are talking about.

I think you put down "Africa" China and Brazil too much. China and Brazil are paradises compared to some of the places I've been. And much of Africa is pretty decent these days comparatively. If you work hard and have good money discipline in any of those places you can probably eek out an okay living. I've seen people eek out passable livings in active war zones. I'd leave, but you know, staying on ancestral lands or whatever is their choice. Their neighbors who did leave lead much better lives. There's always a way.

It's not complex, but it's not always easy.

> life can throw unavoidable things at people, like maybe they had to take care of a sick relative

If you read what I've written here, you'll see that I've already acknowledged that sometimes shit happens and there's no way to readily solve it. But these are outlier atypical scenarios. We can come up with these all day: gas main exploded destroying my house, meteor falls from space and destroys their car, hurricane and tsunami levels the local economy, got cancer, etc.

Yeah that stuff is hard and can be complex. But for most people, most places and most of the time, their problems are not complex and aren't difficult to surmount.

Other people could give you the same advice in regards to your weight problems. It sucks, its hard, but its possible. Its not complex, but its not always easy. Still you struggle and its complex for you. So why are you so judgemental about other peoples seemingly simple problems ?

It's not complex for me. It's simple. I'm just not doing it. That's it. There's no complexity at all. It's not a "struggle".

If I were to wake up tomorrow and decide "I want to solve this weight problem" I know exactly what to do and how to do it. There's a clear path from problem to solution and there's nothing complicated about it. It might not be fun, and it might take a while, solutions aren't guaranteed to offer immediate gratification, but it's absolutely trivially solvable.

And that's the point. The kinds of normal problems people struggle with are usually pretty easy to solve, but they just don't for <reasons>. And they'll have those problems until they simple decide to stop having that problem and solve it. There's nothing complicated about their issues, and often the solution is trivially simple, but they don't because they haven't decided to.

They add all kinds of conditions and oddball requirements (e.g. "I need to make more money, but I need to stay here, doing this exact job that's not paying me enough because I have lots of friends here."). That's not deciding to solve their problem.

Simple, easy, and fun are very different concepts and it's best not to mix them up.

Physical, emotional, and mental energy are required to pull through these "simple" habits and behaviors, which makes these neither easy nor fun. We seek out advice and shortcuts so that we don't require as much energy to make these transformations. It's a sustained kind of energy to move away from ingrained habits or lifestyles.

Pressures around you tend to keep you where you are (mentally, physically, and emotionally). I would say that even making a decision to change your life is out of the norm and requires a rare kind of commitment and energy.

I think it all comes down to the fact that people don't like change. People associate comfort with consistency and conformity. Network effects compound this effect.

I am commenting to let you know I like what you write. Thanks for existing!

> Step 1) Stop getting married and producing children.

It looks like his genes are smarter than yours.

If you are smart, why is it hard to figure out a way to develop daily habits that would allow you to lose weight?

It's not hard. Just like it's not hard for most people to solve most of their problems. Just not doing it. That's it. Nothing complicated about it.

Perhaps is "seem (ie: Look to me) trivially simple" instead of "are trivially simple".

I find very hard to be in a "regular" conversation. Bored/dislike me pop, realities, and the normal kind of conversation that people have. Even if I understand that some of that conversations are important or are NOT stupid, still, I can't plug in. Neither talk by phone, or use any kind of chat or social app (even before all that NSA stuff!).

Boy, how I regret pass my time in a library, all days, all the time...

Sounds not too bad. But what kind of productive things do you do in a library all days?

Reading. A lot. Pick a book, read (not always fully!), next. Probably I finish all the comics, history, science sections*

* The library was mid-sized, and that was the section for kids. Next I move to the full big one, but then I have get out of school, need work, and that kill it...

Or maybe that's just what it's like to be smarter than most people. Your comment seems completely full of shit to me, but I'm sure it's because I'm not empathizing enough.

>Curse of being gifted is very real. I wonder sometimes how many people couldn't break out of it and have ended up in bad jobs, or worse.

I read this and immediately thought "Oh, I must be gifted and suffering from this, because in high school I was good at computers, english, science, basic algebra, and geometry and ended up with a useless degree and a bad job."

I don't know if I really am gifted, but it's easy to latch onto anything that explains my situation and places the blame on something else besides myself. Guess I like the idea of being a gifted victim.

I'm sad and feel sad. :(

Again, high IQ is not the only merit leading towards a successful and fulfilling life. If you are biased on the IQ side, maybe you have comparatively low EQ, I just guess, because you feel sad about your current situation and don't know how to deal with it.

Take advantage of your merits and avoid the shortcomings by making appropriate decisions towards your job and future endeavor. But how?

First of all, you are not a gifted victim. What you need to do is to uplift yourself to take more challenges and opportunities in your life instead of being buried in your bad job and sadness.

Second, do more research to find the area you are most interested in and dive into that. If you cannot concentrate on certain field or topic, that's a different issue, part of which is regarding the EQ.

i saw some study that said high school valedictorians dont usually end up with any better outcomes than the average person. intelligence isnt everything in this world. look at reality television and the music industry..

>I remember I mentioned this to an associate one time. He asked me if I had done this with him. I answered yes. He challenged me to prove it. I went down a list of his cognitive biases, how they fed into his decision making process, and how this created a pattern of where I could even start inventorying what I thought he had in his apartment (I'd never been to his apartment). I missed the color of his couch, but guessed correctly where he bought his furniture, what kind of car he drove and was likely to buy and why, what TV shows he watched, what music he listened to (and had listened to in the past), the clothes he did and didn't have in his closet, what kind of food he liked and where he liked to shop, I picked his neighborhood, choice of home computer, where he wanted to retire and even a handful of books he probably had in his home library. I think it hurt him, or his sense of individuality, to be deconstructed like that. It was the last time I ever did this to another person. On the flip side, he tries to mix his life up, make random vectors in his life now and not be so predictable. But I know also that he does it because of what I did. It's just another behavior to slot into his patterns.

Wow. Just wow.

"I got very lucky and found a wife who's smarter than me, and she keeps me on my toes and from drawing the world down into my brain and further isolating myself with walls of internally consistent, but bad ideas. I've never figured out how to predict her thinking process beyond some high level abstract patterns. I think she does it on purpose, to keep me appreciative of her."

"a wife who's smarter than me"

Would love to know what metric you use to determine that she is smarter than you are. (I have some guesses of course but would rather hear why you think that and then reply with my thoughts.) I don't think it's a simple as "she keeps me on my toes".

I remember when we were dating, we got in an argument about something, I don't remember what exactly, and a typical lover's debate ensued. In a debate I'm usually able to rationally disassemble another person's arguments and "win"...and I remember the moment that she presented her argument and it was different than mine and I realized she was absolutely correct and I had built a sloppy argument in my mind.

I told myself, "I can't let her do that to me again", because it didn't feel good to actually really lose an argument because the other person was authentically correct and I was wrong.

And then it happened again and again.

I had never met another human being where that happened, ever.

If I feel this confident about my argument, it means I usually know it well enough that I can out argue anybody, it got me out of lots of fist fights in school, but also into lots of trouble with my teachers as I disassembled their lessons -- literary symbolism was a bad class for me for example as I challenged many of the asserted symbols and interpretations.

If I don't know it well enough I usually just keep quiet about it or don't get involved in a debate in the first place, and instead sit back and quietly learn.

But with her, she was able to, with less information, completely out-think me. To this day she still does it with alarming regularity.

She's been amazing, she helps me clarify my thinking and keep focused and not get caught up in negative thinking and actions too much. She comes up with and gives me constant challenges that take years to complete and keep me engaged in constructive positive thinking rather than destructive/deconstructive thinking. She's helped me get past decades of hurt and social isolation from my childhood and has literally polished me into a productive member of society.

Thanks for your reply.

Wow that's really interesting and great as well. [1]

Won't get into why I think my wife is "smart" and won't say anymore lest she reads this and the wrong thing happens! (I'll leave it at that).

That said I'm always amazed at the number of people I've run into who think there is some downside to not having a basically "stupid" woman that is totally dependent on the husband. I've had people actually question why I would want to be married to someone who is "smart". (My wife is a Physician so people automatically think "smart"). [2]

[1] Typically when someone thinks someone is smart [3] it's because they know something the other person doesn't and can run circles around them. (Reason why people say "he's really good with computers" in other words anything more than what they know is "really smart".)

Anyway in the case of what you have presented above you say:

a) "In a debate I'm usually able to rationally disassemble another person's arguments and "win"'

(So you think you are good at this)


b) "I remember the moment that she presented her argument and it was different than mine and I realized she was absolutely correct "

(So you see she is better at something you think you are really good at that really intesifies things since you have a point of reference (whereas people evaluating the computer guy have less of that for sure)

c) "And then it happened again and again."

d) "I had never met another human being where that happened, ever."

So you are in awe of her because your metric is your own intelligence which you have already figured out is quite high. And you have proof of that from past experience.

[2] I dated another woman who was a Physician and she didn't know you couldn't heat a pizza in a pizza box in other words that paper burned in the oven. (really). So much for that type of smarts.

[3] Edit: Other than the obvious markers like degree, grades, job title etc.

> So you are in awe of her because your metric is your own intelligence which you have already figured out is quite high. And you have proof of that from past experience.

Yeah, I suppose that would be the metric then!

It's fantastic to have somebody, everyday, who constantly challenges me and forces me to exercise my mind.

I would definitely have had trouble with a "trophy" wife...and actually I find that I get along better with men who have highly intelligent wives better than men who have hot trophy wives.

> I would definitely have had trouble with a "trophy" wife

"Trophy" wife does NOT mean "not intelligent".

Would like to point out that in my experience most men who use that expression (at least that I have run into or in popular culture) say "trophy wife" when they mean someone who is attractive and that that is their main redeeming value.

So for example one wouldn't have called Hillary Clinton a "trophy wife" because although she is quite accomplished she is not really of the grade of looks that would be "trophy" (in the common usage).

Ok so now I go and seek the definition on the internet to see what it says. And it says this:

"a young, attractive wife regarded as a status symbol for an older man."

That said of course you are right that "trophy wife" does not mean "not intelligent" but that is most likely the assumption that the majority of people are making.

Ok, now that we established that "trophy wife" does not mean "not intelligent", what do we say about people who make that incorrect assumption?

In particular, how smart are such people?

"what do we say about people who make that incorrect assumption?"

Is it an incorrect assumption if people are simply using what they have learned from others over time as far as what the word appears to mean?

In other words if you think that a "PC" is an IBM PC even though a Mac is a "PC" isn't that ok?

I say the ubiquitous definition is such that there is very little you will be able to do to change that.

What we are talking about is defacto vs. dejure. Dejure you are right. Defacto though seems to indicate "such people" are right.

This comment seems highly fantastical to me.

Maybe it's just the inevitable jealous response, but I felt the same way reading it. The deductive bit in the middle in particular — most people I know just aren't simple or predictable enough to guess their favorite music, car, or food. Decades have been spent trying to understand human behavior; how can one person have enough insight to definitively analyze someone's "limitations and patterns"? Not unless they're an order of magnitude smarter than the general population, which is exceptionally unlikely.

Furthermore, it's kind of weird to talk about intelligence in terms of levels. I know plenty of people who are smarter than me in certain fields, but I don't think I've ever met someone who was objectively smarter than me in every way, to the point where I could separate us into different classes of intelligence. In my experience, the IQ model is flawed: intelligence is much more fluid, and exists on many more axes, than we give it credit for.

There was a Reddit comment I read a while ago — I wish I could find it again! — where the author tried to describe what it would be like to have a Lex Luthor level of genius. You'd be able to effortlessly do anything you wanted. Ideas would immediately come together in your head. Even the most complex branches of science would be as easy as basic algebra. Everyone's problems would seem so simple and naive, but it would make it hard to relate to people. That's kinda what this comment read like to me.

(Sorry if I'm wrong, bane.)

It's worth noting that most of the predictions he made were about what consumer choices an individual would make.

This is actually a very well studied and successful field. In fact it's so successful, it makes those kinds of predictions possible, if you follow me.

Certain things are marketed to certain kinds of people because they're inclined to buy them, based on that person's self-perception.

The products/neighborhoods that are successful are the ones that are most successful at predicting what particular people will like, which in turn makes those choices more predictable for a given individual.

It's a Darwinian feedback process, almost. If the choices weren't predictable, they wouldn't have been available to have been made.

I agree with everything you said here. I'm not Lex Luthor smart. I don't mean to overstate myself, just meditating on that parts that I feel set me apart (not above or below, just apart) from people.

There's a specific reason I'm not inserting IQ into what I'm talking about, I agree that it's not a good focal point for a discussion about intelligence.

And I'm not saying I have perfect prediction of human behavior. Just that, with many people, if I spend enough time observing them, I can start to predict what they'll do or say with better than chance accuracy. The best analogy I can give is not Sherlock Holmes, but Groundhog day. What people miss in that movie is that the main character (Phil Connors played by Bill Murray) is spending his time mapping out the behavior patterns of the girl of his dreams (Rita by Andie MacDowell) to see if he can find the behavior pathways that will lead to her falling in love with him (or sleeping with him depending on your take on the story). Many people follow routines and habits, and if you observe them long enough it's like spending the same "day" over and over with them. You can start to mentally note and map out their behavior and then start making predictions about that behavior.

Most people do it all the time, we track what foods or films or whatever our friends like and dislike, and then make recommendations to them, or buy them presents based on that. We know them, so we think we can predict their behavior on a like/dislike vector. But what if you observed other things? Say you find a friend has an extreme allergy to milk and milk products. You can guess then that, if they drink coffee, they'll use a milk substitute, maybe soy. If they use soy, and you know what stores in their area carry soy milk and which don't and the ones that do are only the vegetarian stores, then you might be able to make a probabilistic guess that they're vegetarian. If they're vegetarian, you know there aren't many restaurants that are vegetarian in their area, so they probably cook at home, meaning they have a decent kitchen. So you can guess they have decent cookware, guessing at their income level you can guess if it's $100 an item cookware of $1000 an item cookware. There's only so many vendors at each price point for that, and only so many sell in my area etc., and on and on to yoga studio and car choice and neighborhood.

You can probabilistically guess all kinds of things from a cup of coffee. A little more observation, a comment here and there, a couple questions from you to direct your guesses and you can improve your chances and before you know it you can run down the list of consumer choices many individuals make which defines their space.

Even singular biases or opinions can tell you worlds about a person. It's kind of like stereotyping, but it's a little more informed than that. You can guess, for example, a person with strong opinions on say gun rights is likely aligned with several other related categories. Differences in those aligned categories might tell you other things, and let you know if they're conservative, liberal, anarchist or something else. Even a single comment can inform your predictive model about a person and set boundaries on what they would or wouldn't do.

You also have to know things. I couldn't do this with somebody from a country or area I don't know anything about. I don't know the politics, neighborhoods, social signals, in and out group dynamics and on and on.

Another example, there's an old phrase, "everybody skis in Aspen", meaning that knowing a person is from Aspen implies they do snow sports, but knowing that doesn't inform you of much other than they probably own a pair of skis or a snowboard and there's a fair chance they come from money.

But knowing a person you meet in someplace like Tampa, is an avid skier (an outlier) tells you all kinds of things about them. That they travel, that they probably don't go to anywhere on the East Coast (the snow sucks), that they probably have a passport (to go to the Canadian Rockies or the Alps), and gives you an idea of their disposable income they set aside for trips and skiing, which then can inform you of their total income and on and on and on.

People are like chaotic systems, and every piece of information you know restricts the space they can operate in. Within limits you can infer many many things. And it's not superhuman.

Thanks for the reply!

It's funny that you say it's more Groundhog Day than Sherlock Holmes when your soy milk example, to me, is pretty much as Holmesian as it gets. I've never intentionally tried the kind of deduction that you describe, but at least for me and my circle of friends, I can see it easily falling apart just a few steps in. Plenty of stores carry soy milk nowadays, not just vegetarian ones. I can't possibly hope to know all the restaurants where my friends live. Most of my friends who cook at home get by with dull knives and ancient cookware. And not only do I have no idea which stores sell kitchen supplies, but it's not always obvious whether someone does their shopping in person or on Amazon. This is especially the case for hobbies and activities I'm less familiar with, such as yoga.

I suppose if I had meticulous knowledge of my area and practiced a lot, I could get my guesses above 50%. But it seems like something I'd have to put a lot of effort in, not a skill I would just acquire casually.

Do you find that this comes easily to you?

(I'm not saying that figuring things out about people is impossible, of course. It makes sense to divide up the probability space and increase your odds. Again with your coffee example, you could probably make a reasonable educated guess that the person is vegetarian, or even that they cook at home. But where they shop? Where they eat? There's so many choices these days, and people like trying new things. Even if I had a hunch, I certainly couldn't outright tell them with specificity about all their consumer habits, like you described with your coworker. The probability of me being right would just be way too low.)

I appreciate you posting here, it's pretty interesting to read.

Yeah sure, just trying to peel back the layers and have an honest conversation without getting bogged down by layers of social niceties intended to minimize my singular interesting attribute.

> Holmesian as it gets

Yeah, it wasn't a great example, just sprung to mind. But I think you got the basic gist of how it works. I think the difference is that Holmes deduces his conclusions by following clues, but Groundhog Day aggregates information to find patterns...which can then be used to make deductive guesses. I guess it's more of an inductive approach at the beginning.

> Do you find that this comes easily to you?

If I don't put effort into turning it off, which I do most of the time these days because I associate doing it with bad feelings, it's just part of the normal process my brain goes through when I'm getting to know somebody. So about as much effort as having a bunch of conversations and remembering a few things. I have a terrible memory so I have to spend some effort reinforcing a few key facts. But I can then usually derive the rest with reasonable accuracy without having to remember it all.

Why remember things when I can just figure them out each time?

It's actually part of the classic "gifted curse" I personally deal with. I never really bothered to learn good memorization techniques because I can usually figure things out from the few kernels I do remember. But when topics get too complex, or I'm just outright missing data, the jenga pile falls over and I'm rather lost.

I'm also slightly dyscalculic and dyslexic (took a few tests and everything for formal and second diagnoses), which provides their own sets of challenges -- this is surprisingly common among the very gifted, but we usually "solve" it ourselves internally and thus the research on it is pitifully poor. I didn't personally find out about it conclusively till I was well into my mid-twenties, though some early childhood tests raised the possibility.


The superhuman deduction in the middle, the general tone of self-absorption, and the Batman-villain userid. Maybe I'm wrong.

It's "bane" as in "HN is the addictive bane of my existence".

It's hard to get tone across when talking about one's own experiences. In my case my experience is about having the attribute of high intelligence.

If this was a discussion about being tall instead of being intelligent, and I happened to be very tall, would it change your opinion if my deduction had been that tall people can dunk basketballs more easily than short people and then relayed an experience where I, though I don't play basketball, demonstrated this to a short fanatical basketball fanatic by dunking a ball?

It doesn't mean I'm always right, or that my deductions are always correct. I'm not omniscient. In that anecdote it turns out I was, and it was destructive to my relationship.

Being highly intelligent is like walking around with a bomb in your head. You have to be very careful how you approach other people because your mere existence is hard for them to accept. It's not a good feeling to hurt or scare people by doing what you were born to do.

Just being tall, and doing tall people things, like grabbing something off of a high shelf, is not likely to elicit the same response.

You have to constantly translate the complex interconnected mental world you swim in into a simpler model you can communicate with. When I meet another high-intelligence person, I don't have to do that beyond establishing a common vocabulary. It's a fun thrill to have a conversation with somebody who's mind races along like yours, just like it's fun for a tall person to be around other tall people.

One of the issues with being highly intelligent is that you're right more than most people, which makes it difficult to trust the input of more normal folks. So you end up trusting yourself all the time, which means that when you are wrong, you don't know or recognize it until it explodes spectacularly in your face.

Yes, "dunking a ball". We are talking about "dunking a ball" when you are taller than most of other people.

You have a good metaphor here, but what kinds of ball are you dunking when you have higher IQ than other people? Do you do anything productive to take advantage of your high IQ? I didn't see it yet.

I agree that being super intelligent is a disaster to people around you. But if you can make something to benefit people, you will be accepted as a hero by the people eventually. That's how heroes are generated.

I don't want to get dragged down by measuring intelligence with IQ. It's a vague and unclear measure at best.

But to answer the spirit of your question. It depends.

What's the cognitive task I'm gifted at? Did I do that task? Why should I feel shameful for doing that?

If I'm good at rational reasoning, is doing the act of reasoning bad?

If I'm good at advanced physics, is doing physics bad?

If I'm good at painting, or music, or solving rubik's cubes, or biology or psychology, is the act of doing those things I'm good at something I should be bothered about?

There's a significant social stigma about being smarter than everybody else in the room. They're elevated on a weird kind of pedestal both to celebrate, but also to make sure they don't get in too close of contact with the normal folks. It's not fun. Most really smart folks just want to contribute and be useful and use their gifts. Just like tall people tend to play basketball or musically gifted people want to play music.

We don't really celebrate demonstrations of intelligence. It's weird and bizarre and worthy of study and research, but not use. The really really intelligent folks find themselves locked away solving other people's problems for them, rather than being engaged.

> Do you do anything productive to take advantage of your high IQ? I didn't see it yet.

If I'm good at a cognitive task, is there something useful I can do with it?

A criticism that I think is rightfully levied on people like Marilyn Vos Savant is that she doesn't use her gifts for anything particularly useful. Solving other people's brain teasers every week is pretty low on the accomplishment scale.

I try to put what I can do to good use, but outside of the startup sphere I've worked on some very hard, very vexing World problems and been successful in some cases, less successful in others. A byproduct of that work is some cool and elegant technology and approaches that I try to share with others, some of which has had some pretty big impacts on the world which I'm very proud of. It hasn't made me FU rich, but that's never been what I was aiming for. I live very comfortably.

I've also, quite literally, been the guy locked away in a room to solve a hard problem. It's not fun, and it brings up those deep feelings of social isolation. I'm not a person, I'm a functional black box nobody knows quite how to deal with.

But, something I really enjoy, figuring out how to take the advanced work and make it usable by regular folks is a pretty engaging and pretty striking challenge.

Nice to hear that you have your own focus. I doubt about that because from what you've said in the previous posts, you feel lonely, or socially lonely, because not many common topics can be shared between you and the normal people. Or you feel it's so hard to make the advanced research in your area to benefit normal people.

I guess there is a gap in your heart which needs to be bridged with your social life. Advanced research can be seen as a type of work, all the scientists are kind of isolated with the regular groups of people. But they can still have their social life to enjoy food, art and something else outside the work.

On the other hand, my doubt came from the fact that you have a wife who is more intelligent than you. If you did, you would never feel lonely. No matter what you do in this world, you have companion who can really understand your value is. You should not feel lonely and you would not feel it so weird when you see the majority of people cannot understand you. If you wish to get rid of the social isolation, there are always ways to enjoy other types of pleasure life brings to you. I still think you are too narrow on a certain spot over the entire spectrum of life.

At any moment when I see any small achievement I get, I feel so fulfilled, especially when some people may understand my work. That's enough.

> I still think you are too narrow on a certain spot over the entire spectrum of life.

I think you are right. When I think on my wife, the loneliness goes away, but it's tempting to fall back into old thinking patterns and habits, no? Sometimes bad feelings you've carried around for a long time are comfortable, like an old pair of shoes.

Yes, I sort of understand what you mean. I guess the only way out to relieve from the bad feeling is to be grateful for what life has brought to us. But I know, feeling is feeling, feeling is not logic. Try it, you may feel different, because our daily life is impacted by our emotional energy on a large scale.

Another angle to see the loneliness is from a long historic point of view. We are all lonely on the way to be born. See the story here: http://www.galactanet.com/oneoff/theegg_mod.html by Andy Weir. So try to forget about it or ignore the feeling and find every piece of joy in your daily life.

Thanks for sharing the story. I think we can agree that not dwelling on the past and the feelings it might bring up, but to move forward and be grateful is a better path to follow.

I don't think it's really a superhuman deduction. I think if you spent time carefully observing people you're around a lot with the intent of figuring out how they think you'd be able to do something very similar. It's just that most of us (including me) don't do that very often. Most people are reactive about such things rather than proactive.

As far as userids, neither you or I should be making guesses about people based on such things. :-)

Hey bane.

It can get better. In recent years, the gifted community talks a lot about "social and emotional needs of the gifted." There are conferences and the like which focus on that. Perhaps that would help?

Signed: Another "outcast," (but fairly content...though it's hard to express since, certainly, I have problems I am still trying to fix.)

> In recent years, the gifted community talks a lot about "social and emotional needs of the gifted."

Thanks, it's good to know. Better communication mediums have certainly helped us find each other.

Pre-Internet was terribly terribly lonely for me. But it's getting better. I've found little help in groups or associations (MENSA, Triple 9, etc.), preferring to find individuals one at a time.

Places like HN aren't a bad place to find other "outcasts".

> "the kinds of problems most people have seem trivially simple to me"

From this I can tell that you're smart, but not really smart. The really smart never say things like that.

Can you provide an example of a typical problem most people have that's not trivially solvable by "don't do the thing that causes you to have the problem?"

There's literally hundreds of thousands of pages of advice columns and books and lectures you can go to about various typical money/relationship problems which make up the vast bulk of people's issues which are all summed up with the above.

Problem: I don't make enough money

Solution: Stop not making enough money and make more money.

Problem: My Significant Other and I don't get along

Solution: Stop not getting along and get along or break up.

Problem: My life sucks

Solution: Stop living a sucky life and get a better life.

Yeah, not every problem is simple, and not every problem (simple or not) has a simple problem, but the vast majority of day-to-day problems people have are trivially solvable...they just don't do the things to solve them.

Solutions don't have to be instantaneous, they just have to resolve the problem. People want instant quick fixes, "I'm poor" and poof money falls out of the sky, sorry doesn't work that way. But making money is stupidly easy...do something somebody wants and charge them for it.

"But I'm not rich" well that's not really a problem is it?

This seems completely delusional to me. Your answer to every problem is saying "solve the problem". I can think of two problems every person has that are not trivially solvable with your approach:

Problem: people die Problem: people are unhappy

Or, to relate to what transpires as "your" problem, having a meaningful fulfilling time with other people. Which by the way is a problem that I think is fundamental to human existence.

In my experience, problems that look trivial get increasingly complex the closer you look at them. The simple problem of (off the top of my head) how to cook an egg will probably bring you a lifetime worth of fulfilling intellectual challenges.

I have a decent IQ, skipped a few years of education, and used to think I had trouble relating to other people. I still seem to have this uncanny ability (at times) to solve programming issues (I'm a developer). I used to think I had trouble relating to other people and set out to live a more passionate life, and spent a lot of time with less intellectually oriented people. One thing I learned (and I had to learn it, as in spend effort on acquiring some kind of knowledge) is that intelligence is so much more than what I thought it was. It is not just about solving problems, it is also about experiencing and appreciating reality, and how to share and express your appreciation of reality. It clicked one day, and I have pretty much no problems anymore connecting with people, regardless of how trivially solvable their "problems" are.

This is a bit rambling and dishing out advice, and I don't want it to sound that way. I am trying to boil it down to your approach of problem + solution. Here is a simple one:

Problem: the sunset yesterday was beautiful, and I want to share the beauty I experienced with you.

Problem: people die, unsolvable don't bother.

Problem: people are unhappy, sounds like you found the trivial solution, no? Your explanation sums to me as "don't do things that make you unhappy, do things that make you happy".

Problem: it's hard to connect with people, do things that connect with people. Do them with lots of people till you find connections.

My central thesis here is that solving normal every day problems, the kind that people write into Dear Abby about, is usually pretty simple. It's why Dear Abby and similar columns have

a) been around for decades

b) are given just a couple inches of column space

c) answer half a dozen "life problems" every week in under 2 paragraphs.

Would it come across better if I framed it as a Dear Abby question? Nobody seems to have particular problems with her? If you strip away the polite wording, her solutions are usually one or two sentences.

Or would it be better if I padded the simple solution in easier to digest language like Dear Abby?

Problem: People Die

Solution: I'm very sorry that people die. It's a sad thing when a particularly bright light, who's contributed so much to the world, and so much yet to contribute, is snuffed out. People have desired long and hard for an end to the end, but it's a simple fact of life. Learning to accept death, and find closure, without dwelling in the past (move forward in celebration of their life!) is an important part of living your own life.

Does that make you feel better? The solution is no different. But now we've both wasted time getting to it. It's not any more complex than it was before, but now it's coated with sugar. That's not problem solving.

Here's an article acknowledging and celebrating this


Read very carefully her advice and see if it's materially different than mine.

Problem: I can't find other people that I can associate with.

Solution: Move & get a career where you're more likely to find the right people.

But none of those are solutions.. you've solved nothing.

"Whenever I start feeling sick, I just stop being sick and be awesome instead" - Barney Stinson

In what way are they not solutions?

Pertinent to your quote:

Dear Abby: My last job had me at an open office work site where people did lots of international travel. Inevitably somebody would come back sick from some exotic illness. That, combined with a high stress job had me sick constantly and it has me feeling sick, tired and run down. I feel like I've aged 6 years in the last 6 months and it's impacted everything from my relationships to my fitness. How can I solve this problem?

Solution: Stop being around sick people and get a lower stress job.

My point has nothing to do with the validity of what you said. I have no doubt that most people's problems are trivial to you, and that you could easily find effective solutions for them. Rather, my point is that you said what you did. The geniuses I've met were typically far more graceful about their intelligence.

Sure, and normally I would be, but this isn't the forum to be coy. This is the forum to talk about the difficulties of walking around with a hot potato of a brain. Sometimes it's bound to come across as rude or prickish. But it's like tall people talking about how tired they are of getting things off of high shelves for their short friends when they could just use a step stool.

so the problems other people have are simple, but the problems you have are not? Almost every normal person feels this way sometimes, though your version is more exaggerated. Other people's problems can be changed with a simple change in perspective, because when you're trying to solve other people's problems, you don't have to acknowledge that person's humanity. You can just swap that person out and replace them with a person who doesn't have that problem, and the problem gets solved. Of course, from the other person's perspective, that's impossible, but well that's their problem.

With your problems, you can't do that any more - you can't deal with the curse of being gifted by simply not being gifted anymore because that wouldn't be you, now, would it? You have to deal with walls of internally consistent, but questionable ideas because that's who you are, you can't simply snap out of it and replace them with good, reality-based ideas.

I don't know know why you have to deal with depression and hopelessness, but regardless of how true it may seem, it's not healthy to construct a narrative in which you alone are a genius dealing with deep questions and others are simpletons with mundane problems. It leads to dehumanization of others, which robs you of the very companionship you seek. Underneath others' simple problems like "weight issues" and "financial issues" lurk deep emotional issues of the kind that you struggle with.

There's a lot of reading more into what I've said going on in this thread. It's understandable I suppose, people feel threatened I guess.

I gave an example of a regular everyday problem I have that's simple and straightforward to solve. Most people's problems are rather simple, mine are no different. The difference between somebody who can't "solve" their personal problems and somebody who can is almost largely a function of them simply taking action on the solution.

Being gifted is like being tall, problems tall people have can't always be solved, just like problems that come with being gifted. But sometimes you can address some of the issues. But they too usually aren't all that complicated.

> It leads to dehumanization of others, which robs you of the very companionship you seek.

I do agree with you on this. I know from conversations I've had with other extremely gifted people, that it's very tempting and easy to separate normal folks away from yourself and treat them like a different species.

> I don't know know why you have to deal with depression and hopelessness

It's just a kind of loneliness. I know from talks with other folks like me that it's pretty normal.

It's like being extremely tall, like statistically 1 in 10,000. You literally have nobody who you can commiserate and share with about all the minute-by-minute issues you have with extreme height.

It's the same for people like me. I'm not 1 in 10,000, but unless I spend most of every day meeting new people, I'm not statistically likely to find anybody else quickly. I've known people far smarter than I am who are even more hopelessly alone.

Finding another truly smart person, and it's not always immediately obvious, is like finding a source of light in a dark room. Nothing else matters at all about them, just communicating with somebody who's mind works kinda sorta like yours is like breathing pure oxygen after being stuck in an airtight cocoon.

But even then, high intelligence is so individual, so specific, that you can't ever really find common ground. But at least you know that they're out there, a beacon of light in a deep fog.

Being exceptional, in a way you can't really change, is extremely isolating by nature. The Guinness book of records is full of isolated, lonely, deeply depressed misanthropes.

> it's not healthy to construct a narrative in which you alone are a genius

It's difficult not to, when statistically you might be the smartest person in a group of thousands of people. And when your job and entire life is about "being smart" to help solve issues for the rest of the masses.

Dehumanization works both ways, imagine that nearly everybody you meet and interact with looks at you purely as a functional black box to exploit, problem goes in, solution comes out. You're basically treated as a walking appliance every day. At first it's kind of flattering, but after a while you get tired of not having basic social interactions and courtesies extended to you. And then you tire of being treated like a high maintenance piece of tooling. Fuck that noise, I've been there and it gets old.

Problem: you're treated like a machine and not a person

Solution: remove yourself from that environment, meet new people and play normal for a while so you can bath in normal interactions

Almost everyone is an outlier along some dimension and almost everyone has genius intellect if you measure their intelligence by what is important to them, but not to others. You can choose to interact with people based on what you have in common or you can choose to interact with people based on their relative shortcomings in the few things you're very good at. The latter approach, while quite tempting, often results in the kind of loneliness and isolation you talk about.

You wrote earlier:

"I've often found that groups proposing to be built of smart people are often as not built of over-opinionated pretentious people who've come to believe they are intelligent through one way or another. It's why I've avoided high-IQ societies and the like."

Why are their reasons for believing that they are special invalid, while yours are valid? I think they came to believe in their own high intelligence much the same way that you have. It validates something and fulfills some need. Grownups talking incessantly about their intelligence are like retired athletes who never made it in the pros talking about their stellar scouting reports placing them above those who had successful professional careers. If they didn't make it, the scouting reports were wrong. Don't assess yourself like society assesses children.

> Why are their reasons for believing that they are special invalid, while yours are valid?

A lesson I've learned, the hard way, many times, is that it's possible to appear intelligent when you aren't. For example, people often mistake excellent communication skills as intelligence, so people who speak and present well are lauded for their smarts. It's like Williams syndrome, which people find endlessly curious, because they have exceptional language skills, but are otherwise cognitively impaired.

And it's not often immediately obvious if somebody just uses language well, or if they're genuinely intelligent. It can take weeks or months of observation, and probing to start to see their cognitive deficits. They might even be reasonably bright, but we're not talking about that kind of above average person.

There are other similar phenomenon. The idiot-savant, who can't brush their teeth in the morning by themselves, but can then go and crack crypto over their breakfast of apple and carrot paste.

Or the otherwise completely average person who puts 80 hours a week into violin practice and can perform with the best gifted soloist. Hard work can get you very far.

Argh it's tough to explain because English hasn't really developed a reasonable vocabulary that allows for simple categorical descriptions of different kinds of intelligence.

Imagine you go to a track and field camp, and it's made up of all the fastest runners from their respective towns. Except you and maybe one other kid are twice as fast as everybody else there. Even in that environment, where everybody else is fast, you're faster. Nobody there is slow, it's just that you and the other kid are in a class of your own. You didn't practice to become fast, you simply are. There are kids there who've dedicated their lives to being fastest, and some of them are quite talented. But it doesn't matter. They get upset at you for being fastest there with little effort. And on top of it, you can even play other events a runner wouldn't be good at pretty high levels. Your particular gift isn't in shot put, and you don't play that event, but you're enough of a natural athlete that you can figure out a way to place in the top 3 anyways.

And to make it worse, instead of competing you in the all state sports camp final, they turn you into a team coach. But you don't really know anything about the process and particulars of what it take for a normal person to become a fast runner. You were simply built that way and nobody knows what to do with you.

You've never been anything but kind and friendly to you, but they definitely feel a little threatened and jealous. So you end up eating meals alone, or maybe with the other fast kid, who it turns out you don't really get along with for normal social reasons like not having other shared interests. Eventually a few kids respond to your friendliness and you hang around for a bit, but their other friends can't accept you so given the decision to be your friend or go back to their old group of friends, they fade away. You can't begrudge them that, you understand, but it's the 10 thousandth time that happened to you. That's your life.

I've been fortunate enough on occasion to end up on groups with other similarly gifted people and it's awesome. But like I said earlier, you don't ever really become friends, you mutually acknowledge each other's intellect and get about doing the task at hand. Eventually somebody is happy with the work your team is doing and thinks it'd be great to break the team up and spread the smarts around a bit, so it never lasts long.

"A lesson I've learned, the hard way, many times, is that it's possible to appear intelligent when you aren't."

But why isn't this true of yourself? You've created this elaborate personal definition of intelligence, one that doesn't seem to have much correlation with anything positive that is objectively observable. And you do very well according to this definition, while others who think they are smart don't do quite as well. You don't see a problem here? It would be quite easy for anyone to come up with some vague definition of intelligence that they personally do well on.

At best, most personal definitions of intelligence held by the "gifted" tend to be extrapolated from attributes of children that are correlated with future success, especially in mentally demanding fields. We're interested in children's intelligence because it helps us project their future. But you're an adult, and not a particularly young one at that. There's no need to extrapolate. You are what you are. You're not judged by future potential, of which intelligence is one of many proxies. No serious scholar judges Nobel prize winning scientists by their high school test scores and no serious sports analyst judges professional athletes' careers by their pre-draft workouts. When you have the real thing, proxies become meaningless.

At worst, such definitions are carefully constructed to match the strengths and interests of the person doing the construction, while avoiding the weaknesses or conveniently treating them as positives. This is where all kinds of interesting inversions happen, for example, common proclamations like I'm depressed because I'm too smart or I can't succeed at that job because I'm too intelligent. Not that reversals never happen in isolated circumstances, but intelligence only has meaning because it measures mental performance potential. Whatever quality one may have, if it tends to result in negative mental outcomes, calling it intelligence renders the term meaningless.

I'm curious - you mentioned something about your wife being smarter. Does she suffer from all these problems you have due to being too smart? Does she share your disdain for those who aren't as smart?

> But why isn't this true of yourself?

You are absolutely correct in everything you ask here. If this were a discussion called "cognitive difficulties otherwise highly intelligent people struggle with" we'd be having a different discussion. We'd talk about overcoming dyslexia or dyscalculia, or other cognitive biases and issues that might be surprising. But this isn't that kind of discussion, this is a discussion about "the difficulties that come purely from being gifted". If one of those difficulties is finding other people as gifted to relate with, then isn't that valid?

I'm not exceptionally intelligent in everything. Just in those few areas I was gifted in. I'm a pretty normal, beer drinking, average bloke to most people who know me. I'm not particularly physically gifted, I have my own cognitive deficits to deal with like anybody. I get along fine with most people and I certainly don't look down on them regardless of what you're reading into things. I get frustrated sometimes when dealing with normal folk, at where their ability to think on something ends. But I've met a few people who possessed truly superhuman intellects and I'm sure they got frustrated with me.

Among the many difficulties that emerge with discussing personal experiences of being exceptionally gifted: social isolation, jealousy, fear -- is the lack of useful models, vocabulary and language to discuss the phenomenon. It's not common enough, and not well researched enough for there to be a convenient shared vocabulary we can use, especially one without such loaded words like "smart" "intelligent" and "gifted". It's not such a deficit to most people that it's really worth studying to be honest. Highly Intelligent people can usually figure out their own problems and go on to live productive enough lives. But it doesn't mean there aren't shitty aspects of the gift.

As to how do I know I possess this one quality?

It's not the hundreds of cognitive assessment tests I suffered through as a child. It's not people telling me "oh you're so smart". It's the experience of walking onto a team of smart successful people, the smartest in their field, and tackling an intractable problem in a few months that they, as a group have struggled with for years. It's cutting noise out of intensely complex problem sets and finding the core of the problem and an elegant solution (or knowing that the only solution is to brute force the problem). It's having that recognized repeatedly and then finding yourself on "hard problem" teams over and over again and ending up as the smart guy on the team of smart people.

It's being the one guy with the right solution in a room of problem solvers over and over again. And then your approach or solution gets legs and you find yourself meeting new people you have no connection with and in an offhand comment they bring up something you worked on that solved major issues for them and they don't know you were the one who came up with it.

But it's also about knowing when to stop and say "I don't know" or "I didn't know that" when you don't. It's knowing that some people are better than you are at their thing and letting them be better at it. And it's knowing where your gifts end and you turn into just regular folk. It's knowing you put pants on the same way, and go to the bathroom the same way as anybody else. And it's finding things that people are good at themselves, or better than you at, and enjoying and appreciating it as they talk about and practice their craft. Not getting jealous or scared of them for their gifts.

I'll go back to the analogy I've used here, people of extreme height. Replace "intelligence" and "gifted" in your previous questions with words like "height" and "tall". How does an extremely tall person know they're extremely tall? They just do. There all kinds of ways to measure height and if all those measures add up to "extremely tall" they just are. It doesn't mean other tall people aren't also vertically gifted. It doesn't put the hormonal output of other people's pituitary gland or the particulars of their inherited gene expressions down, it just means they aren't as tall.

>Does she share your disdain for those who aren't as smart?

So an extremely tall person who's talking about the sucky parts of being extremely tall doesn't disdain shorter people. They just have a unique experience that they'd like to share that likely nobody else in earshot will have experience with.

My wife is frequently frustrated with the cognitive limitations of others, and she also gets terribly lonely about making friends with normal folks. She finds their behavior odd and irrational and puzzling, but she doesn't put anybody down over it. She also works with excessively intelligent folks, and often ends up as the smartest kid in the room of smartest kids. Her gifts are of a very different nature than mine. But we don't often talk about them as we find it hard to relate to each other's gifts.

Her gift is more of the: take a problem with steps A through Z. She can go from A-to-Z without bothering with B,C,D or any of the the others. She can even do it with very noisy problem sets and her external thinking process when she's using her gift is extremely chaotic and hard to follow, but the output is nearly always right. She did not pursue the field her gift is useful for though, a brief childhood prodigy experience scared her away and she switched gears to several other career paths.

During college she was well known for her gift. People she didn't know from advanced classes she never took would come up and ask her for help understanding a section. She'd look at the chapter for a couple minutes, learn how to do it, and then show them. It was frequent enough that it often interfered with her own studies. I can probably say I saw it happen 50 or 60 times? (She's not a very good teacher though because it takes her a supreme effort to show the steps to somebody else. But she was always willing to give it a go to help them.)

Beyond that, she shares most of the classic gifted curses: intense social isolation, fear, jealousy, dehumanization (being treated more like an appliance than a person), and the typical sort of laziness and lack of learned skills that curses many highly gifted people.

> play normal for a while so you can bath in normal interactions

We all have common ground with others, all it takes is figuring out that common ground and restricting oneself to it, despite what else you have to offer and how much it means to you, for the sake of what you can share with that other person.

People do it all the time, usually even in friendships and relationships, and average people aren't ultimately less alone just because they're surrounded by other average people. I'd say not being alone is being in touch with yourself and with others; and if the average person has that, they hide it mighty well. I'd rather say "normal" people are simply alone and isolated in groups and in sanctioned ways, instead of as individuals. And even "normal" people have to "play normal" all the time.

> The Guinness book of records is full of isolated, lonely, deeply depressed misanthropes.

This may be true, I have no idea, but I don't think that all gifted people have to end up isolated and depressed. Do you think the average person is happy just for being average? Nah, everybody hurts. Yes, people love to discriminate against others who are different, and being smart can be depressing, just for seeing through a lot of the crap so much time and energy and lives are wasted on -- but it takes two to make it a full-blown gap, half of that equation is always in your hands. Here's two quotes I like, I think they go well together:

"I have expressed my strong interest in the mass of the people; and this is founded, not on their usefulness to the community, so much as on what they are in themselves. Indeed every man, in every condition, is great. It is only our own diseased sight which makes him little. A man is great as a man, be he where or what he may. The grandeur of his nature turns to insignificance all outward distinctions." -- William Ellery Channing

"Is it only when the flowers are in full bloom and when the moon is shining in spotless perfection that we ought to gaze at them?" -- Kenko Yoshida

The full rev metaphor got me for a few seconds - but then I realized: if the analogy works, then those kids are not challenged enough. An engine can go over-rev very easily when the car is in neutral. And then you add some small obstacles and can go from full-rev to stalling.

The problem as I see it is that the potential exists, but there is no engagement on tackling hard problems.

If you want to improve your depression and clarify your thoughts, I recommend practicing awareness meditation for 15 minutes every morning and/or evening. After a few weeks, the results can be dramatic.

I might take you up on that. I've done some personal meditation exercises in the past and found that "disconnecting" during those sessions, brings about a kind of bliss.

Not sure if I can describe it well, but it's like taking a running car out of gear and just letting it coast. As thoughts enter and threaten the moment, just say "hi" and let them pass right through, rather than dwell on them.

Getting all the buzzing bees to quiet down for a few minutes is wonderful.

Not sure if you're still reading this thread bane, but a couple thoughts that might be useful --

1. The "I" ratio on your comment -- how much you're talking about yourself, your needs, your wants, your opinion, and your experience vs. looking at third-party needs, wants, opinions, experiences, and the general outward span of reality -- it's pretty high on the "I" side.

This might or might not be something worth intentionally looking to change. You've obviously got enough reflective ability and raw mental horsepower to self-modify on this characteristic if you want, and it will definitely be a different frame of reference and create a different subjective experience. It might be more enjoyable to you, might produce more happiness, and might lead to something meaningful -- depending on what you want out of life, and your definitions/sentiments around enjoyment, happiness, and meaning.

2. Play harder games.

The first part of this comment -- the "I ratio" -- that's an observation and something to think about, not a recommendation.

This one is.

I'm almost certain your life would be across the board more enjoyable to you and useful broadly if you play harder games. Boredom and acedia are almost universally agreed to be miserable things, and when you're bored/disillusioned and very smart, it's a torturously bad situation.

I was something like that when I was younger -- testing across the boards on tests, interested in things that few other people could talk to me about, etc.

I always wanted really deep and meaningful conversations, connections, ways to use the mix of gifts and curses I was given in a way that felt right to me and seemed to be good destiny-fulfillment (pardon me if that sounds hokey; the English language isn't really cooperating with what I'm trying to say -- I mean subjectively there, not an objective fate/destiny obviously).

Anyways -- you'll find that the people playing harder, larger games tend to be interesting, and the amount of variables, confounding factors, etc, to really give you a workout. More importantly -- you can use your talents for improving your personal well-being and the well-being of humanity-at-large simultaneously.

It's difficult to play hard big games, even getting into them is tricky. But the big hard games offer a chance to really put your mind and capacity to work, and the other people playing the big hard games tend to be really uniquely brilliant and complex and interesting.

Also -- thank you for your honest relating of your subjective experience, and for writing about the reasoning process... which I found really fascinating. I also found it fantastical on a first read, but looked to keep my mind open to it -- and your chain of reasoning seems sound. I think it's a new skill I didn't realize was quite available that would be interesting to train in.

To others besides bane -- don't read into this comment too much! It was a personal note. Bane -- thanks and godspeed, feel free to drop me an email sometime if there's some interesting complex problems on your mind.


> The "I" ratio on your comment

Thanks for the very reasoned comment. It's of course hard to talk about yourself without coming off as highly narcissistic. I do work on not doing that generally, just taking advantage of this unique discussion to do share and do so. I hope to most people I come across in real life I come across as genuine and empathetic. I don't interpret this forum to be the place for that, but for an honest revelation of what goes on in the brain of somebody like me. We don't do it very often because, as you can see by some of the comments here, the social implications are often not pleasant.

> Play harder games.

I've definitely taken this to heart.

I actually think the activity this community is formed around, start ups, is a good "game" in a way. There's a wonderful amount to learn simply from the act of doing business that's very hard to simply read and meditate on.

I participate in other tough mental activities as well.

One thing that I do want to emphasize, and I realize now that I haven't done a good job of it in my other posts on this topic, is that I'm generally quite happy and satisfied with life these days. I'm simply sharing the kind of problems and "curses" people like me go through.

But mostly they were just problems to be solved. Getting out of environments like public schooling was helpful for one. Finding an awesome wife has been fantastic. I get to autodidact as much as I want and travel wherever I want in the world a few times a year and expand my horizons. I've also sought out challenging jobs where I hope other smart folks will be (sometimes I'm disappointed, but I've been pleasantly surprised in a few cases).

I write a little, here and there, little personal research papers, that sort of thing.

I've also tried to find activities that force me to "turn it off". Community art classes, or photography, and use different parts of my brain I don't normally use. I find the kind of liberal arts environments particularly relaxing because so few people are competing, you can just sort of explore yourself, in something you aren't necessarily good at, and have a teacher as a guide if you want. You don't have to produce a Rembrandt or an Ansel Adams, you produce something extremely primitive and simple and it's totally fine.

It's fun on occasion and it feels to the brain like a good stretch does to the body.

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