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The role of adequate support for special individuals

(Michael Hrenka) #1

Today I reflected about my life again and I had something like a revelation: A lot of the problems I have had and developed in my life could have been at least partially caused by the lack of support I experienced during my childhood. It was more or less clear that I could be classified as “gifted”, but I have never gotten any special support from my family, or school, or any organisation whatsoever. I haven’t even skipped a single class, even though that certainly would have been possible. Instead, I’ve run through the regular school system as all other slightly above average intelligent persons would have, too.

There’s an eye opening article about individuals with a high IQ that seem to be excluded from influential positions. It suggests that having a too high IQ may be similarly debilitating and socially isolating as having a too low IQ. The outliers seem to have to fight with social problems that seem to simply come from the difficulty of finding like-minded people. Therefore, it would be logical to offer outliers special support, because they have to deal with special problems that more average people don’t have to cope with.

This is an observation that is related to the IQ distribution, but it probably also applies to other distributions as well, for example of personality traits and different deviations from the “neurotypical” norm.

I suspect that special individuals also have rather special needs, and not providing for these special needs equates to a form of neglect. This is problematic in at least two ways: First of all, special individuals will find it extremely difficult to find the right conditions to thrive, since they have to find out how to deal with their special needs on their own. This may prove to be too hard with conventional means, so these individuals might seek refuge in drugs and extreme activities (with suicide as last resort once most other alternatives have failed). The second point is the view from society at large: Special individuals often come with their own special talents and strengths which will be very prone to being wasted when society doesn’t have the right structures for actually using these talents. And I don’t really see such structures in society. There may be a few, but they are rare and don’t represent a systematic effort to use the talent that is dispersed in society. That’s not only socially catastrophic, it’s economically tremendously stupid, because so much potential goes down the drain without being tapped in a meaningful way!

Even if society isn’t actively hostile to those who have special talents, the lack of support effectively excludes them from having a significant positive impact, unless they get lucky in some way, or find an exceptionally good strategy for entering or creating a fitting niche in society.

This is an issue that many transhumanists also seem to be affected by. As group they seem to have an average level of intelligence that seems to be significantly above the norm. Yet, few of them maintain centrally important positions in society. At the moment it may be difficult to judge whether that’s an actually statistically significant observation, since the number of transhumanists is still pretty low.
And it’s also an issue which seems to be psychologically difficult to address, since the common way of thinking about highly intelligent individuals is that they are more resourceful and therefore do not require special help to be hugely successful or at least appropriately useful for society.

It’s this common way of thinking which I believe is a huge problem. It justifies neglecting the creation of supportive structures for gifted individuals. And it doesn’t deal with the reality of a huge amount of wasted talent and potential. We need to dispel the notion that gifted individuals do not require special support! Deviating from the norm always creates tremendous challenges, whether it’s a “negative” or a “positive” deviation!

Anyway, I’m not sure how deep this rabbit hole goes. I’d be happy to find supporting or contradicting evidence for the claims in this post.

What do you think about these issues? In what way are or aren’t you personally affected?

(Maximo Ramallo) #2

Much is needed when engaging special individuals, be they mathematically gifted or by physical handicap.
Autism, to take an example, is an unexpected and seemingly hard to cope by surrounding relatives. They too have problems when dealing with the kids.
The best solution in my opinion is to design methods to quickly detect and to provide follow up treatment, be a handicap or a gifted individual. Failure to detect and to provide a standard method, is “sub-optimal” to say it gently.
We are talking about opportunities here, and individuals need opportunities that fit their lives. We cannot expect their surroundings to always be prepared, if we are heading the future, we need to actively seek adaptive and standardized methods as a tool in the hands of those who need it, before they need it.


a good post and a traumatizing good article. although i feel that something important is missing. the explanation of the cause of exclusion is thin. "Garth Zietsman has said, referring to people with D15IQs over 152, ‘A common experience with people in this category or higher is that they are not wanted - the masses (including the professional classes) find them an affront of some sort.’ "

it is much more than that. it is fear and therefore aggression and hate. a very good illustration of this problem is shown in the tv series “sherlock” and i fear that this is a problem someday an AI with qualia has to face, too ( if we ever manage to create one). it is always the fear of difference, a stranger that might be more powerful than mainstream, although that perceived power is not a fact.

another problem is, that misfits too often forced into the obligation to solve “their” problem, because it is not considered as a problem of society itself. i wonder how much of the hikikomori have an IQ over 140.

(Michael Hrenka) #4

I’ve been pointed to a similiarly insightful, a bit older, article: The Outsiders

Here some interesting quotes (emphasis by me):

One of the problems faced by all gifted persons is learning to focus their efforts for prolonged periods of time. Since so much comes easily to them, they may never acquire the self-discipline necessary to use their gifts to the fullest.

Another problem of development with reference to occupation grows out of the versatility of these children. So far from being one-sided in ability and interest, they are typically capable of so many different kinds of success that they may have difficulty in confining themselves to a reasonable number of enterprises. Some of them are lost to usefulness through spreading their available time and energy over such a wide array of projects that nothing can be finished or done perfectly. After all, time and space are limited for the gifted as for others, and the life-span is probably not much longer for them than for others. A choice must be made among the numerous possibilities, since modern life calls for specialization [3, p. 259].

A third problem faced by the gifted is learning to suffer fools gladly. Hollingworth notes:

A lesson which many gifted persons never learn as long as they live is that human beings in general are inherently very different from themselves in thought, in action, in general intention, and in interests. Many a reformer has died at the hands of a mob which he was trying to improve in the belief that other human beings can and should enjoy what he enjoys. This is one of the most painful and difficult lessons that each gifted child must learn, if personal development is to proceed successfully. It is more necessary that this be learned than that any school subject be mastered. Failure to learn how to tolerate in a reasonable fashion the foolishness of others leads to bitterness, disillusionment, and misanthropy [3, p. 259].

The single greatest adjustment problem faced by the gifted, however, is their tendency to become isolated from the rest of humanity. This problem is especially acute among the exceptionally gifted.

Wechsler is saying quite plainly that those with IQs above 150 are different in kind from those below that level. He is saying that they are a different kind of mind, a different kind of human being.

This subjective impression of a difference in kind also appears to be fairly common among members of the super high IQ societies themselves. When Prometheus and Triple Nine members were asked if they perceived a categorical difference between those above this level and others, most said that they did, although they also said that they were reluctant to call the difference genius. When asked what it should be called, they produced a number of suggestions, sometimes esoteric, sometimes witty, and often remarkably vulgar. But one term was suggested independently again and again. Many thought that the most appropriate term for people like themselves was Outsider.

There appear to be three sorts of childhoods and three sorts of adult social adaptations made by the gifted. The first of these may be called the committed strategy. These individuals were born into upper middle class families, with gifted and well educated parents, and often with gifted siblings. They sometimes even had famous relatives. They attended prestigious colleges, became doctors, lawyers, professors, or joined some other prestigious occupation, and have friends with similar histories. They are the optimally adjusted. They are also the ones most likely to disbelieve that the exceptionally gifted can have serious adjustment problems.

The second kind of social adaptation may be called the marginal strategy. These individuals were typically born into a lower socio-economic class, without gifted parents, gifted siblings, or gifted friends. Often they did not go to college at all, but instead went right to work immediately after high school, or even before. And although they may superficially appear to have made a good adjustment to their work and friends, neither work nor friends can completely engage their attention. They hunger for more intellectual challenge and more real companionship than their social environment can supply. So they resort to leading a double life. They compartmentalize their life into a public sphere and a private sphere. In public they go through the motions of fulfilling their social roles, whatever they are, but in private they pursue goals of their own. They are often omnivorous readers, and sometimes unusually expert amateurs in specialized subjects. The double life strategy might even be called the genius ploy, as many geniuses in history have worked at menial tasks in order to free themselves for more important work. Socrates, you will remember was a stone mason, Spinoza was a lens grinder, and even Jesus was a carpenter. The exceptionally gifted adult who works as a parking lot attendant while creating new mathematics has adopted an honored way of life and deserves respect for his courage, not criticism for failing to live up to his abilities. Those conformists who adopt the committed strategy may be pillars of their community and make the world go around, but historically, those with truly original minds have more often adopted the double life tactic. They are ones among the gifted who are most likely to make the world go forward.

And finally there are the dropouts. These sometimes bizarre individuals were often born into families in which one or more of the parents were not only exceptionally gifted, but exceptionally maladjusted themselves. This is the worst possible social environment that a gifted child can be thrust into. His parents, often driven by egocentric ambitions of their own, may use him to gratify their own needs for accomplishment. He is, to all intents and purposes, not a living human being to them, but a performing animal, or even an experiment.

It is the belief of this author that the super high IQ societies were created primarily by those who have adopted the marginal strategy, and by rights ought to be aimed at fulfilling the needs of this subdivision of the exceptionally gifted. It’s obvious from reading the journals that those who have followed the committed strategy rarely participate in society affairs, rarely write for the various journals, and indeed have little need to belong to such a group. They have far more productive outlets for their talents. It’s the exceptionally gifted adult who feels stifled that stands most in need of a high IQ society. The tragedy is that none of the super high IQ societies created thus far have been able to meet those needs, and the reason for this is simple. None of these groups is willing to acknowledge or come to terms with the fact that much of their membership belong to the psychological walking wounded. This alone is enough to explain the constant schisms that develop, the frequent vendettas, and the mediocre level of their publications. But those are not immutable facts; they can be changed. And the first step in doing so is to see ourselves as we are.

Well, now we should understand that high-IQ societies are essentially to be seen as self-help groups for Outsiders. It all makes sense now.

(Professor J. Moriarty) #5

I think the problem here is isolation. If we lived in big tribes where everyone eats together, I think special children would find it easier to find mentors and clubs where they are with likeminded.


Reading this, it occurred to me that the core difference between the environments that end up producing gifted individuals following the committed strategy and the environments producing either marginal strategy or dropout individuals could be the general attitude towards someone who can do something you can’t.

It seems logical to me that the environment that produces committed strategy individuals sees them as an asset that can improve life for everyone. Thus, they will receive all the support they need to make optimal use of their skills.

On the other hand, the environments that produce marginals or dropouts tend towards seeing the gifted individuals as a threat and will seek to neutralize that threat by scaring the gifted individuals into not using their gifts. The difference between marginals and dropouts is probably the severity of the psychological violence as well as the prevalence of people that use the psychological violence in reaction to witnessing the capabilities of the individual.

This is probably also combined with the near complete lack of individuals actually capable of supporting gifted people adquately in those environments. The sad thing is also that, even gifted individuals growing up in lower class environment tend to adopt the harmful attitude to some degree.

I think the main problem is the tendency towards regarding someone more capable than you as a threat to you. That’s probably one of the key differences between lower and upper class cultures.

(Michael Hrenka) #7

That really seems to be the core problem from my perspective. The sheer lack of strategies and means to support gifted people make any negative attitude towards those comparatively negligible. On the other hand, most people don’t even see the absence of such support structures as problem, and have hardly any motivation to fix that situation.

So, if the absence of support structures for gifted individuals is such a problem, how would the solution look like? Would it suffice to get the gifted together among themselves? Would they even accept being grouped that way, regardless of other attributes they might have that would rather repel them from one another?

It doesn’t look like Organizations like Mensa have solved the problem satisfyingly. What went wrong?


fwiw a higher individual does not nessesary have a high IQ.

i think ‘normal humans’ tend to discriminate people who are not normal. thats of course a problem, and i have no idea how to solve that.

also i think the internet helps higher individuals to unfold, as you can search for communities you like aand so on.

(Michael Hrenka) #9

That’s true, but at leasts IQ is something that is relatively easily comprehensible and measurable – not that there aren’t any problems with that either. Exceptionally creative or empathic individuals may face problems quite similar to those who mostly deviate from the norm by having a high IQ.

Yes, and there are many reasons with that. It has probably something to do with the limited capability to deal with high complexity. Having to deal with “different” persons makes social interactions more complex. Dealing with that additional complexity requires additional resources. Only those who thrive on additional complexity (people with high openness to new experiences) are really willing to expend those resources, and may even find those efforts invigorating. Everyone else experiences it as imposition to adapt to the requirements of dealing with “different” people. If people are already under high stress, for example due to a problematic economy, they will try to shun any additional complexity as much as possible. That’s what the right wing movements are basically doing.

One way is decrease the stresses placed on people, which is really hard to do. A universal basic income might do that for some, but it will introduce new kinds of stresses, so it’s not a clear solution in this respect. The other way to solve the problem is increasing the capability of people to deal with high complexity. Better education, AI-assistance, and better social systems might be the way to go here.

That’s true. And yet it doesn’t seem to solve the problem effectively enough, since people still feel …


They’d have to understand what the lack of such structures is costing the society. Preferable an understanding of how it directly affects themselves. Without such an understanding, it’s an expected result to see the structures as unnecessary.

The attitudes from lower class environments have seeped into most of the gifted themselves and thus, while marginally better, this won’t solve the problem. Such an environment will likely accelerate the learning process that eventually dissolves those attitudes, but … well, the main thing is that those attitudes are the main obstacle in providing the kind of support needed. No-one will trust someone with the attitude ‘you’re a threat to me’ enough to accept any support from them. Equally, it’s almost impossible to effectively support someone who has the ‘you’re a threat to me’ attitude towards you.

Hence, I think the core of the problem is the attitude that considers more capable individuals as a threat. If you can tackle that, the problem will dissolve almost by itself. Everything else is just a band-aid at best. The problem is most serious for those that are unable to accept support due to having assumed the attitude themselves, which is likely most of those that’d need support.

(Michael Hrenka) #11

I wonder where such attitudes could come from. What kind of threat do gifted pose to other people?

  • Reputational threats: “Besides you I look stupid and incompetent”
  • Competitive threats: “I don’t want you to get that promotion instead of me”
  • Epistemological threats: “You make me realize that I might be wrong about certain important beliefs I have”
  • Adaptation threads: “But if we do it the right way, like you suggest, we would need to change so much, and that’s too much work”

The common theme is that gifted people are a threat to the average Joe’s comfort level. On the other hand, there’s the invisible side of the coin which consists of the potential innovations created by the gifted that could make life more comfortable. But people are hard at imagining potential things they don’t even know what they could even be – things like “unknown gadget X”, or “invention Y to come”, so they ignore that possible factor, especially because they aren’t very good at abstract reasoning.

I find it interesting how the same situation we now have with gifted humans could play out in an even more extreme fashion with AGI. If humans already see other humans as threat, how suspicious would they be about artificial intelligence that’s potentially smarter than them? And if that’s the case, this problem will stop humanity from using the potential of AGI fully any time soon. Progress will continue to come gradually and in a piecemeal fashion for decades to come, even after AGI has been invented: Singularitus interruptus :disappointed_relieved: – unless AGIs somehow manage to take over control.


I suspect a lot of them are a legacy of darker times. Children learn them from their parents as unconscious habits and unless they consciously re-evaluate them, they will affect how they live and treat others.

When society is facing real scarcity, the number of people you can trust not to screw you over to get more for themselves is pretty low. During those times people will naturally make decisions from a very short term viewpoint and will generally be rather untrustworthy as a result.

These attitudes evaporate slowly as a cautionary measure against being duped and others holding those very same attitudes actually still present some of the threat that was present during the period of scarcity.

I doubt there are many shortcuts to solving the issue. They will be a problem as long as there are people who’re lacking a proper foundational trust about being able to make do in life. Only by providing the foundation that creates that trust can this be fixed and the suspicious nature of this problem makes even that difficult as people will treat it suspiciously, not understanding the motives.