A Tale of Two Geniuses: A Personal Reflection on the Nature of Genius and the Human Condition

Nathan Rockwell Haselbauer

Professor Stephen Hawking

 

Hi friends,

Seems that Synchronicity has stricken once again. Several days ago I had been planning to write a post about genius. And, voila! One of the world’s foremost geniuses in history has just ascended into the celestial realm.

Regarding the concept itself, though, I wanted to explore the essential nature of genius and the way in which it tends to find manifestation in the realm of externality. My working interpretation has always been that genius is not so much a fixed capacity to absorb and reproduce a seemingly inexhaustible array of facts as it is an organic process of synthesis of various realms of knowledge in order to create or reveal new realms. In fact, I made this very observation in a Facebook post a couple years ago, about two weeks to the day (the date of the posting was 3/28/2016). On that post, I followed up with the caution that if one ever happened to run into a genius, to be patient with them, as you would a person of limited intellectual capacity. You may get bombarded with numerous strands of seemingly disconnected thought, which is simply evidence of the fact that some geniuses are simply better at synthesizing than others.

Initially I had been planning to more or less limit my exploration of genius to this working interpretation, which of course is essentially entailed in most conventional definitions of genius. But I was actually moved to delve more deeply into the human component of genius not only in light of Professor Hawking’s ascension, but also upon recently learning of the tragic suicide of Nathan Haselbauer at 40 years old in March 2015.

Nathan was pretty much by all accounts a genius. His IQ was tested to be around 162, and his keen intellect helped propel him into a very lucrative career as a Wall Street speculator at the tender age of 18. He would go on to develop a variety of logic puzzles, IQ tests and brain games, and had even established an international high IQ organization on par with Mensa.

I first took notice of him when he appeared as a guest on a BBC Horizon documentary episode called “Battle of the Brains” in 2007. The documentary was basically an investigation into the nature of intelligence and an exploration of some of the current theories about what intelligence is, including Howard Gardner’s famous theory of multiple intelligences, the concept of emotional intelligence, and the nature of creativity. Nathan was one of several guests who were by all accounts very intelligent and highly successful in their respective fields.

There was a child musical prodigy, who at 14 was already composing his own symphonies and other works. There was a supersonic jet pilot, a career which needless to say requires not only an extreme amount of intelligence, but also a highly-advanced problem-solving capacity, keen attention to detail and a transcendent level of focus. There was also a very talented self-taught artist who never finished high school, but who routinely sold her paintings to art collectors and galleries for thousands. There was a dramatist/playwright/literary critic, who began writing plays as a young girl. Aside from plays, she has also written several novels, musicals, radio plays, films, TV shows, even an opera. There was also an internationally-accomplished chess grandmaster, who had been called the “female Bobby Fischer.” And last, a quantum physicist who is currently a distinguished professor at MIT.

The guests went through a battery of tests in a competition-like setting in order to determine which brilliant mind would emerge as the most quintessentially intelligent, who most accurately represented the concept of intelligence in human form. The tests were really fun to watch, and included a variety of exercises designed to gauge each person’s aptitude for creative expression, creative thought, spatial awareness, IQ testing ability, and so on. Nathan, the quantum physicist, and the dramatist/playwright/critic all emerged as the “winners” at the end, indicating that, at least within the scope and purview of the show’s testing structure, they each most closely represented the “true” definition of intelligence (I was particularly proud of the literary arts being represented, being a poet and all. Lord knows we’re generally not the first thing people think of when they are asked to picture a ‘genius,’ hahaha, Shakespeare of course being an uncommon exception 🤣🤔🤓).

Back to Nathan’s story. I took a liking to him almost right away. Aside from being incredibly smart he also had an air of gentleness about him. You could say he was even soft-spoken. I never once picked up an attitude of grandiosity or narcissism, despite being the guest with the highest IQ and the wealthiest to boot. I learned that he was living in a small Colorado town at the time of his demise. He generally kept to himself, and it was learned some time after his death that he simply dreaded the thought of living a lonely life. He suffered from depression and was given to extreme isolation, and finally decided to end it all shortly after his 40th birthday.

Nathan’s story moved me deeply, because I just as easily could have been him. I am 3 years away from 40, and have been assessed by at least one clinical psychologist in the past who, let’s just say, was astounded and very encouraged by cognitive/intellectual ability, specifically as it relates to language. That’s as far as I’ll go with that, because I don’t believe in talking about IQ and I am certainly loath to self-aggrandizement, aka “tooting my own horn.” (If anyone is interested in hearing more about my experience with the clinical psychologist, message me).

Anyway, I also suffered as Nathan suffered. I have battled clinical depression and feelings of loneliness for a very long time, and just last year when I was at my life’s lowest point, I, too, dreaded the thought of going through my 40’s and 50’s with little prospect of meaningful social interaction. I guess you could say that I was tricked, as I am almost certain poor Nathan was, into thinking that the only thing I needed to live a purposeful, fulfilling and self-actualized existence was my intellectual capacity. I romanticized the hermit, the recluse, the lone wolf who retreated into the hidden depths of a forest to dedicate his entire life to the constant acquisition of knowledge for its own sake.

And boy was I wrong! In fact, that thinking had caused me so much emotional anguish and despair that it nearly took my own life. So what have I learned? Simple, that we as human beings are BY DESIGN to be involved in humanity, and we thrive the most when we dedicate our lives not to isolated study, but to the advancement of civilization towards greater and greater enlightenment. The more we fight this design, the more we suffer.

Professor Hawking accepted this design; nay, embraced it fully, dedicating his entire life to advancing humanity through a ceaseless and unconditional commitment to curiosity. I admired him very much, and was especially inspired by his perseverance through tremendous physical adversity. ALS is a devastating degenerative condition, and the fact that he managed to survive nearly 50 years with the condition is nothing short of remarkable. But it is also a testament to the fact that once you decide to open the precious intellectual gifts in your mind to the world, you are pretty much destined to thrive, in spite of whatever adversity life tries to throw at you. It is not lost on me that Hawking lived to be about the same age as Einstein, and that the date of his ascension, 3/14, has brought many things in life, well, full circle, or at least much closer to it.

Be well everyone. And dare to be brilliant. And compassionate. And loved.

“The intellect is good but until it has become the servant of the heart, it is of little avail.”

― Abdu’l-Bahá

 

 

5 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Geniuses: A Personal Reflection on the Nature of Genius and the Human Condition

    • Hello there! I stumbled upon your post and feel very grateful that you portrayed Nathan as you did – gentle and humble – because he was that. He was also generous, thoughtful, curious, and friendly, with energy that could light up a room. I am also humbled that you included him in the same post as Stephen Hawking. He would have liked that but probably argued that it really wasn’t a valid comparison. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him and miss him terribly. I feel so sad that he hid his depression from all of us and still wonder if I had known perhaps I could have saved him. But that we’ll never know. Thank you again for your lovely post. Since his death I have heard from people all over the world who have fond memories of him and applaud the International High IQ Society that he started, expressing what a positive change the society had in their lives. It warms my heart and keeps the tears at bay.
      Mary Ellen, Nathan’s mom

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dear Mary Ellen,

        I’m without the proper words at the moment to express the surprise and gratitude I feel for having come across your comment. I honestly didn’t believe anyone still read this blog anymore. I wish I had the pleasure of knowing your beloved son personally; his friendship would have likely been a refreshing enhancement to my life. There are some folks whose presence you just more or less instantly connect with on a deep level, and he was certainly one of those people. Lately my own battle with depression and suicidality has been threatening to get the best of me, and after what has actually been an enormously productive year for me, now it’s a daily struggle to make it through to the next sunrise. Just this weekend I had been seriously contemplating what this world would be like without me and who if anyone would truly miss me should I lose this battle I’m in, and though many profess to love and care for me now, it’s very difficult if not impossible to truly feel it through and through. Though I’ve been pretty forthcoming about my battles in recent years in hopes of giving others who are also struggling some sense of connectedness, sometimes I find that I may have divulged too much of my heart and that perhaps I, too, would do best to keep things hidden. But then keeping it hidden would almost surely exacerbate the profound loneliness and isolation I feel. Anyway, I’m sure Nathan and I could do a whole podcast on this, haha. I just want you to know that your message is well-received and quite timely, as it has caused me to put some things into perspective as I head into 2019. My deepest regards are with you and your family during this season and beyond. Sending you all the warmth, peace and positivity I have left in my heart to give.

        Marcel

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  1. Marcel,
    Please believe the people who express their love for you and know that they wouldn’t just miss you; there would be a huge gaping hole in their lives if you were not there. Anyone who can write (and speak) as beautifully as you can certainly has many admirers. I applaud you for putting yourself out there so honestly. I watched a couple of your videos on YouTube and it was not ego that enticed you to record them. It seems it is truly your desire to be “a servant of humanity” as you proclaim. I am sad that you are hurting so much right now, and would encourage you to journal all your thoughts, this difficult journey you are on, that makes you want to die. I have no idea what that must feel like; I do know that I do not want you to die. Perhaps indulging in a good long rest after your productive year is in order…a winter hibernation of sorts! Some days I gather several books and my journal and spend hours in my comfy place reading and writing and getting all those nagging thoughts out of my head. Then I sleep deeply and wake up refreshed. I hope that you understand that medicine and have the liberty to indulge in its healing properties.
    Thank you for your kind thoughts – I will let my other two children know that there is a kindred soul in you.
    Mary Ellen
    PS Have you read Hyperbole and a Half? In her blog she describes her struggle with depression.

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    • Thank you so much for your truly kind and uplifting words. Truly a privilege to have this exchange with you. I have not heard of the blog you mentioned but will surely check it out. Thank you for the recommendation. Happiest of holidays to you and your family.

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