At three-years-old, Mikhail is the youngest ever member of Mensa. He can multiply five figure numbers before most kids can count to 10. Ten-year old Aimee is the youngest person ever to be admitted to the Royal College of Music. Michael was reading Shakespeare and learning Mandarin when he was five – he's now one of Britain's youngest published authors.
Channel 4’s documentary on child geniuses last night was an eye-opener. The most interesting cases were the four boys with all-round genius: maths, language, philosophical concepts, general knowledge – you name it.
Three of them scored 170 in the IQ tests, which seems to be the maximum. The other, Adam, was off the scale. He gave perfect answers to each question, and then over-answered them. Asked “What is a limpet?”, he replied: “It’s a crustacean that clings to rocks. And it lives off food that is brought in by the high tide.” He is six years old.
These were not just chess or music savants, over-developed in one area and infantile in all others. Nor were they just very bright children. They were clever adults in small bodies. Their parents had all given up trying to find schools for them: the system isn’t geared up for kids so far outside the defined sets.
Dante was the oldest at eleven. He is plagued by the struggle for perfection. He wanted to be perfect in the IQ test, so the professor asked him whether he thought perfection in anything was attainable. Why can’t something always be improved, and how would you know when to stop? He thought for a nanosecond and said: “I can give perfect answers to this test, but this can never be the perfect IQ test. So you can only attain perfection within a frame of imperfection.”
He spends his free time in confrontational talks with a philosophy don. The sad thing is that he’s probably already gone as far as anyone can go intellectually: he knows about death, about the limits of answerable questions, about the misery-making futility of trying to achieve perfection but at the same time that the realisation of this futility would not enable him to stop wanting it. His genius has manifested itself in reaching his midlife existential crisis freakishly early. By thirteen he will have passed it and will be officially ‘wise’. The rest of his life will probably just be spent in the accumulation of knowledge and in tutoring ordinary, slow people.