Did Goethe have an IQ of 200?

This list presents the IQs of 300 geniuses and Goethe has the highest, 210 in this case, but I have also seen 200.  This has passed into IQ folklore and a while ago I was curious how this list was drawn up.  

      This list comes from Genetic Studies of Genius Volume II: The Early Mental Traits of Three Hundred Geniuses by Catharine Cox.  In fact, according to this book, while Goethe was given an IQ of 200, it was never meant to be taken as a standard deviation IQ, rather as an indication of his development relative to an ordinary person of the same age.  Here is what Lewis Terman has to say in the introduction: 

"In Volume I of that work [Karl Pearson's Biography of Francis Galton] the author presents detailed evidence, much of it of documentary nature, which any psychologist who is familiar with the age norms of mental development will recognize as convincing proof that Galton as a child had an intelligence quotient not far from 200; in other words that his 'mental age' was about twice his actual age.  Although it is a fact known to psychologists that not one child in ten thousand taken at random shows this degree of intellectual superiority, Pearson gives only a passing comment to the data presented and tells us that Galton's childhood gave no significant indications of his future genius."  

    The book itself is the product of an astonishing amount of historical research.  Records in English, French, and German were studied.  Altogether 6,000 pages were drawn up which were then condensed into the short biographies in the book.  Also, Terman wrote in his introduction "It should be emphasized that the task set was not to what the childhood IQ of a given subject probably was, but the IQ that would most reasonably account for the recorded facts."  

    Also, the subjects were given two IQs, one for development up to 17 and one from 17 to 26.  In fact, Goethe's 200 IQ was from 17 to 26, and his IQ up to 17 was 185.  So, the authors were saying that by 26, Goethe had a mental age of 52, in other words he accomplished a great deal by 26.  The highest score for the first IQ was not Goethe, but John Stuart Mill who was given an IQ of 190 for his development up to 17 and 170 for 17 to 26. 

    So, Goethe did have an IQ of 200 in that he accomplished a great deal at a young age, but neither he nor any of the other subjects in the book were being evaluated according to their standing in a population, but based on their development.  

    Goethe was very intelligent however.  Here is an interesting anecdote about him from Gary Lachman's Rudolf Steiner biography: 

"Earlier, as a young man, Goethe had had a similar experience of imaginative vision at the cathedral at Strasbourg, when, after spending many days observing and sketching it from many side and angles, and even curing himself of vertigo by repeatedly climbing its tower, he remarked to some friends that the building was incomplete.  His friends were astonished and asked how he knew; after looking at the original plans, they saw he was correct.  Who, they asked, had told him?  Goethe replied that the cathedral itself had.  'I observed it so long and so attentively and I bestowed on it so much affection that it decided at the end to reveal to me its manifest secret.' "


  1. As I wrote about on my old 'Intelligence, Personality and Genius' blog; very high IQ measures are actually conjectural - based on large extrapolations that cannot be checked.

    Except in children; when IQ can calculated by the old 'ratio' method of subject's cognitive persormance divied by the average for that age. This only picks up precocious genius - and could only measure very high IQ in children up to about age 8 or 9 (because intelligenca plateaus at about 16 in women and 18 in men and therefore an IQ of 200 plus can only be measured up to that age).

    So, in practice, IQs above about 135 (top 1%) are very conjectural; and difficult to put in order - not least because the conccognitive abilities become much more important.

    I suppose, in a rule-of-thumb way - the highest IQ at the high level are people who are generalists - like - with evidence of very high levels of verbal, And spatial, And mathematical intelligence, implying very high 'g'.

    However, this is not necessarily of much 'use' without the requisite personality traits; and of course creativity (which is pretty-much uncorrelated with intelligence) potentially adds the dimension of genius.

    Most of the most intelligent people are not creative - although they may be adept at 'stealing' the ideas of creative people, and exploiting them. But without truly creative individuals as an origin, society will stagnate.

    Some unknown individual genius discovered the arch, and the stirrup; once created, the idea could easily be copied by almost anyone - but especially by those of high intelligence; however somebody had to create these concepts - and for many centuries, nobody did!

  2. I meant to say "generalists - like Goethe - "

  3. You make a good point about IQs above 135. When you start thinking about how 'g' might work in detail, it makes sense that it would "max out" at some point. I have two or three posts coming up today or tomorrow where I'm going to elaborate on that.


The real AI agenda

    On a post  by Wm Briggs, about artificial intelligence, a commenter with the monniker "ItsAllBullshit" writes:           "...