The Intelligencer

Inside the hypercompetitive world of high-IQ societies

Although some members join societies purely for the thrill of bragging, many see the organizations as a form of intellectual self-help. "In a perverse way, some in the group view intelligence as a real problem they face," says Fred Britton, the president of the Prometheus Society. "The companionship makes it easier." This is not to say that communication within the groups always goes smoothly. In 1997, a former One-in-a-Thousand member published online "A Short (and Bloody) History of the High IQ societies," which he called a "soap-opera-ish" tale. The document details admissions battles, lawsuits among feuding members, and sudden and unexplainable expulsions by secret "ethics committees." Nathan Haselbauer, a 31-year-old New Yorker who runs the rapidly expanding International High IQ Society, says he watches the events with great interest. "This is, you know—it's our Brangelina."

Hoeflin: "Most high-IQ types don't want to plant potatoes in the ground."
Hoeflin: "Most high-IQ types don't want to plant potatoes in the ground."

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    Hoeflin, who has no capacity for drama according to his personality test, has been slightly disappointed by all the conflicts. When he was 20, his father gave him a card with the inscription "Don't start vast projects with half-vast ideas," and he admits that from his dad's point of view, the societies have probably not fulfilled their potential. None of Hoeflin's groups have more than a thousand members. Growth is slow. "It's an ongoing experiment," he says. "It has a certain science fiction quality—what is the maximum boundary of the human brain? The process of evolution may go on for who knows how long. In theory, intelligence could go to infinity. But even if all of the universe could be collected together and turned into a giant brain, that brain would have limits."

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