Friday, January 18, 2008

Insufferable Genius (RIP Bobby Fischer)

It's become a bit of a cliche that child prodigies fly high then fall fast, or at least develop some rather strange habits. Bobby Fischer, the international chess champion who died yesterday in Iceland at age 64 after a long illness, certainly did his part to keep this impression alive. Indeed, he was the quintessential troubled genius, seemingly misunderstood by most people, achieving great things while finding himself unable to live within certain constraints society imposed. You can read one obituary about him here.

The more I study people with profound intelligence, the more I am convinced that their brains do not exactly work like the rest of ours. Fischer appeared to have a certain self-defeating impulsiveness. One illicit match in Yugoslavia led to 9 months in detention, a revoked passport and exile (a nice one, but exile nonetheless) in Iceland. Yet in his mind, I'm sure it made sense. After all, his replaying his old rival Boris Spassky on a resort island did nothing to personally punish Slobodan Milosevic, the actual target of international sanctions. Since the rule didn't make sense, he didn't follow it.

He was prone to making anti-Semitic statements (though part Jewish himself; again, other people's rules of civility don't apply). He didn't like to go along with the showmanship part of chess that backers always wanted to draw crowds. One got the sense that he had a very fundamentalist view of the game (indeed, he accused current chess promoters of rigging games), failing to see that the pomp and circumstance is what gave him a platform beyond playing in a park. He was erratic. He was prone to the over-excitabilities that many parents of profoundly gifted children recognize. But boy could he play a lovely game of chess.

One always wonders with troubled geniuses if they, looking back on their lives, would have chosen their gifts. Fischer certainly considered himself the best, and seemed quite proud of that. So he probably would have. But fitting such a frenetic brain into our society is difficult at best. When I think of extreme child prodigies, I find myself thinking about the school for mutants in X-Men (but in a good way!) Simply having a place to be oneself does wonders to calm the mind.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bobby Fischer may have been profoundly gifted at playing chess, but for his anti-semitic statements to have made sense in his mind, he must have also been profoundly cruel.

I'm certain I would have choosen not to have that gift.

Heather said...

Bobby Fischer flew high then fell fast? I think that is a subjective judgment.

I just have to wonder who we are to judge how a chess prodigy is to live out their life? What constitutes a well-lived life? Are prodigies required to continue to top their early successes their entire life? Or is it ok for the prodigy to achieve their work early in life and bow out, perhaps to seek a different life away from fame and over-achievement?

His behavior over the illicit match makes sense to me too. I think the world could do with a lot less of nonsensical rules. Or more people to break them.

I have to admire anyone will to question the "establishment" and break their rules. Those are the only people who truly move our world forward.

As far as his anti-semitic statements, I don't what he said or how many times. It's hard to judge someone against that when you have no knowledge of the context.

Anonymous said...

Google 'Bobby Fischer Antisemitism' and you can easily see what he said and in what context. It was not one isolated remark.

Anonymous said...

I'm disappointed to see Bobby Fischer's negative traits framed as a part of his profound giftedness. What we can see in the world is that most profoundly gifted people aren't nasty or antisemitic. And, there are many unintelligent people who are racist jerks. Instead of treating Bobby Fischer's unusual story as in some way revealing of people with different brains, it might make more sense to note that racism is LESS common among intelligent people.

It is a scary thing to be told your child has a brain that is so different and it is even worse when the possibility is dangled that this means they will somehow end up disturbed in some way. When our quirky PG child showed early chess prowess more than one person brought up the dark turn of Bobby Fischer's life to my attention like that was something that has anything to do with our child. Parents have enough worries without having to shoulder these burdens.

I don't think it is helpful to make these sorts of suggestions. And, it really reinforces stereotypes that profoundly gifted intelligence is to be in some way feared. I'm disappointed by this column.

Siiri said...

i need to comment here that this column is very good one. i like that i can read here many different aspects of giftedness. having a gifted child may own and i think my husband is gifted as well (never tested). i can see that its not easy to fit in the world around us. especially for adult. they would like to see the world without its mistakes, or as they call many people stupid; just because most of us just go along with life without stopping and questioning life around us. but for gifted ones there is always better way.
so this comment is not about Fisher, but about giftedness in general.

Anonymous said...

Bobby Fischer had Asperger's Syndrome which accounts for his odd behavior. I am surprised that it is not mentioned more often in the press.

Anonymous said...

Previous poster wrote:

Bobby Fischer had Asperger's Syndrome which accounts for his odd behavior. I am surprised that it is not mentioned more often in the press.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Like many profoundly gifted people. I am still so puzzled how little schools do for profoundly gifted children, even the gifted programs. It stuns me. The needs of these children are not met. I can attest to that. I have an EG/PG (probably PG) girl who is not Aspergers but has characteristics that put her almost on that line. Introversion, quirkiness, brilliance, ADD-like qualities but decidedly NOT a deficit of attention, inquisitive, dreamy, distractible, a delicious human being actually, wouldn't have it any other way.

The school system seems to think these kids can just fend for themselves. Who's going to care about a child whose IQ is off the charts, not matter what problems she struggles with? Conventional thinking goes these childrer will just coast on IQ and life will be a piece of cake. We know that's so far from the truth but schools don't bother acknowledging otherwise? These children are "statistically insignificant" so who careas?

Not only are their highly advanced academic needs more often than not unrecognized, but there doesn't even seem to be any awareness in the gifted programs of their unique social-emotional needs, their heightened awareness, their sensitivity, over-excitabilities, sensory issues, perfectionism, their boundless creativity.

What gives? Why are we throwing away these kids? PC aside, it seems to me society must have a lot to gain by quashing these children's brilliance. Schools often seem to be more about compliance and conformity than nurturing divergent thinkers and innovation.

I know from whence I speak.

J.

Homework Blues said...

I just posted but after hitting the Submit Button, re-read and found a few typos. Arrrrgh! I'm a stickler for these things so I've fixed them up and resending. I also added more comments, so it's worth re-reading! Although I can't guarantee my new and impproved post will be spotless; I'm sleepy today. For a change :(

Previous poster informs us:

Bobby Fischer had Asperger's Syndrome which accounts for his odd behavior. I am surprised that it is not mentioned more often in the press.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Like many profoundly gifted people. I am still so puzzled how little schools do for profoundly gifted children, even the gifted programs. It stuns me. The needs of these children are not met.

I know from whence I speak. I have an EG/PG (probably PG) girl who is not Aspergers but has characteristics that put her close to that line. Beyond that, to describe her, she is introverted, quirky, brilliant, visual-spatial, has ADD-like qualities but decidedly NOT a deficit of attention, inquisitive, insatiable hunger for knowledge, endlessly imaginative, dreamy, distractible, and consumed with social justice, morally sensitive.

A delicious human being actually, wouldn't have it any other way. She keeps me on my toes and parenting her has never been a walk in the park (all of my headaches are with school, not at home, and our lone homeschool year was magical) but she is delightful and so much fun and I wouldn't trade her for all the water in the Atlantic. I feel immensely blessed to have this wonder in my life. I can't help feeling kids like are just so darned interesting, you really want to spend all day with them!

The school system seems to think these kids can just fend for themselves. Who's going to care about a child whose IQ is off the charts, no matter what problems she wrestles with? Who ever watched to made sure she had friends, and then brushed off my concerns that she was moved across the room, from the only friend she had in the class? So many PG kids are introverted, bookish and socially inept, until they meet kids just like them. It's not easy. Mine finds her soul mates at CTY every summer.

Conventional thinking goes these children will just coast on IQ and life will be a piece of cake. A teacher once said to me, "all she'll have to do in life is show up." We know that's so far from the truth but schools don't bother acknowledging otherwise. These children are "statistically insignificant" so who cares?

A friend who worked as a counselor for a school which housed a gifted/talented center told me the dirty little secret the gifted teachers whispered about was, they don't like the PG kids. I put that out to a consultant of mine at a reputable national gifted organization and her response was, INDEED. She has encountered that resentment in her travels as an author and noted speaker.

Not only are the highly advanced academic needs of PG kids more often than not unrecognized, but there doesn't even seem to be any awareness in the gifted programs of their unique social-emotional needs, their heightened awareness, their sensitivity, over-excitabilities, sensory issues, perfectionism, their boundless creativity.

The only gifted school I've seen that really knows their stuff is the Rocky Mountain School for the Gifted and Creative in Colorado, a school put together with ample input from the folks at Gifted Development Center!

What gives? Why are we throwing away these kids? PC aside, it seems to me society must have a lot to gain by quashing these children's brilliance. Schools often seem to be more about compliance and conformity than nurturing divergent thinkers and innovation. After all, aren't we trying to produce lots of middle managers to stoke the global economy?

For shame, as future projections tell us otherwise. Our society will need thinkers and inventors and problem solvers, none of which are measured on No Child Left Behind tests. How much of our gifted children's day is wasted on coaching them to fill in the right bubble?

End of rant...

P.S. Just for review: Definition of Giftedness:

In 1991, The Columbus Group formulated this definition of giftedness. It's the best I've seen and should drive gifted school programs:

Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of gifted children requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.

J.

Anonymous said...

"Bobby Fischer had Asperger's Syndrome which accounts for his odd behavior. I am surprised that it is not mentioned more often in the press."

I'm surprised you are mentioning it as though it is an established fact and assuming that if it was it would explain his racism.

Some may believe Fischer had AS but I've seen no credible report that it has been formally diagnosed by anyone qualified to diagnose it. There is an odd trend in our culture now when anyone is quirky or difficult to declare they must be autistic.

And, there isn't any reason to believe even if he had Asperger's that would explain his antisemitism. There is no reason to believe people with AS are more likely to be antisemitic.

s.l.d. said...

Why does anyone feel the need to "diagnose" a personality? Perhaps psychology, like other social institutions, is self-perpetuating. Nature (and I) like variety.

While I find antisemitism distasteful, I do not understand why everyone is shocked when one is honest about their dislike of other people. I find few people, if any, are completely without any form of prejudice in their hearts.

I must admit my own prejudice: I cannot stand those merely "above average" overachievers, who somehow feel entitled to the gifted label. One cannot move those cliched "paradigms" when too busy holding up the pillars.

Unproofed,

s.l.d. cowen

Anonymous said...

Bobby Fisher was a genius, and it is common for average people or the majority of society to judge and put a label on things they do not understand for they do not have the capacity for such depth of thought. Look around you, the world economy is in a depression. America is the leader. Who controls America ? There is an evil culture that cares more about money than people. Geniuses point to the obvious, why do we ignore them? Giftedness is priceless. We should care more about people than money. The future of man kind depends on the gifted ones. We should try to learn from the obviously brilliant instead of pointing to their weaknesses. After all they are human beings too. But as long as we value money over people and disrespect intelligence this world will continue to crap on itself. Good luck at the grocery store and at the pump, etc... etc...

PS: To J. Fight for your special one for the rest of your life if you have to. We need more people like you. Love, GD.

Philosocracy said...

I could , and still do, feel (not that this a "bad thing") for those who are "tagged" profoundly gifted. I took a battery of tests when I was 17 years old. According to the tests, I was and am "at or above 170 IQ". Thankfully, what was or was perceived to be an "uphill climb" has gotten *easier* with time. Though I still have felt a few small stings and barbs, it has gotten *easier*. But resentments and jealousies are, sadly enough, all too real and palpable.

As for Bobby Fischer, I would need to look into his life more. My knowledge isn't scant, but I realize that people, of all stripes and spots, are multi-faceted. And I have not read about any diagnosis or diagnoses. I am also not a psychologist or psychiatrist.

And to the parent of the profoundly gifted child, keep being a great, loving parent. Pedagogues and "experts" are fallible humans as well.

All are fallible; none among us is omniscient -- T. Hyland (me)

The only certainty is change. Even death and taxes may not always be givens -- T. Hyland

Anonymous said...

He was for sure autstic(well, many autistic traits)
proves:
1. Annoyed by sound in the championship against Boris Spasski (he lost 2 games, because he was annoyed of sound, camera...)
2. He always wanted the same drinks, food...
3. Loved animals
4. Arrogant/egocentric
5. eccentric
6. very good concentration
7. obsessive behaviour of chess
8. Didn't really like socialising
9. monologues
10. ...

Anonymous said...

just a "J" man run without real and true friends on high level born

Evan Adams said...

Most profoundly gifted people meet the criteria for AS, but if you look closer, their behaviour, speech patterns, social habits don't *feel* the same. It's a problem with the criteria, not with the brains of PG people.