Brains. They’re the heart of the head and the hands of the soul. Without them, we end up writing things like that last sentence. And as anyone who has ever logged on to the internet is aware, there is an enormous range in brain usage in society. Some put their brains to work, going on to cure diseases or launch spacecraft. Others let their brains quietly waste away in their skulls, going on to post in 4chan or enjoy Jeff Dunham. The former category, whose exceptional IQs propel them to greatness, enters a rarified air. This is where they debate and advance our age’s grand issues and where we get to debate who’s smarty pants are smarter. Here are ten such geniuses with ten of the world’s highest IQs today.
10 Adhara Pérez
This young woman rocks. Born in Veracruz, Mexico, Adhara Pérez Sánchez had a less than perfect infancy. At three, she was placed on the autism spectrum, and then at four, she had a seizure that almost led to a coma. The event left her without the use of her hands for an entire year. For most, this setback would mean a fight to return to normal. But Sánchez has never cared for normal.
She dislikes video games and dolls, considering them a waste of time. Instead, she spends her free time studying black holes, similar to her hero, Albert Einstein. And amazingly, she already bests her hero in IQ. Her official score is 162, and Einstein’s has been widely estimated to be 160. By age eight, she had already graduated high school. Following that, she enrolled in two college degrees at once—one in systems engineering and one in industrial engineering in Mathematics.
On top of that, she was personally invited by the president of the University of Arizona to enroll in one of their space science programs to achieve her dream of being an astronaut. A lot of kids want to be astronauts, but this particular kid is going to do it.
9 Michael Kearney
Some people develop quickly. Some people just start ahead. Michael Kearney is both. A quick timeline: Kearney was speaking by four months old, reading by ten months, he graduated high school by the age of six, finished undergraduate degrees in geology and anthropology by ten, obtained a master’s degree in biochemistry by fourteen, obtained another master’s degree—this one in computer science—by eighteen. Kearney had already set at least two Guinness world records at this point in his life: youngest university graduate and youngest postgraduate degree.
Not satisfied, he finished a Ph.D. in chemistry at twenty-two. In addition, he has been a contestant on several trivia- and puzzle-based game shows, in which he has won at least $1,000,000. After all that, he chose to live a quiet life in academia, teaching, researching, and otherwise keeping his genius out of the spotlight.
8 Andrew Wiles
Andrew Wiles made headlines in 1995 when he published a proof to Fermat’s Last Theorem. The theorem is notorious in the mathematics community as previous to Wiles, it went 358 years without solving and was almost universally considered to be unsolvable with current human knowledge and intelligence. Wiles’s proof took him eight years to reason and write and ended up 129 pages long.
The proof has been hailed as one of the greatest mathematic achievements of its century and earned Wiles a staggering amount of awards, including a knighthood. Since then, he has advanced research in a number of mind-bogglingly complex fields of mathematics, and in 2018 he was appointed the first-ever Regius Professor of Mathematics at Oxford. You know you’ve made it your field when Oxford creates a new position just to get you in.
7 Chris Hirata
According to Princeton, where he earned his Ph.D. in astrophysics, Chris Hirata is “striving to understand the history, structure, and ultimate fate of the universe.” And he’s been working on those issues since he was a child. By age thirteen, he had already won the International Physics Olympiad. The next year, he enrolled at Caltech and had his bachelor’s by eighteen.
After his Ph.D., he went back to Caltech, this time as a professor. His work earned him the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award, which then-president Obama bestowed upon him personally. In 2018, he also won the New Horizons in Physics Prize, which is colloquially called one of the Oscars of science. And why? Because not only has Hirata provided insight into the early formation of the universe and its implications for the universe’s eventual end, but also for developing practical methods by which his and other insights can be measured and verified.
6 Edward Witten
There are people whose actual job is to consider, discuss, and debate the existential questions of our reality and try to wrangle them into terms that make concrete mathematical and physical sense. Edward Witten is one such person. Witten has been called “the world’s greatest living theoretical physicist” and “the most brilliant physicist of his generation.” It’s no wonder. His work in string theory, quantum field theory, and other fields are almost unparalleled. Indeed, in 1981 he won the Fields medal—perhaps the highest award for a mathematician—for his proof of one of the components of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
Perhaps most impactful of all, Witten created M-theory, an attempt to combine all preexisting concepts of String theory into one unified theory. Since its announcement, M-theory has led to a revolution in string theory and a fresh surge of research into the field. If true, it may contribute to the so-called ‘grand unifying theory, or ‘theory of everything.’
5 Garry Kasparov
I know next to nothing about chess but I sure know Garry Kasparov. He’s a bit of a rockstar, which is really saying something for a career chess master. At twenty-one, he began a feud with the reigning chess world champion Anatoly Karpov, which played out over five matches in six different cities, and reads as more exciting than Tyson vs. Holyfield or Ali vs. Frazier. When Karpov was still champion, their first match was to be played until one player had won six games.
After forty-eight games, officials called the contest off, citing their concern over the two players’ health. A rematch was held and Kasparov won. After three more rematches, Kasparov was still the world champion, a title he successfully defended for fifteen years. He is also a prolific author, penning works on history, politics, business, automation, and chess.
4 Magnus Carlsen
While Kasparov was the youngest chess world champion, Magnus Carlsen is the youngest chess world champion. In fact, scrolling through his Wikipedia, you’ll find the word “youngest” pop up again and again. He is the youngest chess grandmaster, Norwegian champion, world champion, and the youngest person to ever qualify for a world championship. In addition, the Elo system, which is an objective ranking of chess players, lists him as the youngest player to reach the impressive score of 2,600, then youngest to reach 2,700, the youngest to reach 2,800, and finally the youngest to achieve the number one rank in the world.
Though the rankings rise and fall as top players clash against each other, Carlsen’s peak ranking of 2,882 is still the highest ever. He’s an unstoppable monster when it comes to chess, and it’s been repeatedly noted how calm he is, even when fighting for world titles. His ability to anticipate, strategize, and improvise is unparalleled, and it makes him unique in his ability to wage mental war.
3 Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky is hard to pin down, mainly because he applies his prodigious brain to a score of different fields and inevitably emerges as a top—or at least outspoken—figure in each of them. Chomsky is primarily a linguist, but his published research and books span philosophy, history, sociology, political science, media, and cognitive science. As can be expected from someone so prolific, Chomsky is considered one of the most cited authors alive. Bestowed on him is also the rare honor of being called “the father of” two different fields—both modern linguistics and cognitive science.
His many contributions to such a broad range of studies have placed him on many’ most influential’ lists, earned him a number of honorary degrees to compliment his actual ones, and placed him as a member on many of the U.S.’s intellectual committees, whether it be honorary or active. It’s hard to overestimate the impact of someone whose hands have stirred so many pots.
2 Terence Tao
His nickname is “The Mozart of Math.” That gets him on the list right there. The next thing that puts him in this upper echelon is his chosen field of study. Or should I say fields, as he has published almost 400 papers on topics as diverse- and dense- as partial differential equations, combinatorics, harmonic analysis, additive number theory, differential equations, algebra, and harmonic analysis.
Tao’s awards and accolades are too numerous to list but notable examples are the Fields Medal and MacArthur’ Genius Grant.’ Perhaps most telling of his genius is the fact that his peers routinely describe his work as extraordinary, surprising, original, and singular. While most would struggle to grasp the basics of such a variety and density of mathematical fields, Tao has mastered them all. Not satisfied with mastery, he inevitably proceeds to find their flaws and fix them.
1 Marilyn vos Savant
In one of the world’s biggest coincidences, one of the most breathtakingly intelligent people of all time has the last name, Savant. Marilyn vos Savant earns her spot at the top of this for a number of reasons. Most pointed of all is that, when the “Guinness Book of World Records” kept a record of the world’s highest IQs, they officially listed Savant’s unprecedented score of 228 as number one.
For years, she kept an advice column in Parade magazine in which she answered riddles and solved puzzles. She made waves in 1990 when she correctly solved the famous Monty Hall Problem in answer to a write-in challenge. Though she wasn’t the first to find the answer, she was the first to publicly demonstrate it, and it got her a lot of backlash. Though clever and correct, her intuition was so counterintuitive and puzzling that over 10,000 letters came back to her, asserting she must be mistaken. She wasn’t.
A year later, the incident was repeated, this time with the Two Boys Problem. Again, Savant’s reasoning was beyond the average person, because again, the argumentative mail poured in. And again, Savant was right.