The Smartest Man Who Ever Lived: John Von Neumann
Spoiler: If you google “The smartest man who ever lived” John Von Neumann is not the first result
Firstly that’s because Google has listed the man with the highest IQ ever recorded (William James Sidis). Scroll to the bottom if you want to know why most experts consider this fallacious.
John Von Neumann is universally considered one of, if not the smartest man to have ever lived. He was born in Hungary in 1903 and made gigantic contributions to the fields of math, physics, quantum logic, the Manhattan Project, and computing. Here are some of the more impressive parts of his life:
- He could do 8-digit division in his head by age 5
- By the age of 8, he was familiar with differential and integral calculus. He had also mastered the language of Ancient Greek
- His first math teacher, the famed math analyst Gábor Szegő (one of the lead mathematicians in his generation) was moved to tears the first time they met, because of the boy’s grasp of math at the age of 15.
- He graduated as a chemical engineer from ETH Zurich in 1926 and passed his final examinations for his Ph.D. in mathematics simultaneously. Because one degree at a time wasn’t a challenge
- “Von Neumann was also a founding figure in modern computing. He was the first to describe a computer architecture in which the data and the program are both stored in the computer’s memory in the same address space. Von Neumann also helped develop the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC), the first electronic general-purpose computer. One of its first programs was a study of the feasibility of the hydrogen bomb. Von Neumann’s team also performed the world’s first numerical weather forecasts on the ENIAC computer.” — Atomic Heritage Foundation
- He coined the phrase “Mutually Assured Destruction” theory.
- He is credited with creating Game theory.
Just let that sink in for a second. He built on the governing principle that would DEFINE, and EXPLAIN the Cold War, as well as the most referenced theory of brinkmanship ever used in the modern age.
His contemporaries described trying to keep up with his brain was like “riding a tricycle while chasing a car”
The problem with Sidis is that most of the claims made in favor of his high IQ are loosely verifiable. Neumann’s IQ and his accomplishments are verifiably documented and measured in great detail. One researcher stated: “I have been researching the veracity of primary sources of various subjects for about twenty-eight years, and never before have I found a topic so satiated with lies, myths, half-truths, exaggerations, and other forms of misinformation as is in the history behind William Sidis”
Biography, John Von Neumann: https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-von-Neumann
MCS St. Andrews: http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Von_Neumann.html
Atomic Heritage Foundation: https://www.atomicheritage.org/profile/john-von-neumann
2015, Haaretz: https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/.premium-1903-mutually-assured-destruction-man-is-born-1.5382586