SHE-LOGY: How intelligent is a female brain?
Throughout history, we’ve studied men of great intellectual prowess and accomplishments. Although women have long proven their intelligence, the lack of female names in the halls of iconic intellectuals begs the question – are women as intelligent as men?
This post will not answer that extensively and conclusively (as if I can). But it attempts to provide 3 examples of extraordinarily smart women to give (hopefully) a resounding YES to that last question.
When asked to give a name to the smartest personality in history, I bet the gut response is most likely Albert Einstein. But who is the woman who came close to that prestige? I bet the common answer would be Marie Curie. How am I doing so far? I bet it doesn’t take a math genius to come up with that probability. Ha.
While I have the highest admiration for Marie Curie, being the sole woman with multiple Nobel Prizes (Physics in 1903, Chemistry in 1911, and brownie points for raising a daughter who eventually won another Nobel Prize into the family), I decided to give her slot in this feature to another woman who must be given more recognition like her.
EDITH STERN (born 1952)
Edith is widely known behind the Edith Project, which described the experiment of her father, Aaron Stern. On the day she was born, her father publicly declared his intent to raise her to be “the perfect human being”. What her father had probably envisioned was to raise a genius, not perfect human, and to prove that genius can be made. (Aaron Stern wrote the books “The Making of a Genius, “The Joy of Learning”).
I know, reading about it today, would elicit gasps of disbelief. Poor child! What about her “happy childhood?”, we worry. The Sentinel news article reported Edith saying, if she were asked whether she’d raise her children the same way, her answer would be “yes”. That should suffice to appease those who worry if there were regrets on her part about the way she was raised.
- By 5, Edith had read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.
- By 12, she was in college
- By 15, she was teaching college-level math (At 18, she obtained her Ph.D. degree)
- Since the 1970s, she has worked at IBM and been recognized for her many contributions in applied mathematics.
JUDIT POLGÁR (born 1976)
I decided to feature the strongest female chess player in history due to two reasons:
- Chess is widely associated as an intellectual activity among games. Although, studies have indicated that intelligence is not the single and most significant factor for success in chess. (“Does Chess Need Intelligence?“)
- Males predominate chess. “Almost all grandmasters are male, there never has been a female world champion and only one female, Judith Polgar, ever has reached the top ten in the FIDE rating list”
Judit achieved the title of Grandmaster at age 15, the youngest to do so. She took over chess prodigy Bobby Fischer’s record in just a month. Among the chess opponents she defeated include the best world champions: Garry Kasparov, Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov.
MARILYN VOS SAVANT (born 1946)
When you want to find out the smartest people in the world, you are inclined to trace it through IQ* scores. And through this route, I came to know about Marilyn. (Interesting how her name Savant is also a word that describes a learned scholar.)
Her IQ of 228 brought her to the Guinness Book of World Records under “Highest IQ” from 1986 to 1989. Guiness had retired the category “Highest IQ” in 1990 after concluding IQ tests were too unreliable to designate a single record holder.
The Time Everyone Corrected The World’s Smartest Woman is an interesting article about her when she was the columnist behind “Ask Marilyn” who would solve puzzles and answer readers’ questions on various academic topics. Short story, somebody sent her a puzzle to solve (a variation of the Monty Hall problem) and she was slammed by many for giving a wrong answer to something that requires merely a basic logic. “Maybe women look at math problems differently than men.”, said one of the responses. I wonder if the gender card is also used when one attacks a male genius.
“Eventually though, many of those who’d written in to correct vos Savant’s math backpedaled and ceded that they were in error. An exercise proposed by vos Savant to better understand the problem was soon integrated in thousands of classrooms across the nation. Computer models were built that corroborated her logic, and support for her intellect was gradually restored.”
Marilyn’s case is an example of human’s inclination to challenge prodigies and geniuses, and the inhuman expectation that they don’t make a mistake, or at least must know better than any and all of the average minds. One mistake would generally get a sarcastic “well, you’re not so smart after all, huh?”. This also happened to a famous child prodigy back home. Does it typically happens to male geniuses too? Does Terry Tao, who is listed by many as #1 most intelligent person living, get trolled in his Word Press blog attacking his intelligence? He probably does, judging by the extensive rules he wrote on commenting in his blog. But is he attacked for being a male genius? Probably rare.
Some interesting reads on the differences between the male and female brains:
Overall, the studies are still not so advanced as to be conclusive. Personally, I don’t think it matters which sex is more intelligent, as long as it doesn’t lead to any more discrimination (aren’t we all sick of that by now?). But I learned that certain findings to date in the matter of brain differences can be helpful in the studies of certain mental health issues. So hopefully the studies continue to lead to more useful findings.
*While IQ scores had been established as not a precise measure for intelligence, it’s still used when listing/ranking the smartest of people. Anyone with an intelligence quotient beyond 140 is generally considered genius.
SHE-LOGY is a blog project open to everyone who is interested to celebrate women this whole month of March. If you’re reading this, I extend that invitation to you to contribute post/s about the women you’d like to honor. You can email me at email@example.com. Thank you for reading this.