13 October 2011

An uncomplaining, unfrustrated genius

Simon Norton is a former child prodigy, whose story superficially resembles mine. A book about him, The Genius in the Basement by Alexander Masters, was recently publicised in the Daily Mail.

Very precocious, very high IQ, but now exiled from academia and living as a recluse. What went wrong? He is quoted as saying vaguely that perhaps he did not apply himself enough. No suggestion that it was hostility that threw him out, or that he is suffering agonies of frustration now.

But then in some respects his story is very different from mine.

His family were wealthy, with a long-standing business. He went to Eton and became a lecturer at Cambridge.

He was, apparently, only interested in maths, and that probably makes him a sort of person by whom people feel less threatened than they do by me.

Even now that he has been thrown out, he does not complain of suffering. He is supported by an income from his family and by rents from tenants in a house which he owns. He makes no attempt to provide himself with a hotel environment but tries to avoid the problems of material living by subsisting below the respectable level, rather than by working up to an above-average lifestyle. Allegedly, his clothes are dirty and his diet restricted. He hates shopping and does it in a perfunctory rush. He does not try to employ a housekeeper to do it for him.

Perhaps this is supposed to demonstrate that the most precocious and initially successful can be thrown out of a university environment without it leading to them complaining about how much they are being prevented from doing.