Trip Report

Bob Seitz

September 13, 1999

    This describes the week I spent at the Vaughans' open house–one of, if not the, most fascinating weeks of my life. The Vaughans graciously invited any and all members of the Prometheus Society and subscribers to the Prometheus Society's journal, "Gift of Fire", to spend a week at their house in Federal Way, Washington. The conversation was addictive, covering topics from A to Z. I could imagine such luminous conversations among the bright and the beautiful at London salons in the early 1900's, in the presence of such celebrities as G. K. Chesterton, Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, and Godfrey Hardy. However, most of us don't ever have the experience of finding ourselves in the midst of such constellations of intellectual firepower.
    If you've never seen the Puget Sound area in the Pacific Northwest, it's rolling forest country, with dusky, cool-weather evergreens such as rhododendron; conifers, such as hemlocks and firs; and deciduous trees. Flanked by the Pacific, it's cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The rocks are igneous, with snow-capped volcanoes along the skyline. Five Prometheans made it to the conclave: Fred Vaughan, Bob Park and his wife, Eve, from Sydney, Fred Britton from Vancouver (Canada), Kerry Williams from Alaska, and Ron Penner from Seattle.
    Anticipating the week, I thought "Who will come? What will these potential-geniuses be like? Will I be able to keep up with the conversation? Are they as consummately brilliant as one would expect of those in the 1:30,000 category and up? (The 1:30,000 level corresponds to childhood IQ's of 183 and up, with an average IQ of 190.) How well will they get along with each other? Would they be interested in someone trying to help the prodigiously gifted?"
    I arose at 4:15 a. m., Tuesday, August 10th, and kissing Tommie good-bye, left for Nashville in the still coolness of first light. I was uneasy about Nashville, since I'd be circumnavigating it at 8:00 a. m., but it all went like a greased goose. When I reached the airport, I found that I'd left my briefcase and all that was in it at home in the garage, so on the plane, I wrote notes furiously on a Southwest Airlines notepad all the way to Seattle-Tacoma. On the airplane, they fed us "Fast Food", which included peanuts, raisins, crackers, and cheese, and was pretty filling. When I deplaned at the SeaTac Airport, a man was holding a sign with my name on it. I said to him, "Hi, Fred! Happy to meet you!", whereupon he explained that he wasn't Fred. He was Bob Park. Fred was waiting at the door in his Saturn
    It took forever and a day for my one little piece of luggage to arrive. We finally retrieved it and repaired to Fred's car, where we headed for "home". Then we all ate on the patio: the Parks, the Vaughans, and I. The Vaughans were perfect hosts, and their house was the perfect house. Their house boasts six bedrooms, plus a computer room. They're located in a wood in the middle of downtown Federal Way (a Tacoma suburb), along with several other, widely spaced, houses on a private road. The trees look like hemlocks, although they're probably not. The Vaughans have rhododendron in their backyard rock garden, with a running stream that, I suppose, is pumped and re-circulated. They also have bird and squirrel feeders, a fact that hasn't been lost on the Federal Way bird and squirrel populations. Downstairs, the Vaughans have a full-size living room, a formal dining room, and a family room , along with two baths, two bedrooms, and the computer room.
    Upstairs, there are four bedrooms, one bath, and two good-sized conversational areas, complete with chairs and sofas. It was a perfect place to hold a conclave like this. It was hard to leave a conversation long enough to visit the bathroom, although I did manage that often enough. I laughed until my sides hurt.
    Bob Park is a computer trouble-shooter without a college degree. He's a few days away from the seasoned age of 58, and is semi-retired. Bob is probably 6'2" tall, slim, and a professional-class squash player. He has an unruly mop of once-sandy white hair, and a large, brachycephalic head. [I got the impression that he scored 42 on the Mega test, missing one or two of the analogy problems because of cultural differences, and is evidently most-adept in the mathematical/logical domain. He hadn't known how smart he was until he took the Mega Test (although he knew that everyone around seemed pretty "steupid").] Bob has now had a "grand-scheme-of-things-entire" cosmological epiphany that is so startling that it has him a bit anxious. He's planning to write it up, and eventually, to publish it in "Gift of Fire". (I'm eager to see it.) As a child and an emerging adult, Eve had a photographic mind, which has since evanesced (as eidetic memories typically do). She's a very intelligent woman, perhaps more verbally than mathematically inclined. Bob and Eve have two daughters, but so far, no grandchildren.
    Fred Britton's life would make a great story or novel. Fred is a walking encyclopedia. (Saying that, I don't mean to imply that he's not also a mathematical virtuoso.) Fred got a 39 on the Mega Test, and then came up with several more answers a few days after he mailed his answer sheet (all of which supports the idea that there aren't clear-cut differences between the Megans and the Prometheans). Fred is also 58. He is bald, with a short-trimmed sandy beard. He's also perhaps 6' 2", and on the slim side. He is the epitome of one type of college professor, peering at you through his glasses. Fred is voluble and, of course, very articulate, using his arms to express himself. He majored in psychology, and finished two years toward a Ph. D., studying at one point under Cattell. What lured Fred away from his Ph. D. in psych was the siren song of the stock market.
    Beyond that lay the Circean spell of trying to beat the casinos at their own game. Fred and his partner were able to make a living at it while seeing the world, but I believe they feel that the cap isn't worth the game.
    When you think of Kerry Williams, think John Denver. Kerry is similar in appearance, voice, and manners. I think of Kerry as the archetypical young Harvard faculty member. Kerry had brought a patent application that he wanted Fred Vaughan and me to witness, which we did.
    Kerry would be a husky 6' with a ponytail and brown or green eyes. He's 48, but you would NEVER know it. He also lacks a college degree, and is a construction worker in Anchorage. He works six months out of the year for pay, and spends the other six months working on his own projects. He is highly creative, and is (among other things, I'm sure) an inventor. Like the others who attended, he's very likable. They've all learned to cope well with the mediocracy.
    Last but not least is Ron Penner. Ron would be about my height, or at least, that's how I remember him. He would also be about my age. He has a full head of dark hair, graying around the edges. I have the impression that he's verbally inclined. He's obviously exceedingly well versed in literature. He's written at least a few poems, but said that essays are his stock in trade. At first, he seemed sober to the point of being somber, but then his sense of humor emerged, and he was as full of fun as everyone else. I can still see the twinkle in his (blue) eyes. And of course, like the other four, he's transcendentally brilliant. I intuit Ron to be compassionate and a true gentleman.
    "Which brings us to Fred and Kay Vaughn. Fred recently retired from Boeing after a career as an aerospace engineer. Fred is also the standard age of 58. Fred is probably about 6' tall, with a white mustache and close-cropped beard. He's square-faced, with blue eyes. From what Fred has said about himself, I've gathered that he's not afraid to stand up for what he believes. Fred would come across as outgoing and down-to-earth, but you wouldn't be around him long before his 1-in-30,000-to 1-in-1,000,000 IQ manifested itself. Fred is working on a novel concept in the area of relativity.
    "Fred and Kay were head over heels during Fred's college years, and they were married between Fred's junior and senior years at the University of Washington. After receiving his degree in physics and after six more years with both working, he and Kay became interested in raising thoroughbred horses. It was at that time that their daughter, Nola, arrived, followed four years later by their son, Sean.
    "Fred had some funny stories to tell. One was about the time he "flipped the car". His parents went away one evening after warning Fred not to take the car while they were gone. So, of course, as soon as they were out of sight, Fred headed out with the car to pick up another 18-year-old. The two boys drove over to another 18-year-old's house who owned--or whose father owned--a pink Buick. On the way there, following the pink Buick, Fred found a stretch of road being resurfaced that was covered with pea-sized gravel.Whee-e-e! What a gas! Fred began to skid around curves just the way they do in movie chases. What fun! On the way home, he did it again, and this time, he lost control. His foot was locked on the brake, with the car heading for a tree. He managed to finagle it over to a field, and it wasn't until the last moment that he discovered the ditch in front of the field. It flipped the car forward on its back. When Fred came to, he was upside down in the front seat, with the other boy lying against the (missing) back window. Unharmed, they managed to crawl out of a front window of the car. They contrived to phone the boy with the pink Buick, who drove them home. This boy insisted upon coming in the house with Fred while Fred explained to his father what had happened to the family car. ("What would MY Dad say if I wrecked his pink Buick? This HAS to be exciting!) Fred decided that with the other kid looking on, he needed to sound cool, so he said, "Hi, Dad. I flipped the car." That was not a shrewd move. Fred said his father never lost his temper, but for this, Dad was willing to make an exception. Fred said his father turned several shades of purple, and then went to the kitchen for a Coke until he could get himself under control. Then they drove to the scene of the crime. he next morning, after righting the car, he made Fred drive it home on a short towrope. Fred was schmussed down under the caved-in roof, with glass fragments from the decimated windshield flying in his face.
    "Kay is a blue-eyed blonde who had to be a child bride. She trains thoroughbred race horses. She waited on us hand-and-foot while we were there. (I felt guilty about it. It'll take me months to learn my proper place again.) She was a most-gracious hostess. And of course, Eve helped her.
    "Fred and Kay have two children, Nola and Sean, as mentioned above, and two grandchildren: Carrick, who is four, and Sierra, who is 15 months. They were all a delight. Nola and her husband, Clay, are pharmacists. Sean and Carrick joined us for our Chicago Bulls basketball tournament, and for supper on Thursday night. (Carrick gave us a driving exhibition in his Power Wheels, with Sierra as his passenger.) Clay and Nola stayed overnight on Friday night, where they helped us old fogies play a pretty confused game of musical sofa seats.
    That first night (Tuesday, August 10th), we talked about the Langan Cognitive Theoretical Model of the Universe (CTMU). Fred and Bob Park asked me whether I understood it, and if so, how I would assess it. I said that I felt that I was getting there, although I'll still have some other questions to ask before I can really defend it. I said that I'm committed to understanding it well enough to defend it, to certify Chris' authorship, and to help get it into journals, if that's Chris' desire. Then Fred explained some ideas he has regarding the area of special relativity (on which I've been working, as you know). I started for bed about one a. m. As I took my shower, I thought about what Fred had said, and realized that it raises interesting questions, so I padded back down to the living room to telegraph my Archimedean (bathtub) insight.
    The next day was Fred and Kay's day to keep their granddaughter and her two Italian greyhounds. That afternoon, we got into a basketball game: Kay, Fred, and Bob Park against Eve, Sean (Shawn?), and me. (With Sean on our side, it wasn't as unbalanced as it sounds.) We had a rip-roaringly good time. Eve, Sean, and I lost but not by the enormous margin you might expect of a fumble-foot like me. Meanwhile, Sean's son, Carrick, was playing his own game of basketball with his 4'-high plastic hoop.
   Fred Britton arrived from Vancouver that evening. The next day, Fred told of his adventures in the externally exterior world of exogenous outside affairs that caused his hair to evacuate. (I believe that Fred is the most genuinely knowledgeable person I've ever met. If Fred doesn't know it, it hasn't happened.) By this time, you didn't need a Baedeker's Guide or a list of IQ scores to inform you that
    (1) these guys are as smart as they're advertised to be; and
    (2) they have very ticklish funnybones.
    The Mega Test must be doing something right.
    The conversation soared, pinioned, fluted, and scintillated. Bob Park pointed out that among the Hebrews, the best educated–the rabbis–had the largest families, whereas in many other religions, the best educated were celibate. Welcome to real-life Eugenics–and Dysgenics! He told about Australia investing megabucks in developing their own submarine only to find out that it's very noisy. It couldn't sneak up on a sleeping lighthouse. He also mentioned the ominous trend, occurring in the U. S. as well, of consolidations and mergers within the media, with the attendant potential for news management. Bob mentioned some changes in immigration policies that could help maintain the party currently in power. Bob talked about his experiences as a live-by-his-wits, software troubleshooter. He said that his biggest problem was that of convincing potential customers that he could do what they considered impossible. During the course of the conversation, I mentioned the worldwide Foucault pendulum experiments that Dr. David Noever is coordinating under the imprimatur of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (my alma mater). (Chris Langan kindly apprised me of these experiments conducted during the August solar eclipse.) There is (conflicting) evidence that something anomalous happens to the plane of rotation of a Foucault pendulum during a solar eclipse. It was so meaningful to Bob that he was frightened by the news. It dovetails with what he feels will be revolutionary ideas that he plans to present in "Gift of Fire".
    We began to discuss the reasons why there is so much dissension within HiQ societies. Is it "all chiefs and no Indians"? I mentioned the "Prodigious and Precocious" bulletin board that Kevin Kearney had recommended to me. It's frequented primarily by young mothers of gifted children, and it's an online support group. They share information concerning gifted education, and news about the family picnic they had last night. They're very courteous with each other, and very modest and humble. They're very supportive and positive with each other. They're very different from us guys. ("They have pictures on their walls, we have dents from batted balls... They have jump ropes, we have guns. They have daughters, we have sons") Anyway, I mentioned an article I had read observing nature selects for intelligence in primate leaders. Fred Britton pointed out that primates have alpha males. There could be a biological basis for dissension. But it could also be that for most of us, we're the smartest people we've ever known. Most of the people within our daily spans don't know what should be done as well as we do. Then when we meet those who are as smart as, or–fend forbear!–smarter that we are, we feel competitive with, or threatened by them. Swollen, delicate egos? Compulsive need to control? Spoiled in some ways, maybe? Outsiders? Everyone a leader, no one a follower? Fred Britton mentioned the idea of a hyper-democracy. We kicked that gong around, but I don't remember any clear-cut conclusions.
    The next night, (Thursday night) Kerry Williams arrived from Anchorage, and we definitely had a quorum. Kerry had two patent applications that he wanted us to review and witness. As the engineering presences, Fred Vaughan and I did that.
    One of the questions was, "Do you have trouble communicating with folk who are more than 30 points of IQ removed from your empyrean strata?" Everybody (not including Ron Penner, who hadn't yet arrived) agreed that they found it difficult to suffer fools gladly. As might be expected, they found it most difficult in the work environment, particularly when they had to deal with bosses who weren't smart enough to understand what they were saying, and weren't savvy enough to "stand out of their light". I gathered that Bob Park didn't really realize how smart he really was until he took the Mega Test. Then he began checking out those around him, and was amazed to find that what he found trivial, others couldn't understand at all (like his GOF Seance, which we'll discuss later.) Kerry said that he's learned to cope with the pedestrian minds that he encounters on his construction job. He said that the men with whom he works have learned that he knows his onions. Everyone present agreed that the serious problems arise with those who have IQs between 120 and 140. They feel that they know all the answers, and they're ready to challenge anyone who thinks they're smarter. Chris Langan has mentioned "acudummies". Someone also said that those with IQs of 130 have the world on the half-shell. They're a lot smarter than the average grunt–smart enough to commune with wiser minds–and yet not so smart that they can't communicate with the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker.
    I asked, "How do you communicate with family members who are not within a 30-point IQ range?" But those clever husbands never answered.
    We got into such questions as "At what age did you learn to read?" Several said that they didn't read much until they started school. (Paul Johns, Megan, has mentioned that he didn't begin to read much before starting school, although he was conversing like a three-year-old by the age of one.) One of the group said that he had known another in his school who was smarter than he, and that he had encountered others along the road of life whom he deemed his mental superiors. But it seems that individual who had been smarter than he in school is one of the smarter men in North America. Two of the group–Bob Park and Kerry Williams–lack college degrees. They were bored out of their skulls by the material presented in lecture format in college classrooms. All of the attendees are characterized by wide-ranging interests and talents–an embarrassment of riches. When great ideas spring up like bubbles in a lemon fizz, it's hard to remain focussed on such dusty topics such as learning German vocabulary.
    One of the topics of interest was Bob and Eve Park's exploration of the vestiges of her photographic memory. Bob asked Eve to try to remember what was on the pages of some of the pages she had "photographed" as a child. She began trying to reconstruct "Christopher Robin". She would close her eyes and squint, underscoring the visual character of her recollection. She was able to mentally re-visualize the pages fairly well, and was able to read those with large print. However, there were other documents, such as her pages and pages of detailed college course notes, that didn't lend themselves to mental reconstitution. It seemed as though we established that her photographic images were still largely intact after three decades of dormancy. However, her ability to lay down new photographic images has evaporated.
    Eve said that as a child, she thought that everyone had her abilities. It was only after she grew up that she realized she could do what other children couldn't. She said that it led to problems in school because she would finish her tests almost immediately, and the teachers wouldn't believe that she could be done so quickly. She would start to talk with other children and end up being sent to the headmaster's office. The school talked her parents into letting her skip a grade, but Eve said she thought that was a mistake. First, she was small for her age, and second, the other children resented her.

All about ME!

    Now comes the part that I enjoy the most: talking about ME, and about my agenda at the hacienda. I'm a (Ph. D.) physicist retired from NASA and Georgia Tech. (I'm still on the Georgia Tech roster on a part-time-as-needed basis.) I might or might not still fall in the 4+ sigma IQ level, since I've made a perfect or nearly perfect score on the IQ tests I've taken whose scores I've known. Unfortunately, I haven't finished rechecking the Mega Test. (With all the writing I'm doing, the rechecking is proceeding with all the deliberate speed of a snail on valium.) During my very busy working career, I lost touch with IQ issues. Although Mother was a high school graduate and Dad dropped out of school after the tenth grade, I would probably fall into Grady Towers' "committed strategy" category. Still, I probably wouldn't have made it through my Ph. D. program had I not had a very savvy and supportive wife. I had too many competing ideas and interests.
    During the first ten years of my professional tenure, I had the part time opportunity to pursue work of my choice, and I did so with gusto, but when the NASA Reductions-in-Force began in 1968, I was remanded to management. For the next twenty-five years, I did what any halfway intelligent high school student could have done. After my retirement, one of the initiatives that has commended itself before I run out of time and mind is that of trying to prevent what happened to me from happening to other severely gifted people. Our present strategy seems to be that of reaping whatever genius spontaneously appears in a system set up to thwart it. What would happen if we encouraged highly productive output among our best and brightest? It seems to me that we are like mankind in the hunter-gatherer phase before we learned to plant and nurture crops, or like pearl divers before society learned to cultivate pearls. We're using our supercomputers the same way we would use PCs. Years ago, Terman announced wistfully that no one in his California Longitudinal Study of Gifted Children became recognized as a world-class genius. On the other hand, he and his group (understandably) made no effort to cultivate genius in his sample. Last summer, when I began to explore this topic on the Internet, I was appalled when I learned what hardships have been imposed upon our severely gifted, and especially, as Chris Langan puts it, our "forgotten gifted". I was one of the lucky ones. A sizable fraction of our very brightest don't get college degrees, let alone Ph. D.'s. That's a scandal! They don't get the chance to be wasted at the Ph. D. level.
    The general public (including me a year ago) doesn't know that these outrages are taking place. The general public wants our best and brightest working on our toughest problems, and supposes that this is what is happening. So my agenda at Fred and Kay's open house was to discuss with my fellow revelers what they think about this. Would they welcome a program to improve their lot? (Don't laugh! Some people wouldn't.) If so, what would they like to see?
    The Internet seems to me to offer the most extraordinary possibilities for communication among and support for the severely gifted.
    Among the laundry lists of ideas for helping the severely gifted that I had scratched out furiously on the Southwest Airlines note pad on the way to Tacoma were:

A Laundry List

    (I've limited the franchise for this proposed largesse to discussing only the most gifted because I believe that society will expect some return on its cash investments, and the probability of important intellectual products might be expected to rise as measured intelligence rises. Cultivating more-proficient bird watchers probably wouldn't stir the public interest and willingness-to-financially-contribute that efforts to cure cancer would insufflate.)
    Beyond these relatively inexpensive ideas lies the idea of outright support. In a nation as wealthy as the 20th century U. S., there ought to be plenty of money to support our top twenty or fifty or one hundred minds. Georgia Tech and other universities are actively seeking and recruiting the perceived best producers for their faculties. (NASA paid me full salary and tuition for nine months to complete my Ph. D.)
    These are by no means all of the ideas but "t'is enough... t'will suffice".
    One key question would seem to me to be: can major improvements in output be fostered in the supremely gifted? Is there work that the supremely gifted can do that a team of people 40 IQ points below them can't do? How many second-rank playwrights does it take to duplicate Shakespeare? How many second-rank physicists are necessary to overtake Einstein? (QED.)
    Another key question is: to what extent does the system work? To what extent are our best (most expensive) universities peopled with our brightest people?
    These notions seem to be well received by my compeers at the festivities. The general consensus seemed to be that those present would prefer some method of payment for problems solved rather than a blank check. Kerry Williams said that he would like help with patents, including information regarding patent and copyright laws. He said that he could be euchred into accepting plain old, dirty old, grubby old money–i. e., feel free to present him with a blank check. Fred Vaughan said that he would like to see a conduit established into academia for the review and discussion of everyone's work. He suggested a review board. He also suggested some means for providing tuition and an alternative means of accreditation for the Promethean-class performer.
    On the way home on the plane, I scribbled the following few notes for a pilot program to assess the potential for facilitating high output on the part of our super-gifted. (Notice that I haven't spoken of "genius". My thought would be to try to sidestep the dangers of inflated expectations.)     Fred Britton and I discussed some pros and cons of using a timed, proctored vocabulary test as one means of assessing IQ.

Some plusses to such a scheme might be that

Some minuses for such a scheme might be that:     One latter night, Bob park wanted us to try one of the Seance puzzles that he had published in "Gift of Fire" two(?) years ago, and to which no one had yet responded. Surely the august minds hereunto assembled could crack that code in an eyeblink.. couldn't they? He gave us the easiest one.We tried. We worked for hours. We mentioned John Denver, Sonny Bono, Mather Theresa, Princess Diana, and a host of other spectral candidates. Bob had some clue words, none of which agreed with any other. Bob kept telling us that it was simple. We got warm several times but we never got hot. Sometime after the witching hour, someone mentioned Elvis. I bailed out at 2 a.m. The next morning, the problem was still unsolved, and sounded as appetizing as leftover porridge.
    On Monday, August 16th, after a week of sponging off Fred and Kay, and letting Fred and Kay wait on me hand and foot, it was my turn to take my leave and to return to the cold, cruel world of do-it-yourself. Fred, Kay, Bob, and Eve took me to the SeaTac airport where we said good-bye. On the way home, we were served some more "Fast Food". At the Nashville, I retrieved my car, and homeward plodded my weary way.
    As I mentioned at the outset, the week was one of peak experiences of my life. Fred is talking about having it again next summer and I plan to bring my sisters and my brothers and my cousins and my aunts. Uh–what's that, Fred? Not my sisters and my brothers and my cousins and my aunts? All right. I'll just bring my wife and myself. But if you get a chance, tireless reader, you might want to plan on coming to Fred and Kay's next year so that you, too, can say that it was one of the peak weeks of your life. And if you don't, you can always read my trip report.