10 Smartest People of All Time
As we look throughout history, we know that there are many who stand out as highly intelligent. The question is, however, is who makes the top 10 list of smartest people of all time? As we work through a list like this, it is important to take into account a number of things. For instance, is someone who was a great mathematician smarter than someone who is a great painter or writer? Is it possible for us to even accurately measure intelligence?
Today, of course, we use the IQ system to measure intelligence, but there are different types of IQ tests, so how accurate is this measurement. Also, the concept of IQ wasn’t even developed until the early 1900s, so how do we accurately compare modern people with historical figures?
Though all of these questions are certainly something that we should take into consideration when choosing the top 10 smartest people of all time, we are able to make guesses on how smart these people actually were by comparing them to their peers. Additionally, we have to take into account what type of intelligence a person has. Since there are different types of intelligence, there are different ways to consider intelligence. Is this confusing? It should be. Since we cannot accurately even focus on what intelligence truly is, it is impossible to rank it. But, since we love creating lists and sharing our own smarts with the masses, we are going to give it a try. Here are the top 10 smartest people of all time:
Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza was a philosopher who was best known for challenging the teachings of both the Christian church and the Hebrew bible. He was one of the first philosophers to come out of the Enlightenment, and he is considered to be one of the greatest philosophers of the 17th century.
Spinoza only lived for 44 years, but during that time, he lived much of his life as a lens grinder while quietly studying and creating ideas in private. However, he was well known for going against authority, especially religion, and was excommunicated from the Jewish church by the time he was 23. His books were also listed on the Catholic churches “Index of Forbidden Books.”
The main belief system of Spinoza as focused on the “philosophy of tolerance and benevolence,” and he was a man who, according to most accounts, practiced what he preached. He was, however, ridiculed and criticized for his Atheistic beliefs, but in truth, he believed in the presence of God, just in a different form.
The genius of Spinoza came out in his masterpiece, Ethics, in which was published after his death. In this book, he challenged the teachings of other philosophers of the time, such as Rene Descartes, and explains his thoughts on God, the human body and mind, human passion, and reason. The teachings of this book laid the framework for what became known as Spinozism, a school of philosophy that is similar to rationalism.
When most people think of Adolf Hitler, they think of the terrible things he did not only to his own people, but also to those who were different than he was. Though there is no disputing that he was a terrible man, we also have to acknowledge that he was a highly intelligent man, and one of the smartest people of all time…even though he used his intelligence for evil, instead of good.
Though Hitler was motivated by evil thoughts, he brilliantly was able to manipulate people and make an ever-lasting impact on the world. He was one of the greatest planners, and was an inspirational speaker, who was able to move an audience. He also was highly skilled with economics and fully understood politics. He was also a well-known organizer, who used his genius to create new ideas and industries that lead to the growth of the nation he created.
All of these factors led to a change in the world, which has remained unmatched. There has been no one in the history of the world who has been as effective as Hitler in producing so much strength, energy and patriotism.
In addition to all of this, he was an architect and a brilliant painter, and he was skilled in science, often asking the top scientists in the country to create experiments to test his theories. He also was widely read, liked to discuss his ideals with other intellectuals, and he was well-known for his logical thinking. Though it is difficult to swallow, Adolf Hitler was a genius, albeit, a mad one.
If you have ever taken an astronomy course in school, you have surely heard of Galileo Galilei, the Italian astronomer. He was also a physicist, philosopher, and mathematician. Though he is widely thought to have invented the telescope, which he didn’t, he used the tool to make a number of planetary discoveries such as the rings around Saturn and the Galilean moons. He also observed that the solar system is heliocentric, meaning the sun is at the center and the planets move around it. This single belief put him at the crosshairs of the church and the Roman Inquisition. He was eventually sentenced to house arrest for his work, and died at home at the age of 77 in 1642.
So, what made Galileo one of the 10 smartest people of all time? There is certainly no denying his intelligence, as he was able to invent, create, and understand the universe in ways that most of us never could. He did this at a very young age, too, and even though he seriously considered joining the priesthood, he instead enrolled in the University of Pisa to study medicine. This didn’t last long, however, as while he was at the university, he was fascinated by physics and mathematics, and eventually convinced his father to allow him to study natural philosophy and math instead of medicine.
He invented the thermoscope while at the university, which was a predecessor to the modern thermometer, and he made a number of scientific discoveries, including early kinematics. Surprisingly enough, in addition to studying and focusing on science and math, Galileo was also captivated with astrology, too, the act of divining the future from the position of the stars and planets.
Chess legend Garry Kasparov is largely considered to be the greatest chess player of all time and one of the smartest people in the world. From the time he was 22 to his retirement in 2005, Kasparov held the number one ranking in the world for 225 months out of 228 months. He was the youngest chess champion of all time, and following his retirement, he has dabbled in politics and writing, setting up an opposing administration against Russian President, Vladimir Putin.
Kasparov started training as a chess master when he was a young child, and was named the Soviet Junior Championship at the age of 13. He entered the Sokolsky Memorial tournament in Minsk at the age of 15, and though he was invited as an exception, he ended up winning the entire tournament, and at that time, was labeled a chess master. It was only two years later that he entered the Chess Olympiad and became a grandmaster. It is estimated that Kasparov has an IQ of around 190.
One of this biggest claims to fame, however, is when he played against a computer called Deep Blue, and was able to beat the computer several times. However, the computer was also able to beat him, which resulted in a draw in three of the six games.
6Marilyn vos Savant
Photo Credit: Marilyn Vos Savant
Only one American can have the highest recorded IQ in the Guinness Book of World Records, and it is Marilyn vos Savant. Throughout her life, she took several IQ tests, scoring as high as 228 on the Standord-Binet test at the age of 10. She has also taken the controversial IQ test known as the Mega Test, where she scored 186. This test score made her eligible for entry into the Mega Society, an exclusive group of people who have the highest IQs in the world. Only about one in one million people are invited to join this group. To compare, Mensa, the more well-known high IQ group, accepts about 1 in 50.
Marilyn vos Savant writes for Parade, and in her column, she often presents scenarios that push the mind and intelligence to the limit. Readers also attempt to stump her by sending in mind problems of their own. Two of her most controversial answers to reader problems were the “Monty Hall” problem and the “Two Boys” problem. In the “Monty Hall” problem, she was asked a probability question using a scenario similar to one that is found on the television show, “Let’s Make a Deal.” After she gave her answer, more than 10,000 people wrote to Parade, explaining that she had to be wrong. However, vos Savant used computer modeling and even experiments done by school children to show that she was, indeed, correct.
Sir Isaac Newton was an English scientist, mathematician, and physicist, who is widely considered to be one of the most influential scientist in the history of the world. He developed much of what we consider to be calculus, and set the pace for many of the engineering feats that we produce today. He wrote Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, which is highly regarded as one of the most influential works of science ever created. In fact, many people believe that Newton, alone, helped to usher in the Age of Enlightenment, where philosophy, politics, communications, and science were radically changed.
Newton had a typical childhood, as far as 1600 standards go, and was on a path to become a farmer. However, after the master of the school he attended noticed his intelligence, he convinced Newton’s mother to send him for further education. He eventually enrolled at Cambridge, and he studied the work of Aristotle, Descartes, and Galileo. He discovered a binomial theorem while still in school, which served as the basis of what we now know of as calculus. Even as a young student, Newton’s skills in mathematics were well known, and he was considered a mathematic genius before leaving college.
In addition to mathematics, Newton was interested in optics, and often worked with lenses and light, and he produced several theories about color, including Newton’s theory of color, which created the color wheel that we still use today.
Isaac Newton is best known for his law of universal gravitation, or what many of us know of as the theory of gravity.
4Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci was a polymath, a person who is an expert in several subject areas. Some of the areas of expertise that da Vinci had included painting, invention, sculpting, architecture, music, engineering, writing, history, literature, and astronomy, among others. Called a “universal genius,” da Vinci has been called the father of architecture, paleontology, and ichnology, and is one of the greatest artists of all time. He has been credited with a number of inventions, too, including the helicopter, parachute, and tank.
When you ask people what Leonardo da Vinci is best known for, you will likely get one of several answers. His art is beyond compare, and some of his works include The Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, which is the most reproduced religious works of art in history. His drawing, the Vitruvian Man, is still seen as a cultural icon, today.
Art, however, was only part of the story when it came to da Vinci. He also created flying machines, fighting vehicles for war, solar power, an adding machine, and he studied plate tectonics. Da Vinci also made a number of substantial breakthroughs in optics, anatomy, hydrodynamics, and civil engineering, but since he did not publish these, they did not have a big impact on the world at the time.
Near the end of his life, da Vinci spent his time in Rome, and crossed paths with other artistic greats, including Michelangelo and Raphael.
Leonardo da Vinci’s personal life was just as fascinating as his professional life, and he was a known vegetarian and to this day, there is still speculation that he was gay and in long term relationships with two of his students during his life.
Today, when most of us hear the word “Tesla,” we think of the electric car, but there is a good reason for this…and that reason is Nikola Tesla. Tesla was an inventor, physicist, and futurist, who is best known for his contribution to electricity, as he helped to create the AC electricity system that we still use today.
Tesla was born in modern-day Croatia, and he moved to the United States to work under Thomas Edison. He gained a lot of experience while working with Edison, and he eventually struck out on his own thanks to some financial backers who believed in what he wants to do. He set up a number of companies and laboratories to develop his ideas, and he eventually patented an AC transformer and induction motor, that was eventually licensed by George Westinghouse.
At the peak of Tesla’s career, he was known as a ‘mad scientist,’ with several inventions and patents. These patents earned Tesla a lot of money for the time, and he used the proceeds to invent even more. While living in the US, Tesla lived in a number of hotels in New York City, until he retired. He died in 1943 and the work that he did feel into obscurity.
It wasn’t until 1960 that Tesla’s name came back into public knowledge thanks to the General Conference on Weights and Measures chose to name the magnetic flux density unit, the tesla. Today, we know the name thanks to Tesla Motors, the car company founded by Elon Musk, which makes electric cars.
If you would ask people who they believe the smartest historical figure is, many would say Albert Einstein. When trying to explain the intelligence of Einstein, it is difficult to even know where to start. He was primarily a theoretical physicist, a profession that most of us cannot even fathom. He developed a number of theories, including the general theory of relativity, which is one of the pillars of our modern study of physics. Einstein also greatly contributed to the philosophy of science, and he is best known in popular culture for his equation E=MC2, which is the mass-energy equivalence formula. He was given the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.
What is so interesting about Albert Einstein is that though he had an exceptional mind for mathematics and physics, he was of average, and in some cases, below average, in other pursuits. When he sat for his secondary school exams, for example, he did not pass all of the sections. He shined, of course, in the math and physics sections.
After graduation, he struggled for almost two years to find a teaching job, and he eventually landed a job in the patent office in Bern, Switzerland. He started writing papers in his free time, and eventually, these papers began to get him noticed. Of all of his works, approximately 300 scientific papers were published over his career, with an additional 150 papers were published with non-scientific topics. In 2014, universities around the world released all of their known Einstein documents, and they totaled more than 30,000 documents.
1 Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking is a physicist and cosmologist, and is the Director of Research in the Center for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge, as of 2016. He has worked on a number of theorems throughout his career, including trying to understand concepts such as black holes and quantum mechanics. He is a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, holds the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and is a member of the Royal Society of Arts. He taught at Cambridge for 30 years, and is a published author. His book, A Brief History of Time, was a Sunday Times best-seller for 237 weeks.
In his younger days, it was well-known that Stephen Hawking was smart, but he transferred from school to school throughout his childhood. His family was known as eccentric, but all very scholarly. He finally made it to Oxford, where his initial plans were to study medicine, but instead, he found that mathematics came to him more easily. He finally settled on studying physics and chemistry. While at Oxford, it was apparent that Hawking’s intelligence far exceeded that of his classmates, and he was often bored with the curriculum, as it came to him so easily.
Hawking’s theories are not without controversy, however, and many modern physicists believe that some of his theories are incorrect. This is especially the case when it comes to his theories about black holes. He has also been part of public debate with other physicists about a number of concepts. He has won a number of major awards and honors throughout his career, including being a Fellow of the Royal Society.
Whether you agree with the top 10 smartest people on this list or not, you have to admit that each person on this list has smarts that most of us can never even dream of. All of these people are certainly geniuses, but the capacity of what type of genius they are is very different. Stephen Hawking, for instance, is well known for his intelligence in physics, where Nikola Tesla was a genius when dealing with electricity. In some cases, people such as Leonardo da Vinci and Marilyn vos Savant have a get strong general knowledge.
The truth is, there are many people who deserve to be on this list, and in truth, it would be difficult to even narrow it down to the top 100 smartest people of all time. This list simply scratches the surface, but it also fuels the concept of the limit of human intelligence. Have one of these people hit that summit, or is it possible that there are smarter people out there right now, just waiting for their time to shine?