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Posted on May 26, by Scott Alexander I.
A group of Manhattan Project physicists created a tongue-in-cheek mythology where superintelligent Martian scouts landed in Budapest in the late 19th century and stayed for about a generation, after which they decided the planet was unsuitable for their needs and disappeared.
The only clue to their existence were the children they had with local women. The joke was that this explained why the Manhattan Project was led by a group of Hungarian supergeniuses, all born in Budapest between and The coincidences actually pile up beyond this.
Von Neumann, Wigner, and possibly Teller all went to the same central Budapest high school at about the same time, leading a friend to joke about the atomic bomb being basically a Hungarian high school science fair project.
Suppose we learned that Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach all had the same childhood piano tutor. There is apparently a Laszlo Ratz Memorial Congress for high school math teachers each year, and a Laszlo Ratz medal for services to the profession. There are plaques and statues to this guy.
Similarly, Freddie deBoer writes that most claims that certain schools or programs have transformative effects on their students are the result of selection bias. On the other hand, we have a Hungarian academy producing like half the brainpower behind 20th century physics, and Nobel laureates who literally keep a picture of their high school math teacher on the wall of their office to inspire them.
But Edward Teller, another supergenius, went to the same high school but as far as I know was never taught by Ratz himself. A further point in support of this: So this school — the Fasori Gymnasium — seems to have been about equally excellent for both its Ratz-taught and its non-Ratz-taught pupils.
Yet the Fasori Gymnasium might not have even been the best high school in its neighborhood. There are also some contradictory sources suggesting Teller attended this school and not Fasori; for all I know he might have attended both. Once again, most of these people were born in the period when the Martian scouts were supposedly in Budapest.
This is definitely what the Hungarians want us to think. According to Cultures of Creativity: A certain elitism and a spirit of competition partly explains the successes of their students. For example, annual competitions in mathematics and physics have been held since The instruction the students receive as well as these contests are an expression of a special pedagogy and a striving to encourage creativity.
Mor Karman, founder of the Minta school, believed that everything should be taught by showing its relation to everyday life. Instead of learning rules by heart from books, students tried to formulate the rules themselves. The Eotvos Contests were a powerful mean for the stimulation of mathematics on a large scale and were used to motivate mathematical culture in the society.
It also provided a channel to search for talented youths. The contests, which have been open to Hungarian high school students in their last year sinceplayed a remarkable role in the development of mathematics. But I want to challenge this. During this era, formal education in Hungary began at age By age ten, John von Neumann, greatest of the Hungarian supergeniuses, already spoke English, French, German, Italian, and Ancient Greek, knew integral and differential calculus, and could multiply and divide 8-digit numbers in his head.
But it sure seems like they had a lot of child prodigies to work with. Should we just accept the Manhattan Project consensus that there was a superintelligent Martian scout force in early 20th-century Budapest? I selected all the interesting Hungarians I could find, then went back and checked, and every one of them was Jewish.
This puts the excellence of the Hungarian education system in a different light. Hungarian schools totally failed to work their magic on Gentiles. This reduces the difficult question of Hungarian intellectual achievement to the easier question of Jewish intellectual achievement.
Ashkenazi Jews have the highest average IQ of any ethnic group for which there are reliable data. This fact has social significance because IQ as measured by IQ tests is the best predictor we have of success in academic subjects and most jobs.
Ashkenazi Jews are just as successful as their tested IQ would predict, and they are hugely overrepresented in occupations and fields with the highest cognitive demands.
They account for more than half of world chess champions. Nor is it obviously linked to Jewish culture; Jews from other regions of the world show no such advantage.Three Positives and Negatives of Higher Education’s Commoditization for Students Thomas J.
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Like many others, I’ve traveled and lived abroad, and I agree that travel is a great learning experience.
Different cultures and situations provide perspective, skills, knowledge, many other good qualities. Perhaps the answer is a concentration of talent, combined with some sort of highly specific cultural ethos that happened to be woven into the fabric of Budapest at that particular time?
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