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An Interview with Tim Roberts on Background, Religion in the U.K., Familial Unsociability, Martin Gardner and Bertrand Russell, Intelligence, and Social Difficulties (Part One)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/03/01


Tim Roberts is the Founder/Administrator of Unsolved Problems. He self-describes in “A Brief and Almost True Biography” as follows: I was definitely born lower-middle class.  Britain was (and probably still is) so stratified that one’s status could be easily classified.  You were only working class if you lived in Scotland or Wales, or in the north of England, or had a really physical job like dustbin-man.  You were only middle class if you lived in the south, had a decent-sized house, probably with a mortgage, and at work you had to use your brain, at least a little. My mother was at the upper end of lower-middle class, my father at the lower. After suffering through the first twenty years of my life because of various deleterious genetically-acquired traits, which resulted in my being very small and very sickly, and a regular visitor to hospitals, I became almost normal in my 20s, and found work in the computer industry.  I was never very good, but demand in those days was so high for anyone who knew what a computer was that I turned freelance, specializing in large IBM mainframe operating systems, and could often choose from a range of job opportunities. As far away as possible sounded good, so I went to Australia, where I met my wife, and have lived all the latter half of my life. Being inherently lazy, I discovered academia, and spent 30 years as a lecturer, at three different universities.  Whether I actually managed to teach anyone anything is a matter of some debate.  The maxim “publish or perish” ruled, so I spent an inordinate amount of time writing crap papers on online education, which required almost no effort. My thoughts, however, were always centred on such pretentious topics as quantum theory and consciousness and the nature of reality.  These remain my over-riding interest today, some five years after retirement. I have a reliance on steroids and Shiraz, and possess an IQ the size of a small planet, because I am quite good at solving puzzles of no importance, but I have no useful real-world skills whatsoever.  I used to know a few things, but I have forgotten most of them.” He discusses: familial background, religion in the United Kingdom; guardian and mentor influence on him, if any; Martin Gardner and Bertrand Russell; discovery of high intelligence; social difficulties; and the Titan Test.

Keywords: Bertrand Russell, Hans Eysenck, intelligence, Martin Gardner, Paul Cooijmans, Ronald Hoeflin, Tim Roberts, Titan Test, Unsolved Problems.

An Interview with Tim Roberts on Background, Religion in the U.K., Familial Unsociability, Martin Gardner and Bertrand Russell, Intelligence, and Social Difficulties: Founder/Administrator, Unsolved Problems (Part One)[1],[2]*

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

*I assumed “Professor” based on an article. I was wrong. I decided to keep the mistake because the responses and the continual mistake, for the purposes of this interview, adds some personality to the interview, so the humour in a personal error.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: I wanted to open with an appreciation for taking the time for this interview today. Before starting, I will give an acknowledgement and due credit to Mr. Paul Cooijmans for the connection. For the beginning of this interview, I want to start with some, typically, more straightforward questions. Those on family background and personal development [Ed. Format changed to interpolation of more questions followed by more responses, etc.]. I like these ones because of the contextualization of the personality who is the focus of the interview. To begin, what is some family background, e.g., geography, culture, language, and religion or lack thereof?

(Ed. Former) Professor Tim Roberts: Well, up front I should make it clear that I only held the title “Professor” when I worked in the USA, where even quite junior academics are afforded such a title. In Australia, I never rose above “Senior Lecturer”, for good reason – I was not very good.

I am British by birth, living the first 30 years of my life in and around London. From a lower-middle-class family, striving to be middle-middle-class. We never had much money, but always enough for the basics, which included a roast dinner every Sunday.

My parents called themselves “Church of England”, but practiced religion almost not all. My brother, eight years my senior, was baptized in a church and “confirmed” in his teenage years, but that was the extent of our involvement with organized religion.

I learnt French and Latin and Greek in my primary school. I suspect that would be almost unheard of these days, but was not uncommon then.

I went to University College in London, gaining a BSc in Mathematics. I then found work in the computing field before moving to Australia in my late twenties.

2. Jacobsen: Is calling oneself “Church of England” while not practicing religion in a serious manner, or at all, a common family phenomenon in the United Kingdom? Is religion, more or less, in its death knell in the United Kingdom now?

Roberts: Yes to the first question.  As to the second, religious belief is certainly declining.  In the 2001 census, over 70% declared themselves as Christian. In 2011 (the most recent census), this had declined dramatically to below 60%.  “No Religion” went up from 15% to 25%.

3. Jacobsen: When we look at some of the ways in which mentors and prominent members of the local community can impact a youth outside of parental or guardian influence, who were some for you? Why them?

Roberts: Our family was very unsociable, for several reasons. My father worked very hard to provide us with a reasonable lifestyle, but we seldom went out, and I don’t think we were members of any community groups whatsoever. My mother spent most of her time looking after her elderly parents. So my influences were not from anyone local, but rather more from people who wrote books.

A large part of my love for mathematics was derived from the works of Martin Gardner. My appreciation of philosophy, from Bertrand Russell. Such people were my heroes in my teenage years.

4. Jacobsen: How did these two individuals, Gardner and Russell, become important for the formation of personal intellectual identity and development, despite the local lack of interpersonal interactions with people or community groups in relation to family?

Roberts: Well, my family was not intellectual, in any sense.  I don’t recall any conversations of substance at all in the areas of philosophy or psychology, for example.  None of my parents or grandparents had been to University.

So it was with some delight that I found that others in the world shared my fascination with certain topics.  Martin Gardner showed me that it was quite acceptable to find fun and enjoyment in numbers and mathematical puzzles.  Bertrand Russell demonstrated to me that one could take an interest in serious issues affecting the whole of mankind, and that it was OK to challenge orthodoxy.

5. Jacobsen: When was high general intelligence discovered for you? Were educators and parents supportive of it?

Roberts: My parents were very proud that I was good at mathematics at primary school. In retrospect, I was probably high on the autism scale, but don’t recall ever hearing this term until I was an adult. For some reason, I bought the books “Know Your Own IQ” and “Check Your Own IQ” by Hans Eysenck, and self-tested to IQ levels around 150, which was higher than the tests in those books were designed for. I subsequently took an officially-authorised MENSA test, was amazed at how easy it was, and became a member of that organization. But I had such poor social skills that I only ever attended a couple of meetings, if that.

6. Jacobsen: Have these social difficulties persisted in current life?

Roberts: Oh yes, but I do not want to overstate this.  I was a University lecturer for many years, and of course had to interact with colleagues and students all the time.  I frequently riled colleagues, I think; but most of my students seemed to enjoy my style.  I have always got on well with those junior in status, or younger in years.  Not so well with those senior, or older.  Maybe because I have never respected authority for its own sake.

After retirement I tutored kids in maths – I can honestly say that most of my students enjoyed my presence, I think.  This may (or may not) be because kids are generally more honest than adults, and I find that refreshing.

7. Jacobsen: You scored highly on one of the legendary high-range tests, the Titan Test, developed by one of the most legendary test creators, Dr. Ronald Hoeflin. What was the score on the test? What is the implied rarity by the test score and SD on the Titan Test?

Roberts: I enjoyed the test, and scored 45/48, equivalent to an IQ of 183. But, as I recall, I had to spend several weeks on the test to achieve this score.  And in any event I am very unsure as to the reliability of any scores above 165 or thereabouts.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder/Administrator, Unsolved Problems.

[2] Individual Publication Date: March 1, 2020:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020:

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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