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Conversation with Associate Professor Svein Olav Glesaaen Nyberg on Early Life, Intelligence, Genius, the Titan Test, Science, and Max Stirner: Associate Professor, Engineering Sciences, University of Agder (1)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/12/22


Svein Olav Glesaaen Nyberg is a Member of the World Genius Directory. He discusses: growing up; an extended self; the family background; experience with peers and schoolmates; the purpose of intelligence tests; high intelligence; the geniuses of the past; the greatest geniuses in history; a genius from a profoundly intelligent person; some work experiences and educational certifications; the more important aspects of the idea of the gifted and geniuses; some social and political views; the God concept or gods idea; science; some of the tests taken and scores earned (with standard deviations); and ethical philosophy.

Keywords: genius, intelligence, Max Stirner, Svein Olav Glaessen Nyberg, Titan Test, University of Alger.

Conversation with Associate Professor Svein Olav Glesaaen Nyberg on Early Life, Intelligence, Genius, the Titan Test, Science, and Max Stirner: Associate Professor, Engineering Sciences, University of Agder (1)

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

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: When you were growing up, what were some of the prominent family stories being told over time?

Svein Olav Glesaaen Nyberg[1],[2]*: The storyteller in my family was my maternal grandfather. He came from a humble background, the son of a country tailor. He couldn’t afford an education, but one of the rich farmers in the area had faith in him and extended him a loan. I think it was 500 Norwegian kroner per year. He trusted him to do well and pay him back, which he did. One of his often told stories was that he travelled to agricultural college by bike, roughly 300km on dirt roads. One of hos often told stories was about how he had once lost his wallet with 500 kroner in Oslo, and an honest soul had found it and returned it to him. A story about how honesty matters to someone. He did of course complete his degree, and with the second best grades ever given there. After that, he had a very successful career as a forester, and managed to extend the area he controlled 10-fold during his reign. From humble beginnings to the mightiest man in the area. But I never got the impression that the power went to his head, though he really appreciated the recognition of what he had achieved. His other very often told story was when he was once in the woods with the lumberjacks. They had made coffee, and one of them poured him a cup, and some sugar. Lacking a spoon, the lumberjack promptly put his thumb in and started stirring. (Rough and tough crowd!) But as he stirred, he grew thoughtful, so my grandfather said it was probably well stirred by now. The lumberjack was quick-witted and replied that “Oh no, I am just trying to enlarge the cup for the forester!”  What I read into this story is both how he despite his position still viewed himself as “one of the guys”, but yet could not help taking pride in how others recognized him as someone deserving of a bigger cup. A bit of sadness and pride at the same time. That it meant a lot to him, was also shown in that he repeatedly tried to get this story published in the readers’ section of Norwegian Readers’ Digest. Well, granddad, if you are still watching over us, now it’s published!

Jacobsen: Have these stories helped provide a sense of an extended self or a sense of the family legacy?

Nyberg: Both yes and no. There are of course other stories, but growing up, my grandfather was who I was most like. He was amazingly bright, and people often said that we looked very much alike. And yes, of course I took the comparison as a compliment! My paternal grandfather was also a bright guy, and wanted an education. But he had no sponsor, and became a carpenter and farmer. He was the sweetest guy! And then there’s of course my father, who went on his adventures, and actually ended up studying at the same college as my maternal grandfather. So for a while, I really thought it was my destiny after I had finished my degree to start teaching at that college. But what it has shown me in any case, is the value of education. It is free in Norway now, but my grandparents’ example tells me not to take it for granted. And also that the academic snobbishness against “lower” professions that you sometimes see is about as much worth as the fart wind it’s travelling on. I hold people who do their profession well in high regard, and “high” and “low” is just a pissing game.

Jacobsen: What was the family background, e.g., geography, culture, language, and religion or lack thereof?

Nyberg: Norwegians are generally laid back when it comes to religion, and the areas where my parents come from (Hedmark and Trøndelag) perhaps even more so. These areas were also traditionally known for moonshine liquor. My mother is quite spiritually interested, whereas my father’s interests are more practical. He comes from a long line of hunters, though, and is a hunter himself, so he is a kind of “mystic of the forest” without ever calling himself such. The farm he grew up on is called Kvelloa, a name we are told stems from the epic battle of Stiklestad in 1030, where Saint Olaf, the Christener of Norway was slain; Olaf was said to have slept over at the site of that farm, a place with an excellent view of the next day’s battlefield.

Jacobsen: How was the experience with peers and schoolmates as a child and an adolescent?

Nyberg: My family moved around a lot, so I was “the new guy” for most of my childhood. So I was an outsider who didn’t quite fit in. Plus, I was a bit strange, with my sciencey stuff and strange ideas.

Jacobsen: What is the purpose of intelligence tests to you?

Nyberg: The tests themselves? I think they can be of help for people who need validation. A friend of mine was considered less gifted than average, as he had a string speech impediment. His family took him to be tested, and he got a score of 160. He bloomed after that, with much newly gained self-confidence. That gives purpose to such tests!

Jacobsen: When was high intelligence discovered for you?

Nyberg: It was, but wasn’t when I was in 4th grade. There was an assessment given to all of us, and I got 94/100. The next down on the list was 80 points, but one guy got 96. He confided that he had cheated and had his aunt do the test for him so he could get a good score. But the strange thing is that this really didn’t register with me. I thought “oh well, this other guy got a good score too, and none of us got a 100”. But then, whenever there was a challenge, I excelled. Like Rubik’s Cube, which I solved before anyone else I knew. That is, as in understanding the cube well enough to devise an algorithm for solving it. This was in 8th grade, before someone had published “the solution”. Of course, I was a bit of a bastard about it, solving everyone’s cubes for them. After the book came out, many could solve it without understanding it. But that meant some fun … for if you randomly assemble cube pieces, only 1 in 12 cubes are solvable. So I twisted a corner here and there. I know … not very nice! I guess I had a need to prove myself back then. I was the outsider with little self confidence, and I was crafting my niche, and perhaps in not such a nice way in the initial years. But somehow nobody admired me for my arrogance.

Jacobsen: When you think of the ways in which the geniuses of the past have either been mocked, vilified, and condemned if not killed, or praised, flattered, platformed, and revered, what seems like the reason for the extreme reactions to and treatment of geniuses? Many alive today seem camera shy – many, not all.

Nyberg: Good question, and I wish I actually knew. But I notice people are touchy about three things: their intelligence, their singing voice, and their looks. It is tied in with self esteem. The existence of extremes in either of these fields energizes people’s reactions. It is so easy to either try to compete (and lose, and thereby hate), or to try to lean in and try to somehow transfer some of that vitality from the person of the desired characteristic. Well, these are my amateur musings; I am no psychologist.

Jacobsen: Who seem like the greatest geniuses in history to you?

Nyberg: I have always been fascinated by John von Neumann. Most people are satisfied with doing well in a single field. Perhaps some go on to do well in two. A few excel in one field, and the extremes excel in two. Von Neumann didn’t just excel, but founded or was part of founding an entire four different fields. My favourite anecdote about him is when this colleague of his was showing off his bright and promising PhD student, and von Neumann recreates the last two years of said student’s work in his head in a mere 5 minutes.

Jacobsen: What differentiates a genius from a profoundly intelligent person?

Nyberg: Air. I remember reading Antony Flew’s controversial work There is a God, and saw that he had been accused of not authoring the arguments, but leaving it to his co-author, Varese. However, if you actually read the book, and pay attention to Varese’s own sections, you will notice that he is a reasonably bright fellow who would win many arguments online. A decent debater. But he doesn’t fly! His arguments look like something out of Minecraft; square, blocky, inelegant, with no air. Or if he had been playing Go, he’d be the guy obsessed with building long walls all the time. Flew, on the other hand, elegantly places his pieces a good distance apart, not touching. He knows that if it comes to it, he can tighten and ensnare between his pieces, just like a good Go player. Or back to Varese’s architecture, Flew doesn’t build blocky buildings in Minecraft, but elven-like cathedrals with lots of air.

So that is how I see the difference. In aesthetic terms, in terms of how they feel when you listen t them. Those who really stand apart have a lightness and air to their touch that lesser minds don’t. For the mathematically interested, Terence Tao is a great example. The way he explains things, you never would have guessed that he was actually explaining something difficult. From his pen, things flow, with lightness, air, and grace.

Jacobsen: What have been some work experiences and educational certifications for you?

Nyberg: A PhD in math. It was never planned, but just happened. After that, a post-doc at the university of Edinburgh, and then I just went to the dark side for a few years as a software consultant at Computas, the company that sponsored Magnus Carlsen in his childhood years, btw. Now I work at Agder University, a smalltown university at the Norwegian south tip, teaching statistics from my own textbook to engineering students.

Jacobsen: What are some of the more important aspects of the idea of the gifted and geniuses? Those myths that pervade the cultures of the world. What are those myths? What truths dispel them?

Nyberg: The most dangerous myth is that the gifted will always survive. No, they won’t. Gifted people need nurturing just as much as do those who do not. Just because a gifted person often gets by on less, doesn’t mean they thrive on less. Put your prize race horse in closed confines with few challenges or opportunities to move for years, and enter it into a race. A normal horse who has had every opportunity will fare better! Why waste your prize horses like that?

Jacobsen: What are some social and political views for you? Why hold them?

Nyberg: My basic leanings are strongly libertarian. Simply because I believe in responsibility for your own life. But I do also have a strong social democratic core. That is: it seems that many freemarketeers sort of “side” with the employer side in conflicts. And there are conflicts. So I side with the sentiment but perhaps not the strategies of trade unionists. A working-class libertarian, perhaps. But it has all got to do with taking responsibility for you own life and being able to be in charge of it.

From old times, workers might have had the character and inclination to do something with their lives, but scant opportunity. My grandfathers are testament to this. And there is also the story of my great-great grandfather up my male line: he lived on a rented farm, paying part of his produce to the farmer who owned it, as his rent. However, he wanted independence, and worked hard so he could save up. But when he presented the money to buy his leased land off his landlord, this same landlord responded by evicting him with 24 hrs notice. My great-grandfather was prepared for this, however, and had a contingency plan for buying some other land. So he moved his house there overnight. (!) A small house by today’s standards, perhaps, but a damn feat anyway!

But the point is: that kind of precaution should not be necessary. A society in which economic power gives life power over another person is not a good libertarian society. It’s not a society which encourages taking charge of your own life.

Jacobsen: Any thoughts on the God concept or gods idea and philosophy, theology, and religion?

Nyberg: You could almost make an entire interview just on that topic! I have been all over the place. When I was just a kid, the first book I read on my own was a children’s Bible. So I decided I wanted to be a priest, and wondered about the nature of the soul. (Mine is light green, and resides in my right shoulder, according to 5-year old me, btw.) But then I learned about Hell, and I grew to … well, is hate a string enough word … I grew to hate the entire religious circus. Hell is such an abominable idea! And in my student years, I was the atheistest atheist you could run into. Any belief was a superstition, and even ethics was just spooks’ play to me. I was a big champion of the Hegelian Max Stirner at that time. An anti-ethicist.

However, I have wrestled with my own demons, so to speak, and have concluded that there is most probably some kind of God. I found some resonance in Flew’s book, mentioned above, for my reason for this. He had two basic arguments, one about the statistics of the origin of life (which I don’t buy), and one about the very concept-like, mathematical nature of the universe.

There is a paper, The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences, which could serve as a starting point. Why should mathematics be able to describe reality so well? Why do so many things act alike, and be alike? We like to think that concepts are abstractons we have made from our observed realities, and there is much truth to that. But what then when reality itself behaves so much as if was printed out of concepts like cookie shapes? What does a concept-like understanding of reality entail? To me, it points to a view where the concepts (or “concepts”, since they are not our own created concepts) are in some way primary. A sort of Platonism if you wish. But by calling them concepts, I am also pointing to the kind of entity having concepts, a mind. A universal mind.

Now, is this a “proof of God” I just presented? No. And I believe Immanuel Kant (there is another brilliant mind!) showed quite well that such proofs are impossible. But we can make arguments that God is a likely explanation, and then as with many such things, it is up to each person which arguments sway them.

Jacobsen: How much does science play into the worldview for you?

Nyberg: Things have to be what they are, don’t they? Science studies what things are. So how can science not play a major part. That does, however, not mean subscribing to scientism. But I guess my above reply about God already told you that.

Jacobsen: What have been some of the tests taken and scores earned (with standard deviations) for you?

Nyberg: None. I have never paid anyone to assess me, but I have enjoyed doing a few tests, and have looked at what kind of score I could get. My first massive one was the Titan test, which I did in the 90ies, when it was published in Omni. However, grading and paying for grading was a bitch, so I did nothing with it. However, I came across the answers online about … was it 10 years ago. I still had my answers from back then, and got 23/24 on the math-spatial test, which I already knew. But the answer to the last question (that had stumped me) almost got me hitting my own forehead for not seeing it. Duh! Of course. The linguistic part went less well. 12/24. But not too bad in my own eyes, at least.

Well, I actually have paid someone to assess me, some to think of it. I had just done a test in “The IQ book”, and got a near-perfect score (*), earning me an IQ of 155-160. (Perfect score=160). So I mentioned this to a psychologist I was seeing at the time. Could it really be so that I had an IQ as high as 160? I left his office a bit elated, for he responded “Ha ha, no! 160 is my score. From our talks, I would assess your IQ to be at roughly 180!”

But that’s it. Anecdotal scores. I never seem to score below 155 on any test, and people somehow seem to think I’m in a higher range than that, and that is really why I’m being interviewed here, because others believe I have a reasonably high IQ.

Jacobsen: What ethical philosophy makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Nyberg: As I said above, I had my longest period as a Stirnerian anti-ethicist, but though I retain a strong respect and admiration for Stirner, the anti-ethicism has worn off. So what if ethics can’t be built on “reason alone” or on similar crumbly bulwarks? Just be nice to people!

That is, act as if you care about them (and actually do care a little bit about them), and ask what is in their best interests. Make a balance towards your own interests, and that of others too, and act on that. No fixed formula, but the kind of balancing you do between friends. We manage that balance without a formula. A trial and error approach where you check for the results for yourself, for those you care about, and for the entire dynamics of how your kindnesses affect others.

Though … being kind doesn’t mean doing everything for those you love, for that stunts their growth and ability to take charge of their own lives, so by all means, sometimes the kindest gift you can give a friend is a kick in the butt!

Of course, these are all nice words to put up on a wall, so in practice the best thing to do is to look at people who have got their lives and their acts together, and seek their advice. Grandpa ethics, in my case. I have the best grandpas!

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Associate Professor, Engineering Sciences, University of Agder.

[2] Individual Publication Date: December 22, 2020:; Full Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2021:

*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


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