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Conversation with Olav Hoel Dørum on Early Life, Intelligence, Genius, WAIS-III, and Optimistic Nihilism: Former Ombudsman, Mensa Norway (1)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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

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


Olav Hoel Dørum was the Ombudsman for Mensa Norway. He discusses: growing up; an extended self; the family background; 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; the tests taken and scores earned (with standard deviations); the range of the scores; ethical philosophy.

Keywords: intelligence, life, Olav Hoel Dørum, Mensa Norway, Norway.

Conversation with Olav Hoel Dørum on Early Life, Intelligence, Genius, WAIS-III, and Optimistic Nihilism: Former Ombudsman, Mensa Norway (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?

Olav Hoel Dørum [1],[2]*: There have been many highly skilled and intelligent people on my father’s side. My uncle was a widely endorsed expert in cardiology and my grandfather was a highly skilled doctor, but not any prominent figures in the way you probably think of.

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

Dørum: It was motivating knowing that I came from a resourceful family. I think I projected that into myself since I’ve always had problems concentrating. A warm pat on the back saying “you can do this”.

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

Dørum: A pretty ordinary country family. Nothing that stands out to me. Not religious in any way. A calm, down to earth and analytical approach to life and the world around.

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

Dørum: It was hard to connect at a deeper level. I wasn’t particularly popular but not unpopular either. I’ve been described as an intelligent and somewhat eccentric person with an absurd sense of humour. My social skills weren’t so good back then, so I was often puzzled by the way things turned out. But nothing bad in any way. I often feel different, but always accepted and well-liked.

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

Dørum: I’ve always had a traditional view on psychological tests – intelligence tests included. Besides being an invaluable clinical tool, it can start the process of making yourself more confident and improve your quality of life. If you have skills, you are generally speaking better off cultivating them. If you fall into the normal range, you know that – so if you feel a bit off you can start looking somewhere else for answers instead of falling into arrogance thinking you are better than others. If you score noticeably below average you can work on finding new ways of learning things, ask for help and forgive yourself for failing to reach an ambitious goal. Acceptance and inner peace is a good reason to take an intelligence test. Although most people wouldn’t benefit from taking a psychological test of any sort. It’s too easy to set counterproductive goals and expectations. Most people seem to have a reasonable idea of what they are capable of and are perfectly fine with who they are.

Jacobsen: When was high intelligence discovered for you?

Dørum: The confirmation was when I was 20 when I took the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale – III, as a part of a medical screening process. My parents had always thought I was highly intelligent, but ain’t that typical.

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.

Dørum: Lack of cultural sophistication is one reason. Historically speaking, it wasn’t until quite recently, I’d say the last 10-15 years, we developed a healthy tolerance for people with mental handicaps, eccentric personalities, sexual orientation or just about anything that made you different. The other reason is that intelligence is power. You can be poorly equipped in almost any other domain, but you will have a hard time finding someone who without much hesitation or objection says that he or she is less intelligent. It’s as if everybody, at some level – even if it’s purely emotional, knows what modern research uses to validate I.Q. tests – that intelligence correlates highly with social and economic success. Nobody wants to be limited that way, so making fun of someone more intelligent than you could be a way to react. The third reason could be that the heroes of progress, from a common man’s perspective, were more closely linked to military talents, entrepreneurship or political power, so geniuses with little interest in success weren’t acknowledged for their role. A fourth reason is that the personality trait “openness to experience”, intellectual curiosity, has a moderate to high correlation with I.Q. It is not unreasonable to assume genuines held views, moral perspectives or lived a lifestyle not accepted at that time. The story of the lonely and mocked genius sells better than those who were well adapted. Maybe the most intelligent person was a highly decorated and commonly loved general, who knows.

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

Dørum: Friedrich Nietzsche and Carl Gustav Jung comes to mind. Both had tremendous insight in human nature and were able to condensate that into philosophical and psychological publications. There are so many layers of abstractions such as religion, politics, personal feelings and experiences and historical elements that to get to the core of behavior the way they did is more difficult that most understand. This is a natural segue to your next question.

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

Dørum: A genius discovers, a profoundly intelligent person navigates. Both possess a high level of abstract and analytical skills, but a genius can detach themselves from existing ways of seeing things a profoundly intelligent person cannot. A genius doesn’t need to be the smartest person in the room, far from it. As long as the profoundly intelligent person stays within pre-existing frameworks – that person might never come to the point where he or she is able to introduce a groundbreaking discovery and turn that into an invention. Undoubtful valuable contributions, but it’s also likely to be a continuation rather than a whole new platform in which others can stand on – like Einstein’s introduction of spacetime. If you’re “only” a profoundly intelligent person, you’ll only get so far before a genius has to give you a new ladder to climb on.

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

Dørum: I have many unsuccessful attempts finishing higher education in social science and computer science. For many years I worked as an archivist in various government agencies. I got a job in a small tech firm a few years ago where I’m working on technical projects, custom support and programming.

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?

Dørum: Gifted people are not uncommon, they make up between five to around two percent of the population – depending on how pragmatic you approach the question. Typically one or two in every class. Gifted are people with above average resources. They usually do well in a wide range of academic areas, due to the g-factor. Gifted people get better results, but they don’t have a particularly set of skills different from the average person. Geniuses and true creativity is extremely rare. We all know people who did extremely well but are otherwise normal in every way. How many do we know that have produced something revolutionizing? It’s not hard to find highly intelligent people who think in very different ways and come up with new ways of doing things. More is achieved by studying the work that has been done and to familiarize yourself with the current theory and previous research rather than creating something new. Don’t be the fork where the tips point in different directions. Just because you are unique, doesn’t mean you are useful.

The biggest myth is perhaps that achievements are done in a vacuum. We all have a picture of the lonely and misunderstood genius that finally has thought something out. Progress requires extremely high levels of conscientiousness and both technical and financial resources. The achievement is yours, but you depend on a giant apparatus and high level of academic discipline and cooperation.

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

Dørum: The Scandinavian model, combined with our down to earth culture, seems to produce a society with a reasonable balance between capitalism and social programs. The social mobility in Scandinavia is one of the highest in the world. Meaning that if your income is much less linked to your parents income, in both ways – so it’s easier to climb the socio economic ladder if you are poor and easier to fall if you come from a rich family. The more environmentally equally it gets, a progressively bigger part of what produces indifferences are caused by real world differences between people and proportionally less about your family’s background – while providing basic care for those with limited resources. It seems to me like that is a good way to get a politically stable and socially just society.

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

Dørum: Nietzsche said “He who has a why can bear almost any how”, meaning that those who have found a deeper meaning can endure almost any way of living. Religious values are more robust than political ideologies, including nationalism. Religion is the only thought system where the reward is granted after your death. You can of course be praised by having a fountain, road or middle school named after you, but not rewarded in a religious context. It’s easier to come to peace with a difficult life, instead of seeing your life as a one-shot chance that can be mediocre at best – or maybe thoroughly tragic, if this life is a preparation for the afterlife. It’s not until the last century or so that the average life isn’t absolutely brutal.

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

Dørum: One of my favourite people is the Swedish doctor and statistician Hans Rosling. Rosling passed away in 2017, but provided us with an invaluable understanding of the world by visualization of massive data sets from all over the world. He was the founder of the Gapminder Foundation. His user-friendly presentation of data shows us a world in progress and continuous improvement. Science, through systematic information gathering, testing and confirmation, can blatantly destroy your political, religious and philosophical beliefs. But it also sets you free. Maybe you’re not worse off than most people, maybe you’re not oppressed or suffer from lack of what you think is privileges, maybe you have about as much chance of being happy and fulfilled as those you compare yourself to.

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

Dørum: Due to Tourettes Syndrome and what they now call developmental disorder within the Autism spectrum, previously referred to as Asperger’s syndrome, professional test scores are much more unreliable due to variations in executive functions and working memory. I am perfectly comfortable being open about it. The first time I took an I.Q. test I got 128 on WAIS-III. 131 on FRT-A when I joined Mensa back in 2006. Ten years later I hit the ceiling on Ravens Standard Progressive Matrices Plus with 145 >, 99.9 percentile mark. I got 140 on WASI-II in 2016 as a part of medical screening.

Jacobsen: What is the range of the scores for you? The scores earned on alternative intelligence tests tend to produce a wide smattering of data points rather than clusters, typically.

Dørum: I haven’t taken many high-range tests, but I’ve taken a few with a word for being reliable and valid. This includes those developed by universities but do not have status of being official I.Q.-tests. I typically fall between 131 and 145+. Not much different from the supervised ones.

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

Dørum: Since I don’t hold any religious views, I believe that the only principles and meaning that matters are the ones we decide on – which is close to optimistic nihilism. But people also need a clear direction, so more traditional conservative values such as a strive to find a deeper meaning in life combined with dedication through grinding and goal-oriented behaviour, seems to produce healthier individuals than those who go through their life in a whimsical way. I’m a deep fan of Immanuel Kant’s Formulation of Universal Law: “requires that the maxims be chosen as though they should hold as universal laws of nature“. Each snowflake would not plead guilty of causing the avalanche. The only reasonable responsibility we can demand from others is to act in such a way that the world becomes just incrementally better.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Former Ombudsman, Mensa Norway.

[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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