Jacob Barnett – problem child!

Born with Asperger’s syndrome

Jacob Barnett

Jacob Barnett, child prodigy with an astonishingly high IQ, but let’s face it, a real problem child!

Jacob Barnett was a problem child. They just didn’t know what to make of him. The speech therapists, the developmental therapists, the physical therapists, and all the other specialists … the consensus was that Jake, born with Asperger’s syndrome, would have problems the rest of his life. There was even doubt over whether he would be able to learn to read, or take care of simple, everyday tasks like dressing himself.

Today, at just 14, he’s developed into a problem teenager! The problem now is that he’s proved them all wrong and they can’t teach him enough stuff, nor fast enough!

Already a Master’s student, and on his way towards a PhD in quantum physics, he is being tipped for a future Nobel prize. In fact, he has already stated that he hopes to disprove Einstein’s Theory of Relativity one day. If anyone can, maybe he can.

His IQ of 189 is very likely way above Einstein’s, and he was often top of his class at college, and now at university, despite the fact that he’s a lot younger than his classmates.

He still struggles hard to control his autism. Although he’s confounded the experts by becoming a socially active young man, the autism is still there, just below the surface. He’s at the centre of a group of like-minded friends and fellow students, but his autism makes it difficult for him to be a normal teenager. But then again, he isn’t exactly normal, not really … his memory alone makes him extraordinary. He says he never forgets anything, as long as it’s numbers, or formulas, or problems in quantum mechanics.

Limitless memory

Kristine Barnett, Jacob's mother

Kristine Barnett, Jake’s mum, who nurtured his budding genius when all the experts had only negative things to say about his future

Jacob Barnett’s memory for numbers is virtually limitless, apparently. He hears a number, or sees a calculation, or works his way through a complicated equation, and it’s there for him, in his mind, forever. He simply doesn’t forget.

He doesn’t have a specially good memory for mundane things, but numbers, which fascinate him, he never forgets. He can memorise a couple of hundred digits of pi just to demonstrate, and then reel them off at dizzying speed, forwards and backwards. And amidst all the studying, as if that wasn’t enough, he helps his parents run Jacob’s Place, a charity for kids with ‘special’ needs.

His mother, Kristine, has recently released a book about bringing up such a special child. It’s called “The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius”, and there’s already talk of a movie deal.

“I hope it really inspires children to actually be doing something,” Jake says about the book and potential film. “I hope it encourages them to do what they like doing. I just hope it is inspirational.”

Visualising in the fourth dimension

Jake visualises and solves complex mathematical problems using what he calls the fourth dimension. The only problem he has with that is explaining what it is to us poor souls still pitifully bounded by the first three. Since we typically understand only three dimensions, he says he would need a whiteboard and a spare half hour to explain it so we could understand. For most of us, however, you can’t help getting the feeling that after that thirty minutes you’d be more confused than when he started!

He does tend to use a whiteboard quite a lot though. Or a handy wall. The problems keep developing and expanding, resulting in more equations to explore. When Jake runs out of wall space, he carries on anyway, rattling out equations with his marker pen on any handy surface, even the windows.

Astronomy … for a three-year old!

He’s been fascinated by astronomy since he was a toddler. As a three-year old, he was taken to a planetarium, since his mother noticed he seemed endlessly fascinated by the stars. She was as astonished as anyone else when, after the presentation, Jake joined in the discussion about stars and planets and orbits. At three years old!

“Why are the moons around Mars shaped like potatoes?” the lecturer asked, and young Jacob Barnett was quick to offer an explanation. “They don’t have enough mass and gravity to make them round”, he said, to everyone’s amazement.

Today, when asked if he’d like to be an astronaut, he cheerully declines. He’d be more at home at mission control, he says, dictating what the astronauts do next!

At the ripe old age of eight, he felt like school was failing to teach him anything, he was so far ahead. He was practically climbing the walls with frustration, so eventually Kristine took him out of school and took him along to listen in to lectures in maths, astronomy and physics at university instead.

In an effort to demonstrate that he was ready for college, he took a stack of text books and started studying them. He applied himself with a passion, and taught himself all of high school maths … in a fortnight! And he taught himself the curriculum for grades 6 to 12 in just over a year. And he was still only ten!

One in ten million

Along with a phenomenal memory, Jake displays a remarkably wide and adult vocabulary. A talent as prodigious as Jake’s is reckoned to occur only about once in ten million. He glides through every memory test and intelligence test thrown at him. It’s as though every word, every fact, every number he ever comes across is effortlessly stored, categorised, cross referenced and put to use. His intelligence isn’t just atonishingly high, it’s rising all the time. All the new information he absorbs is integrated with what he already knows, producing a veritable tsunami of new ideas and possibilities.

An interesting interview with Jacob Barnett
(Be careful when he starts demonstrating his equations, it might hurt your brain!)

I could go on and on relating Jake’s accomplishments to date. For example, still a kid of eleven, he worked on and created an original theory in astrophysics. After he’d filled up all the available paper and scrawled his equations over all the available wall and window space, his mum phoned a professor at the university, desperate for professional help.

She begged him to come and disprove the theory so that Jake could leave it alone and go out and play for a change. It didn’t quite work out that way though. When he checked it in detail, the professor was amazed that it was indeed an original theory and advised Jake to carry on with his work! The professor, Yogesh Joglekar, Ph.D, oversaw his work, and It has since been published in a scientific journal, Physical Review A.

Oh, okay, here’s a few more nuggets of information about this startling young man:

  • He understood the spectrum of light at age 2!
  • At age 3 he could memorise the architecture of cities, and complete 5,000-piece puzzles.
  • At age 4 he could memorise the US road map. Oh, and play concert piano, having had no lessons!
  • At age 5 he would lie under a tree and count all the leaves above him. Thousands of them!
  • At age 8 he started attending university lectures.
  • At age 11 he became a full-time university student, and started work on his own physics theory (he has a full scholarship at the Joint Indiana University Purdue campus in Indianapolis).
  • At age 13 he achieved his first research post at university.

YouTube sensation!

Jacob Barnett also made a YouTube video on the subject of calculus, to help lesser beings like you and me understand the subject. Once the press got hold of the news that a ten-year old was uploading an explanatory calculus video to YouTube, it went viral.

Who could have guessed that a calculus video
would get two and a half million hits!

Jacob Barnett

Jacob Barnett, mind-boggling maths prodigy

One of the most telling achievements of this young man is that he has taken a close look at the work of Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and other celebrated high flyers. And he thinks it’s a mistake to think of them as geniuses. This isn’t to denigrate their abilities or achievements, it’s more to change our perspective on them. His idea is that they simply took a different route. Instead of sticking to the traditional academic route of learning, learning, and more learning, each of them was interrupted in his learning path.

Newton, because Cambridge was closed due to the plague. He spent the next two years coming up with ideas that would change our understanding of the Universe, and spawn whole new areas of science. In Einstein’s case, it was due to him working in a patents office rather than teaching, which left him free to let his mind wander on his abiding passion, physics. If he’d been teaching at a university at that time, maybe he would have been too busy coaxing the upcoming geniuses to really develop his own ideas.

With the extra time they suddenly found they had on their hands, each of them spent an inordinate amount of time thinking. They took what they’d learned and they performed thought experiments on it, they analyzed it, they expanded on it. In short, they gave free rein to their imagination. And this resulted in the astonishing breakthroughs that each of them made.

Imagination and creativity

Now, this may be an over-simplification of the situation, but it’s surely on the right track. It’s only when an individual takes what he’s learned and actually does something original with it that something magical happens. Great steps forward are not achieved simply by learning and absorbing information. It’s only when that information is integrated and expanded upon creatively that science moves forward.

Jacob Barnett had time on his hands too. As a three-year old, unable to communicate properly, he focused with a laser-like intensity on light and shadows and shapes. Sure, he had a head start, with an innate sky-high IQ, but what changed things for him was that he got creative. The result, a few years later, was that he was able to reach amazing academic heights for his age, and publish a paper on a brand new astrophysics theory. Oh, and, in the process, prove all the ‘experts’ wrong!

Are you using your innate creativity?

My question to you is this: how creative are you?

You’ve learned a certain amount, whether in school, or college, or university, or maybe in the university of life. What have you done with it? You’ve got a certain level of intelligence. Your IQ may not be sky high, but it’s adequate, right? It may even be exceptional (though not as high as Jacob Barnett’s, I’m willing to bet). But without creativity and persistence it won’t achieve much all on its own.

Actually, I’ve known some people with exceptionally high IQs, and believe me, it’s not necessarily a reliable measure of how smart someone is. And I’ve known plenty of people with average IQs and some of them have been incredibly successful in their chosen fields. So ditch the idea once and for all that a high IQ equates to success and achievement. It’s no more a good indicator of potential success than height or weight, trust me.

If you want to make the best of yourself, and if you want to see some real memory improvement, creativity is the key. More than anything else, creativity will change things for you. You can learn the memory techniques pretty quickly, if you set your mind to it. They’re amazing, but they’re really not rocket science! What makes the difference is what you do with them.

Be determined to excel!

Determine that you’ll excel at memory improvement, or indeed improvement in any field you choose. And take what you know, or what you can learn, and get creative with it! Make that knowledge your own. Put your own personal spin on it. Brand it with your own style. In short, do what Jake Barnett is doing. Use your imagination creatively to make something more out of what you already know.

Remember, a house is more than just a pile of bricks. Anybody can gather together a whole heap of bricks, thousands of them, but they’ll still be just a pile of bricks. It’s only when someone starts to get creative and put them together, in just the right way, with just the right mix of mortar, that a building starts to come into being. And if it’s done with flair and imagination, that building will be a fine, well designed house.

So, if you’re serious about making the best of yourself, take a long hard look at that pile of bricks you have. See if there are innovative ways you can make use of them.

It’s going to take imagination and creativity, but when you apply
those two remarkable ingredients, the results can be absolutely amazing!

Jake Barnett – problem teenager!

See how Jacob Barnett has become a problem teenager? He’s making each one of us think again about the amazing possibilities that stretch out before us to infinity. Just when we thought we had a handle on things, he has to come along with this new perspective!

… I told you this kid was a problem!


<< News and Research

>> News and Research links in the sidebar >>


Would you like to submit a page for RMI? It's easy, just fill in the details below.