While reading about Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, I came across a name I’d never heard before: Chris Langan. So I decided to find out more about this guy.

Turns out, Chris has had a rough life. Born into poverty, he wore rags to school and was always the smallest. He noted that he was always “treated like scum by the rest of the kids.” As early as when “he was five, his mother—who’d in the meantime married and divorced a struggling Hollywood actor and given birth to two more sons—married a mean, hard-drinking tyrant.”

“He figured the best way to raise three boys would be to set up his own military platoon,” Chris says.


At six each morning, his stepfather would sound reveille on a bugle, line up his little soldiers at attention, heels cocked at 45 degrees, thumbs along trouser seams. He’d stand before each of the boys and feign a punch, usually a right jab that he’d stop an inch or two shy of their noses. If one of the kids flinched, he would sock him for real. Chris’s body was always covered with welts.


One morning when he was fourteen, Chris awoke to a flash of white light, followed by intense pain across his eyes. He jumped out of bed half blinded. Just home from an all-night drunk, his stepfather had wrapped his garrison belt around his fist and punched Chris while he slept. Since he was four years old, Chris had never once talked back. It was always, No, sir, Yes, sir; he’d never even said boo. Now he just went mental. Chris flew at him, knocked him across the room, against the wall, out the door. He beat down the old man in the front yard, told him never to return. He didn’t.

After high school, he dropped out of further education twice because of financial difficulties and spent the next few years doing odd jobs and temp work, such as at times working as a bartender and other times as a bouncer.

That’s one side of him.

The other half of his life was forcefully revealed in 1999, when he was tested and it was found that his IQ was 195. That’s like one in a billion smart. He spends a lot of his free time working on his

Cognition-Theoretic Model of the Universe. The result of ten years of solitary labor, the CTMU—pronounced cat-mew—is, says Chris, a true “Theory of Everything,” a cross between John Archibald Wheeler’s “Participatory Universe” and Stephen Hawking’s “Imaginary Time” theory of cosmology.

There is so much talent, so many diamonds that we miss because we expect people or ideas to fit within a certain framework. Chris was treated as a freak and simply ignored for years because he didn’t fit in. Two years ago I had the opportunity to meet with artists at the Royal College of Art. I was a business student in a design leadership program and we were working on a project together. They thought quite differently from us, and it took some time to grasp the differences, but when we finally broke down those walls, the results were astonishing. We need to do that sort of thing more often.

You know the other cool thing about Langan? It’s like we have Dilbert’s garbage man in real life.


One thought on “195

  1. I found the story of Chris Langan haunting as well. It’s an example of how the messages we receive as children can affect us our whole lives. Despite great talent, Langan never learned to advocate for himself in effective ways, losing a college scholarship unecessarily because of it. In order to be the most we can be, we need to recognize what we have been taught that we need to unlearn.

    Eileen Flanagan

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