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Why didn’t Einstein’s descendants inherit Einstein’s IQ?

Einstein’s descendants did inherit his IQ, to an extent. First let’s step back a little bit and talk about IQ heritability. IQ is highly heritable, and that heritability is largely driven by genes (from 50% to more than 70% according to most estimates, some going as high as 90%). However, there are a few things to take into account when you are talking about exceptionally intelligent people. First, you have the fact that Einstein’s children, obviously, also have a mother, and therefore inherited their IQs from her as well. Now, Mileva Marić, Einstein’s wife, was also pretty smart. In fact, she contributed to some of Einstein’s work. But assuming she was less smart than Einstein, that would have been a factor driving the children’s IQs down. Secondly, there is the concept of regression towards the mean. What this tells us is that if both your parents are exceptional in a certain respect, you will probably be exceptional in that respect as well but not as much as your parents. So if both your parents are geniuses, you might be just as smart as them, you might be even smarter than them, but more likely you will be pretty smart, but not quite as smart as them.

Now on to Einstein’s descendants. The thing you have to understand is that the Einstein family has been plagued with health problems. You see, Einstein had three children. There was Lieserl, who died in infancy (probably when she was one-year-old). Not much can be said about her intelligence, obviously. There was Eduard, who was a promising medical student, but then started developing schizophrenia. He was institutionalized for a large part of his life and the primitive treatment methods he was subjected to deeply affected his cognitive abilities.

Then you have Hans Albert Einstein. Hans Albert was a pretty brilliant scientist. He was a professor of hydraulic engineering at UC Berkeley and the world’s foremost expert on sediment transport. That might not sound as impressive as his father’s achievements, but that still makes him a pretty smart person. Hans Albert’s children, again, had many of the health problems that characterized the first generation of Einstein descendants. You see, Hans Albert had four biological children, but only one of them, Bernhard Einstein, ever survived to adulthood.

Bernhard was a pretty smart guy. He became a physicist, worked in engineering for Texas Instruments and Litton Industries, and received half a dozen US patents in his lifetime. That’s pretty decent, but that’s not quite as great an achievement as his grandfather’s.

Bernhard had five children, but I was unable to find information on any of them. I assume they had lives similar to their father’s: pretty successful by normal standards, pretty unsuccessful compared to their great-grandfather.

Here’s the thing: I have the IQs of none of these people, and I don’t want to judge their lives. However, at least with regards to their scientific achievements, you could say that this is a good example of regression to the mean: from the greatest physicist in the world to the foremost expert in a relatively restricted scientific field to a pretty good engineer. That’s what the Einstein lineage looks like.

Source: FORBES – Adrien Lucas Ecoffet

Of the three children of Albert Einstein and Mileva Maric Einstein, only one, Hans Albert, the eldest son (and middle child), ended up with a happy life and a successful career. As a hydraulic engineer, he was honored for his achievements. The Einstein lineage (Albert and Mileva’s grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren) stems from his marriage to Frieda Knecht.

Eduard, the youngest child, was born on July 28, 1910. Nicknamed “Tete” he was very bright and well-read, with interests in poetry and music. His childhood was disrupted by the separation and divorce of his parents, a process that began in 1914, when Albert accepted three concurrent positions in Berlin, including a professorship at the university. Mileva didn’t like Berlin, and soon moved back to Switzerland with the children.

Mileva soon found out that Albert was having an affair with his cousin Elsa. After a halfhearted attempt (on Albert’s part) to reconcile, they were divorced. Albert soon remarried, living with Elsa and her two daughters, Margot and Ilse, in Berlin.

By the time he was in his late teens and early 20s, Eduard had aspirations to become a psychiatrist. Albert Einstein approved his career choice and wrote to him about the works of Freud. Mileva supported both children with some of the money from Albert’s Nobel Prize, as stipulated in the divorce settlement. By all accounts, however, she was very depressed. When Eduard began to display signs of mental illness, she had difficulty handling the situation emotionally. Eduard began to be seen at the Burghölzli, a famous psychiatric hospital in Zurich, where he received a diagnosis of schizophrenia and residential treatment.

Then, in 1933, after the Nazis took power in Germany, Albert was forced to cut ties with that oppressive regime, which had raided his property, and put a bounty on his head. He and Elsa moved to Princeton, where he began a position. By that time Hans Albert had relocated to Dortmund, Germany. Soon he also emigrated to the United States, leaving Mileva alone in Switzerland to cope with Eduard’s dire situation. Her depression worsened, along with her financial situation.

After Mileva died in 1948, Eduard was essentially abandoned. He would spend the rest of his life at the Burghölzli. Interestingly, though impaired, he continued to engage in creative expression, such as sketches and poems. One such poem is particularly impressive: Einsames Ende (Lonely End) which expresses his feelings in a moving fashion.

  • Translation:

Lonely End

Forebodings, how I’m dying lonely
Silently disappear
And in no bark
My existence notched.
What I’ve sown
The winds have blown away
What I’ve contained
Has already disappeared
The stream has washed away.
Forebodings, how I’m dying lonely
And how the shame,
My grip on myself,
Took everything from me.

Eduard Einstein died of a stroke on October 26, 1965 at the age of 55. It is troubling to think of how much his life would have been different if modern treatments were available, and he wasn’t institutionalized. It is a tragic tale indeed.

  • Reference:

Das tiefe Bedürfnis ein grosses Unglück ein wenig zu verstehen,” by Christian John Huber, ETH Zurich

Source: MEDIUM


We will assume that IQ is a good measure of intelligence (but is it really?)

  1. What is intelligence? “Intelligence is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings — ‘catching on,’ ‘making sense’ of things, or ‘figuring out’ what to do.”
  2. Is intelligence hereditary? From doing tests on twins and adopted children we can try to establish if there is any hereditary factor to intelligence. The percentage of the variation in intelligence accounted for by genetic causes is usually given at about 50%. With regard to the environment, twin studies suggest that the contribution of shared environment to intelligence differences is small, even negligible, by adulthood, and that that which is nongenetic is largely due to non-shared environment and measurement error. Interestingly enough, there is about a 30% correlation between intelligence test scores and overall brain size. As yet, it is not understood what it is about bigger brains that is associated with being brighter.