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The Smart Guy

Thursday, December 9, 1999
(This is an unedited, uncorrected transcript.)

CYNTHIA McFADDEN You might think you’d find the smartest person in America at Harvard or Yale, in a government think tank, or running an Internet company.

(VO) But I found arguably the smartest person in America in eastern Long Island, in this tiny house, living an off-beat kind of life.


Mr. CHRISTOPHER LANGAN (VO) The CTMU is hard to describe, without seeming guilty of exaggeration. But, still, let’s take an honest look at it. The catnea penetrates the foundations of mathematics, the square root of syntactical relationships...

(Christopher Langan typing on keyboard; front of house)

McFADDEN His name is Christopher Langan and he’s working on his masterpiece a mathematical, philosophical manuscript, with a radical view of the universe.

Mr. LANGAN There is a new way to prove the existence of God, a new proof that has not been refuted, yes.

McFADDEN And the soul?

Mr. LANGAN Well, yes.

McFADDEN And life after death?

Mr. LANGAN Part of the same thing, yes.

McFADDEN (VO) Christopher’s startling theory that you can prove the existence of God, the soul and an afterlife, using mathematics. That theory could make him famous some day. But, for now, he’s Long Island’s best kept secret. Just the guy next door, with Einstein’s brain.

(Chris playing with dog in yard)

Mr. LANGAN Good boy. That’s it. Good puppy.

McFADDEN (VO) I wanted to see for myself just how smart Christopher Langan is. So, I asked him to take a standard IQ test. For two hours he sat in a room and solved problems, puzzles and brain twisters. Then he emerged.

(Chris in building; puzzle)

Mr. LANGAN I broke the ceiling.

McFADDEN You think so?

Mr. LANGAN I know so.

McFADDEN (VO) Boy, did he break the ceiling. His score was off the charts, too high to be measured. Neurophsychologist Dr. Bob Novelly was astounded.

(Test being scored; Bob Novelly)

Dr. BOB NOVELLY Chris is the highest individual that I have ever measured in 25 years of doing this.

McFADDEN (VO) Let’s put his test results in perspective. In the past, his IQ has been measured at 195, which means he’s literally one in 100 million. Most people have IQ’s in the 90 to 109 range. College graduates average 120. Mensa, the club for geniuses, requires 132 or better. But Christopher? He’s somewhere in the stratosphere.

(Chris in bar; graphic showing IQ’S)

McFADDEN So are you the smartest person in America?

Mr. LANGAN Well, I’m maybe one of the smartest people in America. If you put somebody on the spot and say, ‘Are you definitely the smartest person in America?’ I mean, it would take a pretty bold person to answer yes to that question. So, I’m afraid I’m going to have to beg off.

McFADDEN I guess the smartest person in America wouldn’t be so dumb as to say for sure.

Mr. LANGAN That’s what — you’ve got a point there.

McFADDEN So, this is it ?

Mr. LANGAN This is it, be it ever so humble. There’s no place like home.

McFADDEN (VO) So, he’s smart. No doubt about that. But when I first met him, I was wondering why a man with such a big brain would live in such a little house.

(Interior of house)

McFADDEN It’s great, because you can keep an eye on everything.

Mr. LANGAN You can see both sides of this huge house.

McFADDEN You can. You can see in here...

Mr. LANGAN This is the control center.

McFADDEN (VO) Oh, he has all the essentials computer, phone, refrigerator, lots of books.

(Interior of house; stacks of books; clothes on shelves; Chris on phone at computer)

McFADDEN “Mathematics in the Physical World,” oh, and how interesting.

(VO) And outside, his transportation, of sorts.

(Chris working on motorcycle)

Mr. LANGAN This bike isn’t going to start.

McFADDEN It’s not going to start? What about the — there’s a Porsche right over here.

Mr. LANGAN That’s mine too, and it doesn’t start, either.

McFADDEN You know, there’s a sort of expression, ‘If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’ So, I say it to you.

Mr. LANGAN Well, because there is no logical connection between being smart and having money. But if you aren’t necessarily focused on getting money in the first place, there’s no reason smarts should make money roll to you.

McFADDEN (VO) OK, so maybe he doesn’t care about money. But surely somebody has him working on the great problems of the world, curing cancer, feeding the hungry, right? Wrong.


Mr. LANGAN I’m a bouncer.

McFADDEN (VO) That’s right, he’s a part-time bouncer in a West Hampton bar.

(Chris in bar)

McFADDEN I think people would imagine that you would be a nuclear physicist, or a doctor curing AIDS, or a musician.

Mr. LANGAN I might very well have turned out to be one of those things if I’d had better experiences in school. But I don’t think the gifted are often very kindly treated these days in school.

McFADDEN (VO) The more he talked, the more Christopher reminded me of that character Matt Damon played in the movie “Good Will Hunting,” a brilliant guy who almost slipped between the cracks. That’s Christopher’s story too. He grew up poor, but he started talking at six months. Before he was four, he was reading.

(Movie scene; photo of Chris as child)

Mr. LANGAN I started to write my first book before the age of five “Snakes Lizards, and Turtles.”

McFADDEN (VO) He says he could memorize pages of material with ease and soon was being teased in school as teacher’s pet. At home, he says, things were even worse, with a stepfather who beat him.

(Photos of Chris as child)

Mr. LANGAN From the time I was almost six — I think I was about 5 1/2 or six-years-old — to the time I was about 14.

McFADDEN What happened then?

Mr. LANGAN Well, he came into the room one morning and hit me across the eyes with a garrison belt. So I beat the hell out of him and told him never to come back.

McFADDEN And he didn’t.

Mr. LANGAN He didn’t.

McFADDEN (VO) His stepfather denies ever having abused Christopher. Back at school, Christopher took a nap during the SAT’s, though he still managed to get a perfect score. But he says he soon dropped out of college because no one took an interest in him and he was bored. Now, single in his mid-40s, he’s been a cowboy and a construction worker, a forest service firefighter, and a fitness trainer. He says he lives on $6,000 a year.

(Photos of Chris as a teen; Chris boxing)

McFADDEN If you could, right now, have a career of your choosing, what would it be?

Mr. LANGAN Solving the great problems of the universe, I guess, that would be my ideal career.

McFADDEN People don’t pay a lot for that these days.

Mr. LANGAN No, they don’t. They never did.

McFADDEN (VO) Which brings us back to Christopher’s real passion, that manuscript of his. Our IQ expert says, that Christopher’s intelligence puts him on par with other great geniuses Mozart, Newton, Michaelangelo. So, why haven’t you heard of him? It may just be that the Langan masterpiece is still a work in process. I asked him to read me a passage.

(Chris at computer; paintings of Mozart, Newton and Michaelangelo; Chris and McFadden at computer)

Mr. LANGAN The catnea provides the logical framework of the theory of everything. Yielding an enhanced model of space time, affording explanations of cosmogony, accelerating cosmic expansion, quantemonocality, the area of time, the physical and cosmological riddles that cannot be satisfactorily explained by other means.

McFADDEN No one is going to understand what you just said. Well, I mean maybe someone is going to understand them, but nobody is this room does.

(VO) But, as Christopher delicately put it to me, sometimes it’s hard to understand someone whose IQ is so much higher than yours.

Mr. LANGAN They say that a 30-point difference in IQ is critical to communication. If you have an IQ of more then 30 points in excess of the person to whom you are speaking, that person may not understand a large amount of what you are saying.

McFADDEN And that’s what’s going on here.

(VO) Christopher Langan has a bigger, yes, size does matter, and better brain, than most of us. He says he’d consider donating it to science. In the meantime, he’d like to use it to figure out some of the mysteries of the universe.

(Chris and man trying on hat; Chris working out)

Mr. LANGAN The nature of reality is the ultimate problem.

McFADDEN But it’s not solving AIDS, and it’s not figuring out how to feed hungry kids.

Mr. LANGAN Sometimes you have to make a leap far into the future in order to backtrack and solve some of the smaller problems that leap-frogged to get there.

McFADDEN (VO) But, it turns out, Christopher Langan is interested in another kind of legacy, too.

(Chris in yard)

McFADDEN Would you like to have children?


McFADDEN Do you hope they’re as intelligent as you are?

Mr. LANGAN Yes, that would be my hope.

McFADDEN Really?

Mr. LANGAN Sure. The world needs more intelligent people, not fewer.

McFADDEN It’s hard to argue with that. Christopher Langan says more resources are needed to help kids he refers to as severely gifted. That’s children with an IQ of 164 or above. He and some other very smart people have set up an organization called the Mega Foundation, to enrich their lives.

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