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An Interview with Thomas Wolf on Background, Religion, Giftedness, Education, and Accumulated Self-Doubt (Part One)

March 1, 2020

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 22.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Eighteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: March 1, 2020

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,057

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

Thomas Wolf is a Member of the Giga Society. He discusses: family background; religion and science; family environment; environmental and innate aspects of giftedness; schooling and identification of giftedness; educational methods for the development of the young; joining the Giga Society in September, 1999, earning a  perfect score on the NUMBERS subtest of the Test for Genius, as the second member; and benefits with membership; and confidence and “accumulated of self-doubt.”

Keywords: Education, Giftedness, Giga Society, Self-Doubt, Thomas Wolf.

An Interview with Thomas Wolf on Background, Religion, Giftedness, Education, Accumulated Self-Doubt: Member, Giga Society (Part One)[1],[2]*

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

*Original interview conducted between October 21, 2016 and February 29, 2020.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is your family’s background – culture, geography, language, and religious/irreligious affiliation? What did your parents do for work?

Thomas Wolf: I was born and raised in Regensburg, a medium-sized city in Bavaria, Germany, which is quite well known for several universities and therefore culturally comparable to much larger cities. My father, also born in Regensburg, was a professor of economics. My mother’s family were WW II refugees from Silesia, so she unfortunately never got the chance to attend college, although she was a smart woman. She briefly worked as a librarian, but after marriage became a housewife and mother (I have one brother), as most women at the time. My mother’s family was never religious to begin with, and although my father came from a Christian family, he was too smart to believe in religious teachings, so he left the church before I was born and I wasn’t baptized and grew up in a family believing in science rather than religion.

2. Jacobsen: What differentiates religion from science to you?

Wolf: Science (in the meaning of natural sciences) investigates our universe as a closed system, researching and trying to explain its natural laws. Philosophy is not a natural science, neither does it compete with natural sciences, but tries to explain the nature and origin of the universe outside of this closed system, whether it is idealism, deterministic materialism, godly creation or something else. Religion is the extension of one particular philosophic belief (i.e. the belief in a creator-god or several gods) into the realm of our perceived universe/nature, i.e. into the field of science. Unlike its root, philosophy, religion does compete with natural sciences in trying to understand and explain the system of the universe and its natural laws, but as it is solely based in assumptions and believes rather than in facts and logic, it blatantly fails to be a serious competitor for science. The existence of a higher being cannot be proven or disproven, but the teachings of any holy book I know can easily be shown to be simple human projections and/or extensions or alterations of predecessor religions with some political agenda of the author in the background. to begin with, the assumption that an almighty and perfect higher being (if existent) would require to teach its values by the imperfect means of forming and maintaining a religion is already self-contradicting and quite ridiculous.

3. Jacobsen: What was the family environment for you?

Wolf: I was lucky. My parents were extremely supportive but never pushing too hard. Many “helicopter” parents of gifted children today try to mould them into new Leonardo DaVincis by having them participate in a lot of activities they consider beneficial – art courses, language classes, violin lessons, kid chess clubs, more. All fine, but it can simply be too much. At the same time, those parents limit everything they consider “harmful” or “uncreative”, comics, TV, computer games. Certainly with good intentions, but the good intentions with which you pave the road to hell. My parents did not try to force me into anything, but whenever I expressed a maintained interest in some field, they strongly and actively supported it. They gave me a lot of liberties, were always there to help me study for school when I asked them, but also to tell me that a bad grade was no catastrophe.  They bought me a high-end home computer in the late seventies, at a time when this was still expensive. They did everything to let me grow, but nothing to suffocate me.

4. Jacobsen: Does giftedness seem more innate or environmental to you?

Wolf: Both factors are important, and frankly I see little benefit in the long ongoing discussion which one is dominant. Quite the contrary, I regret that research in this field has in many cases become a tool to support a political position for either side of a pointless left-right struggle, mostly about education priorities. We can neither afford to neglect special education opportunities for gifted children, nor can we afford to neglect mass education on their behalf. We should strive to have different education opportunities to benefit every child.

5. Jacobsen: Where did you go to school as a child and adolescent? Was the giftedness identified and nurtured early – at home and in school?

Wolf: I attended a public school in Germany, as is normal there. Private schools are extremely rare in Germany and – at least back in my childhood – did not enjoy as good a reputation as they do in e. g. the USA. School and its teachers were a mixed blessing for me. In retrospective, to about two thirds of them I am grateful for supporting me and doing to encourage and stimulate me intellectually, but the last third gave me some pretty bad experiences as they considered me far too self-confident for a pupil. This was especially true for my first teacher, who took great offence at even the most polite and constructive criticism from a first-grader, although I meant no harm but simply was bored (having been taught skills reading and basic math well before school already), so I had to change classes in my first year already, a bit of a traumatic experience. Again, luckily my parents were full of understanding and were always on my side in battles with those teachers rather than simply telling me to “shut up and fit in”.  This was a major bonus in my personal development.

6. Jacobsen: What educational methods seem best for the emotional, intellectual, and moral development of the gifted?

Wolf: The key to the right development is to help gifted children find out and decide what direction they want to take and what they want to be. Usually, gifted children will excel in a number of areas, and they need help in finding out what activities fit best. They should be given the opportunity to deepen or speed up their development in one or some areas, but they also should learn to limit their interests to a reasonable number of fields – they are still human and will not be able to accomplish everything in the world – a misconception that I see as a major danger especially for younger gifted children.  If intellectual development is steered into the direction best suited for a person, emotional and moral development will usually be positive as well. Especially if it is supported by the actions you would recommend to any parent, to set a  good example, to show its of love and to keep an open mind.

7. Jacobsen: You joined the Giga Society in September, 1999. You earned a perfect score on the NUMBERS subtest of the Test for Genius. You were the second member. What was the original interest in the Giga Society?

Wolf: It was mainly the simple ambition to prove to myself that I can do it. Other people run marathons or lift weights – I, never having been any good at sports, always had intellectual ambitions instead. I had joined another high IQ Society, Prometheus, before, and this was the natural next goal to achieve.

8. Jacobsen: What benefits have come with membership in it?

Wolf: The Giga Society unfortunately is not very active, with limited communication between the few and individual members. The only significant external benefit was some amount of acknowledgement. A few articles were written about me, and I was asked to appear in a few radio and TV formats, which I enjoyed. But I would say the greatest benefit was plain self-confidence, as I had finished my personal “intellectual marathon”. As a working adult, when not everything was measured in grades anymore, I had learned that often things won’t go your way, and at the time I joined Giga Society, I had accumulated a lot of self-doubt, which was counteracted by my Giga membership.

9. Jacobsen: You mentioned confidence in first grade. You mentioned confidence in achievement of membership in the Giga Society. In between, you “accumulated of self-doubt.” Between first grade and the membership of the Giga Society, what were the sources of the self-doubt?

Wolf: In everybody’s life at some time there comes the simple realization that you are only human. Again and again you will make mistakes, you will not succeed in something, somebody else will be better than you in something where you considered yourself unbeatable. For most people, this realization will come quite early in childhood, but the more gifted you are, the later that realization may sink in. If it comes quite late in life, especially if it comes at a time that people usually start careers, families, companies, this can become a confidence-shattering factor. This was the case for me. For quite some time, I felt that a few serious disappointments and setbacks I had were bad underachievement, before I later realized that they were normal life experiences.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Member, Giga Society.

[2] Individual Publication Date: March 1, 2020: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/wolf-one; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

*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.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Thomas Wolf on Background, Religion, Giftedness, Education, and Accumulated Self-Doubt (Part One) [Online].March 2020; 22(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/wolf-one.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2020, March 1). An Interview with Thomas Wolf on Background, Religion, Giftedness, Education, and Accumulated Self-Doubt (Part One)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/wolf-one.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Thomas Wolf on Background, Religion, Giftedness, Education, and Accumulated Self-Doubt (Part One). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A, March. 2020. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/wolf-one>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2020. “An Interview with Thomas Wolf on Background, Religion, Giftedness, Education, and Accumulated Self-Doubt (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/wolf-one.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Thomas Wolf on Background, Religion, Giftedness, Education, and Accumulated Self-Doubt (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A (March 2020). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/wolf-one.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2020, ‘An Interview with Thomas Wolf on Background, Religion, Giftedness, Education, and Accumulated Self-Doubt (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 22.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/wolf-one>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2020, ‘An Interview with Thomas Wolf on Background, Religion, Giftedness, Education, and Accumulated Self-Doubt (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 22.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/wolf-one.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Thomas Wolf on Background, Religion, Giftedness, Education, and Accumulated Self-Doubt (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 22.A (2020):March. 2020. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/wolf-one>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Thomas Wolf on Background, Religion, Giftedness, Education, and Accumulated Self-Doubt (Part One) [Internet]. (2020, March 22(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/wolf-one.

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