Thursday, June 16, 2011

#226: Christopher M. Langan

Langan is an American autodidact whose IQ has (been reported by various media sources to have) been measured at between 195 and 210. Typical fare for less serious news outlets, Langan, who has been called “the smartest man in America”, rose to prominence in while working as a bouncer on Long Island. He subsequently developed his own “theory of the relationship between mind and reality” (note the curious formulation) which he calls the “Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe (CTMU)” (the fact that CTMU had a Wikipedia entry was cited by John Farrell as an example of Wikipedia’s untrustworthiness). Langan has been quoted as saying that "you cannot describe the universe completely with any accuracy unless you're willing to admit that it's both physical and mental in nature" and that his CTMU "explains the connection between mind and reality, therefore the presence of cognition and universe in the same phrase". He also claims that "you can prove the existence of God, the soul and an afterlife, using mathematics."

I guess most readers see where this is going. Langan apparently dropped out of university because he was too smart. Gladwell reports that while his work on the CTMU is profound (i.e. “can-be-understood-by-perhaps-only-a-handful-of-people” profound, a.k.a. “it-both-is-and-is-not” Buddhist profound), “without academic credentials, he despairs of ever getting published in a scholarly journal”. Uh-oh. Apparently Gladwell is unfamiliar with the peer review process. CTMU seems, by the way, to be just a mixture of Berkeley’s idealism with some woo-processed, half-baked physics and complete mathematical ignorance plastered onto it. It is truly silly.

Langan is a fellow of the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (ISCID) – yes, that’s Dembski’s group, and it promotes intelligent design creationism (the society’s journal (newletter) is also the only place where Langan’s musings have been published). Langan even contributed a chapter to Uncommon Dissent (edited by Dembski); he has elsewhere said that he “believe[s] in the theory of evolution” as “one of the tools used by God to create mankind”. Fair enough. The quote continues thusly: “Mankind is then a participant in the creation of the universe itself, so that we have a closed loop. I believe that there is a level on which science and religious metaphor are mutually compatible” and “just as the mind is real, reality is in some respects like a mind. But when we attempt to answer the obvious question "whose mind?", the answer turns out to be a mathematical and scientific definition of God”. Spot the argument from word-salad here. And by nonsense-introduction, Langan points out that “[t]his implies that we all exist in what can be called "the Mind of God", and that our individual minds are parts of God's Mind.”

So there you have him, “the smartest man in America”. Profound like a mid-level Buddhist monk with +2 confabulation skills causing “awe” when you fail your intelligence or wisdom saving throw.

Diagnosis: Super-crackpot. This is really a sad story about media exploitation. Fortunately, Langan probably doesn’t have much impact (as with most celebrities of his ilk, the interest soon dies out).


  1. He is also discussed here. Indeed, Langan shows up to defend himself in the comments, displaying brilliantly that he doesn't quite get it.

  2. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

  3. Good lord, I just clicked the link supplied by G.D. and lost an hour and a half of my life.

    Needless to say, Langan is either crazy or a troll (perhaps even both.) I wouldn't bother reading his posts because they're deliberate exercises in timewasting (which I unfortunately fell for.)

  4. How can he be so clever and also lack thoroughness? Is it that he is out of condition mentally, because he only has to convince himself? Also is his theory based on deduction based logic, rather than actual proof? And thus is he not more a philosopher than a scientist?