I have been contemplating a theory about the relationship between high levels of intelligence and existential crises. I've often heard that highly intelligent individuals are more prone to realizing that life might be meaningless, leading to existential crises. In many fields, there seems to be no absolute truth—everything is relative. This realization can be distressing for some. I recall a story about a prodigy who learned to read novels at a very young age, and ultimately struggled with existential issues, leading to his tragic death in his twenties. This makes me wonder if there's a limit to how intelligent a species can become before this intelligence becomes a danger to its own survival.

My theory is that if intelligent extraterrestrial life exists, it might not be more intelligent than humans. The stress of reaching a certain level of logical intelligence might push a species toward existential despair, potentially leading to self-destruction. Furthermore, it seems that individuals who are highly logical often turn to non-logical aspects of life, such as beliefs, love, art, etc, to find meaning and cope with existential questions. Without these coping mechanisms, could a species purely driven by logic survive, or would their heightened intelligence inevitably lead them to existential despair?Adding to this, many people, including Elon Musk, claim that AI will become sentient one day. If AI were to achieve sentience and given its immense power and logical intelligence, wouldn't it be logical for it to self-destruct if it faced the same existential realizations?

I'd love to hear thoughts on this. Do you think there's a threshold of intelligence beyond which life becomes unsustainable due to existential crises? How do you think other intelligent beings or AI might cope with these issues?

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    Making a theory out of something you heard anecdotally is not a good way to make theories. In fact, there is no relation between "logical intelligence" and motivation, logic has strictly nothing to say about "meaning" and purposes of life or anything else. Even assuming that there is some psychological mechanism that links high intelligence to lack of motivation in humans (and there is no scientific evidence of that, anecdotal examples notwithstanding) that is all it is. Extending it to intelligence in general is just anthropomorphism.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jun 22 at 2:57
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    Can I cast an opposing to Close vote? This question is the most important one on the site. At least, the answer is. (now I just need to write the answer)
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 22 at 11:59
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    @ScottRowe Yeah... I don't seem to get all the things that are happening And I can't make sense of everything that's inside my head But I keep on thinking, there's gotta be something said...
    – Rushi
    Commented Jun 22 at 12:47
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    @ScottRowe Yeah It's absurd.... on so many fronts. You n I can VTC for completely different (and opposing!) reasons. But the VTCs still add up. Heh! Why so serious...
    – Rushi
    Commented Jun 22 at 12:53
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    @andrós I believe that this question is not off topic here, and biology SE did closed this question as an off-topic
    – User
    Commented Jun 24 at 1:59

3 Answers 3


If the beings of the earth found out that they had been planted and bred there for a purpose entirely foreign to them, they would make a great deal of trouble. They could in principle even kill themselves and thwart the cosmic plan. Hence a certain contrivance was arranged by the most high angels to keep humans always in delusion. That contrivance is the kundabuffer.

This is a very paraphrased and condensed summary of Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson by Georgy Gurdjieff. You could think of the kundabuffer as something which would appeal to us moderns for the central ontology the ancients had with different words:

Tradition Formulation
Islam Rebellion kufr
Christianity Sin1
Hinduism maya/ahankar2
Buddhism suffering dukha
Taoism dis-equilibrium wuwei

1 The original word for sin in Christianity was the archery term for missing the mark hamartia, not having the moral tone it would later take.
2 Maya is usually mistranslated as illusion
  Ahankar is usually mistranslated as ego

  • "Ego is its root", as someone said a long time ago. Everyone should focus all their attention there, on the dictator that is running their life from inside. The "purpose foreign to them" is the ego's purpose, the 'angel' is inside obscuring everything. It is so close that we can't even see it, usually. A shadow walking in our footsteps, directing them. Now that is really scary and depressing! The pitiless universe is hardly more of a threat.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 22 at 11:52
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    @ScottRowe Ego is a poor term. It suggests that Greeks are specially ego-istic — ego is I in Greek. I-ness (ego-ism) is slightly better. The Sanskrit ahamkar literally means "I-am-the-doer-ness". All the ancient sacred languages — Sanskrit, Hebrew, Arabic really don't translate. If Jesus' Father were kept in the Aramaic abwoon it would be father-mother ie not sexed. Just think What a difference this would make in the world!!
    – Rushi
    Commented Jun 22 at 12:31
  • Right. There was that book that said you can control people's thinking by controlling their lexicon and language. This is why 2024 might be like 1984... History might not repeat but it does rhyme? "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said, 'better vocabulary'."
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 22 at 12:46

First of all intelligence is a broad term that covers many concepts, from logic and reasoning to self-awareness and emotional intelligence. It seems that you are mainly focusing in the logic aspect of it.

In psychology and psychotherapy, existential crises are inner conflicts characterized by the impression that life lacks meaning or by confusion about one's personal identity.

The main two points of the definition are meaning of life and personal identity.

It is obvious that in lower-intelligent beings (ex animals) the meaning of life may be reduced to something like survival and personal identity to something like desires and insticts.

More intelligent beings challenge this, by realizing that the world that they live in has a much larger context; so they create complex organizational structures, like the societies we live in, education, religions, etc.

So, the result of this, is that the meaning of life and personal identity are to be found inside these structures. What then follows is that people who do not fit well inside these structures, struggle with both; Some of them challenge these structures, some of them give up.

It is important to understand that these structures are (in a way) the result of these struggles, of the search of the meaning of life and search of the personal identity in a collective level; they are the reflection of this process.

Existential despair, could then be seen as the inabiblity of the collective to accommodate the intelligence = [ logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, reasoning, planning, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving ] of its members.

  • The problem is that in solving "meaning of life" issues, people drill down on meaning instead of focusing on life, and for "personal identity" they lean in to the identity part. Didn't that Buddha guy address all this a long time ago? He was pretty smart, maybe we should listen to him.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 22 at 11:47
  • @Scott Rowe, I totally agree with his observation, but I do not agree with taking this only as a personal liberation strategy. Commented Jun 22 at 13:48
  • I guess I'm not following, but that's ok, we don't have to discuss it.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 22 at 13:55

It is a highly speculative hypothesis which can not be tested or discussed conclusively. It is not even clear what does logical intelligence or intelligence means? Is it machine like logical intelligence or human like emotional intelligence? High level of logical intelligence can lead to technical advancements and financial growths but without proper emotional intelligence , empathy and social cohesion it will not be possible to sustain it. Multiple form of intelligence is required for proper evolution of intelligent life.

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