June 13, 2014

How Can Someone So Smart Do Something So Stupid?

Most people I know think that I am smart, but that I do stupid things.  You could describe many of my friends the same way.  If you're part of a particular clique of super-smart WPI twenty-something engineers, I bet you could be described this way, too.  (Note:  I hear that you do jello shots on garage roofs -- I rest my case.)

Anyway, take a look at the Title Question.  Has that ever been said about you?

My wife says that phrase approximately once every six hours about me.  And she means it every time.  I've heard my friends' wives say it about them.  Hell, I've heard our wives commisserating about how we're all that way.   What the heck does that mean?

In other words:  How the hell CAN someone "so smart" do something "so stupid"?

I think I've figured it out!

Before I go any further, I don't think this is necessarily a man / woman thing.   I have little doubt that literally millions of times per year, men say that about their wives.    At the very least, we can debate that some other time.  I just want to describe the phenomenon, not start World War III.

The So-Smart-So-Stupid Answer
The answer is that there are many dimensions of intelligence, and two are breadth and depth.  (There are probably many other meaningful dimensions, but these are two.)

For a given set of raw brain-processing ability, it can be divvied up into different attention-chunks.  So two people with IQ's of, say, 140, can allot their attention in different amounts -- and either to a few topics deeply, or more topics not-quite-as-deeply.

So here is precisely what happens, which leads to the Blog Title Question.
  1. A "Deep" person can demonstrate a few tasks extremely well.
  2. The "Broad" person observes that this person is really good in a very precise area.  Even if she has this skill herself, she senses the depth.
  3. However, the "Broad" person also sees that there's some really basic things that said Smarty is totally screwing up.
  4. This seems like a contradiction.
And hence:  "How can someone so smart do something so stupid?"

Epilogue  (I wrote this later)
So I wrote this post and was feeling pretty good about the article -- then I went back a few hours later and noticed something a bit ...untoward.  (Whoa, there's a word you don't hear much.)  Anyway, if you take the picture above (of the woman) totally out of context, it looks like I'm saying "This is the stuff that broads talk about."

That is not how I meant it.  And lest anybody say, "Yeah, but I bet I that's where the term 'broads' probably came from, so you're just as bad!  We're not broads!"  I would like to say that I'm pretty damn sure that the phrase "broad" originally referred to a woman's decolletage, not her perspicacity and parallel mental processing abilities.

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