One of the most annoying thing in the world to me, is when someone tells me that they aren’t smart. I understand: I bring this out in people. I know a lot of stuff and I’m quick witted. And above all, I’m an intellectual. But none of that means anything but that I’m oriented in a particular way. I’ve been carrying around books with me for as long as I can remember. It’s just the way that I am. But that doesn’t make me smart in any kind of absolute sense, because I don’t even know what it is to be smart in an absolute sense.
I do know what it is to be smart when it comes to an IQ test. Those tests measure very specific things. As I recall, they measured some kind of special reasoning — there were blocks involved. And there were “general knowledge” questions like, “What is a mantis?” When I was young, I did very well with the blocks and not very well with the questions. Now it would probably be reversed. I’ve noticed cognitive degeneration over the last two decades. But I’ve certainly gained “general knowledge” at a far faster rate than I have been aging.
There are an infinite number of ways to be smart. All kinds of people impress me with their intellects in various ways. My greatest complaint with people is that they bore me, not that they aren’t smart enough. But I’ve known people who can’t do math at all, who are absolutely brilliant dealing with numbers that represent dollars. I think that shows the way people put up blocks around themselves and stop themselves from being “smart.” But the bigger issue is that no one feels smart because the things they understand seem obvious. Personally, I think anyone who understands the game of cricket is brilliant.
People think that I’m smart because I am good at the kinds of things that we think of as smart. So we don’t think of people with a preternatural ability to rebuild carburetors as smart. I do! But there is a way that people get a pass by claiming not to be smart. If someone asked me how to solve a differential equation, I couldn’t get away with, “Oh, it’s easy! You just do it!” But that’s what people do all the time with things like rebuilding carburetors, watching cricket, and playing guitar.
Another thing I hate is the distinction between being “book learning” and having “common sense.” For one thing, I have no idea what “common sense” is. If it is so common, why are people constantly complaining that other people don’t have it? As far as I can tell, “common sense” is anything that you know. That’s bad enough. But “book learning” is even worse. It implies that the knowledge wasn’t acquired quite legitimately. Rather than figuring it out for yourself, someone told you. Of course, someone also told them the “common sense” of not running out in traffic, it’s just that they don’t remember it.
But the notion of “common sense” is something more than just a face saving device. It is an indication that everyone actually knows that there are a great many ways to be smart — all wonderfully useful under the proper conditions. I just wish we could get more explicit about that so that I don’t have to hear phrases like, “I’m not book smart, but I have common sense.” That always makes me feel like I’m intimidating people. And I’m really too selfish to intend that. If I find you boring, I’ll just be gone.
All of that was prelude so that I could tell you a story and about how smart I am. The other day, Will told me, “I saw on Facebook that Rich joined a band called the 999 Megabytes. They haven’t got a gig.” Here’s the thing: I don’t like Rich and I never have. But I do know that he has a lot of talent as a musician. So he’s in a band. Whatever.
The next day Will told me the same story. I said, “You told me that yesterday. Is there some reason I should care? I know Rich is a pretty good musician.” Will replied, “Gigabyte?” I said, “Oh! That’s funny. So Rich didn’t join a band?” He told me that he had not. Even realizing it was a joke, I needed to be assured that Rich hadn’t, in fact, joined a band just to make a joke.
At the same time that I was totally clueless about joke, it also bothered me that it wasn’t quite right. I mean, a gigabyte isn’t a thousand megabytes; it’s 1,024 megabytes. Now sure, it’s true that 999 megabytes is also not a gig, but so too is 999 kilobytes. But that’s the thing: I would gladly trade all that mindless digital knowledge for just having gotten the joke in the first place.
It takes all kinds in this world. And I’m happy that I add something unique to my small part of the world. I wish other people were more happy with their own unique contributions to the world.
That image above really has nothing to do with this article. But hey: mouse fairy. That’s brilliant.