Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Five More Thoughts (Psycho Smart Ed.)

Don't be threatened by the title, this post is meant to be about smarts, and believe me, it's meant to be ironic. If it makes you feel any better, you can snicker to yourself about the brilliance I actually display--it is mostly about me after all--but I'm aiming for unseriousness here. So what if it's Tuesday.

1. Brightness, after all, is a curse. I'm doing okay in the faculties department, at least relative to the general population, and in some rare cases, I even know when to shut the fuck up to avoid looking like a dolt. But I'd so much rather be a genius. It would make life so much easier.

Certainly, I'm no physical genius. I'm okay at some sports (and miserable at others), but certainly I'd be unlikely to achieve a competitive level even if I wasn't too old. Never had that killer instinct anyway. I play music, but even though I can bang out a tune, sort of, I can easily project an arc that has an asymptote well short of art (best I can hope for is a stuttering voice, which as it happens is good enough for me). I always wanted artistic skills, but even more than the music, my pen yields sketches that at best are "identifiable." In high school, I was bright enough to skate entirely, and even college required only select applications of effort. Grad school killed me though, as it was evident that I'd reached a level at which real study was required. If I were a brilliant scientist, then I'd have breezed right through that and right through a post-doc, publishing with reckless abandon, really making a mark. Even though I've managed to milk an occasionally clever streak, for most of my career I've had to slog hard for nuggets in order to succeed. Unfortunately, I'm not a genius of self-motivation either. No, there I'm totally retarded.

It's good to be a all-around above-average type and all, but I'm jealous of brilliance. I'd settle just for something really cool to stand out from my peers. I suspect any one of you I can point at can multiply big numbers on demand, read 200 pages per hour, recite the most obscure trivia, woo women (or men), aim, make the hard sell, memorize long numbers, perform convincing sleight of hand, bend your joints backwards, play brilliantly by ear, put people at ease, hold absurd amounts of liquor, find level and plumb by eye, bloviate. With six and a half billion people in the world, people with distinctive brain skills will rise up and concentrate to a high degree to the somewhat better levels of discourse, and stumbling awkwardly through them myself, I keep bumping into all you damned savants.

2. Well, maybe one thing I can claim is some minimal writing skill. One way I deal with my essential laziness at work is that when my schedule is full of desk tasks, I can crank out reports and proposals in a third the time that anyone else can, leaving me lots of time to scrawl crap like this.

Right now, I have a big one going on. I shouldn't be anywhere near the blog, but one thing about getting into a writing mode, is that it's actually hard to stop. I love it when my brain's in high gear--wish I could do it at will. When I go to bed tonight more words will be chasing each other around my skull. It'll stop when I get tired enough.

3. My older daughter keeps a journal for school. It's designed to keep the children in form for the writing assessment part of their evaluation testing, but it's cool, it's a good project, and my little girl--child of two engineers--is pretty good at it. I was looking through it recently, and here's what she had for her November entry:

"I'm thankful for my dad because there are already two monkeys in the family, and it's good to have at least one real person..."

Like any good father, I take every opportunity to compare my kids to lesser primates, but to tell you the truth, I don't find actual monkeys (by which I mean apes--chimpanzees--monkeys are more like squirrels that can smile) very funny at all. Staged simian hijinks always seem a little sad to me, the underlying coercion doesn't escape my notice. But the Platonic "monkey" is still pretty amusing though. The pure essence of monkeyness spends lots of time masturbating, chattering, and flinging poo. Comedy gold.

Amusing. I sometimes like to believe that I have muses. All those voices in my head, it's a barrelful of monkeys in there. Fun like that, and with a lot of flying turds.

4. That last thought was pretty shamelessly recycled, but I'm gambling that anybody who's gotten this far (either of you) didn't catch the original. If you're all tired of that thought, consider it scribed for posterity then.

We all have our own series of little performance routines, but depending on how big's your repertoire, how much you change it up, and how skilled you are at singing it, it can grating over time for anyone. One of the few upsides of meeting new people is the prospect of a fresh audience. Last week, I had such an opportunity, to meet some long-lost offshoot of my in-laws' hopelessly complicated family tree. It was fun to see my wife's parents pull out their classic material--hadn't seen it in quite a while ourselves--and be reminded that some people are best when you first get to know them. (A problem with knowing people for a long time is that you lose energy for the fun dances, or else you try your friends out as a focus group for dangerously untested material.) It was great to see them spewing out mock-philosophy with friendly enthusiasm, and just to see the general animation. Naturally, I held myself bemusedly above the fray, benignly aloof, accessible just outside the clamor. That's a big part of my act.

5. It's funny how we meet people, what with the few degrees of separation and all, contrasted with all the billions of us. I know I've read this before (probably from one of you crazy savants) that even if we find one person in a million worthwhile, that still makes for a handful of hundreds right here in North America. Blogging, and upon a time Fraying, it's like I'm chipping away at the several hundred who have similar interests and mindsets. I link to X bunch of people, who connect with Y, who… One drawback to this model is that folks like us probably pop up a little more frequently than in the ppm range.

But say there's a couple thousand that, by criteria I don't entirely understand, I'd really rather get to know, and a good couple million that I wouldn't mind in my general circle. It can't be done. Even with the help of the internet, our little communities can only reach so far. Couldn't even hope to meet a signifiant fraction of them.

This drives me batshit. In a way, it's like everything I've ever tried to organize. You'd really like detailed information for every entry, with proper cross-references, and detailed notes for all. In truth, you really end up filling those things as they're relevant. If there's anything that keeps me from going over the edge into obsession though, it's a profound sense of "good enough," call it a fundamental laziness or else call it (as I prefer) a measure of wisdom to be content in the first local minimum that's pretty comfortable and has a reasonably good view. Even though this makes me a poor carpenter and scientist, it does keep me more sane. Even though there's a maddening sensation in the back of my mind that so much is always left incomple


twiffer said...

if it makes you feel any better...despite having an excellent memory (except for dates), a fine baritone and acing the logic section of the GREs, i still nearly flunked calculus. also, i cannot hit a curve ball.

i don't envy genius (well, not usually), because there is a balance to everything. genius tends to have a steep price. personally, i'm content with being fairly bright, with the occasional flash of brillance. just to keep people on their toes.

Keifus said...

Let me be clear, I want genius without the price. I want brilliance that doesn't consume, but only illuminates. I want to be well-rounded in those few places I'm not super-sharp. Are you telling me that's too much to ask?

(Damn the GREs. I always obsessed about filling in the little bubbles perfectly and left a good chunk of the questions unanswered.)

rundeep said...

I wish I were smarter. No, actually, I just wish I were less risk averse. Grew up in a very blue-collar house as the resident weirdo (your kids read "Matilda"?)so I always thought I was smarter than I was, and thought that would mean more. It doesn't.

I'm a solidly mediocre musician, but I have a good voice and probably would have done more singing if my parents weren't convinced it was an idiotic career. Somehow they thought I could do it after law school. As if time were just one big endless commodity. Athletics are just another word for weight loss. I do it from habit, not enjoyment. No genius there either, alas.

The only really happy people I know are risk-takers, oddly enough. They don't try to outthink themselves all the time, just get out on that limb and find the view. Sometimes they get very wealthy, sometimes they just get a job doing the thing they love, or building a company with their name, or they crash and burn. When they succeed, we call them geniuses, but they aren't -- they are just people who didn't listen to their mothers.

BTW, love your daughter's comment.

twiffer said...

hah! i took 'em on a computer! ah, the privilleges of youth.


and yes, i would like it too, but it is too much to ask. so i content myself with what i've got. which is pretty damn good, actually.

LentenStuffe said...

If it's only a question of what's verifiable, then you are correct for surely you would otherwise know that (& what) you know: But then, it's possible either your correlation or your yard-stick is off, in which case you'd still be contingent. But I can't help thinking if you thought them deficient in any way, your self-definition would have been different from what it is here.

Keifus said...

My definition of genius is self-defeating. The way I think of it is, more or less, "on a higher plane". There's a level of any skill that most people can attain through sheer effort, but on top of that, there's talent, some elementary expression that the genius can perform as easily as thinking about it, which the average couldn't do with a decade of practice. Why is that self-defeating? Because instead of going by "most people," I define myself as the baseline. Geniuses are, by personal definition, people that operate at a higher level than me.

Rundeep, I totally hear you about risk aversion (and, with a sigh, about childhood self-delusions too...and about athletics for that matter). Maybe that's some high level of capability too, to envision things and to cause them to happen without overanalysis (please god, let none of my managers ever see that admission).

LentenStuffe said...

'correlation' should have read 'correlative', not that it matters much, I suppose.

twiffer said...

this article might interest you.

Artemesia said...


Re: Smarts..
I have observed how intelligence is graded here in the US of A has led to the great mass dumbing down of this nation that is merrily ongoing. The corporate psychologists use their $golden mean for communicating in advertising, to stereotype demographics, to create a great devaluation of the ‘common man/woman/baby/child/ the ages in between and the helpless pill ridden senior citizen. (They’re all falling and only WE can help them to get up ..to RISE in the world). Because of corporate psychologists..and nowadays, most are corporate though their hats may be of a different design..many graduates from the public school system can’t find Iraq on a map or anything else that isn’t of immediate self-interest or personal gratification.

One of the worst wolves in pop culture clothing has been/is Daniel Goleman who cashed in after that political horror, The Bell Curve, by Herrnstein & Murray caused a furor. Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, milked the public’s feelings of general inadequacy towards these I.Q tests that establish, in so many educational venues, a pecking order for expectations and success among generations of children.

Goleman is not, was not a psychologist. He was a columnist for the New York Times on their Science page with an eye for what was grabbing the public, affecting the public in that wide field. So..how about by passing mental intelligence..and offering the ‘average man/woman/child/citizen/worker the opportunity to also be special, albeit not an Einstein. Voila, his Mr. Goodbar is/was Emotional Intelligence..which, by the way Was Not His Idea..though little credit and cash has trickled down to the originators of that concept. In this, Goleman has a very failing grade in ‘altruism’ and genuine intellectual ‘honesty.’ His best seller has spawned a very lucrative industry of his and others that keep milking the primal theme in ‘how to’ books and his lectures o/for Corporate podiums.

America’s craze for competing and comparing, conforming/fitting in, image sculpting externally and internally and..many absurdities of political correctness has created our great ‘How To Become’ industries, and Goleman has filled the decades gap Dale Carnegie has left open. At least Dale Carnegie was more in the style of Will Rogers, home spun and shrewd, not calculating and exploitive in the guise feel good/do good pseudo Christian populist.

Keifus, your bedtime reading, genuine interaction with your children, conversations with your children sans baby talk patronization, your spontaneous silliness..is beyond this nature vs nurture crap. Yours is not a how to family raising children for this Brave New World we are on the brink of..Please forget this smart business. You are a genius in writing reports quickly so that you can be like Tom Sawyer, put your feet up like The Moody Blues, and have great Sundays and weekends with your kids. Fuck the Goleman’s and the Herrnstein Murrays. If they ain’t doing it naturally there’s something wrong with what they’re doing.

Keifus said...

Oh man, I only wish I was smarter because it'd make my job easier. And that's with tongue deeply in cheek, because if I were smarter, I'd have probably found a tougher job. (And any insecurity, well...)

I so hear you about the marketing though. Every bit of our economy (now) seems to be predicated on pitching inadequacy and insecurity onto the masses. You ain't pretty enough, you're too fat, too thin, you have eyebrows, too dark, not tan enough, children failing, blah blah blah. It's horrible. Preach the word.

(As for my kids, I'm not too worried about them. Laziness is bad, but believe me, I'm not one to stress false achievement.)