Monday, December 10, 2007

The Case for Smarties

The concept of smart v dumb has fascinated me. Because I think it is plain to everyone that some who may at first glance be dumb can actually be quite smart, and vice versa. For example, George W Bush: is he a foil being blindly led by self-interested parties that surround him for personal financial gain; or a cunning man of the people who has managed to win re-election through an amazing ability to adapt both himself and the facts to new political situations?

I am not going to argue about individuals (a Judgement for another day perhaps), but rather, today, I sit in judgement of the scale of “smart” and “dumb” – and I have found them wanting. “Wanting” in that I believe that there are extra dimensions to smartness that aren’t smart, and dumbness that aren’t dumb. So I have constructed the Smartscale™ (v1), which groups multiple types of “smarts” (where smart is the smart end of the scale and dumb is the unsmart) in the following two ways:

1) Firstly, potential smarts. While I had initially thought to label this “academic smarts”, that term does not really seem to fit as it seems to limit the scope to bits and pieces of paper. Potential smarts are background indicators of smartness, like experience or study. I see this as looking at a person’s smarts C.V. and from that determining the smarts they may have access to, or at least have deep down inside. Potential smarts can only be acquired with time, but are not necessarily acquired in all areas, or perhaps not at all. It gives a base in being what people call smart, but does not guarantee the person will appear smart when you meet them in person.

2) And that is the second part of the Smartscale™ (v1) – the apparent smarts, which could also be described as astuteness. We all know these people – those who are quick on their feet, witty, dauntless, unstoppable. Every question has an answer, some shrewd and accurate, while others being cases of bulldust baffling brains. These smarts can only be determined in person and, while it may not actually be a true indication of deeper depth, the obvious intelligence required to be able to react so quickly and be so persuasive and thus provide (if nothing more) the illusion of being smart is a type of smartness in itself. This scale is harder to move along, as it requires a certain “natural” way of thinking and dealing with people to be convincing.

And, as I am making this a more complex scale, the two interact. In the scale below, I have started with the potential dumb on the left hand side. As (one hopes) people tend to become more well read and experienced with time, this provides the x axis to “ground” the smart scale. Apparent smarts, as something a bit harder to change with time, forms the y axis. And where people sit, well, it’s a combination of the two.

[Not sure what I have done, but this image looks horrible here; but click on it and it should look better - or, at least, be legible]

Personally I think of myself as sitting in the Smart – Dumb quadrant. I can be a complete mutard in person, but (a conceit perhaps) I tend to think of myself as a bit of a thinker about things. I am not going to attempt to identify exactly where I sit within that quadrant, as that is just inviting trouble.

And the idea of placing oneself in this scale is, really, quite pointless. The only people who can judge where one sits on the Smartscale™ (v1) is someone (or someones) else. A judge, as it were.

Right, I have now laid down the groundwork for my Smartscale™ (v1) and, when I next decide to sit down and engage myself in thinking about something completely useless, I can refine this tool a bit more. Suggestions (and comments on its complete inanity) welcome.

Just as an aside, I have toyed with the idea of a 3 x 3 matrix of determining “smartness”, and it may have to come to that depending on my ruminations…

Verdict: A giant leap forward in uselessness


Morgan Davie said...

So you're talking about smart and dumb as social constructions - that I can get behind, because there's all kinds of issues with trying to measure something like "actual intelligence". A 2D social construction of intelligence - where one axis is "what smarts I figure you should have based on your CV" and the other axis is "what smarts you seem to have when I listen to you talking". So your x-axis is basically reputation, or second-hand info, while your y-axis is evaluation, or first-hand information. So the obvious next modifier is the weighting.

Observation - this is a heuristic scale, but we humans don't like to find people in complex (Smart-Dumb and Dumb-Smart) categories. That's a level of complexity we don't like. I think our tendency is to collapse the 2D into a 1inear scale proceeding diagonally bottom-left to top-right, actually. Thinking of this 2D like you are is an expansion of the more common heuristic to allow for the complex incidences. But - here's the rub - a complex 2D heuristic is only as useful inasmuch as it actually references something real in a systematic way.

Which brings us around to this - are you suggesting there two actual phenomena at work here? Or is the distinction between, say, Smart-Dumb and Dumb-Smart purely an artifact of your 2D model?

Anonymous said...

Well if you are Smart-Dumb, then I'm probably Dumb-Smart. I like to think I know what I'm talking about but there isn't much behind it :) !!!

Off-Black said...

I really should have studied Psychology instead of Microbiology. This discussion is leaving me dumb-dumb!

R said...

In response to Morgue, I agree: Much like Darwinian “fitness”, I think smartness/intelligence is a subjective term depending on the situation. What is considered smart in one circumstance might not be considered so smart in another – and hence ends up as a social construction.

However, smartness does seem to have a recognised “foundation” in education and experience. KiwiinZurich and off-black sell themselves short by placing themselves in the dumb “potential” section, as they have that the background in spades.

But what got me thinking down this track is that the linear scale began to bother me. “I have a degree” does not always mean they appear smart; and neither does the antithesis, but this piece of paper (or birth certificate for age) is held up as irrefutable proof of smartness. I could be bolder and say that a degree (or age) may not equal smart at all. Some people label themselves as “dumb” when patently they are not; others have all the prerequisites of being “smart” on paper, but talk with them, and there’s nothing (or little) there underneath one would describe as smart.

So rather than just abandon the terms “smart” and “dumb” as up there with “nice” in their usefulness, I thought to expand on these concepts to try and make them a bit more descriptive. The idea was that I say someone is “smart – dumb”, meaning that they have a background in smart, but on the surface may appear a bit of a nong. This in turn is helpful as is it informs one not to necessarily judge by first impressions or indicates the level of ease one might have conversing with this person.

Now comes the harder part – determining the scale/benchmarks for this. Yup, the weighting. What is “half smart”? Hmm. I am not going down that path – at least not yet.

But to answer your final question in a long winded way, I believe that yes, there are different facets to smartness, only two of which (the easiest ones for me to identify) I have incorporated in my model. It tries to move beyond the “paper-confirmed smartness proof” and incorporate the more non-examinable (in a “sitting down exam” way, I mean; as smartness (as a social construct) has to be observed to exist, and through observation it is thus examinable). We all agree the piece of paper carries a meaning of smartness, but there is also more.

But one of your points did intrigue me. Is Smartness really “something real”? Smartness rests in the eye of the beholder(s). Much like niceness, it exists but as a human perception of varying degrees of action or as a judgement of trains of thought. What I believe is highly perceptive can, to others, seem completely inane, with each judgement being valid for the person holding it.

However, one could also mount the argument that “Right” and “Wrong” aren’t real, merely social constructs. Right and Wrong tend to be weighed on a linear scale based on paper as well (holy books, laws, customs), and it is just too damned confusing to try and add extra dimensions to that concept (as you point out). But people still study ethics and try to weigh the correctness of decisions made on that scale. On the other hand, smartness is nowhere near as important to society as the concept of right and wrong; and so it is much easier to deconstruct.

Again, like niceness, “smart” and “dumb” as terms were on the verge of losing their meaning for me because the meaning itself was unclear, even though, as concepts, I know what it is meant to imply. I therefore feel it is my civil (and linguistic?) duty to try and rescue these terms from their banal oblivion; and to reclaim them as adjectival terms that I would want to use – with a bit of qualification, of course. This scale (v1) is my first attempt in that resurrection.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that you developed this scale because you were unhappy that smart/dumb was previously seen on a linear scale. I disagree.

I think that increasingly people are recognising that there are many different ways to be smart, and I think that a 2 dimensional scale is far too restrictive.

This is evidenced by different names for different types of intelligence (I am using that word interchangeably with smart, correct me if this isn't what you intended) being coined, for example book intelligence, social intelligence, creative intelligence. And within each of these categories, there are many sub-categories.

I actually think that society is improving (as a very general rule) in its ability to recognise and appreciate different types of intelligence, and encourage people to develop their own intelligence to its full potential, instead of trying to conform to more traditional definitions.

Anonymous said...

Judge, that boy in Ozzy really did have an impact on you didn't he?

For what it's worth, I don't think the terms 'smart and dumb' are helpful in this situation, unless of course you're using them as synonyms for relative intelligence.

As for relative intelligence, I suspect that it is both a social construct and an actual measurable quantity but, in any event, always has external factory playing a role (which I think you've incorporated through your 'potential smart' analysis). Take for example cavewoman A. She would have the ability to understand quantim physics if she had been exposed to all of the things necessary to allow her to conceive of such a thing (Startrek and the like). Obviously she won't as she is more concerned about where her next meal comes from. So she has potential smarts, but isn't going to be able to put them into effect. I guess you could then question whether she is relatively smart when compared to the other cavepeople, however, as stretch legitimately points out, being able to conceive of quantum physics and being able to trap a bear in order to feed your family are not the same thing. But in both cases, you're still going to be considered relatively smart....or dumb depending on your ability to handle either situation.

Off-Black said...

I think this requires a new post....:)

As I have said to the judge on at least one occasion, I wish I could produce stuff like this!

R said...

Thanks for all the feedback everyone. Something to ponder should I attempt to embark on v2...

Andrew said...

Howard Gardner, "Frames of Mind: the theory of multiple intelligences" - might be a good entry point to other people's study of this stuff...?

Anonymous said...

The "dumb smart" idea immediately made me think of Beckham, a genial simpleton to talk to but his mind is a rapier when it's measuring passing angles, reading player movements, or calculating the spin of the ball. And maybe you can write some of this off as instinct rather than intelligence, but its a thin dividing line to me. (I'm sure I've read a theory Beckham has a genius-level intelligence).

But this doesn't really match your criteria, and is now supplementary to what Stretch said above, so I decided not to say anything after all.

2treesandahorse said...