me and dr. jones?

People who tell me that being extremely smart is a matter of working really, really hard are sort of right. That is, I’m sure that’s how they got that way. Some of us were born with it, sugar, and figured out what to do with it as we grew up.

Answers to Nicolas Cole’s assertions below the jump, but prior to that, I want to sum up my entire blog entry in Slate user dimandja’s comment on the article — “Reading heaps of books, trolling smart people, memorizing tidbits, will not make you smart. But, striving to make sense of the little knowledge you have will make you look like a genius . . . Look at Dr Ben Carson, Rubio, Jindal, et al. All learned people, all smart as a doorknob.”

Smart people read. Some do. Some are beautiful geniuses in ways that have nothing to do with conventional definitions of “smart”, and are no less awesome for it. But Cole gets more specific:

Extremely smart people read a lot, but they also read quality stuff.

Why, I ask?

Extremely smart people read about what they want to know about, from people smarter than them. They then acquire the knowledge of those wiser, and when they share it you, you stand there and think, “Wow! That person is extremely smart!”


That’s. No. That’s really not the point of reading. If you are making yourself read because you want someone to stand next to you and think, “Wow! That person is extremely smart!”, put down the book and get a good therapist. I hope to all the gods my words are never used that way. Acquire intelligence, by all means — wisdom is, I’m afraid, a different roll of the dice — but consider why you want it so badly. If there’s something missing in yourself that you can’t seem to make up any other way, take it from someone who’s been there: raw smarts won’t give you that something. It’ll still be missing, but you’ll have turned yourself into a narcissist and nobody’s going to be able to stand you. Oh, you might not care at that point. For some reason, I do.

Smart people surround themselves with smarter people.

Again, whatever for?

… if you want to become extremely smart, you have to invest your time wisely—and that means investing it with people who will push you to be better.

That doesn’t mean they’re smarter than you are! It means they give a good goddamn whether you succeed or fail! Incidentally, it tends to mean they have some empathy for the people with whom they last spoke ten years ago in high school, which I note Cole derides. Kitten, take it from someone who’s actually passed that ten-year milestone. Keeping tabs on how other people’s lives have gone is not a crime. Our lives may not turn out precisely the same, but it’s worthwhile to spare a moment and be happy for an old classmate, unless that classmate did you real harm and you’ve been in therapy for… let’s say all of the last ten years. Even then, someday it might help to forgive.


To tell you the truth, I’m not really that smart

The sentence is best ended there. Truth is Cole’s not displaying any signs of being smart. Savvy about which friends to make and which to ditch in order to rise to the top of the heap, sure. So far, I’m not seeing more than that.

The five people I spend the most time with are a successful business owner and entrepreneur, a business manager of several world-renowned music artists, a college professor and spiritual guru, an extremely successful stock trader, and (my best friend of seven years) a doctorate student studying clinical psychology.

And what, pray tell, makes these people so bloody brilliant in more than just their specialty? What makes their view of this world so different from the average Jane’s?

Make lots of mistakes. Smart people regurgitate knowledge; extremely smart people acquire knowledge, test it, and then transmute that knowledge into extremely powerful knowledge.

In sum: think critically? Brevity is the soul of wit, good sir. Perhaps Twitter really is a fine thought exercise, limiting one’s notions to 144 characters. As for mistakes, I surely have made them, but the lessons were not all worthwhile.

As for experience — some experiences are the kinds that people wish to hear about and learn from. Others are considered truths too ugly to reveal, or too inconvenient to acknowledge.

Everything I read, I test.

Please never read Fifty Shades of Grey.

Being extremely smart is more of a perception thing than anything else.

It jolly well is not. If anything, I appreciate people who are content to appear average when really they’re the brightest or wisest in the room. They’re the ones who’ll take you by surprise and prove to you that you don’t actually know as much as you think you do.

If two equally capable scientists are standing next to each other, but one of them knows how to dress well, plays the guitar, and knows who won the World Series last year, that person isn’t seen as just extremely smart; he’s practically seen as a genius.

There’s that perception game again. I don’t see those traits as indicative of anything but diverse interests… like following a few different TV series, having a finger on one’s social media pulse, etc. Oh, but those are too plebeian!

But the truth is that 99 percent of the extremely smart people in the world weren’t born extremely smart—they just have the drive and commitment to learn and learn and learn.

Sweet St. Helena Handbasket, I’m finally in the 1% of something. I was too bored not to learn. Unfortunately, autodidacts find ourselves rather on the fringes of that “drive and commitment” lot. Don’t confuse the squillions of AP/IB/JFC students with extremely smart people. Ask them instead why they’re doing it, and if the answer lacks anything resembling passion, what looks extremely smart is the least intelligent path of all.

Now, you don’t have to believe me on any of this. I make no bones about my status: single, unemployed, disabled. Compared to young Master Cole, I’m nobody at all. I suppose we have different standards, and mine involved retaining a shred of humanity. I have loved something other than a book; I have been loved. I have mourned not only for family pets and near relatives but for sweatshop workers and doomed neurodiverse children. I’ve been people, damnit. If that doesn’t make me extremely smart by one definition, why, I’ll write my own and go be a member of that club instead.

I never thought I’d be secure enough in myself to say much of this.

It does beat trying to keep up with the Dr. Joneses, though.


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