Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How do you define smart? part 3

So we're continuing today our series on the topic: How do you define smart? Perhaps one way to define smart is to determine whether a person relies on facts, or relies on feelings, or what sounds good.

So, what do I mean by this?  Well, I think the best way to explain this by asking you a question.  Have you ever been in a situation, you're arguing or not even arguing, you're just discussing things with a group of people, and you know you're right, and you know you can prove it, and it doesn't matter to them.

And the reason that you know you're right is that you know things they don't know. And because they don't even have that baseline of knowledge to chat with you, they can't even understand where you're coming from.

So you offer your facts, and they get mad at you and walk away.  Or, better yet, they laugh and mock you and tell you that you are being ridiculous; that you are being controversial; that you are just creating conspiracy theories; that you are a liar; that you are a Nazi.

Ever have that happen to you?

Perhaps I can provide you with a better sense of what I'm getting at with an example.  My friends are sitting around discussing why it is colder in the winter and warmer in the summer.  One person says, "It's warmer in the summer because the earth is closer to the sun, that's why?"  Everyone else agrees because what he says sounds good; it feels like the right answer.

But you know better.  You know from reading books that the sun is closer to the earth in the winter, and the reason it's colder in the winter is because the sun hits the earth at an angle, making it colder.  In the summer the earth is further from the earth, but the sun hits the earth straight on, making it hotter.

So my friends get mad at me.  They make me feel like I'm an idiot.  They call me names.  But I know I'm right, but no matter what I say will not satisfy them because what I say doesn't make sense; it doesn't sound good; it doesn't feel right.

So the next day I go online and research this topic, and I verify that I was right all along.  So, here's an example of all the facts were on my side, but I was made out to be stupid one.  When, in fact, I was the smart one, at least in this example.

You can go into politics here too. There are people who have a political position, and then you come into the discussion and say, "Hey! Wait a minute! If you consider this fact, what you guys are saying is poppycock!"

Let's take the theory of global warming as an example.  Maybe you support this theory and maybe you don't, but let's just assume for sake of argument that you don't support it.  You walk into a bar and your friends are talking about how man is causing global warming.

You say, "Wait a minute you guys.  I just got done looking at statistics on this subject, and there has been no increase in global temperatures since 1996.

Of course you think you're friends would be glad you were throwing facts on the table, and, perhaps, they might reconsider their position.  But, instead, they get mad at you.  They make fun of you and make you out to be the idiot, when all along you have the facts on your side.

Consider these questions: Isn't it the role of scientists to be doubters? Isn't it the job of scientists to be open minded?  Isn't it the job of scientists to constantly be looking for facts?  Isn't it true that theories are educated guesses, and not facts?  So if facts show a theory to be false, shouldn't new theories form?

The answers to all these questions should be yes.  But, this is not always the case.  It's not always the case because some scientists, like some lay people like you and me, form opinions based on what sounds good, what feels good, not based on what is good.

Now, this is fine, so long as we are willing to change our opinions once better wisdom is available.  But this is not always the case.  There are scientists who become so rapt in their opinions, their political agendas, that they refuse to accept new wisdom when it slaps them in the face. This, in my opinion, is not science; it is not smart.

In fact, if I remember right, Socrates was sentenced to death for this exact reason. He questioned authority. He would walk up to successful business men and question them about how to succeed in business, and he'd get some very useful wisdom.

Then he'd ask the businessman about how to make, say, horse shoes. The person would talk as though he knew what he was talking about, as though he were an expert in that area too, when Socrates knew he was not an expert in horse shoes. The businessman, in essence, was pretending to know everything, when in fact he was ignorant in nearly every area except running a business.

So, for questioning authority, for encouraging people to think, and to admit they did not know what they did not know, Socrates was sentenced to drink a cup of hemlock poison that killed him.  Socrates took the poison willingly knowing that if he did his wisdom would become eternal.

Anyway, they make you feel like an outcast. Like the ancient Greek Senate voting for the death penalty for Socrates because he dared to disagree with the common theories of the day, your friends, or whomever you're debating with, might want to kill you, or otherwise shut you up.

Now, this brings me to idealism and realism.  I think, and this was the topic of William F. Buckley's column in Playboy a few years back, that as we delve into the subject of idealism and realism we will gain a better grasp on what smart is. This will be the topic of our next post.

How do you define smart? Part 4