Science Says “Smart People Are Idiots”

Right off the bat, congratulations on being in the top eighty percentile. We can read, and that puts us well ahead of the seven hundred million adults that can’t (I know the pictures are pretty, but focus. Focus!). Let’s bump us up a few more pegs for knowing what a percentile is as well. You’re smart; you know it; and I’m so so sorry… turns out this is bad news. Smart people are idiots.

Don’t panic!!! You’re obviously one of the exceptions. For God’s sake, quit panicking. Quick mental test:

In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?

You said 24, right? Good, that means you’re smart. Unfortunately, the right answer was 47. I’m afraid you may be suffering from a condition called smart-idiot-itis, an affliction on the rise amongst intellectuals. See, because you’re smart, your brain immediately heard “half” and “48” and karate-chopped out a quick 24. Oops, this mental shortcut is called dysrationalia. Dysrationalia afflicts 100% of people who, when asked the question “how much dirt is in a hole 6 ft. by 3 ft. by 9 ft?” answer anything but zero, zero dirt (There’s no dirt in a hole, silly). Dysrationalia is the leading cause of smart-idiot-itis.

Don’t take my word for it. According to a long string of individuals with PhD’s, MBA’s, and various other impressive acronyms, “smart people are stupid.” The idea they present about our educational system can be summed up nicely in this quote by one of the said intellectuals (Michael Sherman):

Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.

Essentially, smart people are used to being smart people, so they assume they’re right, because usually they are, even when they aren’t, right that is. Wow, that’d make more sense if I was one of those smart people, but if I were, it’d be wrong apparently. Thank you, brain.

It seems to boil down to something called the bias blind spot. Everyone is biased, and everyone who is biased believes they are not. This is why it’s so obvious when someone else is doing something stupid, but our own dumb actions confound us. Since we’re stuck in our own heads, when we put our briefcase in the dishwasher last week, or tied our shoes and completely forgot we’re not wearing pants yet, we don’t see ourselves as the bumbling morons we all are from time to time. It’s because of the cloud of justifications and excuses always swirling around our heads.

Sorry to say it, but being aware of this makes no difference, apparently. Currently, medical science has no cure for smart-idiot-itis, short of a lobotomy. As research into this horrible affliction progresses, should a cure be found, how could we ever trust these brainy buffoons anyway?

For more information on this disease, see Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” If you think you may have smart-idiot-itis, seek medical attention immediately, and cross fingers that your doctor didn’t nail his hand to his refrigerator for no apparent reason.

 

Sources:

Literacy Rate (worldbank.org)

Why Smart People are Stupid (The New Yorker)

Rational and Irrational Thoughts (Scientific American) 

Dysrationalia: Defects in Real-World Intelligence (Talent Develop Resources)

Why People Believe Weird Things (Michael Shermer)

We Struggle With Objectivity: The Bias Blind Spot (Psychology Today)

Cognitive Sophistication Does Not Attenuate the Bias Blind Spot (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Brazilian Prisoners Read Their Way to Freedom

Brazil’s “Redemption through Reading” program has announced that it will offer to reduce prison sentences for inmates in high security prisons by four days (up to a maximum of 48 days per year) for each book they read.  They will also need to submit a well written book report proving their comprehension.

The program is an effort to reduce recidivism through education and provide incarcerated men and women with a different worldview.  Brazil will test out the program’s efficiency with criminals from four high-security prisons.  They will have 4 weeks to read each book and write a book report.

So far there is no approved book list or detailed requirements.  I can’t imagine The Anarchist Cookbook or Prison Escape would be appropriate reading material.

Sao Paulo lawyer Andre Kehdi stated that:

“A person can leave prison more enlightened and with an enlarged vision of the world.”

Many people in favor of the program argue that studies all over the world regarding prisons suggest that

“long periods of isolation with little mental stimulus contributed to poor mental health and led to intense feelings of anger, frustration, and anxiety.”

Hopefully reading and writing can provide adequate mental stimulus to ensure prisoners never return. However, reading and writing aren’t the only approach being tried on inmates to reduce recidivism. In America we’re trying some new techniques too. From puppies to entrepreneurship, recidivism is being tackled head on.

 

Sources:

The Globe and Mail: Brazilian Inmates Offered Reduced Sentences for Reading Books

Huffington Post: Prison Programs Take Innovative Approach To Reducing Recidivism