Intelligence, Wisdom, Ignorance and Stupidity

close encounters

...the difference between ignorant and educated people is that the latter know more facts. But this has nothing to do with whether they are stupid or intelligent. The difference between stupid and intelligent people – and this is true whether or not they are well-educated – is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations – in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.

- Neal Stephenson "The Diamond Age"

Question: What is the stupidest thing that walks God's green earth?
Answer: An adolescent with above average intelligence.

Right now I'm wondering whether you, gentle reader, are nodding your head in recognition or frowning in puzzlement. If it's the first, you're probably a better than average bright person well past adolescence - or perhaps you have a bright adolescent at home. If it's the second, you might be a better than average bright adolescent, or perhaps an opinionated know-it-all of an adult. (No offense, some of my best friends are opinionated know-it-alls. Some have said that even moi partakes of that nature on occasion.)

Understand something, I am not being holier-than-thou. I was that opinionated twerp, and the fact that I've got an unusually detailed memory often brings painfully embarrassing recollections of exactly how conspicuously stupid I could be as an adolescent and young adult.

As I can recall, an adolescent with above-average IQ can see that he is more intelligent that most of the people around him. What he cannot believe, is that experience counts for anything. He can't believe it because he doesn't have any - it's like the fourth dimension to him.

Somebody once said, that in any conflict between logic and experience, experience is almost always a better guide to action. Logic is a way of dealing with the relationship of facts, or more accurately, propositions. (Statements alleged or assumed to be true representations of reality.) But complex situations can have a huge number of relevant facts, not all them obvious, not all of them known and the relationships between them are often far more complex than we can know. Experience is what leads us to believe that similar situations produce similar outcomes. Not a perfect match, like in a logical syllogism, but enough of a match to guide our actions most of the time.

Note in the above quote by Neil Stephenson. "...the difference between ignorant and educated people is that the latter know more facts." So what's the difference between ignorant and stupid people? Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that ignorance is forgivable - stupidity is not. Ignorance is a lack of facts, which may be in no way the fault of the ignorant. Stupidity is willful failure to face facts or learn from experience.

Stupidity is independent of intelligence, and in fact high intelligence often empowers stupidity and gives it greater scope to do harm. A not-too-bright guy may make stupid decisions about buying a new car, but is scarcely likely to do the kind of harm that's been done by academics and intellectuals addicted to theorizing about things they have no competence in.

Don't get me wrong, I think theory is necessary to create structure for the knowledge we have, and guide the further search for knowledge. But theory without experience drifts into fantasy. Experience without theory just drifts.

So if that's the difference between intelligence, ignorance and stupidity, what is the thing we call wisdom? It seems to have something to do with intelligence informed by experience, but that's a description of how it comes about rather than a definition. Someone suggested to me once that you are wise when you are no longer a significant contributor to your own pain. It seems to me that there ought to be more to it than that, but that'll do till something better comes along.

Steve Browne

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Happy Independence

By Frisbee Jackson

george washington dollar bill

It is impossible to achieve independence in a single sitting, just as it is impossible to take only a single bite out of a delicious cookie. As one grows, bit by bit, independence is gained. One of the first tastes of independence is walking alongside the shopping cart, rather than riding in it. Ambling down the myriad of aisles in the local grocery store, rather than gliding past them. Gone are the days of scooting over a bit so Mother can make room for the pork chops, the days of having easy access to your favorite sugary cereal on the top shelf. This mere act of walking upon your own two legs, one foot after the other on the clean tile floor, is one of the first glimpses of independence. The metal cage on wheels is rid of. Many more rites of independence follow this, such as becoming licensed and unseating others of their job as perpetual chauffeurs and getting a job to support your more superfluous needs. Arguably the biggest, leaving the nest so mama and papa bear can no longer watch and advise every move. Bed times and curfews become a thing of the past. With each step, one grows closer to obtaining overall independence. But independence is much more than "I do what I want when I want."

Successful independence is doing what you want, but going about it conscientiously.

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What the heck is Electronic Mail?

electronic mail

Electronic Mail is a term that's been bandied about data processing circles for years. Simply put, it means high-speed information transportation. One of the most advanced methods is terminals talking to one another. Your mailbox is the terminal on your desk. Punch a key and today's correspondence and messages are displayed instantly. Need to notify people immediately of a fast-breaking development? Have your messages delivered to their terminal mailboxes electronically, across the hall or around the world. Electronic mail is document distribution that's more timely, accurate and flexible than traditional methods. There's no mountain of paperwork. Administrative personnel are more effective. Managers have access to more up-to-date information. Decision-making is easier. Tomorrow's automated office will clearly include Electronic Mail. But like the rest of the Office of the Future, it's available at Honeywell today.

- Honeywell Electronic Mail Ad Circa 1977

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Spencer Tunick

spencer tunick

Brugge 2. 2005.

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Howard Shore - Crash


Listen to Howard Shore's Crash.

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gordon parks