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Beyond Smart (paulgraham.com)
695 points by razin 89 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 432 comments



I feel pg’s point is similar to musicians. As an example, Glenn Gould was a classical pianist and renowned Bach interpreter. He had awesome technical ability at the piano, and a fantastic memory. But lots of incredible pianists have these abilities. Go to any university or observe any competition and you’ll plainly see awesome talent. These qualities are analogous to “being smart”.

However, what set Gould apart from his colleagues was his innovative and iconoclastic interpretations of well-known works with “standard” prescriptions. He had fundamentally different, but wholly consistent, ideas about musical interpretation, recording technology, presentation of music to audiences, and so on. He’s remembered as a pianist not because his fingers were quick and sensitive, but instead because he pushed boundaries in completely original ways.

Leonard Bernstein—a noted conductor and pianist—quips about this when he conducted the Brahms Concerto in D minor, with Gould at the piano [1]. I recommend listening but I’ll copy his words (from [2]) for posterity.

> Don't be frightened. Mr. Gould is here. He will appear in a moment. I'm not, um, as you know, in the habit of speaking on any concert except the Thursday night previews, but a curious situation has arisen, which merits, I think, a word or two. You are about to hear a rather, shall we say, unorthodox performance of the Brahms D Minor Concerto, a performance distinctly different from any I've ever heard, or even dreamt of for that matter, in its remarkably broad tempi and its frequent departures from Brahms' dynamic indications. I cannot say I am in total agreement with Mr. Gould's conception and this raises the interesting question: "What am I doing conducting it?" I'm conducting it because Mr. Gould is so valid and serious an artist that I must take seriously anything he conceives in good faith and his conception is interesting enough so that I feel you should hear it, too.

> But the age old question still remains: "In a concerto, who is the boss; the soloist or the conductor?" The answer is, of course, sometimes one, sometimes the other, depending on the people involved. But almost always, the two manage to get together by persuasion or charm or even threats to achieve a unified performance. I have only once before in my life had to submit to a soloist's wholly new and incompatible concept and that was the last time I accompanied Mr. Gould. (The audience roared with laughter at this.) But, but this time the discrepancies between our views are so great that I feel I must make this small disclaimer. Then why, to repeat the question, am I conducting it? Why do I not make a minor scandal — get a substitute soloist, or let an assistant conduct? Because I am fascinated, glad to have the chance for a new look at this much-played work; Because, what's more, there are moments in Mr. Gould's performance that emerge with astonishing freshness and conviction. Thirdly, because we can all learn something from this extraordinary artist, who is a thinking performer, and finally because there is in music what Dimitri Mitropoulos used to call "the sportive element", that factor of curiosity, adventure, experiment, and I can assure you that it has been an adventure this week collaborating with Mr. Gould on this Brahms concerto and it's in this spirit of adventure that we now present it to you.

Because some took this as an attack on Gould, Bernstein followed up with the remark:

> Any discovery of Glenn's was welcomed by me because I worshiped the way he played: I admired his intellectual approach, his "guts" approach, his complete dedication to whatever he was doing.

Anyway, it’s an interesting parallel in the arts world. Jacob Collier is a musician of today that has similar qualities of “being smart with good ideas”.

[1] https://youtu.be/SvWPM783TOE

[2] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_Philharmonic_concer...


Jacob Collier is an interesting example because the general response I've seen to his music from music fans is that it is too "smart". It's impressive and novel to music academics (and apparently the Grammys) but hardly interesting to fans of the genres he favors (soul, pop, R&B). Common complaints being lack of emotion, lack of taste, poor songwriting, over production. But any negative review will also acknowledge that he's immensely talented and has massive potential.


That was my immediate impression of his music. It feels strangely cold and extremely "produced", especially when he has made stabs at jazz, a genre that is in many cases "music for musicians". For a genre that prizes free flowing interpretation and individual creativity alongside instrumental virtuosity, his jazz music comes out utterly sterile compared to other modern jazz musicians. The same goes for his soul music. Everything he does feels like an exercise in a genre rather than playing in it.

Compare his stuff to the work of Kamasi Washington, Mary Halvorson's groups, or Shabaka Hutchings, or Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, and you hear an enormous difference in the sheer craft of songwriting, emotional dynamics, and storytelling through their instruments.

He's clearly a virtuoso at a kind of playing the instrument, and he's extremely good at explaining music theory and concepts, which is a rather archaic and unique language all its own, but I don't think he's quite there yet for songwriting.


I don't disagree with you, but I'd like to make one small addendum that may go to explain why people might consider his music to feel overproduced. I believe that reason is his use of non-equal-temperament tuning.

For those unaccustomed to hearing pure intervals it can sound like a high-gloss "sheen" that gives an unreal quality to the music. In a way it becomes "too perfect" and unnatural to those who are used to hearing the equal temperament that most western music is recorded in. I hear it a lot in some acapella vocal groups and I often find the sound off-putting and it somehow feels a little corny to me.



I think that his use of Logic in particular is very relevant in this discussion, because not only it has excellent support for different temperaments, it also has Hermut tuning, which dynamically alters temperament of all the instruments played based on actual chords to reach perfect intervals regardless of the key you're in.


Logic Pro documentation link for Hermode Tuning: https://support.apple.com/guide/logicpro/hermode-tuning-lgcp...


Touché.

Still, his virtuosity allows him to do things that very few people are capable of conceiving, attempting, and doing. We're lucky to have him in the mix.


> That was my immediate impression of his music. It feels strangely cold and extremely "produced",

Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins is an example of someone who has both the talent and the taste for making great music in my opinion. There's a really old video of him shredding like a madman [1] completely off the dome which shows he has very good command of his guitar. He's not in the same sphere as Jacob Collier mind you but here me out. If you compare that video with the music he wrote in the pumpkins, it is very restrained. He knew when to exercise the full range of his skills and when to dial it back. Having learned a lot of pumpkins songs on guitar, it is clear to me that he favoured what sounded better and was more impactful over what appeared skillful.

There's another video of him in 2012 [2] where he talks about influential music coming from the internet and people in their desktop studios, not from guys with guitars trying to make it big. Beyond his talent he had a very keen eye for how music was evolving. Having talent is one thing, being able to contextualise your work, and others work accurately in the arena of the world is a quality that very few people possess and in my opinion is required for producing truly influential and impactful work.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hYPo2py77A

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4C7NCpfUC90


> he talks about influential music coming from the internet and people in their desktop studios, not from guys with guitars trying to make it big

That's a great clip. You might enjoy some of what people have been doing with their desktop studios and guitars in the last few years. Two that immediately come to mind are Tim Henson [1] (already pretty well-known in the guitar world as part of Polyphia) and Manuel Gardner-Fernandes [2].

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkHD4OVjS4E

2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLCtH0KAY8Q


I cannot leave a comment of bedroom producers go without a mention of judd madden.

Probably quite out there (doom/drone/stoner) for most people but his music has always struck me as incredibly from the heart and not some noodling to impress others.

https://juddmadden.bandcamp.com/album/float

https://juddmadden.bandcamp.com/album/artesian


Another person in the same vein: Tim Finn. Able to dial it back at will and to let it shine when needed.


> archaic and unique language

archaic or arcane?


Some of the words in music theory are just straight latin, or directly descendant from latin and old. A lot of people struggle with music theory until you "translate" it to using modern language (though you do lose some specificity in some cases). Like "ritardando", which is just "slow down", or accelerando, which is, you guessed it, "speed up".

You can also use arcane.


Italian, not Latin. Italian is the language of music. Italy used to be the capital of European music. That's where it comes from. I also wouldn't classify it as mere "theory". It's basic notation that appears in notes. Calling it "theory" is like calling control flow constructs in Pascal (the language) "theory".


It's called music theory though? I agree it's a bad name, but that's what it's called..


It is. This video argues it would be more accurate to call it the harmonic style of 18th century European musicians: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kr3quGh7pJA


I think most of it is Italian instead of Latin, including your two examples.


PG dismisses creativity, but IMO that's a mistake in an otherwise interesting essay. Creativity is the difference between someone who is merely smart and someone who originates ideas.

Collier is merely smart. He's very, very smart indeed. But in the domain of music, expressive originality is far more important.

And it can be created by people who aren't technically music-smart at all. It's a different skill to the kind of grammatical/technical smartness that someone like Collier has.

That's not a distraction at all. It's exactly the point - creativity is orthogonal to smartness, and it's poorly understood and even more poorly supported.

One of the interesting thing that happened in English pop (until it stopped being possible a decade or two ago) was that successful pop artists were more likely to have been through art school than music school.

The exemplar is Eno - who studied with Roy Ascott, who is probably one of the most unknown influential pioneers of computer art.

Eno has taste and a willingness to experiment across multiple domains. The rest almost falls into place.

IMO the combination of openness to experimentation and instinctual feel for rightness/wrongness to guide that experimentation is the foundation of useful creativity.

Art school - more than anywhere else - gives people permission to experiment. Taste can be partially taught, but you need an instinctive feel for it, and that's probably innate.

Someone like Collier doesn't score highly on either experimentation or taste. He scores very highly on musical competence and technical skill. But both are a kind of conformity - which is the opposite of real originality.

I assume where PG is going with this is the suggestion that some people can originate incredibly successful business ideas, and most people can't.

Which might be nice if it were true. But in a startup sense the opposite is more likely. You need a baseline of conformity to be in business at all. Truly creative types don't find the business world open enough to be interesting.

Success in business relies on having ideas that are original enough to be different, but not so original they're incomprehensibly challenging and difficult.

Market fit mostly happens near the middle of the bell curve - for whatever metric you're measuring - and that's not where the most creative people like to live.


Ok, I hadn't really explored Collier's music until I read so many people panning his work on this thread.

One youtube rabbit hole later, and I have to strongly disagree. These threads are littered with Phrases like 'Doesn't score highly on either experimentation or taste', 'lack of emotion'. 'Seems overly clever but not nice sounding'.

Sorry, I'm not sure whether this is people hating on someone outside of your camp or what, but I think they're missing the point.

The way Collier brings ideas from Jazz, Classical, Synth culture, EDM, R&B into a modern a cappella multimedia collage is experimental, creative and I find quite emotional.

Granted it's not the emotion in traditional, analogue music forms coming from the voicing of the instrument - it's from the arrangement, the sampling, even the ebb and flow of precision.

And where most of the modern Glee-style a cappella are sanitized, overly produced and pretty pap (I'm not a fan of the genre, but my kids are), he's really pushing the boundaries of that genre. In ways that, from the handful of examples I've listened to, sound quite successful.

In particular I really enjoyed his arrangements of Stevie Wonder.

The music gate-keepers have always levelled these same criticisms electronic compositions, especially if the the composers are young and popular.


I don't like criticizing anyone or trying to talk about "objective" qualities of art, but I don't agree with your portrayal.

I love electronic composers; I almost exclusively listen to avant-garde/experimental electronic compositions, personally. Most of the artists are quite young. I agree Collier is definitely very experimental.

I do not think he's very artistic or emotional and agree with the above comments that he's in the "intelligent/skilled but not creative" camp. I think he has a lot of potential, but his work just doesn't seem very musical to me, and I have absolutely no biases against experimental, "weird", electronic, or new stuff.


Don't get me wrong, I'd much rather listen to James Blake or Moreno Veloso than Collier.

I'm not saying you have to like his music. I am saying that anyone maintaining that his compositions are not artistic, creative or musical... well, perhaps someone's definitions of these words are being biased by their preferences.

I mean, to take one example, he's rearranged a classic R&B song in 9-part jazz harmonies rarely heard in the pop genre. He layers in samples from household sounds. He put all this together in an entertaining media format without losing the sensibilities of his genre nor letting it collapse into noise.

You could argue that this is not entirely novel, and this kind of composition has been happening in less popular genres for decades. I can see arguments against his taste. I do agree with an earlier comment that this might be too sophisticated for his pop audience.

But not creative? Not musical? Not artistic? You don't have to like his music to recognise that these words absolutely apply.

When I was a teen, I hated certain genres of music - for example 'new country' and the popular dance music styles of the late 80s. My disdain for whole categories of music was part of my identity.

This made it near impossible for teen me to recognise (or more to the truth, admit) that any of the artists labelled as part of those genres had any talent at all.

This lead to all sorts of silliness, like asserting that MJ had no talent, or insisting that Neil Young doesn't play country. Or just plain missing out on some of the brilliant moments of Willie Nelson's career.

You're right that art is subjective, and I'm quibbling over words that have no quantitative meaning. But seriously, credit where credit is due.


This is mostly a personal stance validated by the talking of some other artists and musicians, and only a weak rebuttal/addendum to your point: But I've long understood creativity as literally just creating. A lot. And publishing only what you deem worthy.

I'm friends with a clique of techno producers and they grind their music 24/7, they have an endless supply of ideas that they've produced,they're also heavily immersed in the music etc. They will publish some tracks twice a year, to the outside it obviously seems like they've had a moment of genius, but it's probably just 5% of their actual production. Another example is the documentary on marina abramovich, where she has a consultant telling her what art to actually publish. The artist Jonathan Meese has outlined a similar stance on a Tracks documentary where he just rambles for 5min to the effect of "create create create".

Obviously doing something a lot develops skill, but choosing what to publish is probably more a question of taste.

Jazz soloing is probably a good counterexample, but a lot of jazz solos aren't that remarkable and these people are at the top of their game so their worst is likely most peoples best?


>> IMO the combination of openness to experimentation and instinctual feel for rightness/wrongness to guide that experimentation is the foundation of useful creativity.

This statement strongly resonated with me, thank you for this.


Yeah, I would compare Jacob Collier to Snarky Puppey or Tigran Hamasayan.

All of them are virtuosic and are branching away from classical ideas of jazz, and Collier might even be the smartest of the group, but he can't write a song to save a life.

Snarky Puppey and Tigram have on the other hand, found a fresh niche for themselves that is similarly creative, but has the humility of adding the necessary sugar and milk to make their supremely creative and bitter music drink palatable to a listening audience.


I was thinking of Jacob Collier when reading GP's comment. It seems very clever, but I don't find it "nice-sounding".


The lady who cleans Willie Nelson's tour bus finds scraps of paper with lyrics which have more potential than most of what is actually published in Nashville by other artists over the same period of time.

And this is what he's throwing away.

It can be amazing what one individual can do sometimes.

>the trouble with intelligence, they say, is that it's mostly inborn. The evidence for this seems fairly convincing, especially considering that most of us don't want it to be true, and the evidence thus has to face a pretty stiff headwind.

I think this is very well put.

Could be even more trouble with bright illumination if it turns out to be inborn to different degrees too.

Then if you need both in excess the odds get pretty slim for a dual strike between such outliers.


>He’s remembered as a pianist not because his fingers were quick and sensitive, but instead because he pushed boundaries in completely original ways.

Or because a lot of this (even classical music) is pop culture, so he was quirky enough to establish a brand name, whereas others equally competent or even better didn't come with an assosicated story to sell them...


I think the quirkiness perhaps helped propel him to greater fame, and made his name "stick" more easily, but it's certainly not the reason he is famous or remembered. There are countless quirky no-names. He was of note more so because of his technical capacity and strong convictions for his unorthodox approach, which he voluminously described in writing, interviews, etc.


Do you have any personal favorite interviews? I frequently find that folks discussing their craft at a high level often illuminates opportunities for cross-disciplinary knowledge transfer.


Yes! I love his discussion about Bach and appropriate use of instruments here [1]. He also gets into why he chooses some tempos, what’s arbitrary and what’s not, where to seek consistency in interpretative choices, and so on. I adore this interview!

I also love his slightly hyperbolic hot take on why Mozart isn’t that good [2]. It’s hilarious, to me at least, hearing him roast Mozart then proceed to play his music beautifully.

[1] https://youtu.be/38VMAfSmL8Q

[2] https://youtu.be/1pR74rorRxs


It reminds me of Herb Alpert's re-imagining of Beatles songs. Alpert's albums were very popular in the 1960s, but are pretty much forgotten today.

I've bought all of his albums. The man is a genius in his trumpet arrangements.


You'll hear Herb Alpert's "Rise" live on today sampled (not trumpet, guitar) in Notorious B.I.G.'s "Hypnotize," with enduring appeal. I went to dig up the connection and it's a lot more interesting than I first suspected. "Rise" was actually composed by Herb's nephew, and the article goes into why the Alperts rejected many sampling requests before accepting Notorious.

https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/hip-hop/7709057/n...


Lady Fingers is one of the most beautiful things I've heard.


Of course, having the most famous album cover ever helps!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6U1JB7z-I8

A personal favorite of mine is The Trolley Song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_pCM8jzvtw

which is the same song as the one Judy Garland made famous, but Alpert's version is heavenly.

Before the intertoobs and CDs, I searched everywhere for that album (Herb Alpert's Ninth) for years, and finally found a brand new mint one in the cutout bin with the slot sliced in it. For $1. I couldn't believe my prize!

P.S. The yootoob version has poor sound quality. To hear how good Herb is with the trumpet, ya gotta get the CD.


> Before the intertoobs and CDs, I searched everywhere for that album (Herb Alpert's Ninth) for years, and finally found a brand new mint one in the cutout bin with the slot sliced in it. For $1. I couldn't believe my prize!

This cut-out practice is new to me, but a related one in the publishing/bookselling industry rang true. I learn a lot just by reading and reflecting on your comments. Thanks for posting this personal story.

I think we've lost a lot with the transition to digital, these kinds of bargain bins included, which is part of the reason I too love all kinds of secondhand stores and swap meets, etc.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stripped_book

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remaindered_book

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cut-out_(recording_industry)


I regularly troll pawn shops and thrift stores, you never know what you'll find there. For example, they usually have a bin full of vinyl. The staff pulls out any that are valuable, but what is valuable on the market has no relation to what I consider valuable. Jackie Gleason, for example, made many records that aren't available on CD. His stuff is great if you enjoy easy listening, old style.

A couple months back, the pawn shop had acquired what looked like an old DJ's 12 inch single collection from the 70s and 80s. $.50 per disk. I grabbed them all.


I’ve found that archive.org also has a large number of out of print vinyl.

What the market finds valuable is partially a signaling problem, as it is only loosely connected to any individual’s taste, and more connected to quick sales for record companies. The market as a whole can’t discover prices for products that individuals aren’t aware of and seeking out in the small window of first-sale. It’s not too different from the traditional VC investment strategy, now that I consider it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signalling_(economics)


I should also note that Bernstein was widely known to be a complete asshole.

I think this is partial confirmation of pg's observation that independence of thought is important for creativity: if you are both arrogant and independent, you have all the ingredients to be an asshole.

If arrogance is orthogonal to creativity, as I suspect, but independence of thought is not, then we would see a disproportionate number of assholes among those with new ideas.


This reminded me of Sergiu Celibidache, a revered and criticized conductor who had a different opinion about tempo on major classical works.

He viewed his performances more as "experiences" and certainly pushed the boundaries of the conventional style of playing classical music. I really like his renditions of Bruckner, and the ending for Symphony N4 probably best describes why [1]. He does not rush, letting the music sync in, undoubtedly different from the "right" version.

Not being afraid of criticism is an essential quality of people who discover new things. Smart people often get dragged into the "correct", "proper" way of thinking, doing science, playing music, drawing, or doing other creative work. This is the best way to learn, but unfortunately, you need to go on an unbeaten path that is often criticized and even ostracized to discover new things. The life of Van Gogh and many others is quite an example of that.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1YVdTI21rZQ


I like his interpretations! At the seeing that the discussion veered towards music here the first thing I thought was “Celibidache”.


> "What am I doing conducting it?" I'm conducting it because Mr. Gould is so valid and serious an artist that I must take seriously anything he conceives in good faith and his conception is interesting enough so that I feel you should hear it, too.

That is a VERY respectful point of view. I admire that so much.


More than respect; this is wisdom.


I’ve seen that video before but thank you for reproducing Bernstein’s words here. They bring great joy even in print.


Thanks a lot for this! I really appreciate it. Comments like this is why I really like HN.


Nice posting, thanks for that. I still cant really understand the hype around Gould and its goldberg interpretations. Yes, they are good. But no, they are far from the best I know. If you ever get the time and a recording, listen to Ragna Schirmer playing Goldberg. Her interpretation blows Gould's out of the water, IMO :-)


Gould is a sort of package deal. I like his Goldbergs but to see his “authentic self” I’d look at something a little kookier of his like his Alla Turca [1]. It will not be what you expect.

[1] https://youtu.be/eTZ33EVK3Ug


Another way to frame this topic: intelligence doesn't always lead to impact, and impact is what matters.

Example: I met a ton of trivia "nerds" through a friend a few years ago. They had all met at an Ivy League college, they were clearly "smart" in that they knew a lot of information and could follow a logical argument but somehow none of them were able to use their smarts for anything practical. They had jobs you didn't need to be that smart for, and their personal lives were sort of messy. I didn't really know what to make it them at the time, now I think they had the "smarts" but they didn't have the "drive" so their brains sort of did them no good.

Another example: Plenty of people are constantly frustrated that they are misunderstood. "I am so smart but I can't get anything done around here because everyone's an idiot." Some people go through their whole life believing this. Luckily I had a job that disabused me of this and taught me to communicate my ideas clearly and persuasively to others. But without that, without the ability to persuade people of your ideas, you might as well not have them.


> Another way to frame this topic: intelligence doesn't always lead to impact, and impact is what matters.

Impact is a great way of putting it. There are plenty of really smart and creative people who will never produce anything impactful in their life. Impact in my opinion is really all about time-sensitivity and sprinkling of genius. The impact may not even resonate fully with the public in the person's lifetime either. Nikola Tesla being a prime example of this. A lot of very incredible people tend to be VERY open to new ideas. John Dee comes to mind in particular. When he could find no more wisdom in science, he looked to the occult. Nikola Tesla I believe also was quite interested in the occult as well. While I wouldn't consider the occult "out there" by any stretch nowadays, it's a good example unorthodox ideas can come from.

> Plenty of people are constantly frustrated that they are misunderstood. "I am so smart but I can't get anything done around here because everyone's an idiot."

I've found that kind of thinking tends to be the reason why some of those people are misunderstood. When your frame for interacting with people is setup like that, it's not unreasonable to assume one would put up conversational barriers to confirm their own bias of "everyone's an idiot."


> it's not unreasonable to assume one would put up conversational barriers

Yes exactly and likewise people aren't likely to be clamoring to hear your genius ideas when you're treating them like idiots.


... which leaves one to wonder how smart someone really is, for missing something so obvious.


They understand that, they just don't want to pick up the Sisyphean task of trying to convince idiots. So instead they give up. Giving up doesn't mean that people stop complaining though, they know how to solve the problem but they don't want to do the work, it is called venting and most humans do it.


In that case I would question the smarts of someone who spends too much time focused on things they do not intend to change.

There comes a point where "raw" intelligence (if a real thing) must be tempered with the wisdom necessary to marry rubber and road, as it were. If you don't apply your staggeringly large intellect (/s?) to the problem of interfacing with other people, yet you persist putting yourself in situations where you must deal with that problem, what benefit has that intellect conferred?


You know, you sound like you are one of those people you describe yourself? Is that how you came to this realization?

Ask yourself, what is the goal with your current comment? And how does being snide achieve that goal? If the goal is to make fun of people and feel good about yourself, then you are doing a good job! And then you should understand how those people you describe feel, because they feel exactly as you feel now, wasting time making fun of things you have no intention or care to change or spread.

But if you want people to listen then you really need to get better at tempering what you say.


>They understand that, they just don't want to pick up the Sisyphean task of trying to convince idiots

I think that's a pretty bad attitude and it doesn't get anyone anywhere.

If I write Java code into my Python interpreter, I am not gonna say "dumb fucking Python can't understand what I mean" - I am gonna recognize that I am speaking the wrong language for the job.

Same if I am speaking to someone who "isn't as brilliant as I am" (or likely, has another set of priorities, context, focus, etc.) - I need to start with that reality, and then think about - how do I make this person care, how do I share with them what they need to understand, etc. There's a definite skill to this that is acquired with conscious practice and experience.

If you start off assuming that others aren't smart because they didn't connect to what you are so sure you explained so clearly, rather than questioning what is it about your explanation that didn't click with them, you're fucked.


There's also different types of "smarts". I think ability to memorise or generally know a lot is very different from noticing patterns or understanding of how things work and relate to each other.

Especially nowadays, there's Google, you don't need to memorise a lot as you can just check everything.

I think even Einstein said that "don't memorise what you can quickly check up" or had a similar sentiment.

Very often trivia kings and queens don't know how to apply that knowledge practically and a lot of knowledge has benefits just to appear intelligent to other people.

Also not to mention street smarts, emotional intelligence, leadership int and many other aspects.

What made Einstein special to me is his ability to imagine how things work together and then he and or his mind kept endlessly obsessing over it to reach further and further conclusions. Essentially trying to create a model of the world and or trying to simulate in mind whatever is happening and which can lead to greater insights of what is causing what.

I think true understanding is being able to imagine and predict how something works as opposed to memorising a lot of information about the thing.


> communicate my ideas clearly and persuasively to others

How do you get the ability to do this? I've been attending a book club with a small number of friends and even in these casual settings I wish I could communicate my ideas better.


I have found that asking others about their concerns helps me understand my own, and also helps build a rapport with the other, which itself helps your own confidence in your communication skills, and helps inculcate domain knowledge. The more you know where others stand on an issue, and why, helps you to draw parallels and distinctions with your own beliefs and positions on an issue. The rapport and conversational dynamics you explore help you tailor your message so that your words and feelings are heard and felt, even if not shared.

It's okay to say you have a point you don't know how to express. Talking around a topic is called beating around the bush colloquially, and in that common usage it's seen as wasting the listener's time if unwanted or unwarranted, but it serves an important function in itself. It's how you flush the ideas/birds out without upsetting/endangering yourself or others.

Believe in yourself, and in your ideas. You both are valid. Your earnestness in your desire to express yourself better is the social proof!

https://knowyourphrase.com/beating-around-the-bush

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_proof


> It's okay to say you have a point you don't know how to express. Talking around a topic is called beating around the bush colloquially, and in that common usage it's seen as wasting the listener's time if unwanted or unwarranted, but it serves an important function in itself

Agreed. When I do that, I call it out explicitly. I often say something like this in a meeting: "I haven't thought about how to articulate this too much, but I agree it's worth discussing. Mind if I 'talk at you' for a min and see where it gets us?"

I wouldn't ever call it "beating around the bush" because it creates the impression you're wasting time and that's not what you should want, but saying upfront "hey I am gonna consciously ramble a bit and we'll circle up on the synthesis" often buys you some runway to do that.


> I wouldn't ever call it "beating around the bush" because it creates the impression you're wasting time and that's not what you should want, but saying upfront "hey I am gonna consciously ramble a bit and we'll circle up on the synthesis" often buys you some runway to do that.

The link I posted about the etymology of the phrase is interesting for this very reason, as it’s a bit of a misnomer. Beating around the bush is safer than beating the bush itself, as you have to get that much closer to the unknown that may be lurking inside said bushes.


Yes but "who cares"? To 100% of the people you will be talking to, Beating Around the Bush has a negative connotation.


The act of conversationally beating around the bush need not have a negative connotation, however.


Thank you for your response, I think I'll bring this up at the next book club :)


listen, listen, listen. The biggest step I took towards being able to interface my ideas with others was to first listen to their ideas, problems, needs, whatever it is they wanted to talk about. You have to make what's important to them important to you before you can do it the other way around - and it's for a bunch of reasons. in attempting to empathize with them you'll have ideas about what they could be doing better to communicate to you (and not make the same mistakes when you're the one talking). You'll build trust in yourself by genuinely caring about their business, and you'll learn what's important to them, which is really the thing you're eventually going to try to plug your ideas into.

The magic sauce that makes this work, though, is being genuine. Do the emotional work to really give a damn about the other people around you; which is a lot harder than I think people give credit for, but monumentally more beneficial.


> How do you get the ability to do this? I've been attending a book club with a small number of friends and even in these casual settings I wish I could communicate my ideas better.

It's hard. And it depends on the people. With the most logical people, it's easiest for me, I just slow myself down and break down my argument into small pieces. Like in the book club, you may be tempted to say "I think the author's secret message is X" and people go "huh?" But if I go - "there's a line that says A.. do y'all remember this line?" - they say "yes" - "well, this line jumped out at me as weird, because of B. Do y'all agree that it's an unusual way to say it?" - "yup" - "so I was thinking, why is this weird to me, and I realized the only way B would be true is if C were true. Does that make sense to you guys" - "yup" - "ok, so if the author is saying C is true, I wonder if he is saying it to teach us X. Does that seem crazy?" "nope that makes sense"

Basically, you walk people from A to B to C and then the leap to X is clean and people can follow the whole chain. If you just say "it's X" they go "huh?"

The reason this is hard is because you yourself may not know why you decided X, and others may not reach that conclusion for a ton of different reasons. So forcing yourself to articulate your own logic to yourself is step 1, walking others through it is step 2.

A related thing is - in my experience, you can NEVER over-communicate. Like, it's tempting for me to skip A,B,C because I read them, I assume others read them and must have interpreted the same thing, so it feels condescending to start there, but in reality it's never a problem - people either say "yup, it's great to know we're seeing the same thing" or very often "actually, we missed that."

I hope this helps. That's just one type of scenario. All this gets harder when emotions or egos are involved, so dealing with that is hard.

Actually one more tip - the art of TLDR - people often make their point in a rambling way, surfacing a bunch of stuff that is confusing. More is not always better, but to be able to synthesize it all into a digestible narrative is really important if you want people to get it.


(TL;DR: learn to notice aesthetic; learn to acquire perspective; get out of your head.)

What's worked for me:

0. General advice

- No negative self-talk!

Find more constructive ways to communicate your ideas _even to yourself_. "I wish I could communicate my ideas better" -> "Here's an idea I felt I did not communicate well, this time, in this context. Why do I feel this way? How could I have presented myself better? (Where can I gain competence?)"

- Write and rubber ducky!

Writing and rubber ducking are methods for practicing the linguistic aspects of communication. While verbalizing to the duck, play with the timbre, cadence, tone, etc., of your voice. Record yourself and listen to it. Have problems finding material to verbalize? Pick a poem. Memorize it. Recite it. This is, in my opinion, the calisthenics of social practice.

- The person with the most developed opinion of you- is you!

"He who despises himself will still respect his skills as a despiser." ~ Nietzsche, "Beyond Good And Evil" (paraphrased, can't be arsed to cite it just now)

The Spotlight Effect: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spotlight_effect

_You_ might notice every failure of your communique, but then again: you have an ideal for your communique. A goal, a reason, a vision of how it ought to manifest. To everyone else, however, it's an utterance like any other. The ultimate measure of your effectiveness isn't how closely you manifest your idea, but how much of an impact (and of what kind) it has on the audience.

=== 1. Practice, practice, practice. ===

It's a skill, like any other; and like any other, you succeed to the level and quality of your training. If you want to "get better at talking to people," then go talk to people; if you want to "get better at talking to people, in a book club, with a small number of friends" then do that!

How to do the first (i.e., practice speaking to people)? Communication is both observational and "applicative," in that you apply yourself in the actual doing. This suggests a good path in itself: practice your observations and also practice the doing.

How to observe strangers? (in a socially-conscious way?) The easiest way is to be conscientious of your interactions. I got started by making mental notes, pushing myself to take note of the most simple and basic details. "Oh, her nails are purple;" "It's midday and he's wearing shorts;" "He has a GameStop tag on his keyring." The simpler you can break down a situation, the more data you have for a fuller analysis.

Of course, simply having data does not an analysis make. Even with a habit of conscientiousness, I found myself struggling to derive actionable insights. Why? Likely because I was leaning too heavily on poor tools to make my analyses. This was during a phase in my life where I was very concerned with reducing as much as I could to logical and rational principles, including my interactions with others. "Assuming that people's statements reflect their internal state, that their internal state is logically consistent, and further assuming that some particular data X is included in their analysis, I can reasonably conclude that (by their statement) they must internally position themselves thusly with regards to X." This is a good general example of my internal dialogue during this period; it was helpful in some ways, fatal in many others. I now believe that there is no decision funnel you can induce, explicitly or otherwise, which makes this line of thinking safe.

I've since abandoned this project of rationalizing, because a key assumption I made was that every healthy, moral, person must have a logically consistent internal state. Indeed, I considered logical consistency to be a prerequisite for any kind of morality. I now believe this foolish; whereas I previously considered Man to be the rational animal, I'm now of the opinion that Man is much closer to the aesthetic animal.

This was a key insight for me. It has directly led to the most socially productive period of my life (which I'm thankfully still enjoying).

What does 'the aesthetic animal' entail? That people are, at base, motivated by their sensibilities. I take the most basic statement of logic to be equation: "this is that;" more specifically- "this is this." I believe the most basic statement of aesthetic is: "this pleases some sensibility I have."

People reveal their sensibilities- their aesthetic- with their genuine smiles, their sincere fashions, their honest jokes. Take note of these; my analytical habit these days is to capture as much of someone's aesthetic as I can. Again, it starts with conscious conscientiousness and observation.

=== 2. Perspective, perspective, perspective ===

You are distinct from every other person. I like to keep myself in perspective with counting the number of "distinction points" by which I differ from another. My love for the Beatles is one such point; that I know Sgt. Peppers' Lonely Hearts Club Band by heart, but none of their other albums, is another. That I program, when and how I started, what I'm doing now (with which languages)- all of these, too, and even the breakfast I had.

Don't try to store all this state at all times; just develop a habit and method of counting, and apply it where appropriate. Of course, the method, the habit, the application, understanding in which contexts it's appropriate: all of these are skills, too!

This is how I attempt to understand the differences between my perspective and others. From there, I spend a lot of my downtime acquiring alternate perspectives. I find Nietzsche ("Beyond Good And Evil") helpful to this end. (NOTE: I explicitly disavow and condemn Nietzsche's misogyny.) "Tuesdays With Morrie" is indispensable, in my opinion; specifically, Morrie's advice to embrace emotions. All of them.

Allow yourself to be embroiled in your feelings, until it finds its natural conclusion. Then practice conjuring your emotions, and be conscientious with your emotions. Observe their onsets and evolutions- _not_ to rationalize them, but to explore your own sensibilities and aesthetic.

Once you've made a habit of these observations and conjurations, seek out stimuli that alter your perspective, and then practice your perspective. Imagine how your relation to that stimuli might change if you were elsewise distinct. Conjure the emotions that you feel inherent to that you-but-else, and explore them as your own.

I treat it like a game; to these ends, the methods of acting are instructive.

This helps me explore a wider, but still woefully limited, aesthetic space. That, in turn, helps my conscientiousness of aesthetic (of both mine and others). Further, with my method of distinction, it gives me a much richer insight into how I perceive the aesthetics of others.

=== 3. Accept your mistakes, acknowledge your success ===

The possibility of failure is a precondition of any endeavor. Unfortunately, social failures can be particularly impactful to certain dispositions. Social failure can mean embarrassment, self-doubt, stigmatization, and (perhaps worst of all) emotional fallout in others.

An anecdote: I decided, for a period, to exercise my sense of humor. I visited a male cousin of mine, shortly after he had taken a new wife. His lot in life had been unhappy til then, filled with struggles and poverty. My visit was on the heels of his release from a half-year prison sentence. Imagine my happy surprise when I approached his address, to find a rather generous estate! Great land, a beautiful home, healthy children... I said to them- he and his wife- "What great success! But, I have to ask: who died and left you this land?"

She meekly replied, "My ex-husband."

It took me a while to feel comfortable making jokes. I was absolutely mortified for months thereafter. The mortification is appropriate! But it's not reasonable, nor healthy, to avoid an entire category of expression over a mistake- even such a horrid mistake as that. Perhaps _especially_ even for such a mistake. Accept it, take the L, and be more conservative in those expressions for a time thereafter: but don't define yourself by your missteps.

Likewise, acknowledge tho successes you have. Ultimately, only you can define what success looks like, and your successes must be operationalized to the context- but cherish these memories. Meditate upon them. Try to embrace the graces that led to it, on your end and the audiences'; yet, at the same time, refute the desire to embody these graces. Do not define yourself by your successes, either.

Ultimately: get out of your head and learn to love the strangeness of your fellow humans :) we are all a unique vintage, some more delicious than others (and a few that spoiled on the vine) yet all worthy of at least one honest snifter.

=== Recommended Materials ===

Nietzsche (specifically, "Beyond Good and Evil" [again, I categorically disavow his misogyny.]) "Tuesdays With Morrie," Mitch Albom

=== The Extremely Unorthodox ===

I recommend psychedelics.

Talk to your doctor, your therapist, your spiritual mentor, the neighbors' dog- whomever can help ease your mind. If you have any doubts, don't do it! And, of course, responsibly indulge where legal and when you are safe.

I also recommend "escorts," of any gender.

Not for the sex, but because escorts are by-and-large social professionals. Perhaps the _most_ social professional. They are experts of aesthetic, masters of perspective. Pay their fees, reassure them that they need not disrobe, and just go off. Ask all those little questions that you usually dare not vocalize. They've experienced stranger. It helps you exercise failure modes in a significantly safer space. "Adult entertainers" and bartenders are also choice for this.


cybernautique, we can't contact you on your email listed on your profile {username} (at) bitsoflore (dot) net

Please contact us on morphle (at) ziggo (dot) nl


I've replied from a different email address. Please check your spam/junk folder!


>They had jobs you didn't need to be that smart for, and their personal lives were sort of messy.

One of the smartest people I know works in the building trade. He likes to save his mental energy for pursuits outside of work.


is his name will?


> Another way to frame this topic: intelligence doesn't always lead to impact, and impact is what matters.

Which leads to the example of my career, and the illustration of the two "tech worlds" that now exist. As a "programming engineer," I've written a lot of software tools for other engineers that have expanded the boundaries of what was possible to achieve in usual timeframes. I've (mostly) worked as a programmer in engineering departments, and once the word of these kinds of projects get out, they often get shut down or taken over by IT proper. This has happened either because MY management was psychopathic, or OTHER management was MORE psychopathic.

As a single full-stack developer, I've proven multiple times that I can launch a company-wide-impacting project at 100x the man-speed of a bog standard, outsourced, waterfall-managed IT project. I suspect embarrassment at this fact is why my projects have had such terrible luck politically. And this is my point: the human side -- the politics -- will always trump talent. If you don't "grease the wheels," you're going to have a bad time.

> Luckily I had a job that disabused me of this and taught me to communicate my ideas clearly and persuasively to others.

I have found it even worse than this. Despite clarity, people often hate feeling like you understand things at a level they will never. Sometimes, it's the clarity itself that puts people on their heels. Case in point: My boss and I just asked a group to add an API to get ONE PIECE of data from another, long-established, already-API-driven web site. After SEVERAL meetings about this, they finally came back with an implementation date TWO YEARS after we started asking. Another group on the other side of the world asked ME to implement an API in MY application, to get entire TABLES of information. I did it in 2 days. I cannot stress hard enough that management and other people hate, hate, HATE seeing this sort of discrepancy in ability. But what am I supposed to do? Delay my delivery by months just to make people feel better? Heck, maybe I should.

We nerds like to think that the tech world should be a meritocracy. On the internet of the 90's, it was. PG continues to live in a world where he can elevate insight above politics with money. Many, here, work in companies with proper technical tracks, which rewards insight handsomely. I don't (and won't move). And if you don't, you have to do yourself a favor and deal with that reality, and learn how to play the political game. It's the political game that will determine your impact, and "gate" your technical ability. It sucks to write that out, but it's a truism of the world.


I know a ton of smart people who get nothing done, not due to being surrounded by idiots but rather due to depression and anxiety(which anecdotally seems to hit harder when the person is smart for some reason).


Smart people are also very lazy. I've always been an underachiever and am just as happy writing emacs lisp to do cool things as I am to reengineering some mess at work. Still get paid the same amount. I do good work but I don't overextend myself. This is how i've avoided burning out after 30 years.


Sometimes the best way to persuade someone regarding an idea is to actually implement the idea without their knowledge and then present it to them for review.

We are talking about software, right? Only cost and liability around this is usually your time. I've only been scolded for writing a program a few times in my career.


"I am so smart but I can't get anything done around here because everyone's an idiot."

It's a thing. It's demoralizing to work with people who often make more than you do and are terrible at the craft and don't even look to improve. That along with obsessing about making me train "backups" in case I leave. I'm on my 4th backup now. They all left after I trained them.


Hamming (of Hamming codes) has a famous Bell Labs talk "You and Your Research", describing how to have a large impact. It covers a lot of the same ground, but in more detail:

https://www.cs.virginia.edu/~robins/YouAndYourResearch.html

A few points from it:

You've got to work on important problems.

How about having lots of `brains?' It sounds good. But great work is something else than mere brains.

The people who do great work with less ability but who are committed to it, get more done that those who have great skill and dabble in it.

The prepared mind sooner or later finds something important and does it. So yes, it is luck. The particular thing you do is luck, but that you do something is not.

One of the characteristics you see, and many people have it including great scientists, is that usually when they were young they had independent thoughts and had the courage to pursue them.


Of course. PG's kind of obsessed by this and even republished the talk on his own website, for some reason:

http://www.paulgraham.com/hamming.html


Lots of past threads, most recently

You and Your Research (1986) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28322153 - Aug 2021 (35 comments)

with links to the rest here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28323486


His book The Art of Doing Science and Engineering goes into some of this (and is just generally great): https://press.stripe.com/the-art-of-doing-science-and-engine...


Hamming is great in general. Some years ago, I picked up a copy of "Numerical Methods for Scientists and Engineers" for like $2 at a used book store. I had no idea who Hamming was, but it was cheap so I bought it.

After the first chapter I thought, "this guy is pretty sharp let's see what else he's written." That is when I found "You and Your Research".


All of Hamming's books are Great. Most are available from Dover Publications for cheap. In particular; checkout his

* Methods of Mathematics Applied to Calculus, Probability, and Statistics.

* The Art of Probability.


One of the relatively younger Bell Labs guys who experienced Hamming (in my memory it was either Ken Thompson or Kernighan) described in a public talk the way Hamming would approach young scientists and engineers in the cafeteria and harangue them if he deemed their current area of research non-world shaking, and therefore unworthy of their attention. It was a hilarious story because Hamming was described after a brief pause as a "curmudgeon" but one got the distinct impression Hamming's younger associates had other, more colorful words to describe him.


i think feynman's stance on "important problems" was a lot better: http://genius.cat-v.org/richard-feynman/writtings/letters/pr...


It seems to me that someone's ability to generate new ideas is at least in part driven by one's ability to make links between things that are not linked or very distantly so. It is at that intersection that novel ideas emerges.

To make it more concrete here's an example of my own.

I was playing the game Zelda Breath of The Wild and was in awe of the beautiful landscapes you could visit. However, I had already finished the game and did not want to have to fire up my Wii U every time just to see them.

This is when a novel idea emerged. What if I made a Google Map's Street Viewer for Zelda Breath of The Wild.

You can see here that I subsconsiously made a link between two very distant things a video game and Google Map's street view.

You can try it out for yourself here : https://nassimsoftware.github.io/zeldabotwstreetview (Do not use it if you're using cellular data because the panoramas are quite heavy)

The idea was well recieved and gathered the attention of many gaming journals just google zelda street view to see for yourself. Before making this project I also searched if someone had done the same but no one did. I therefore thought that I had something pretty novel so worth doing.

While my idea isn't groundbreaking in terms of science it demonstrate well the characteristics of a novel idea. (The intersection of different domains that seems to most distant.)

It seems that to be able to do those links you must have breadth of knowledge instead of depth however it's still a mystery how some people are able to do this more frequently then others.

Also here's a free idea : Make the same thing I did with Zelda but for other open world games.


That's really cool.

I suspect there are a lot of us here in particular who have 'unpopular opinions' in this domain that are more difficult to just try out, because others have invested in the idea of different domains being special and thus not conducive to fusion as in your example, or borrowing ideas whole cloth.

I have, for instance, some opinions on how skills from personal finance cross a whole host of problem domains. Some are obvious, but performance analysis is not typically one of them and people look at me like I have horns on my head when I bring it up. They have few complaints about the outcomes of me applying those theories, as long as they don't have to hear about them. So I mostly just don't ask permission, and save theory crafting for talk over beers when people start pulling out their crackpot ideas to keep the conversation flowing.

It's really no wonder at all to me why so many of milestones in The Enlightenment started over coffee. Caffeine is not as good a social lubricant but it'll do in a pinch and has fewer negative side effects on cognition and - importantly - memory. Last night's epiphany is mostly inaccessible to the drunk.


I'd love to hear them if you've got them.

The one I worked out was "Agile is just budgeting, but for time instead of money".


Brian Josephson received his nobel prize for a discovery he made at age 22 while being a PhD student. The accompanying paper is just two pages long [1]. Without diminishing his achievement I'd wager that thousands of bright PhD students could've come up with the same solution given the right circumstances.

I no longer work in academia but what I observed when spending time in top-tier research groups is that it's at least as important where you work as how smart you are. You can be the most gifted researcher but if you work in a backwater university in a third-world country your chances of being noticed or doing well-recognized work are very dim. On the other hand, if you're a smart person working in a top-tier environment your chance of doing noteworthy work are much higher.

Now of course smart people will usually find ways to get into better environments, but from my experience there's still a lot of elitism involved. For example, where I did my PhD in France almost all fellow PhD students in my group had parents that were high-ranking scientists, some of them leading research institutes. I always thought that it would be extremely unlikely to observe such a concentration if the selection process was really unbiased. Not saying my colleagues weren't gifted, but of course they had a lot of advantages as compared to gifted students from poor families as their parents knew exactly what to do to get them into the elite programs (in France you have to prepare for this for many years, starting with picking the right school for your children). So being in the right place and having the right pedigree is still a huge factor for getting a good shot at being really successful.

[1]: http://hacol13.physik.uni-freiburg.de/fp/Versuche/FP1/FP1-11...


> where I did my PhD in France almost all fellow PhD students in my group had parents that were high-ranking scientists

You'll see this across all professional areas in the world. Medical students overindex on parents being doctors, law students on parents being lawyers. Heck, even young 10-year-old motorcycle racers at your local mini moto track almost all have a Dad back in the pit who is wrenching on their bikes and who comes from a moto background. It's literally everywhere you look.

The reality is that most of us can be successful in several different professional paths, and that we'll often choose the path that we're most familiar with from our upbringing.

On that note, whenever I meet someone who successfully broke their "family mold," I appreciate their success that much more.


This is partially why I decided not to go the PhD-> try to become a professor route. It really is an incestuous community these days. I also noticed that a very large portion of the people at the “top” of the pipeline into academia have connections to academia in the US (eg a parent professor) who can help them get or navigate getting a lot of these early “prestige” markers. If you don’t have that, even if you’re just as smart, you’ll have a hard time breaking in.

For example a lot of those kids will start doing “research” in HS, obviously in 99% of cases very closely directed by their mentor, who may be a parent. This gets them those fancy “17 year creates clean drinking water for $0.002/L” news coverage and possibly helps them win a nationally recognized science fair. Then they can also get tutored for Olympiads - unless you have a Von Neumann level intelligence you basically need a lot of special studying to be able to get far in those. Then they get into accelerated programs with local universities with the help of their parents, obviously get into whatever college they want, get the best research opportunities starting freshman year, and it continues to snowball from there.

Not saying this system doesn’t make great scientists, or that the people who benefit from it aren’t smart or qualified. Just, ultimately there are only so many professorships to go around, so good luck becoming a professor in STEM at an acclaimed R1 university without this kind of pipelining, even if you’re just as smart.


This may be off-topic, but it's incredible how Brian Josephson went off the rails with his paranormal quantum theories.

A fascinating read: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobel_disease

The list is full of people who are obviously 'smart' in some way, but somehow also incredibly full of bad ideas. It's possible that being insightful also requires you to have bad ideas as well - as if they're fountains of ideas, good and bad.

Crucially though, these Nobel Laureates possess a lack of critical thinking to filter out the bad ideas (that are often outside their field of expertise). They're definitely not unique among scientists.


I think this happens for the same reason they win their Nobel in the first place: to just go wherever their curiosity takes them, without having a pre-conceived notion about whether that is good or bad. If you open fifty thousand ugly oysters you're sure to find some gems, maybe even a priceless one. But you're also going to find a lot of junk. So you are likely on to something there, and the lack of a filter is definitely an issue.

You see this in other fields as well: at some point having an opinion is about name recognition. If you are some unknown person and you have a bullshit opinion about something the world will ignore you. But if you're a Nobel prize winner, and actor or media personality, a well known athlete, a business person or a venture capitalist with a lot of money then people will pay attention to what you say and will treat it with both more weight than they would otherwise and they will burn you down far worse than would ever happen compared to an unknown person.

The Dutch have a proverb about this (we have proverbs for everything, so this should be no surprise), that roughly translates as 'tall trees catch a lot of wind'.


>I think this happens for the same reason they win their Nobel in the first place

You are absolutely right. As they say There is a Thin Line Between Genius and Insanity. The very intensity of their out-of-the-box thinking which got them the Nobel prize in the first place is also what makes them prone to go off in many other directions without regard to Social Standing, Ethics and Morality.

IMO, this is not a fault but Genius applied to the wrong beliefs/ends which does not invalidate any of their other achievements. I will take the Genius with all their faults over the Common Average any-day.

PS: Relevant two-part article - https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-hidden-habits-ge...


> Examples Of Otherwise Good Scientists Who Were Consumed By Their Pet Theories Despite Weak/Contradictory Evidence?

https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/aoh607/exam...


Interesting, I had not heard of that. For an older example, Isaac Newton spent most of his life researching alchemy.


Same problem in industry. It often matters more that you have $prestigious_school or $prestigious_company on your resume than how smart or hard working you are. Not to mention having the "right" people in your network or the right parents. I wish we wouldn't attach so much signal to these vanity attributes.


There's probably a way to make money exploiting this.

For example, develop a hiring process to hire smart people with non prestigious backgrounds.

Similarly, I read once that ugly people pay higher interest rates on loans despite being more likely to repay them.

That's a golden opportunity if I ever saw one, legal regulations permitting.


> Similarly, I read once that ugly people pay higher interest rates on loans despite being more likely to repay them.

Tinder loansharking.

"Hey there. It looks like Saturday night will be another lonely one since nobody is attracted to your ugly mug. But here's good news: you've been pre-approved for a $20,000 loan at a special introductory rate of 40% APR!"


Being even a little clever—and that's the best I can claim—is living life on easy mode. It's so great. Once I realized that the other people in the room weren't not-saying the obvious thing because they'd already dismissed it for some reason I couldn't see, but because it wasn't obvious to them, it was like I unlocked a superpower. God, it's so wonderful. I half-ass my way through everything and get well-rewarded for it. Praise, money, recommendations. There is no chance I could do that without this (again, quite mild, I cannot emphasize enough that I'm not even all that smart) gift, the credit for which mostly goes to sheer chance and lucky circumstances.

> I grew up thinking that being smart was the thing most to be desired. Perhaps you did too. But I bet it's not what you really want. Imagine you had a choice between being really smart but discovering nothing new, and being less smart but discovering lots of new ideas. Surely you'd take the latter.

Shit no, because the whole rest of the time I'm not coming up with those handful of new ideas, I'm less-smart. Reading is harder. Math is harder. Learning anything new is harder. Following complex conversations is harder. Picking out subtext, allusions, et c., in all media, is harder. Keeping up with, let alone constructively challenging, my smarter-than-me kids is harder. I'd hesitate to take that deal even if the ideas themselves made me rich enough I wouldn't need to work again. I might take it, but I'd have to give it a good think. It'd radically change the entire way I relate to the world.


I would say I have the opposite experience on being only a bit clever.

Being not smart at all usually also means you are ignorant to what you don't know, that life has its merits, Repetitive jobs don't bore you, and happiness comes from simpler joys in life. I wouldn't mind living that way at all.

Being very smart means none of the stuff you mention is hard. Math comes naturally, Crazy smart people need to put no effort to understand complex topics, while their happiness is typically in esoteric goals or breakthrough research, most people don't understand anything of what they do, so either society is sympathetic to challenges or oblivious to what they do. Financially/Socially once they have a safe academic job, the difference of success/failure is not visible to most regular people, even if they win a field's medal or Noble prize most people hardly understand it.

Being a bit clever is the worst of the lot, you understand enough to know how much you don't really know. Constantly you are making decisions basis what you know is poor understanding. Math, subtext, knowledge is all hard, but doesn't look so hard you will completely give up or blissfully don't know it exists.

Social peer groups keep missing that intelligence can be pretty scaled, we can perceive that someone is smarter than us but not by how much. Everyone one assumes there is just one level above them, equivalent to crazy smart. We are therefore accorded with the praise, money and recommendations and also responsibilities of being perceived crazy smart.

I would happily trade to being exactly perceived as I am or less and forgo all the money and praise if I didn't also be saddled with expectations of coming up with solutions all the time.


So much this...

I'm one of eleven kids- I was the 'smart one' and what an absolute drag that title was and is. The title still sticks despite having a brother with multiple award winning plays, another brother being a successful serial entrepreneur, and sisters with published books.

I've watched them succeed while I didn't finish college due to ADHD driving me to distraction. Luckily I have the computer skills requisite to be a successful network architect- but I'm quite aware I could have been a surgeon, a constitutional lawyer, a good to great political commentator or a quant if I had that next bit of mental concentration and memory.

I'm very aware of that gap and it grinds in the gears pretty continually now that I'm older and firmly entrenched in a career- what a bit of ADHD meds at the right time in my life would have meant to allow that potential to be unlocked. To see those I was on the debate team with or in the same book clubs or Latin class being able to step up to the next level and build fairly continually rather than fighting against their mental shortcomings.

But really, in the end, I still have that bit more access to curiosity and the deeper things that come with that curiosity- I was commenting to my daughters in the car the other day that the acceleration they felt in the car pushing them back in their seats was functionally equivalent to gravity. That they are constantly accelerating towards the earth, which is what keeps them connected to the ground. That kind of thinking, though in many ways generic and obvious, is probably not a thing any of my siblings would say and an important part of how I think and approach the world- and not something I would trade to step down into for a bit more oblivious contentment.


> I've watched them succeed while I didn't finish college due to ADHD driving me to distraction. Luckily I have the computer skills requisite to be a successful network architect- but I'm quite aware I could have been a surgeon, a constitutional lawyer, a good to great political commentator or a quant if I had that next bit of mental concentration and memory.

Welcome to the party, pal :-)

I still think it's a hell of a lot better than being not smart and saddled with those problems, as guilty as I sometimes feel for not "living up to my potential". I'd probably be homeless or barely making ends meet while bouncing between minimum wage jobs, instead of living really well with shockingly little effort. My deficiencies are very frustrating and trigger lots of negative rumination when I think about what might have been if I'd had just the right person take notice early on and intervene in just the right ways—until I remind myself how much worse it could be, which is a whole damn lot worse.

> I'm one of eleven kids- I was the 'smart one' and what an absolute drag that title was and is. The title still sticks despite having a brother with multiple award winning plays, another brother being a successful serial entrepreneur, and sisters with published books.

Ah, a member of Salinger's Glass family, I see. ;-)


I have as many (or more) siblings as you, and adhd. I got meds somewhere not too far before my thirtieth birthday. That is now well above 10 years ago and yes, it has meant a lot.

And yes, being singled out for being smart, I know that too.

This is the first time I'm this specific about my background here but I thought you would like to know at least one other person here knows a little bit of what it feels like.

Good luck going forward!


There's only a very small number of exceptional people who are so smart that they just understand everything without effort. Terry Tao comes to mind. Everybody else has to pick and choose what they understand, most "very smart" people are still only very smart within a certain domain.

This is more of a reflection of the richness of our world rather than the limitations of the human mind.

In Ancient Greece, it was possible for polymaths to exist, people who could contribute to the many disciplines that existed then. Then, Poincare has the title of "the last universalist" because of his contributions to many areas of mathematics. Now, no such generalist can exist, everything requires specialisation. But that is a good thing. It means that human knowledge is incredibly rich.


Depends on how you see it .

Yes you are right in sense that, in the ancient the number of educated people -> scholars -> professionals who could dedicate the life to research was small. It was far easier (easier than today not easy itself) to be able to dabble in many topics. [1] [2]

As you say much of what can be researched by a general philosopher who dabbles in many fields is already done, today to go further in any one field you will need to dedicate your life to it in mathematics or physics or other older fields of research.

That does not mean there are less generalists today. There are plenty of generalists in younger/newer fields like it was in math or physics back in those days .

Generalist scientists like Dr Lovelock was possible in the 60s. Generalist computer scientists was common till not that long ago. Generalist programmers were(are) there when I started in the industry, today to hire proper "full stack" developer is getting harder!

Point is generalists or specialization is always there, just the fields where it can happen keep changing.

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[1] We have to remember many of them were also institutions which they were only the head of, rather than only individual contributors, so attribution could be more to their school than them necessarily individually.

[2] A lot of the early work by ancient scholars was more documentation and formalization of somewhat known items than discovery or invention in the modern sense


>Being not smart at all usually also means you are ignorant to what you don't know, that life has its merits, Repetitive jobs don't bore you, and happiness comes from simpler joys in life. I wouldn't mind living that way at all.

You're mixing up all kinds of unrelated things here. As does PG. Whats smartness? Going by Joscha Bach, it's the ability to reach your goals, as opposed to intelligence, your ability to make models. Wether repetitive work bores you isn't a matter of intelligence or smartness, however it does correlate significantly with cognitive functions (Jung).

The then following paragraph seems projective to me, generalizations are just all over the place; thats just not how it works, neither from a neuro- nor from a psychological perspective. It doesn't matter wether you're intellectual middle or high brow, you will always be an idiot because you'll always be residing in a brain, being bound to its constraints of focus and attention. the notion of absolute intelligence that you imply when relating to "being a bit clever is the worst of the lot" seems off to me.

>I would happily trade to being exactly perceived as I am or less and forgo all the money and praise if I didn't also be saddled with expectations of coming up with solutions all the time.

You're contradicting yourself: first you say that the general population doesn't get what being smart implies, and then you say that the general population expects you to deliver on what being smart implies

Sorry if this came off hostile, it wasn't meant so in any way. I just can't relate to these absolute notions and would strongly suggest you to read into psychology and neuroscience


You lost me at the last sentence. (Jk, actually at Joscha Bach). The thing is, there is no consensus on what intelligence or smartness or any concept adjacent is. The layman notion is indeed wrong. But reading psychology and neuroscience will only put you deeper into this misery, as the theories proposed have shaky foundations and contradict each other.

I guess that the brain being a complex system there might not be one or multiple attributes of intelligence; just different behaviours.


> I guess that the brain being a complex system there might not be one or multiple attributes of intelligence; just different behaviours

I just ordered “Society of Mind” by Minsky. I spent some time this year working on multi agent simulations, then started wondering about the individual as really an apartment building of agents, and then started looking for the prior art, and found that book. This will probably be a dead end like so many before but that’s the current thread I’m on in my understanding of the complex system that is the brain.


I don't think anything you said is hostile. Perhaps I should have redrafted it better given that nature of of topic, I should have expected to be misunderstood a bit.

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Firstly Caveat Lector: Yes generalization is a natural hazard of this topic and I am guilty as everyone else on this thread, we(and PG) are drawing conclusions basis anecdotal personal experiences and generalizing that obviously may not hold. Perhaps I should have called out explicitly, I assumed that is already implicitly clear in this topic. Everything I say[1] in this kind of topic is almost always a opinion or a best a theory.

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The scale to me[2]: Not being smart[3] means everyone assumes you are their level or below them. A "little bit smart" means when some(many) people assume you know better than them. Crazy smart is people I cannot understand and are way smarter than I am.

I am not saying general population, I am saying it is difficult to comprehend how much smarter[2] anyone else for any person independent of their own personal levels that is by kind of basic limitation of not being as smart as them, if you could understand the gap you would probably as smart as well. It doesn't matter if the first person is super smart already and other person is even smarter. This has an effect that people inherently under or overestimate[4] what the other person is capable of, that is what am alluding to.

I don't have a knowledge on neuroscience to comment on that, however I absolutely do not have any interest in reading anymore psychology or debate with amateurs / professionals on it, my experience[5] interacting with the field : it is filled with pseudo-science (Yes including big names like Jung), every conventional term has always has different professional meaning which layman are expected to know fluently to discuss anything related, evidence/studies for many widely held theories is usually small sampled studies and typically math is at best basic linear regression models conflating correlation and causation .

Psychology and Economics are two fields I consider a lot of waste of time trying to study for non professionals [6], Metaphysics or philosophy at least is fully abstract( like Math?), this mixing of reality with pretty weak science[7] makes a pretty bad combination. I understand that may makes me ignorant in some eyes. Sadly a lot of economic and workplace policy is determined by influential schools of thought in both fields, as everybody is affected by policy everyone has(should have) a opinion .

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P.S. I didn't intend come across as aggressive/harsh or snide, but trying to be specific can come across has not being polite and snide, I am not that a gifted a writer(and English is not my first language) to write the same intent and make it sound better, apologies if it did not come out well.

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[1] For that matter anyone else says including professionals, I can only claim for myself though.

[2] This may not apply to others, I am not a professional to be able to generalize it, I am just sharing my anecdotal version.

[3] Smart here and all other terms I am using is common sense definitions, kind of similar to "I will know it when I see it" obscenity definition by Potter in the Roth test. I don't have any expertise or interest in framing in formal narrow terms [4] In my experience

[5] I can only talk about my personal experience, all of these are generalizations, am sure will have dozens of exceptions or completely opposite view points backed with solid evidence. It is statement of opinion not fact.

[6] You( and the world) may a different opinion on this, I am not stating it as what everyone should also see it as, just how I see it, and I am fine not holding a consensus view

[7] In my view


> Repetitive jobs don't bore you, and happiness comes from simpler joys in life. I wouldn't mind living that way at all.

As much as I sometime would want to be the cat that I owned, I enjoy much more about actually understanding the world around me (physically).

Still bound to flesh and dopamine for happiness, but it's about the best deal we have on Earth right now.


Sheesh this feels familiar. I always feel just a step under the folks I talk to who are smart, always missing something.


I feel similarly having grown up near a computer when I was young. I can't imagine had I grown up busy farming and raising siblings and then children in my 20s I would have been able to accomplish anything at all. Or the fact that I got a rare fever from a tick as a child only a few years after an antidote was invented. The _vast_ majority of the pi-chart other than intelligence is luck.


Don't underestimate ones ability to adapt and change their circumstances. I am a sample size of one, but I grew up busy farming and raising siblings. It is true that I was exposed to computers in the 80s, but didn't own one. In my mid-twenties I was able to re-orient my life, fail and succeed at startups, work at Be, Eazel, Apple, Amazon and more.

I have spent the last couple of years teaching adults whose backgrounds are filled with shocking adversity to think like programmers, build new careers and improve their lives. I am constantly amazed.

Modern medicine is miraculous. There is no doubt a vast amount of human potential has been saved from oblivion.


> I can't imagine had I grown up busy farming and raising siblings and then children in my 20s I would have been able to accomplish anything at all.

This really depends how you frame 'accomplishment', which is very much up to you. I think that successfully raising children who can successfully raise children is in and of itself an accomplishment; forming a family and keeping it intact through your inevitable troubles, working the land and producing enough excess food to earn everything else you need... our culture would be better if we actually viewed such people as 'accomplished' instead of pretending that being a C-suite officer of some SaaS b2b griftware is inherently of more value to anyone, anywhere.


I mean, intelligence is also luck. And (as much as people hate this), so is conscientiousness. At some point we have to acknowledge that dividing things into luck and not-luck is incoherent, and that we should use more useful axes.


We're competing with each other via billions of years of selection - there are major advantages if you're smart (and if you're pretty). You can also add the quality PG is talking about here which requires some amount of smartness as a prereq (curiosity?). I'm not sure how much it can really be cultivated above baseline, but it'd be interesting to know more. I'd guess there are some strategies, but a lot may still be tied to your inborn stats.

I'd argue we should strive for a society where the suffering you're exposed to if you're unlucky enough to be in the bottom quartile is bounded, while still allowing for the top to be unbounded in pushing humanity forward. Accepting there's natural variance here is part of that.

We're not all the same, things aren't fair. We shouldn't ignore that or pretend otherwise, but we also shouldn't think that means those dealt a bad genetic hand need to be totally screwed in our society (imo) and it doesn't mean you need to handicap the outliers on the other side in some Bergeron like pursuit of 'fairness' [0].

[0]: http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/harrison.html

Also related on the prettiness bit, this short story is good: https://waldyrious.neocities.org/ted_chiang/liking-what-you-...


> I'd argue we should strive for a society where the suffering you're exposed to if you're unlucky enough to be in the bottom quartile is bounded, while still allowing for the top to be unbounded in pushing humanity forward.

FWIW, being unbounded in pushing humanity forward is different from being unbounded in pushing your individual wealth up, so those aren't really two sides of the same topic.

Or perhaps you really meant something different from what you wrote, because what you really meant doesn't sound so nice.

I'll second the recommendation of the Ted Chiang short story, it's well worth a read.


They're often related (look at Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, etc.) - I think it's good that the upper quartile creates new wealth (usually through reinvesting and building stuff). I think it's reasonable to try to structure things so that wealth doesn't give too much outsized political influence (easier said than done).

Allowing the incentives of unbounded wealth creation at the top is desirable imo.


If the upperbound is unlimited doesn't the lower bound essentially converge to zero? Imagine the upper strata (literally and figuratively) in flying cars and flying restaurants. The simple farm house would now seem like a desolate situation. Or would it?


On the spectrum of possible intelligence human variance is small so in practice this isn't really an issue.

Though what you’re touching on is why misaligned AGI is an e-risk.


In our current context, selectively there are disadvantages if you are smart.


I think it should be split into two graphs, practical and moral.

Practically, we all have to pretend we have free will. Hard work, diligence and deferment of the present for the future should be encouraged.

Morally, we shouldn't judge people who struggle with the above. "There but for the grace of god go I", etc etc. Society should try to be kind to all, resources permitting.


> "There but for the grace of god go I"

I love this sentiment, and it's one of a few I try to keep at the ready. I think it's underrated, as simple lanes to guide one's thinking go. I'm all-around much better, including more content, FWIW, when successfully holding that lane in-place.

I mean, yeah, it's basically just one of the key heuristics of practicing Stoicism, plus a hundred other practical ethical frameworks and religions, but I think the particular framing & phrasing is especially apt.


Kindness does indeed seem to be lacking. I constantly remind myself that all work is noble and aspire to extend empathy, compassion and sympathy to others.


Thank you for doing that.

I try to do the same. :)


The kids I grew up with in High School that attended the "Gifted And Talented" courses didn't really end up topping the gene pool after I met them at our 20 year reunion. The girl from our year book voted "most likely to succeed", did not meet her goals of being president, and probably may never do so... She actually had some rough life experiences like me too since then... I no longer have childhood goals of exceptionalism as a desire, nor the right social and political positioning for the role, not the right contacts or money. I just want to be happy and live on a tropical beach with a good wife and good kids without money problems to be honest.

Exceptionalism in this world is indeed luck, especially when you consider that there are almost 7 billion other people on this planet besides us, and limited world resources to share amongst us all...

To think that any one individual reached a point of higher talent or intelligence than everyone else is a total consumerism-driven lie. Movies and TV create celebrities because it drives profit and merchandise, not because they really feel the actors they back are unique and worthy. We find out often the people branded as "exceptional" suffer greatly for it very often because they gain popularity and consequently can't live up to the standards portrayed of them.

The biggest lie we can tell ourselves is that we're exceptional beyond everyone or anyone else, physically, spiritually, mentally, or in any other way. Somehow there's an ever present ideal pushed by Gyms, Churches, Psychologists, News Media, TV, and Movies that exceptionalism can exist, but it's simply not sustainable for any individual, and there's a pile of discarded celebrities down the hill by the river in Hollywood to prove it...

Once we're humble in life, and we realize that opportunity, paying attention, learning things, proper positioning, luck, and circumstance are what grant us the most potential for success -- It's the actions that we take to seize opportunities, THOSE ACTIONS WE TAKE are what set us apart from others who may be hesitant, not ready for, and/or unaware of and to the present opportunity.

When we reach points of success, it's important to remind ourselves of others and their situations and to not look down upon them, and to help others to succeed as much as possible in order to not feel isolated in ego and self praise.

I may sound like the Dali Lama here, but fighting against our own internal ego in a world like this one is a constant battle, so I work hard every day to keep everything in this kind of context in my own life, and I'm not perfect just like everyone else. Whenever I'm driving my car out in public though, everyone's a "frickin' idiot", that will never change... :P


> Shit no, because the whole rest of the time I'm not coming up with those handful of new ideas, I'm less-smart.

For better or worse, I am such a person: good at generating ideas and product vision, merely competent at technical execution. Put another way, my verbal iq and empathy (if that can be measured) are much stronger than my analytical iq, as confirmed by essentially every standardized test I’ve ever taken. As a result, I function and process information differently than a lot of my engineer peers. Some things are obviously harder for me, which can be painful and embarrassing, but as a rule I’m involved in lots of interesting discussions and design sessions and tend to be a de facto product manager. It’s just different, a trade off in mental styles.


I'm more of an analytical person myself, and my non-technical co-founder at our startup is much like you described yourself. I built the tech in the early days (today I mostly manage the tech team). He was the sales person and used his impressive communication skills to win our first key accounts. One thing that he though me long ago is that there are several types of intelligence. It's not linear. People usually assume the analytical type of intelligence is the true type of intelligence. I find that to be inaccurate.


> Being even a little clever—and that's the best I can claim—is living life on easy mode.

Doesn't even compare to being tall and good looking.


> > Surely you'd take the latter.

> Shit no, because the whole rest of the time I'm not coming up with those handful of new ideas, I'm less-smart.

For lack of a better metric, how many IQ points would you be willing to trade per new idea? It feels likely that environmental factors and luck have a much higher impact on happiness and other outcomes for individuals within whatever defines the "high intelligence" or "slightly gifted range". I'd probably make the "less smart" trade for 1-2 novel/high quality ideas since you're basically guaranteeing one or two high rolls. I doubt a 1-2% bump in intelligence would outweigh the benefits.

I'm making lots of assumptions here around being able to successfully act on new ideas and that intelligence has marginal gains once you're locked into above-average-but-not-top quantiles.


> For lack of a better metric, how many IQ points would you be willing to trade per new idea? It feels likely that environmental factors and luck have a much higher impact on happiness and other outcomes for individuals within whatever defines the "high intelligence" or "slightly gifted range". I'd probably make the "less smart" trade for 1-2 novel/high quality ideas since you're basically guaranteeing one or two high rolls. I doubt a 1-2% bump in intelligence would outweigh the benefits.

For one that'd make me at least somewhat rich? Maybe one or two. But I have a feeling I'd end up regretting even that, worrying "would I have gotten this idea I'm not getting, if I hadn't made that trade?", or if a loss of interest in something is because I'm now slightly dumber, or whatever, every day, for the entire rest of my life. Aging-related brain changes are already terrifying, without helping them along.


My sister and I were just talking about this. We'd been coming to realize independently how much faster we think than average people. We didn't realize it growing up, since we went to gifted schools our whole lives (public schools we tested into, not private) and everybody was bright there. Living life outside of the gifted bubble has given us perspective on how lucky we were to born this way.


Perhaps we should question the assumption that some people are conciously thinking at all.

Being bored out of my mind in grade school and unable to read anything else during that time just led to a lot of day dreaming and not “productive” or directed thinking. What do people bored out their minds at work/life think about?


They think about the short term, an end result rather than how to get there. That's one constant that will persist through time with "less than smart" people.


> What do people bored out their minds at work/life think about?

Host: What's the most complex thing you do in your kitchen?

David Mitchel: thinks for a fraction of a second Worry about death.


Why do you think thinking fast is more important than thinking slowly?


It makes life easier. E.G.

- Someone is explaining a concept.

- We get it in a few seconds, can come up connections, next steps, implications, etc.

- Other people need to have it explained longer, or miss the main point, or don't see how it connects to other pertinent things.

You can see how that would make life easier, and make you more effective at a variety of real time tasks.


Yup, but this always made school so fucking boring for me. Get it the 5 first minutes the teacher explains, spend 55 other minutes wandering in your mind about other stuff while the teacher proceeds to drill it into your peers memory repeating it ad-nauseaum until they sing it like fucking gospel.

That's the education I experienced at least, maybe someone else had better luck, but once you've to slowdown to the slowest of 30, and you're the fastest, things get pretty slow.


This messed me up so bad when I finally hit material I needed to work at even a little. Years and years and years of getting things instantly, with no effort whatsoever. Lecturing about the same thing again for the fifth day in a row, but I had it the first day? Cool, I'll draw cartoons and still answer any questions you ask me. Hand me a test? No problem. A-grade work in 5 minutes, read my book for the remainder of the hour. My stupid kid brain (this was... age 13 or so? Maybe 14?) was sure something horrible had happened to me over the Summer and I was now an idiot, when that stopped being how things worked. I wouldn't be surprised if I could have been diagnosed with actual depression, from then through my early 20s, mostly due to that and the follow-on effects.

I've since learned this is a super-common experience for gifted kids and one of the things really good gifted programs focus early on mitigating. I gather kids smarter than I was may still experience something similar, but not until they burn out hard and very suddenly, around Sophomore or Junior year of a challenging degree program.


If you had the choice understand the concept 10 times slower but in the end would come up with twice the amount of connections, would you consider it as something valuable?

Yes I see how it would make life easier, but is that really a meaningful goal?

And how do we know that the reasons behind that it makes life easier isn't just a bias society has towards its own traits? - E.g life is easier for right handed people aswell.


> If you had the choice understand the concept 10 times slower but in the end would come up with twice the amount of connections, would you consider it as something valuable?

But then they aren't just thinking slower, they are doing more processing. It isn't just "slow vs fast', it is "more processing vs less processing". Similarly if two people eat hamburgers as fast, but one of them eat twice as many hamburgers and therefore takes twice the time, it doesn't make him a "slow eater" it just means he eats a lot per meal.


Absolutely.

Then the question becomes: when is something fully processed - and to which degree is a person inclined to explore the depths of a concept?

What is the limit that decides when depth is no longer valuable?


But that is a different question.


We agree in part, I don't think its morally better to think faster. Just that it makes life easier/makes it easier to achieve life outcomes you want.


I think the extent to which this actually occurs is overstated in discussions of intelligence because it makes people feel better, but maybe I'm just an asshole.


> Why do you think thinking fast is more important than thinking slowly?

I would say _that_ should be the definition of intelligence (as in, how 'smart' one is). If it takes someone a day to understand something, and it takes someone else 5 minutes to do the same, it's not just a matter of time spent. It completely shapes _how_ one thinks and how deep you can go in any given subject. There's only so much brainpower we can expend before getting tired and 'restarting' tasks is not easy.

Let's say if you are listening to a discussion with a topic you aren't very familiar with, but your peers are extremely familiar with. You'll see that the way the conversation flows is very different. They will rapid fire, exchange incomplete sentences (because the other person has inferred the rest) and overall have a much more rich and complex conversation. You'll be thinking about the next chess move, they will be thinking 10 steps ahead.

Then you'll say: "that's a bad example, this is about knowledge, not intelligence, they are doing it faster because they know more about the subject". Yes. I'll argue that a meaningful 'intelligence' delta doesn't really exist among healthy humans. It's all about how many patterns you have been exposed to. When we try to measure intelligence, we end up measuring knowledge, every single time.

Take the Mensa tests. Someone who went to good schools and did mentally challenging things will have most likely encountered similar questions before. Not exactly the same questions, but adapting something you have seen before to a new situation is much easier than doing this for the first time.


why is the mensa test timed?


Good question, maybe because time is tangible and measurable? I don't know


I read your comment as “yes I prefer life to be easier and complacent over difficult and interesting.” Is this too coarse of an interpretation? I seem to agree with pg: I’d much rather have good ideas and trouble “executing” because there are always smart people who can help me understand better, or execute better, or whatever; than being super smart and at the end of the day nothing to do with it.

Reminds me of genius programmers, who can easily coast through interviews or jobs, but who’ve otherwise got nothing of their own to write or show of it. That’s not bad, it just means their smarts are in service to someone else’s ideas—which is OK!


I see it as a trade-off between "glory" and having an otherwise very nice life, as framed—trading "being smart" for "having some really good ideas", which is a rather odd trade, but I'm addressing the text in its own terms. Between "have some very good ideas" and "be even a little smart the entire rest of the time", if I can only choose one, yes, I'm strongly inclined to choose the latter.

"Being smart" benefits me and shapes my very identity by affecting my perceptions and experience of everything, every waking second; having some very good ideas might make me money and make me known as "the guy who came up with X, Y and Z". Having both would be great, obviously! But if PG's presenting some weird "pick one" choice between the two, then claiming it's obvious which one a person would pick, yeah, I'm leaning toward, "no, your assertion and assumptions on which you're couching this entire line of argument are far too broad, it's 'be smart' by a mile and I doubt I'm alone in that choice".

It's Achilles' choice, as I see it (though, again, it's a weird pair of things to ask people to choose between) and as much as I like reading about him, and as impressive as it is that we still know his name and what he did (taking the stories as true, and the character as real, for the sake of lending what he opted for the most possible appeal), thanks but no thanks.


It's like asking would you rather be a one-hit wonder punk band, or a world-class violinist.


I find it interesting how people want to characterize your choice between "living easy" versus "living interesting". Or "living simple" versus "living complacent". There seems to be this tendency to inject some negative connotations into the approach of "living simple" such as "it's not interesting", "it's not difficult", "you aren't challenging yourself", "you are being lazy", "you are being complacent". There seems to be something innate in people that needs to attack this alternative approach to life.

It seems to be going over peoples heads that being personally smarter has the potential to enrich your own life in ways that being rich/being the "idea guy" don't. If you "aren't smart", it doesn't matter how much immense wealth you have, your personal relationships will be affected in some pretty fundamental ways.

I think there is a philosophy at the heart of Y Combinator and their philosophy that "ideas and execution are everything" - you need to start from a creative place and can fill in smart people as tools to enable your vision later. A corollary to this attitude is that they look for passionate younger people and foster an approach which is work very hard during your younger years building on your idea.

I find it relevant to share the Parable of the Fisherman from the 4 day workweek:

An American investment banker was taking a much-needed vacation in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. The boat had several large, fresh fish in it.

The investment banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the Mexican how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.” The banker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican fisherman replied he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

The American then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman replied, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos: I have a full and busy life, señor.”

The investment banker scoffed, “I am an Ivy League MBA, and I could help you. You could spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats until eventually, you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middleman you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You could control the product, processing and distribution.” Then he added, “Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City where you would run your growing enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15–20 years.”

“But what then?” asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You could make millions.”

“Millions, señor? Then what?”

To which the investment banker replied, “Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”


I think you're reading into the thoughts of others elsewhere too much. I don't think living a "simple life" or whatever is objected by anyone. I don't think "having ideas" is also some big stakes quality that totally upends someone's lifestyle. A lot of the most creative, interesting, and idea-ful people in history lived simple, modest lives. Many writers, painters, musicians, mathematicians, scientists, philosophers, etc. were well known for "schedules" that consisted of waking up late, having a nice meal, going for a walk, doing some creative stuff for a few hours, having a nice dinner, etc etc. A "simple" lifestyle is completely compatible with originality, productivity, creativity, and personal growth. Denying that would be a crime against yourself.

Yes, I think in this forum, sometimes there are hyperbolic takes on working hard, grinding, etc., but I think that's an orthogonal concern about work, startups, and the like.

These negative connotations that you mention come from obvious places. "I'm smart, life is easy, and I'd like to keep it that way." How is this not complacency? It's the epitome of self-satisfaction and a desire to remain static. What on earth grows, evolves, or improves without difficulty, self-imposed or otherwise? This angle works whether it be biological, social, intellectual, artistic, or technical. The very nature of improvement necessarily involves failure, and I contend a desire for comfort—especially that which is stood up from some natural intelligence—is equally a desire to not fail.

Having ideas is one manifestation of an avenue for failure. Most ideas are bad and don't work. Again, "ideas" here transcend business proposals, as we might assume here on HN. For instance, I'm an amateur classical musician, and sometimes when I'm playing a piece, I will try different things not marked in the score. Maybe they'll be good, maybe not. But I'd rather have ideas to try as a means to improve my musicianship (and perhaps even my own musical intelligence!) over simply being smart by reciting a score as written with a bone-dry, scholarly performance. Of course, this means my life is now made a hair more difficult, because the effort I put into performing something may be for nought if my idea turns out to be botched. But that's par for the course when you're doing something new that nobody else has done before. Are scholarly performances a bad thing? Not intrinsically, but I'd explicitly attach negative connotation to your musicianship if that's all you can do.

If I'm honest, I really want to go a step further and link creativity, ideas, etc. to some philosophical notion of being human, but it's certainly an argument beyond my caliber to make.


> "I'm smart, life is easy, and I'd like to keep it that way." How is this not complacency?

It's all about your perspective. "I have many ideas, I'm working hard to achieve them, and I'd like to keep it that way."

This could also be construed as static, self-satisfied, and "complacent" in it's own way. Complacency is ultimately a negative and derogatory word - using it to characterize an approach you don't agree with seems disingenuous.

You can lead a simple life and still be taking risks, and be comfortable with failure. There seems to be some hard intrinsic assumptions going on in this conversation that "having ideas and executing on them" is the only avenue in life worth pursuing, because failure, risk, fulfillment can't be defined along any other angles.

As you say: a "simple" lifestyle is completely compatible with originality, productivity, creativity, and personal growth. Denying that would be a crime against yourself.

You can lead a simple lifestyle, and still experiment with your passions. Creating new musical scores, taking risks, and putting yourself out in the world to fail - none of this is fundamentally incompatible with having a simple lifestyle.

I feel like we are both orbiting the same point but viewing things from two different perspectives. It may be as simple as us not fully agreeing on what a "simple lifestyle" actually entails. In the context of the original post, it's a dichotomy between "having ideas" and "being smart". As the grandparent alluded too, "having ideas" becomes a function on how you can impose yourself upon the world to influence it, "being smart" is a function of how you personally experience the world. I think that is really the heart of it, and for some, your personal experience is paramount to your short time on this planet you get to experience being alive - and compromising that just to have more ideas just seems antithetical to the entire enjoyment of life.


> It's all about your perspective. "I have many ideas, I'm working hard to achieve them, and I'd like to keep it that way."

> This could also be construed as static, self-satisfied, and "complacent" in it's own way. Complacency is ultimately a negative and derogatory word - using it to characterize an approach you don't agree with seems disingenuous.

This is a baffling. "Something that is always changing could be seen as not changing because it's never not changing." I'm having a hard time seeing that as a good-faith rebuttal.

The rest, I'm mostly on-board with.


> This is a baffling. "Something that is always changing could be seen as not changing because it's never not changing." I'm having a hard time seeing that as a good-faith rebuttal.

I think we are talking in abstract platitudes to such an extent that the forest might get missing for the trees.

In practical terms, a workaholic can fit the mold of "I have many ideas, I'm working hard to achieve them, and I'd like to keep it that way.". A workaholic can also have all the characteristics of a complacent individual - brimming with self-satisfaction, satisfied with their routine, self-smug attitude, no desire to change their ways.

Ironically, a workaholic could justify such an attitude to themselves by calling other people complacent.

And just for reference, the dictionary definition of the word complacent:

complacent: marked by self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies


> I read your comment as “yes I prefer life to be easier and complacent over difficult and interesting.”

A bit unrelated but this reminded me of Slavoj Žižek's "Why be happy when you could be interesting?".

https://bigthink.com/articles/why-be-happy-when-you-could-be...


"there are always smart people who can help me understand better, or execute better,"

Not if everyone becomes an Idea Person like pg proposes!

There's more to "do" than just "discover new things". What's the point of discovering new things if we don't use them for anything?


“Having ideas” isn’t “being an idea person”—the latter I hear colloquially to mean “spitballs superficial proposals that other people sort through”. I also don’t think what you suggest is what pg suggests. Einstein had ideas, but he didn’t just blather about them at a high level until some smart person did the “real” work.

I also didn’t mean to suggest I’d rather “just have ideas”, I meant “I’d rather have ideas and a difficult time executing on them” as opposed to “being smart with no ideas at all.”


> "Reading is harder. Math is harder. Learning anything new is harder. Following complex conversations is harder. Picking out subtext, allusions, et c., in all media, is harder."

smarts can't be summed up into a single all-encompassing quality that you have or you don't. you can be socially savvy and not be good at math, or great at basketball and be socially awkward. this is a 'not smart' observation that undermines your whole humble-brag.


"The g factor (also known as general intelligence, general mental ability or general intelligence factor) is a construct developed in psychometric investigations of cognitive abilities and human intelligence. It is a variable that summarizes positive correlations among different cognitive tasks, reflecting the fact that an individual's performance on one type of cognitive task tends to be comparable to that person's performance on other kinds of cognitive tasks. "

from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G_factor_%28psychometrics%29


I truly excel at the first three things -- I get high test scores and can get good at a wide range of things without even trying -- but I struggle to follow conversations due to ADHD + shyness and it drives me crazy.


Sure, the skills the parent comment mentioned are all separate skills, but they're probably pretty strongly (and positively) correlated with each other and with traditional measures of intelligence like performance on IQ tests. It's accurate to say that intelligence isn't the only thing that matters, and probably accurate to say that society generally overstates its importance, but claiming that intelligence doesn't exist is a severe and inaccurate overcorrection.


Not being too smart can be a forcing function on the quality of ideas. Very frequently the idea that wins in the minds of others is the one that is easy to think about.

I am frequently caught in the trap where I am enjoying the puzzlebox complexity of a problem, and building an equally complicated solution. I then attempt to explain my complicated solution to someone else, and I fail on delivery.

I also have a coworker whos mantra is "if its hard to think about, I don't do it". We actually worked on similarly aligned solutions to the same problem. His version met with significantly more success than mine did, and I credit the fact that he ensured that it was all easy to think about (and thus talk about). I don't begrudge him at all though, he's one of my favs!

IMO if you are unwilling or unable to think about overly complicated ideas, it might force you to eliminate them and develop new ones that are easier to talk about and think about.

Thanks for sharing BTW.


Agree. Whether a business (or solution to a problem) is interesting, ingenious and innovative is a completely different matter from its being a good business. iirc warren buffet once said, "if it takes a calculator to figure out if it's a good business, it's not". In a similar vein (but with a different moral to it) my boss used to say that (in a corporate context) all back-of-the-envelope analysis was by definition correct - because it would only ever be checked via back-of-the-envelope calculations.


I'm not sure how smart you are, but there's a lot of wisdom in what you said. Smart is multi-dimensional for me anyway.


> Smart is multi-dimensional for me anyway.

Strongly agreed about "smart" not being just one thing. Somewhere there's someone who's normal at the things I'm good at, and excellent at the things I'm so-so or bad at (there are several of those), and they're probably glad they get to "play" life on easy mode, too. Somewhere there's someone who's as good as both of us at all those things, and they probably own an island and have a private jet and don't think it was particularly challenging to get to that position in life. Maybe—if there's, in fact, exactly one thing they're bad at—they even wonder why other people don't do it.


> Being even a little clever—and that's the best I can claim—is living life on easy mode

That is probably true about being a little clever, but being really smart is not easy in the general case. Really smart people often share few ideas and interests with others and spend much of their lives lonely and misunderstood.


Nonetheless, IQ correlates to life outcomes like income really well. Averages are by no means destiny, but on average IQ makes life easier.


Yes, that's true. If you project down to a linear relationship, more IQ is associated with more income.

Most of the data you see on that stop around an IQ of 125, which is about the average IQ of a PhD in the US.

But there's also a lot of research on people with very high iq and the links with depression, anxiety, loneliness etc.

If you want the easiest life possible, I don't think you want to maximize IQ. I think you want to go high enough that you're eligible for the high paying jobs, but not so smart that you feel like the other people in those jobs are idiots.


There are several studies that show that IQ correlates with income, at least at the extremes. However the studies I've seen found no correlations between IQ and overall happiness or contentment with how their life turned out.


"Happiness/contentment" is effectively a "balancing thermostat" of our motivation, a functional aspect that is used by our bodies to regulate our behavior and thus, if it functions properly (as opposed to certain diseases e.g. anhedonia in clinical depression) its long term average will be pretty much the same no matter how well you do, it's almost orthogonal to any metric of actual wellbeing. For example, studies show both winning excessive amounts of money in lotteries and sustaining major life-changing injuries (e.g. losing limbs or causing other disabilities) do not correlate with happiness in the long-term. Happiness effectively reflects (a) recent short-term changes to wellbeing; (b) momentary expectations or worries about future wellbeing; and (c) innate baseline happiness. It's not a reflection of how well someone is living; in essence, people living long-term in a literal gulag may easily have on average the same overall happiness/contentment as living in a nice first world upper-middle-class environment.


The word "happiness" refers both to the temporary emotion and a long-term state of being satisfied with your life. Nowadays the long term state is often called "life satisfaction" in research.

Someone in a gulag would have low life satisfaction.

The original lottery winners vs accident victim study attempted to measure the long term state: https://www.talenteck.com/academic/Brickman-Coates-Janoff-19...

That study isn't the final word though. Other studies have found that winning the lottery increases life satisfaction, while still others have found that they don't.


It's amazing how so many things in the human body work from a thermostat principle



> sheer chance and lucky circumstances.

LOL, dualism moment. There is no "you" outside of your genetics and the socialization you experienced. There is definitely some luck involved, but also you're the product of a lot more work and planning than you give yourself credit for.


> you're the product of a lot more work and planning than you give yourself credit for.

Some people are lucky enough to have parents/family that handle this planning for us at young ages, knowing we will benefit in the future.


Do you think you were “lucky” not to be a mosquito?

Do you think you were “lucky” not to be a 100kg mass of disconnected plasma inside the sun?

This doesn’t make any sense. There are different processes in our universe that produce different things, from plasma to rocks to mosquitos to unsuccessful people to successful people.

These processes are different, and their outputs are not fungible. There’s no luck. There’s no sense in which “you” could have been anything except what you are.


I mean. When folks use the term luck they often just use to express gratitude. Whether that’s to the void or to their god.

It’s weird to point out the usage here. Sure someone can say “I’m grateful the insane probabilities of every small detail that led to today collapsed on me living a good life”, but it’s easier to just say “I’m so lucky”.

> There’s no sense in which “you” could have been anything except what you are.

Perhaps yea, this feels tangential to the argument there is no free will and the universe is 100% deterministic. Maybe I’m reading too much into your comment, but for my lived experience. It certainly doesn’t feel that I was 100% destined to end up here. Im sure others feel the same way that their circumstances were never predetermined.


That isn't how people usually view luck. If someone says "My success was all luck!", people wouldn't assume that this guy was lucky to be born smart and hard working and therefore worked his ass off to achieve his results with no particularly lucky event happening past his birth. No, they'd assume something like, the guy next to him at a buss stop happened to be this rich businessman and just happened to need something right now, and then that lead to more similar events and now he is the CEO of a big multi national corporation.


Its not how people usually perceive luck, but its a more accurate way of perceiving luck IMO.


That's the luck, happening to be who you are. Other people happen to be who they are, and that's their luck.

Luck = fate


Reading this comment was really important to me.

I encounter this “luck” argument that implies dualism, of a self separate from biology and life experience that could have somehow existed in a different body, all the time.

And until I read this comment I felt like I was the only person who found that idea specious.


Dualism is a theory in philosophy of mind, not in personal identity. It doesn't have any opinion about who "you" are, so it doesn't have any opinion on the counterfactual "But for luck, I could have been less smart."

It sounds like what you really mean is something like a psychological continuity (identity is having psychological continuity) or animalist (identity is being the same human animal) view, which are both consistent with some mental characteristics (like intelligence) being accidental to who we are.


The propensity to work hard and be good at planning is just as heritable as IQ. The extent to which you can defer current pleasure for future gain is basically established by the time you're 6 years old, so reaping the benefits of it as an adult is luck.

In another way, yes hard work and good planning is vital to success. But you shouldn't pat yourself on the back too hard for it, and you shouldn't think of yourself morally better than anyone else for it.

(This isn't sour grapes from me. I'm successful and worked incredibly hard for years without much money.)


> Being even a little clever—and that's the best I can claim—is living life on easy mode. It's so great. Once I realized that the other people in the room weren't not-saying the obvious thing because they'd already dismissed it for some reason I couldn't see, but because it wasn't obvious to them, it was like I unlocked a superpower.

The thing is - I don't agree with Paul Graham at all. Sure, there might be a genetic component to being 'smart', but I doubt it means that people are just born with a better "CPU". Maybe they are 0.1% better overall.

Rather, I don't think we can properly control variables(ethically). If your parents are 'smart', they will do 'smart' things. They will give you the attention you need. They will give you a balanced diet. They will buy you books. They will teach you difficult concepts. You'll see them studying or otherwise getting invested in their careers and, as kids, we mimic what you see. Over time, you develop 'smart' habits, and you exercise your brain.

You'll also accumulate all sorts of 'patterns', that let you quickly see those things that aren't 'obvious' to everyone else. They are obvious to you, probably because you have seen something similar before, even in a different context. The more 'patterns' you have, the quicker you can spot them, and you can tie things together faster if you are not focusing on learning entirely new things at the same time.

Even if you had nothing of the sort growing up, by just trying to engage your brain while doing most of your tasks, you are far ahead of most people. What people tend to do is, whenever they find something that worked, even if only once, they will stick with that solution, for every situation. They don't normally ask themselves if the resolution is still appropriate for the situation in hand. Keep this as a background process, and you do have a superpower.


Your proposing a testable hypotheses which has been disproven through studies of the adopted and especially twins. Intelligence and genetics are strongly linked, most obviously via negatives like Down syndrome but that’s far from the only influence.

One of many examples: https://resources.corwin.com/sites/default/files/handout_18....


Read up on working memory. A lot of people can't hold enough items in their head long enough to write a function. And that's if you don't believe in IQ, which is already very heavily correlated with success.


P.S. I am in the somewhat unique situation of being "smart enough", but far from the smartest person in the room, so I can struggle and am close enough to the "incompetent" line to see it clearly, and it's a scary place. On the other hand, I can do enough to understand how truly fast "hyper-intelligent" people think at work to understand the difference, and it's a stark difference.


intelligence being a highly genetic trait was known for a long while. Recently they even discovered the genes responsible for a large part of it https://www.nature.com/articles/nrg.2017.104


It's worth repeating Mark Kac's famous quote:

>In science, as well as in other fields of human endeavor, there are two kinds of geniuses: the “ordinary” and the “magicians.” An ordinary genius is a fellow that you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what he has done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it. It is different with the magicians. They are, to use mathematical jargon, in the orthogonal complement of where we are and the working of their minds is for all intents and purposes incomprehensible. Even after we understand what they have done, the process by which they have done it is completely dark. They seldom, if ever, have students because they cannot be emulated and it must be terribly frustrating for a brilliant young mind to cope with the mysterious ways in which the magician’s mind works. Richard Feynman is a magician of the highest caliber. Hans Bethe, whom [Freeman] Dyson considers to be his teacher, is an “ordinary genius”.

Einstein was unquestionably a magician. He had an incredible ability to come up with simple ideas, and follow the chain of logic wherever it leads, without prejudice against its outlandish conclusions. Those ideas appear as seeds of 'genius' to those studying his work. I'm not sure if it's 'smart', but it's definitely insightful. I've met clever people, but sometimes, they're not insightful. I've also met many insightful people who aren't clever in many ways. To quote Kac again:

>I am reminded of something Balthazaar van der Pol, a great Dutch scientist and engineer who was also a fine musician, remarked to me about the music of Bach. “It is great,” he said, “because it is inevitable and yet surprising.” I have often thought about this lovely epigram in connection with mathematics… The inevitability is, in many cases, provided by logic alone, but the element of surprise must come from an insight outside the rigid confines of logic.


I like this idea. Makes me think of nondeterministic v deterministic Turing Machines. It is easy to confirm that the magician is correct, but hard to see how they were able to get there.


Honestly, I am generally a big fan of pg, and many/most of his points I agree with. But every time he puts out a new blog post I feel like I'm now reflexively starting with an eye roll: "OK, what quality that pg has in spades has he decided to laud now as the one thing that's super important for success, happiness and societal progress?"

It's not that I really disagree with him that much, but for a man who is obviously very smart, and who can come up with lots of new ideas, I find his blog posts shockingly lacking in introspection. It's basically all the qualities that are needed to build a startup are the most important qualities for society at large. What I never see is thought processes along the lines of "Gee, how can my world view be colored by my unique experiences, and how might I think differently if I had a different upbringing or experiences contrary to the ones that actually occurred?"

As another commenter mentioned, so many of pg's posts seem so concerned with "sorting" people: you're smart or not, you've got lots of new ideas or you don't. And it's not hard to surmise why he has this worldview: literally his whole job is to sort through people pitching to find the winners from the losers.

But I wish he would just step back once and think a little more broadly about some contrarian ideas that don't just totally support his vision of success in the world.


My experience here reflects my general pattern: 1) Read an article via HN 2) Return to HN, to smash the upvote button 3) Go to the article's comments 4) Realize that there are problems with the article that I was totally oblivious to 5) Remind myself to not be so damn naïve

So big thanks to HN people, and PG.


Plot twist: pg writes the articles to generate this effect and it’s consequences.


Haha. Maybe he's testing the good-spirited rebelliousness and critical thinking of the HN community. (Or maybe not.)


i doubt it. ownership/capital and it's privileges/power corrupts people.

i believe he drinks his own kool-aid.


Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.


I think one should just take the blog post for what it is. It isn't a UN resolution. He actually has thoughtful opinions that he is happy to put out there without endless qualifications. That is what makes it valuable, not why it is problematic. The broader relevance, the applicability of the notions to one's own life, the motivations of the author are all left as an exercise to the reader.


I don't understand the complaint. Everything that everyone writes is intended to be prefixed with a big fat "this is what I think. You can disagree, my job is present to you with the facts as I see them"

I read this article and it was an interesting way to crystalize an idea I observed myself (I made a comment in this thread about my experience with smart but non-impactful people.) So I got value out of this post in that it names a concept for me.

So your concern is not that the author is wrong, not that the idea is bad, not that it will lead to a bad outcome - but simply that the author wrote about something they thought was important?


His essay says that we overrate intelligence and underrate independent-mindedness and writing.

This is actionable - we can cultivate both with some minor changes, and meanwhile we aren’t likely to get much marginal return on trying to improve general intelligence.

If you’d like to provide an alternative theory, please do. But 100 words of eye-roll aren’t moving society forward either.

FWIW I was homeschooled and now work from home with a large team of folks in an office. I see a lot of people struggle with independent-mindedness, and I think it hurts our team’s productivity.


PGs personality has been great for attracting the kind of college graduate clientele YCombinator has catered to.


Could you quote a specific sentence that supports any of your claims here?

> I grew up thinking that being smart was the thing most to be desired. Perhaps you did too. But I bet it's not what you really want. Imagine you had a choice between being really smart but discovering nothing new, and being less smart but discovering lots of new ideas. Surely you'd take the latter. I would.

This seems like the closest thing. But it's perfectly fine to mention one's own childhood experiences.

You might want to read http://paulgraham.com/disagree.html, since it sounds like you don't actually disagree with him on anything. Which is to say, your reply is a DH2 at best.

Wouldn't it be better to comment on the actual essay rather than its author? It'd probably be more interesting.


Let's take a look at pg's most recent essays:

1. This one, which is basically saying one of the most important things for society is coming up with new ideas. Not hard to see why someone who built his life around startups would think this.

2. "Weird Languages", touting the benefits of Lisp among others. Kinda feel like "nuff said" on this one.

3. "How to work hard", which I read basically as an overview of "how to work like you're running a startup".

4. "A project of one's own". How you should work toward your own goals, instead of someone else's.

Again, I don't really disagree with pg's essays, I just no longer find them interesting because I think they are now utterly predictable at this point.

I'll give you a concrete example: while I was definitely a tech and startup fan boy through the early 00s, I definitely have some amount of disillusionment around the whole startup ecosystem, and its effects on society. I never hear pg talk about really any of the downsides or regrets about the startup ecosystem that he helped unleash.

If I already know pretty much exactly what someone is going to say (and nearly all of it is self-serving), I'm not going to be that interested in listening.


> This one, which is basically saying one of the most important things for society is coming up with new ideas. Not hard to see why someone who built his life around startups would think this.

> If I already know pretty much exactly what someone is going to say (and nearly all of it is self-serving), I'm not going to be that interested in listening.

These seem to be your central points. Firstly, you're correct: the essay says that new ideas are one of the most important things for a society:

> There are more subtle reasons too, which persist long into adulthood. Intelligence wins in conversation, and thus becomes the basis of the dominance hierarchy. Plus having new ideas is such a new thing historically, and even now done by so few people, that society hasn't yet assimilated the fact that this is the actual destination, and intelligence merely a means to an end.

...

> So what are the other ingredients in having new ideas? The fact that I can even ask this question proves the point I raised earlier — that society hasn't assimilated the fact that it's this and not intelligence that matters. Otherwise we'd all know the answers to such a fundamental question.

But is this mistaken?

When choosing where to send your kids to school, would you rather send them to a school that believes strongly in their own ideas, or one that embraces more recent ideas?

My parents sent me to a small religious school. Personally, I would've been happier somewhere else.

But as you say, you don't disagree with the essay. Your central point is in your last sentence:

> If I already know pretty much exactly what someone is going to say (and nearly all of it is self-serving)...

You're saying that pg essays are no longer surprising to you. But I don't think you knew what it was going to say before you read it; you read it, and then said, "This isn't surprising."

Personally, I found it surprising that society could place so much emphasis on intelligence, if it's true that new ideas matter more.

You could try to argue that new ideas don't matter as much as intelligence, or that something else matters even more. It would be interesting if you were correct, since that would refute the essay's central point. But you haven't done any of that; your comment can be summed up as "I think pg sucks," because you're not making any concrete claims.


Your comment reads as defensive, and as though you are intentionally missing the point. The point is: PG appears to be a dishonest writer. He is not writing with the evenhanded pursuit of truth in mind, but with a very particular, convenient (self-serving) truth to support. He seems to consistently ignore any strain of thought (of which there are many, see: the entire humanities) which would generate a more nuanced view.

GP is saying PG is probably wrong, and probably misleading many people. This is useful, even if its not the same as saying "here is proof he is wrong".

Nevertheless, to indulge you, I will say: PG is wrong. There is more to life and contributing to society than just coming up with new important ideas. Yes new important ideas can lead to more food, more materials, or even in some cases (though certainly not in PGs case) deeper relationships. But there are many meanings to life, and not all of them start with increasing productivity.

PG's new ideas aren't going to raise a kid. They're not going to save any souls, or save a relationship on its last legs. They're also not going to plant any crops, or build any houses.

They are useful, but they are not everything, or even the most important thing. In fact, they're a luxury. They're one of the least important things in my life.


> GP is saying PG is probably wrong, and probably misleading many people. This is useful, even if its not the same as saying "here is proof he is wrong".

It sounds like we'll have to agree to disagree.

> PG's new ideas aren't going to raise a kid. They're not going to save any souls, or save a relationship on its last legs. They're also not going to plant any crops, or build any houses.

I'd be surprised if YC's investment portfolio didn't include both farming and construction startups. But I haven't looked.

(Although this isn't raising a kid, Legacy helps people have them: https://www.ycombinator.com/companies/legacy which happens to be quite relevant for my life.)

Of course there's more to life. But that's true about any idea you could talk about. Why talk about anything at all, if there might be more to life? (I recently tried to face this question: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28866558 ... Some of the replies were very good.)

You've made a very concrete claim here: "PG appears to be a dishonest writer," and then showed no evidence of dishonesty.


>You've made a very concrete claim here: "PG appears to be a dishonest writer," and then showed no evidence of dishonesty.

This is wrong. Here is my evidence: His articles are exclusively self serving. He consistently ignores and degrades canons of thought that might threaten his ideas. This is dishonest behavior, even if it isnt an outright lie, in the same way that saying "vaccines caused my cousins balls to inflate" would be dishonest even if it weren't a lie. It's dishonest in the same way the church shouting down Copernicus was dishonest. The dishonesty is omission + ignorance, not a direct lie.

I and GP made this point to you many times, and you have continuously chosen to lower the wool over your eyes.

>It sounds like we'll have to agree to disagree.

I see no need to agree to this.


You are absolutely right, but some people are unable to read between the lines. For them its not true unless pg writes it down in a confession in his essay.


> He consistently ignores and degrades canons of thought that might threaten his ideas.

Could you find a quote from any pg essay that supports this point? This seems mistaken.

As for the self-serving part, I don't think it's a bad thing to write about one's own experiences.


Writing about ones own experiences may not necessarily be self serving. Ignoring others experiences whole cloth in order to make a point that benefits you is self serving.

>Could you find a quote from any pg essay that supports this point? This seems mistaken.

First of all, this is the wrong way to interpret my point. I'm making a point about ignorance. You need to look for whats not there, not what is there.

Second, yes as it happens I can: https://twitter.com/geofft/status/1337895041990356994

Is a racist who simply never talks to any POC, cites any of their work, or hires them, not racist just because they never explicitly say they hate minorities?


I think PG has definitely made the move at this point in his career from the previously more niche (interesting) insight years ago => mainstream (less interesting, more predictable) insight lately. It likely won't interest you and a non-negligible portion of the HN crowd at this point. But for the rest of society, he is still interesting and he is growing his following.


It's not just that he has to sort winners from the losers. It's that he has to be the first most important seeming VC in their minds. And he accomplishes that with these blog posts. That, and by using these posts to posit that people like him really are the best, he has a big hand in getting people to self-sort into venture-seeking types in the first place.

If you think of his posts as self-serving, that's true. But they're also propaganda meant to influence what we think of as being a worthy pursuit, and meant to define who should pursue such things. The more people believe his worldview – one where smarts dominate and make one powerful – then the more status he has, and the more easily he can do his job. People come to him whereas before he would've had to go to them!

I think he really believes what he writes. And I think it is true that smarts as defined by him are helpful to the kinds of entrepreneurs who see themselves in pg - like, the people he describes really are a type of person, and they should lean on their strengths. But I think it's not at all clear that pg-measured smarts matter more than other qualities for entrepreneurship, or that people like him are remotely close to the best sort of startup founder.

Maybe he's just found a way to seem high status to a subset of a population, and his success flows from that: he gets his pick of that subset, even though it is a tiny chunk of the world. Sure, he gets notoriety and status in a big chunk in status-seeking coders! But that needn't mean that he's actually cracked the code on entrepreneurialism. He has ABSOLUTELY cracked the code on how to speak to young men who feel like they can use what they're good at to achieve power and status.

Here's a scary thought: it's possible that by so completely dominating the conversation about what a startup founder should be, and by making the ideal startup founder seem like a reflection of his image, he's caused far greater numbers of more capable entrepreneurs to self-select out of entrepreneurial pursuits, because they aren't pg-like enough. Not saying that's true, or provable (though I have many many anecdotes that lead me to feel something's going on there). Just that it's important to consider that in making a hagiographic ideal the epitome of a startup founder, that you're necessarily excluding so so many other people for reasons that boil down to... pg got there first.

HN likes to point out just-so stories, and I think the stories he tells us are that. When we read posts like this and they seem to speak spookily clearly to something in us, it's probably because he's doing fanservice to people who serve to give him a tremendous amount of influence and power by believing him when he says we're special.


> As another commenter mentioned, so many of pg's posts seem so concerned with "sorting" people: you're smart or not, you've got lots of new ideas or you don't.

Not sure which posts you mean, but this post is explicitly about examining the difference between intelligence and having new ideas, in hopes of eventually being able to list the ingredients of the latter (the former seems mostly inborn) to be able to cultivate them more broadly in society.


If you subscribe the general worldview that human well-being is an important goal for society and believe that we have progressed so much in the last few centuries because of scientific knowledge and technological inventions, then it becomes clear that the qualities described in this post, intelligence and the ability to come up with useful new ideas, are useful for society.

In my reading, PG did not claim that these are the most important things for society.


Most often my initial reaction is a clear awareness that pg doesn’t spend much time outside of the Vc/start up bubble.


Typically they are persuasive essays with all the furniture of an expository essay or research paper.


I agree with you wholeheartedly. A perfect human through this lens is

- smart

- hard working

- has many ideas

- wants to change the world

- gives back

Right?

What I don’t understand: why do you wish him to step back and reflect?


> What I don’t understand: why do you wish him to step back and reflect?

Because I used to look forward to his essays. I found them interesting, insightful and witty. Now I just find them predictable and self-serving. I'm probably just feeling disillusioned with someone I greatly admired, that's all, and I'm wishing I could feel about that person the way I used to feel.


Writing a piece called “Beyond Smart” where you literally equate yourself with Einstein in the first paragraph is a special level of arrogance. His essays used to quirky, interesting and surprising. They have increasingly become predictable rants about how he’s uniquely great, and (ironically) contain less and less actual new ideas.


> Writing a piece called “Beyond Smart” where you literally equate yourself with Einstein in the first paragraph is a special level of arrogance.

He didn't equate himself with Einstein, in either the first paragraph or the rest of the essay. Furthermore, I interpreted the "Beyond" in the title in the sense of Nietzsche's "Beyond Good and Evil" - "Beyond Smart" doesn't mean "extra-super-duper smart, above and beyond smart". It means, we cannot ascribe such things to a simplistic concept of "smart", such as the kind that would be measured on IQ tests.


I am assuming either you are joking or you are failing to see the ham-handed self-congratulation pg gives himself through this entire piece of shit.

Paragraph 1: Einstein was smart, but he also had 'new ideas'

Paragraphs 2-15 : Reasons why I am smart and also have new ideas and you should remember to think of me like the Einstein of VCs. Just in case you missed this repeated point I am going to title this little think-piece 'Beyond Smart.'

I would trot out metaphors about Fonzie and water skis, but when it comes to pg that ship sailed years ago.


One way to test out your theory would be to pretend that someone else wrote the essay. If the essay no longer makes sense, or if it still comes across as self-congratulatory, I would agree with you. However if you perform this thought experiment I think you'll find that neither is true, so I think you're just reacting to identity of the author and not his actual point.


At least you still got a nautical metaphor in!


Whats the use in this comment? Is the earth flat because I can't see all the way around it? Can't we tolerate a little bit of interpretation, and not require that we only take texts literally? And, why the double standard? You interpreted OPs comment, so why can't he interpret PGs?


I think pg is right that less responsibility leads to new ideas.

Since having kids, my ability to pursue my interests is severely curtailed. My kids are just now at the point where most of them are sufficiently independent that I'd have less responsibility, and now my in-laws need care, with my parents probably not far behind.

It seems likely that I won't have significant free time and mental energy until my parents are dead, which is a bit of a depressing thought...


Unpopular opinion: with women taking a larger role in professional life, men are having to pick up the slack when it comes to child rearing. That leaves less time for men to invent, discover, create, etc. But women aren’t inventing, discovering or creating in proportion to their increased professional participation. Our society is worse off because of it.

Look at the people who made major scientific discoveries, or built new industries, or penned the most well known symphonies. They were almost entirely young men who were unmarried, or married in a time when women were expected to take care of the child rearing.

I was reading “How the Laser Happened” and the guy who invented it had four kids, but still had plenty of time to sit on park benches during evening walks by himself and ponder the physics of light. He went on many trips to visit other universities for research and worked tons of hours at Bell Labs. That was a normal way for men to work back then, even expected and viewed honorably.

We are going to have to accept less great discoveries and new inventions if society starts expecting men to bear half the effort of child rearing. You can’t come up with the laser or the Theory if Relativity if you’ve got crying kids you’re on the hook to watch while their mother is at work.

The alternative is to not even have kids, or to raise them poorly. And that’s not fair to them. Unfortunately, that seems to be what most people are settling on. Which does not bode well for the future of humanity, either.

Any way you slice it, it’s a bleak future.


This reminds me of the women who invented, made and fought for great things _despite_ the stigma and prejudice surrounding them.

A few famous examples in our field:

Ada Lovelace: the first program

Grace Hopper: the first compiler

Margaret Hamilton: software engineering, fault tolerance

We really should at least try to stop pushing women out of our field, so much potential might be lost by this nonsensical adversity that seems to be so prevalent.


No one is pushing them out of any field. If anything, there are concerted efforts to get young girls and women into any field that has historically been male dominant.


> But women aren’t inventing, discovering or creating in proportion to their increased professional participation.

Do you have evidence to suport this? (Geniunely curious)

Why do you think that is the case? Just the fact that they are more likely to be part-time or not able to be fully committed into their field while also being a mother does not warrant them enough time/energy/x to achieve those breakthroughs?


The evidence is all around you.

Each year, more women obtain degrees than ever have before. Many are post graduate degrees. More women are participating in the workforce than ever have before. More programs exist to promote women into STEM fields than we've ever had in the past. Western culture worships the idea of the strong, independent, intelligent woman. Women are participating in professional life like they never have before.

But go do a patent search. How many women do you see on a few random patents? Go do a search on LLCs in your state. Pull up a few. How many women do you see as the registered agent? Go do a search on LinkedIn on a few big tech companies. How many of the engineers, scientists, or programmers are women?

You can argue that things are just still not equal, and won't be until 50% of all programmers, engineers, scientists, etc. are women. But the trendline is pretty obvious for anyone willing to look. As more women and fewer men participate, you get the results I described above.

There's a lot of reasons for this. The first order effect is that men's productivity goes down as they devote more time to child rearing. That's just reality. I'm not even saying it's a bad one, but it's a reality nonetheless. That happens more frequently as men are expected to pick up the slack as women spend more time in the workforce.

But the bigger second order effect is that, at a societal level, we have at least two generations where both parents worked full time. Instead of mom staying home to raise them, they were raised in day care centers or with parents who were always distracted by work, neither one of which was 100% devoted to child rearing. One parent devoted 100% to a child's development is much more impactful than two parents devoted 50% of the time.

A society full of devoted, involved, active mothers increases productivity, discovery, and economic growth. You get children who grow up well adjusted, ready to face hardship in adulthood. Ready to build the future. And you get a larger quantity of such kids because parents aren't worried about the marginal cost of one more kid at the day care when both parents work. And those kids go onto have their own well adjusted kids, and you get new inventions, discoveries, etc.

We are lying to young girls, telling them the best thing they can do is go to college and get a great paying white collar job. And then we scratch our heads as to why birth rates are plummeting, and why male participation in the work force keeps dropping, and why family formation continues to fall. We have propagandized these women into despising motherhood: the culture doesn't even call them mothers anymore, they're "birthing people."

There's the first order effect of less male participation in ways that drive progress in science, industry, and the arts when you increase the participation of women in the workforce. But these second order effects are huge, and no one even realizes that they're happening under the hood. The Albert Einsteins or even Rosalind Franklins of tomorrow won't be nurtured, or even born, in a society that functions like this.


Right.. so you have no data to support your claims, understood.


You are genuinely curious, huh? What kind of data would you accept then? Or alternatively, how about you show me some data that refutes my point?


> But women aren’t inventing, discovering or creating in proportion to their increased professional participation.

Can you back up your claim?


There are no doubt notable outliers, but go look at all the major composers of the last 300 years. How many women can you name? Same thing with Nobel Prizes. The vast majority are men. How many women built new industries or invented revolutionary machines or devices? It was almost entirely men.

Perhaps that will change in 100 years. I’m open to the argument that limited opportunity prevented women from accomplishing those things in the past. But historically that hasn’t been the case.


The societal factors that affect which gender produces an invention globally are very complex.

Using GPs example of raising children, sure we have more women in the workforce which is great. But we also have centuries of sexism deep in us that takes a while to root out. We have an imbalance of opportunity. Women today _still_ have a hard time rising capital for their companies. Etc. Etc.

Like you said, we'll see where things go over time but I remain quite excited for the ideas new minds will bring to our species regardless of gender, race, etc.


Even when mothers aren't pursuing a professional life, things are different because expectations of dads (and husbands for that matter) have gone up [1].

I think this is a good thing as far as families go (at least when the expectations remain realistic), as the bar for dad's parenting is still lower than mom's.

There's still more pressure on women to "do it all and look good while doing so" but men definitely are struggling with taking on responsibilities that their fathers could ignore.

1: it's actually a bit more nuanced than just higher expectations. You get more points just for not leaving than you used to, but once you are there, the expected role is a bit more involved. I read an article talking about how children's experiences with father's have diverged; either they aren't there at all, or they are far more involved then previous generations.


It's only bleak if you assume that men don't prefer taking care of children over spending time in science. Many men will prefer family life and are happy that it's now socially accepted to put their kids first.

And at the same time it frees up a lot of time for women to enter the field and make discoveries.


The same can be said for all sorts of minorities.

The lack of participation in science is totally driven by psychological insecurities around high achievement.


I can't remember where, but I've heard the mathematical research process being described as (paraphrasing):

"Once in a while we get a giant that makes huge strides in many fields. What is left for the rest of us is to walk in their wake and clean up and tighten up the theory based on the ideas that they provided".

Graham's point about how being intelligent and having new ideas are two different things is interesting, but I'm not convinced that one is better than the other. I'm not sure a world full of giants is better - you need people who spend time tightening and working on the existing theory as well.


The world has no lack of people tightening and working on existing theory, basically every knowledge worker taking a salary performs that role. So moving a few more of those to try to do new things wouldn't budge that huge micro optimization machine much at all.


Moreover, ideas are worthless if you aren't smart and diligent enough to see them through. Emphasizing ideas, to me, feels like the wrong thing because this encourages, for most people, a lazy attitude where recognition is expected for having an idea (whereas recognition is only due for making something out of your idea). In the end, ideas are cheap. Every giant had both the idea (which may have been through luck and timing plus deep knowledge earned through hard work and persistence) plus those other abilities to make something out of it, without which they would not be giants.


I mean, better and worse doesn't really exist. They just are. Being smart has certain consequences, and being inventive has others. And what's better for the world (for some definition of 'good') may not be what's better for the individual - just ask people who volunteer to pick up litter. Certainly it seems like being inventive is much more profitable for the individual than being smart, but of course that's not all that matters.


Such a great read. I thought Paul's most profound insight was right at the end where he mentions a connection between writing and discovering new ideas. I've found this personally to be true. I was blogging heavily from 2005 until 2010 and it led to me launching a string of products, getting funding for one of them, failing and continuing to launch until we succeeded spectacularly. Writing, I have found, enables my creative and analytical thought process. I've found that it serves as a kind of personal strategic planning process that educates the intuitive mind, and which results in insights over the proceeding days and weeks, which leads to more writing, and an iterative and exponential process.


DaVinci kept a journal.

There may indeed be something about expressing one's thoughts, especially in writing, that enables them to get better.


The whole article reads bizarre to me. It’s like pg believes there is some kind of generic smartness metric that characterizes people, and so you’re either smart, very smart or not smart at all.

But people can be smart at things and terrible at others. And it’s not that smart people are terrible at things because they aren’t curious about them, it’s just that some tasks require different mindsets. Like I feel generally fairly smart in engineering, but I just can’t seem to learn chess at all.

Generating new ideas is an entirely different skill. You can’t balance having ideas and being smart. You should try and have both, and no, one is not more important than the other.

I mean the whole article feels like the stupid questions we’d ask ourselves when we were kids: would you rather have a 9-meter arm, or a boneless leg?


> The whole article reads bizarre to me. It’s like pg believes there is some kind of generic smartness metric that characterizes people, and so you’re either smart, very smart or not smart at all.

General intelligence is absolutely a real thing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G_factor_(psychometrics)

Yes it's true that some people are good at some things and bad at others. That does not mean there isn't a general underlying "cognitive ability" factor.


> That does not mean there isn't a general underlying "cognitive ability" factor.

Careful. "g" is a statistical regularity, not proof of a generalized "underlying cognitive ability."

From the same Wikipedia article:

>It is a variable that summarizes positive correlations among different cognitive tasks

>Yet, there is no consensus as to what causes the positive correlations between tests

This whole subject is a scientific, statistical, and ethical can of worms (as pg alludes to in the essay), and this isn't the place to get into it... I just want to flag that it's a bit more complicated/controversial than it might sound at first.


I also haven’t seen any explanations for why positive correlation between any particular set of tests leads to the conclusion that this is truly a general cognitive ability. If you test people on the ability to play the piano, organ, and harpsichord, and find positive correlation between competency in all of them, you wouldn’t conclude that this demonstrates general cognitive ability. You’d just conclude that those musical instruments are similar. Likewise, choosing a bunch of tests from, say, all the common areas of study in Western schools, doesn’t automatically say anything about the entire range of cognitive abilities.


The argument for general cognitive ability is because the correlation is observed among all the various measures related to cognitive ability that we have. If you test people on the ability to play the piano, organ, and harpsichord, and assert that this is a reflection of general cognitive ability, then this is prediction is testable by later correlating this ability with other measures, and gets falsified by observing the metrics with which it does not correlate. So far, the concept of "G" survives because it actually does succeed in various tests of alternative metrics of cognitive ability - e.g. "emotional intelligence" metrics, biological metrics such as reaction speed, and various 'outcomes' e.g. job performance and future income controlled for socioeconomic background.

In essence, the answer to "why positive correlation between any particular set of tests leads to the conclusion that this is truly a general cognitive ability" is that many respectable people have tried to find measures of aspects of cognitive ability that are separate and uncorrelated, however, as far as I know, all such attempts have failed so far and their experiments on alternative metrics did correlate with everything else and just became more data supporting the concept.


> Careful. "g" is a statistical regularity, not proof of a generalized "underlying cognitive ability."

I mean, the statistical regularity in question is the mean of all other cognitive abilities correlating. I'm not sure how else you'd define "underlying cognitive ability" than "the correlated first principal component of other, specific cognitive abilities".


I did not see the word "imagination" mentioned in that article. It seems like a glaring omission given the topic. "How can imagination be cultivated?" would be an important question in that context. It could include things like letting kids (and adults) have more unstructured time, etc. We've largely banished boredom from the world now that we're constantly connected to the internet via our smartphones, but boredom could also be important for imagination. In my experience a lot of my best ideas came not with hard focus ("working hard") on a problem but while I was on a walk in nature not particularly focused on anything.


Pithy Einstein quotes likely fail to capture the full picture of what Einstein did and should not be used as a basis for casually dismissing attempts to have meatier discussions.


I don't think he's lost much in the article by not descending into the rabbit-hole of developing a nuanced view of what "smart" means. I think it's a word used frequently enough in common language that the reader can do justice in interpreting it correctly and in good faith. Same goes for other, equally generic terms like, "she really has it all together" or "he's a pretty sharp guy". These aren't vacuous, meaningless statements, despite the lack of precision in their meaning.


Fair enough, I probably didn’t express myself well.

It’s just that the article re-plays the old “intelligence vs creativity” debate, and is full of naive statements about it. And you kind of want to answer: “you know, I think it’s a little more complicated”


Hmm, it seems like the article has addressed most of your points directly.

> It’s like pg believes there is some kind of generic smartness metric that characterizes people, and so you’re either smart, very smart or not smart at all.

> But people can be smart at things and terrible at others. And it’s not that smart people are terrible at things because they aren’t curious about them, it’s just that some tasks require different mindsets. Like I feel generally fairly smart in engineering, but I just can’t seem to learn chess at all.

He addressed this specific point in the "if intelligence/smartness is all that matters" scenario:

"If intelligence is what matters, and also mostly inborn, the natural consequence is a sort of Brave New World fatalism. The best you can do is figure out what sort of work you have an "aptitude" for, so that whatever intelligence you were born with will at least be put to the best use, and then work as hard as you can at it."

He is acknowledging that different people have good intelligence in different things (like engineering vs chess in your example). But he is saying this really shouldn't be the focus at all, because intelligence isn't truly what matters.

> Generating new ideas is an entirely different skill.

It is and he spent most of the article saying that skill can be cultivated (and isn't necessarily about intelligence).

> You should try and have both, and no, one is not more important than the other.

He also stated this as well at the introduction and this was pretty much the point of the essay.

> I mean the whole article feels like the stupid questions we’d ask ourselves when we were kids: would you rather have a 9-meter arm, or a boneless leg?

Not sure I get it or how the essay feels like that question. He isn't saying you can only have one (intelligence) or the other (skill to generate new ideas). He said it's ideal to have both.


New ideas - are created by recombination and filtering. Your subconscious generates new recombination, the wider the scope and stranger the combinations - the higher the chances of a miss, but also of discovering a "pass" to a new field. Now these re-combinations are filtered, again first subconsciously.

If you murdered your childish, playful self in your late youth or give too much about societys evaluation of what society can not even evaluate your idea might never creep into your aware consciousness.

Now for the ugly part. Some of us are, by curse or luck, predisposed to have a more flexible brain when it comes to recombinating ideas, persons, circumstances.

My basic assumption always was, that it is a useful side-effect of watchfulness aka the guardian role aka looking for danger in noise.

This of course can go horribly wrong. A creatives world is just one frail filter function working away from, writing game of thrones too living in game of thrones in your living room. I really would love to see the statistics here, to test this.

Any center of creativity should be surrounded by camps of relatives were the filter functions went haywire.

Now for the final touch. There is no recipe. No "cook" this algorithm, dance this dance through your brain and you will turn more creative. If asked for it- the brain will fantasize and invent those recipes. Which will be nice to read, but worthless when attempting to reproduce. The closest one would get is to reproduce the education that shaped shapeable brains into extraordinary creative people.

And if all this works out, you are still just somebody with a (good) idea. Ideas are plenty in the sea and having good ideas does not equal the ability to execute on it.

I would love to have a 9 meter arm made from boneless legs. Thanks. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Robotic_Arm


Reads to me like a VC frustrated by the lack of investment opportunities he’s been presented lately.


> Like I feel generally fairly smart in engineering, but I just can’t seem to learn chess at all.

This seems like binary thinking. Can't learn chess over what period of time, with what resources and for what definition of "learning chess"?


I haven't read it but "smart" isn't some universal trait. One can be "smart" in one area and really dumb in another. I don't understand how someone can be a good chef. You can be great at that, intuitively using the chemistry of it while failing even the most basic chemistry class.

I guess I should read the article.


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