Smarts

It’s not that it’s hard to think if you have the time and the tools to learn how.

Smarts are both nat­ural and cul­ti­vat­able. You may have inher­ent intel­li­gence, but until you have the time and tools (lan­guage, expe­ri­ence) to develop it, it doesn’t grow very rapidly. If you spend your days car­ry­ing water and pok­ing holes in the ground with a stick, you aren’t actively devel­op­ing your intel­li­gence; you’re not read­ing, going to school, dis­cussing com­plex ideas with peo­ple. All of those things, espe­cially read­ing, teach you to think bet­ter and give you the tools with which to have more com­plex thoughts.

I think we priv­i­leged peo­ple for­get how exhaust­ing a life of work and strain truly is. If you’re con­cerned with Maslows hier­ar­chy of needs on a daily basis, you don’t have energy left for much else.

Up until about a hun­dred and fifty years ago, you likely didn’t have access to the kind of tools you need to think in the first place. School and books were for the wealthy; not only could the wealthy afford those things, they could afford to have other peo­ple do all the work that just exist­ing requires. Once you can pay some­one (or, more likely, a staff of some­ones) to take care of every­thing else for you, you have the time to learn how to think, and to develop what­ever innate intel­li­gence you might have; if your suc­cess con­tin­ues, your chil­dren will grow up with these tools and time and will be bet­ter devel­oped at any given stage.

The rea­son I stress read­ing is that you need to have the build­ing blocks of com­plex ideas in order to con­struct them in the first place. Words and phrases and modes of think­ing develop connections—modules—that you can assem­ble to make new, big­ger ideas. That basic learn­ing comes mostly from books, but also through talk­ing to peo­ple who already have the capability.

I had a con­ver­sa­tion with my grand­fa­ther a few years ago. He was born in 1913 in Tem­ple Texas. He went to col­lege and was even­tu­ally a big wheel in both Army Intel­li­gence (Colonel) and Ma BellAT&T (Direc­tor of Inter­state Reg­u­la­tory Rela­tions). A smart man, by any mea­sure. He asked me what “soft­ware” was. (Actu­ally, he first asked what “soft­ware looked like”, and we went from there.) It took me quite a while to lead him through all the knowl­edge that he had to have to under­stand it even at a very basic level. No expe­ri­ence with com­put­ers, code, user inter­faces, Boolean Alge­bra, even some of the elec­tron­ics were new to him. Then it was on to modes of pre­sen­ta­tion and inter­ac­tion. Input/output, mem­ory (RAM, ROM, tape and hard dri­ves), context-based cal­cu­la­tions, etc. Not just no expe­ri­ence, either: no built-in ways of think­ing about those things. It was a very inter­est­ing and excit­ing con­ver­sa­tion, because I could see him stitch­ing the new infor­ma­tion into knowl­edge and then into con­cepts as I talked.

That’s what has to hap­pen for any­one to start think­ing crit­i­cally about any­thing. You get the tools, are led through the ways t use them, and then you prac­tice. If you’ve had the tools and have been work­ing with them all your life, crit­i­cal think­ing appears to be easy. If not, it is work so hard that it bor­ders on the impos­si­ble If you’re at the left end of the human intel­li­gence bell curve, you can for­get about it. If you’re in the mid­dle, you may or may not be able to sort out whether Fox News is bull­shit if you have the time to work at it. If you’re at the far right end and have the tools, then it’s fair to crit­i­cize you for your lack of though or skepticism.