"Smart" Is Not a Good Word

July 18, 2019

I’m going to be vulnerable in this post. Regardless of whether you know me personally, please treat this discussion primarily as a presentation of opinion.

I grew up not understanding mental illness. Like Jun Wu, I found studying this domain to be self-actualizing — anxiety and clinical depression had not been anomalies, but intrinsic parts of my childhood.

I’m now somewhere around 20 years old and persistence of least the latter is ubiquitous in my daily life.

My experiences with mental health have been the result of many influences. One of the most important influences has been the notion of smartness. I’ll discuss my interpretation of smart, then explain why I think it’s not a good word.I use the word “definitely” frequently in this post, not as an emphasis but as a synonym for “confidently”.

u: School Rules

I grew up in an extremely competitive school district. Exemplifications of this include

The problem is not always that such an environment exists. The problem is that for a student that has spent all of their primary education experience in such an environment, it is very likely the only environment they know exists. I still sometimes feel that it is the only environment that matters.

Viewerse.g. parents, teachers would compliment many in this environment for their intelligence, and of course, for being smart. Maybe it is already obvious that smart is not a good word for this - 80 hour academic work weeks, at any age, is not necessarily an indication of intelligence. It can only definitely be an indication of hard work.

But also, smartness doesn’t have anything to do with intelligence.

s: DJ Benzi

What does being smart even mean? In my experience, people use smart to simultaneously describe to someone’s prowess in a certain skill and their overall intelligence.

The problem with this is that knowledge of a particular domain and general intelligence have almost nothing to do with each other. The reality is that you and I are probably very knowledgeable in respective (but different!) knowledge areas, and also probably have nearly-equal intelligences. Lumping the two together means that a a listener who hears something about an individual’s smarts has to either

  1. treat smartness as a score of both domains, or
  2. ask more questions.

Deference to the latter is least-ambiguous, but the presence of ambiguity at all means this usage of smart is already not a good pattern.

DJ Benzi is one of the most clever and knowledgeable individuals in their fieldFrom my perspective. There are many other clever and knowledgeable individuals in this domain as well. I just wrote this listening to Benzi. . From Benzi’s perspective, I imagine there is one domain that he would consider me clever and knowledgeable in. I also believe that both of us have equalor at least definitely highly-similar intelligences.

Maybe someone could say DJ Benzi and I are both smart. What does that tell you?

t: Computational Equivalence

The thing is, I’m pretty sure all entities in the environments around us are computationally equivalentDerived from the theory of computation, itself an idea popularized by Stephen Wolfram. , which is the idea that structures are identical in their design complexity though their functionality may be radically differentMy interpretation of computational equivalence is a very optimistic one. It may be the case that this model can be absolutely refuted, but it is the most generic appeal to logic I currently have. .

Treating all entities as computationally equivalent generalizes influences on functionality. In this model, intelligence is as not good of a word as smart is. It becomes easy to show that the only differentiatorsas related to this discussion between any two entities are the knowledge domains they operate in.

This means the cumulative domain signature an entity operates in must be globally unique. Perception of something as “difficult” or “interesting” is an artifact of contrasting domain signatures, though in fact every domain is equally complex. This is the model I employ for reasoning why different people find problems to be difficult or interestingThis can be thought of as generalizing a context of ethnocentrism. .

“Passion” is also solved by this model. A’s passion is an artifact of A’s perception of contrasting structural distribution. Structures may be more or less rare, but they are still all equivalent in complexity. It’s even possible to generalize that A’s passion is A’s computational signature.

Anyway, that’s an unbound idea. The point is smart is not a good word. Maybe it’s even a bad word.

ThoughtThoughts

I would like to hear your thoughts about my thoughts. The best way to contact me is via email.

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