Working at a major MDC company, I have the pleasure of meeting a good cross section of the intelligentsia. My latest encounter was at DESY, for those of you who do not know about DESY, it is a particle accelerator much like the CERN facilities in Switzerland. The people who work there are the smartest minds we can think of.
For what is smart?
The nuclear physicists and scientists who work at these facilities I personally -- until now -- considered to be the smartest of the smart. Among them are scientists like my personal favorite the late Richard Feynman. I eat lunch quite often in the DESY cafeteria. Now if you go to this cafeteria you will not be surprised at all by the appearance of the people; they are typical scientists. You have your young students and recent university grad’s with long hair packed neatly back in a ponytail and wearing some kind of indie band t-shirt. You have the very sterile but somehow cute girls with small wire rimmed glasses and zero make-up; perfectly fulfilling the “brainy” stereotype. In another corner you have the 50+ year old with wild bushy silvery hair fulfilling the Einstein stereotype that you really want to see here. In another corner is a girl who sits with her head permanently stuck at 30° negative declination as she peers into her bowl of some kind of vegan nightmare that she forces herself to eat. She is also wearing the mandatory amazingly-ugly-San-Francisco-vegan-sweater. One is instantly struck with the hardcore stereotype of an incredible introvert whose entire world plays off in her head, a complete universe of introversion, perfect for a math whiz who crunches algorithms in her head all day. Among these young and old and predominantly German scientists (DESY is in Germany) you have a very large contingent of Japanese; it seems they have a hang for nuclear physics. But wonderfully stereotypical among all of these people, no matter how alternative they try to look, they are all very clean and “sharp” and just a tiny bit sterile looking. Despite the alternative t-shirts or any quirky looks or habits you can plainly see an underlying thread of clean academia.
I was sitting next to one of these bright eyed young hopefuls and decided to chat him up during lunch. Unfortunately my usual way to “chat up” someone is invariably a confrontation:
“Excuse me, may I interrupt?” ....silence, all eyes turn to me... “If you could have voted in the last U.S. election, who would you have voted for?” I asked bluntly.
“Well Obama of course” he said.
“Why of course?” my instant reply.
“Because he’s for social programs which I understand as self-evident nowadays.”
I raised an eyebrow.
Then a ray of hope came from the girl in the wire rimmed glasses “He definitely shouldn’t have received the Nobel Peace Prize.”
“Yeah that’s my point” I said “I thought this would be the year when everyone, at least a big chunk of the academia starts voting for 3rd parties. But as it stands it looks like the election is no better than a high-school popularity contest.”
“What - you mean there are more than two parties in the U.S.?”
“Of course, there are over nine parties, if you want to count the nazis and communists!
“And I have this theory based on logic; if you voted for Obama in 2008 -- you can’t possibly vote for him in 2012 because that would put you in a logical trap; namely that of ‘change’. He was voted for on the platform of ‘change’. Now it is a naked fact that Obama has not changed one single thing, quite the contrary, he has re-signed and voted back in every single Bush policy there is.”
“Guantanamo is still open” another ray of hope interjected from the side in a cute German accent.
I rambled on:
“Even worse - he added to Bush’s policies. Now that is definitely not ‘change’, as a matter of fact he’s basically proven himself to be the ‘black Bush’! So if you voted for him in 2008, you can’t possibly vote for him in 2012 because you would be calling yourself either a liar or someone with no principles. You’re basically voting for everything Bush stands for. And have you not noticed how there are strangely no anti-war demonstrations? But I guess I just have to give up on things like ‘truth’, ‘principles’, and ‘logic’.”
“Oh, but he does other things better than Bush” was his generic and amazingly stupid response.
Of course I couldn’t resist the urge to put him in another logical juxtaposition:
“So if he does other things Bush did -- just better -- then he’s just a better Bush isn’t he!?”
And of course I didn’t stop at that;
“So the fact that he has kill lists and kills people who aren’t even positively identified with remote control drones doesn’t bother you?”
More silence and empty stares ... the conversation degenerated from there.
I was severely disappointed and depressed, I thought that among these, the “smartest” people in the world, there would surely be more dissenters, free thinkers and heretics. As in Freeman Dyson’s essay “the need for heretics” he explains marvelously how science and society as a whole needs heretics and free thinkers. He goes on to criticize the status quo of the current global warming agenda. Upon reading this I thought “AHA!” now here is one scientist who surely must have voted for a 3rd, 4th or even 5th party -- someone who has the balls to dissent and do something new. Sadly, I learned that Freeman Dyson supported Obama in 2008. I could not figure out who he supported in 2012.
So I began to think good and hard as I watched these scientists in the cafeteria. The smartest of the smart stood in line just like everyone else. And, just like everyone else, they formed two lines, then three and then just a mob around the tray conveyor belt which takes the trays away. The literal cluster-**** around the tray belt was just as bad at institutions of “lesser” intelligence. These scientists, who propose to love critical thinking and logic and truth and data, overwhelmingly support Obama. Some say because he is “for science” -- despite the fact that he cancelled the moon program just recently. I think what they mean “for science” is more accurately “for more government grants to my selected institution”. But I digress, I observed these scientists carefully and concluded they are no “smarter” whatsoever when it comes to voting. They are just humans who default to the very bottom of our worst cognitive biases when it comes to voting:
My Side Bias, etc. etc.
The effect of this is that it turns our voting system into a gambling fallacy, no better than a horse race.
They are in the end, just humans like the rest of us who drive like idiots, cause traffic jams just like idiots and vote for the lesser of two evils every four years, just like idiots.
So me and my British friend (who accompanied me) unanimously concluded; intelligence is a misnomer, it’s nothing but a totally useless statistic. People are only “intelligent” in their own very specific field. Be it math, science, astronomy etc.. Test scores have nothing to do with intelligence, I am forced to realize this every day. When you put these highly “intelligent” people in daily human situations they degenerate to the norm in fractions of a second. They vote for demagogues, cause traffic jams, and do stupid things just like anyone else and just as frequently. They are no more intelligent than anyone else, for I consider intelligence much more than test scores. For me it’s more of a composite of social skills, quick thinking -- thinking on your feet, thinking out of the box, and maybe, just maybe ... ‘results’.
Ever since the invention of multiple choice tests, high test scores only reflect how good you are at taking tests.
I think my grandmother said it best:
“There was a professor whose car broke down and he was stranded on the side of the road. A seemingly nice fellow came along and stopped to help, opened the hood of the professor’s car and found the problem quickly. The professor was on his way again, but before leaving thanked the man; “Thanks for the help, how can I repay you?”, “Well I just got out of jail, so ten bucks would do me fine!”
This story used to really irritate my aunt who was an English professor at an elite private college. Granny was great at putting things into perspective!