The Dumb Intellectual

Oxymoronic introductions tend to draw attention but a recurrent ironic tone can become rather boring. I shall try to present myself otherwise.

What is a dumb intellectual? Surely a concept concocted when I’ve had too much free time to think. Frankly, I consider myself part of this tribe. Maybe brief psychological insight might tender less scepticism from your end but I assure you, dumb intellectuals do in fact exist.

Psychologist Raymond Catell posits two types of intelligences – fluid and crystallised. Fluid intelligence is the mental capacity with which we are born, free from cultural influence. It’s what our mamas and papas have given us. Crystallised intelligence on the other hand, is culture heavy. When I say culture this includes the environment around an individual – the social, the economic, the community, the polity. The information or general knowledge that one absorbs from culture forms crystallised intelligence. Therefore, crystallised intelligence develops throughout our lives as we learn more from the world while fluid intelligence is an inherent, unchangeable cognitive ability.

Fluid intelligence is like a given number of stairs and crystallised intelligence is how many steps the person is able to climb, subject to their environmental circumstances be it quality of education, family life or exposure to the world through travel. Fluid intelligence is the given flight of stairs – a limit but it depends on how far the individual is able to fulfil this potential.

A dumb intellectual, I believe, is a person who has a dwarfed fluid intelligence in comparison to the average counterpart but through life experiences, travel, quality education or vocational success they have been able to expand their horizons and achieve the highest form of their crystallised intelligence over the course of life. They adopt a colourful vocabulary, well-informed global views, vast general knowledge and exquisite conversational styles; all hallmarks of sophistication. Crystallised intelligence helps them exude sophistication and enlightenment in ways similar to those with superior fluid intelligence. Their crystallised intelligence almost masks their inferior fluid intelligence.

“So if a person is able to disguise their stupidity so well, how do you know they’re stupid?” Well, one, they’re not stupid but are less mentally equipped and two, this inferiority can be revealed in certain situations to test comprehension, articulation and construction.

Comprehension. Dumb intellectuals have trouble understanding the very basis of concepts necessary to solve problems. I’m not talking about algebraic numericals, but just mind-benders. For example, a common ‘fork in the road’ mind puzzle as described below.

You are walking down a road and arrive at a fork that splits the road into two separate paths. When you reach, you meet two identical twins, each standing at the edge of one of the two paths. You have heard that there is a bag with $1,000,000 at the end of one path. You are told that one of the twins knows where the money is but unfortunately, one always tells the truth and the other always lies. You do not know which one is which. There is no way you can get to the end of both roads before the sun goes down.

What ONE question can you ask (of only one twin) that would lead you to the money?

(Stick around till the end for the answer and if you already know the answer stick around anyway.*)

A dumb intellectual would ordinarily have trouble comprehending what exactly the puzzle asks for. They may actively attack the problem, questioning why the bag of money is relevant or why it is important to get it before sundown. Or they may suggest asking the ‘truthful twin’ or the ‘lying twin’ a particular question obviously ignoring the instruction that nobody knows which twin is which (of course, over confidence or diverted attention could also be factors). They may just seem confused as to how to approach the problem and may suggest just walking down each road through trial and error – they are immensely baffled by what type of question must be asked. This often leads to over thinking. Over thinking is possibly a reaction when they realise that both crystallised intelligence and fluid intelligence is failing them in this instance of problem solving. Thus, they start actively evaluating negligent parts of the problem and imagining diverse explanations such as ‘what if both twins are liars’, ‘what if there is a third road’. Thinking out of the box is only when it assists one to a solution – over thinking does not assist one to a solution. Thus, lack of comprehension and the possibility of over-thinking can reveal the ‘dumb’ in a person.

Articulation. I’ve found that dumb intellectuals are great orators, speak with coherence and confidence on almost any topic but the lack of fluid intelligence seeps through when you ask them supplementary questions on the spot. This is the test of true articulation. Dumb intellectuals will change the topic, repeat initial points, repeat two or three ‘big’ words and/or will react with extreme emotions. Their explanations will be hollow, their true understanding will be blurry and the conviction in their speech dilutes. For example, when anybody at a dining table talks about ISIS they are almost always looking to preach. If you put them on the spot, ask them why this solution would be better than another, how they arrived at this conclusion, why this is happening in this century as opposed to others, you’ll find them quoting presidents and TV anchors with no real opinion of their own. Facts will be one sided and opposing counsel is often met with commentary on bigotry, religion and other matters that curve-ball from the root of the conversation. Therefore, they present themselves as intellectuals on a subject they speak on more than they genuinely know. Sometimes, dumb intellectuals have problems articulating the solution to a problem. If you a person has trouble explaining the solution of the ‘Fork in the Road’ puzzle to another person well, chances are they had trouble with comprehension and thus articulation. This is barring the obvious factors of attention span or whether the puzzle itself was poorly explained to them.

Construction. While they may know a great deal about say different furniture brands, dumb intellectuals may have difficulty building an IKEA dresser. They may have trouble following instructions, visualising the end product and understanding the purpose of each part, similar to how they may not understand pieces of a mind puzzle. You may have difficulty constructing visualisations of 3D objects in their head and possess great hesitation when asked to describe its different dimensions from their mind.

I am a dumb intellectual to a degree. I use my vocabulary to bullshit my way through essays and I use other skills learnt over time to compensate for those I was not genetically given. Yes, everyone has different staircases but dumb intellectuals possess a tangent to this uniform climb – deceit. We as humans are awfully intent on appearing as strong physically as well as mentally to others in our species. Being smart is an attractive quality but dumb intellectuals only appear smart. Look out for them and look for substance.

*Solution: A double negative. Point to one road and ask the question -“If I asked your twin if this was the path to the money, would he say yes?” Say it was the right path; if you asked the truth-teller, he would say no because his twin would lie. If you asked the liar, he would also say no because he knows his twin would say yes but he would lie about this fact. Therefore, a ‘no’ to this question meant that that was the road to the money and vice versa, a ‘yes’ would mean it was the road to no money.

© 2016 Pia Krishnankutty & springtidevoice. All Rights Reserved



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