By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-12-04 07:00:00-05:00 No comments

Brain droppings, continued:

Peter Woit: "Often very smart people are not good at realizing they were wrong about something and admitting it. Perhaps being smart even makes things worse: you lack experience at being wrong."

One of the worst things we ever did vis-a-vis intelligence, as a society, was think of it and talk about it as it were a possession rather than a skillset. We end up saying "I'm a smart person" instead of "I am trying to do the smart things". Intelligence becomes a matter of identity and not behavior.

This explains the phenomena Woit talks about in the above-linked thread, and it explains a great many other things I've seen as well — the online cabals of Very Smart People who claim to champion intelligence and rationality and science, but really just want to be called smart and rational and scientific without ever having to actually earn the labels.

The problem with such identities is that they are brittle, and cannot be maintained except by way of an unsustainable expenditure of energy. They also make it impossible to be wrong elegantly; they have no failure mode.

During the pandemic, I could not help but notice the drastic contrasts between these two extremes: those who were trying to do the difficult work of saving the world from itself, work that required them to be tentative and self-correcting (often at the expense of seeming like authorities, because our perverted relationship with authority means that we only listen to people who always say the same thing even when it turns out to be wrong) — and those whose identities were bound up in being righteous contrarian gadflies.

Tags: society sociology