Smart People

Food for Thought

After studying fine arts in college, I got a job on Wall Street. I met many smart people there, particularly on the trading floor, but only in the conventional sense. My college friends, who barely finished high school, seemed smart too but in a different way. I have a theory.

I believe it has to do with the difference between input and output. Many people read but don’t write. They watch many videos but never produce one. Many listen to lots of music but never write their own songs. Many people seem happy with just inputs without outputs. (Why they are happy is another topic.) I theorize that two different forms of intelligence are associated with input and output.

People generally content with societal norms would not feel compelled to create anything of their own. For instance, they are satisfied with the books and articles they read; they don’t feel they need to add to them. They might be highly knowledgeable and intelligent, but the conversation might be lackluster because they would only repeat what they have learned from others.

Unlike inputs, outputs require you to make your knowledge your own, and you are motivated, at least partly, by the fact that what you want in life doesn’t exist. In other words, dissatisfaction with the norms compels you to be a creator, not just fine artists but anyone who attempts to create and express something of their own.

“Critical thinking” is not the same as analytical thinking. To think critically, you do not need a high IQ. You just have to be perceptive enough to see something lacking or wrong with the norms. This perceptiveness comes across as “smart” even if you don’t know calculus. It cannot be measured because a measurement must always be against an established norm/standard.

I don’t know if perceptiveness can be taught, either. If it were possible, conventionally smart people would learn it over time. The derivatives traders with PhDs in theoretical physics seemed perfectly happy with playing the games they were given. They never questioned what it means to do what they do. It’s like the difference between the fish being aware and unaware of the water.