15 January, 2010

Scalpel in My Head, Wielded by Mine Own Hand

I am an imbecile.

I am also a genius.

How do I manage to operate simultaneously at both extremes of intelligence? It's not as simple as a statistical mean, but rather a wild and exhausting oscillation between them, careening from high level metacognition to struggling to tap out a single important word that I can see in my posterior inferior frontal gyrus, stubbornly not moving despite my need of it.

Simply put, I wouldn't have the slightest clue that I am intelligent if not for others around me reinforcing their perception of my intelligence upon me. This isn't to say that differences in processing speed, retention of information, or synthesis of broad principles would not have eventually become apparent to me, but they would have taken quite a while as I, and others, have found myself to be profoundly dense when it comes to the nuances of human emotional social behavior. Basically, this stems from the contrast between feeling my sentience buzz with tantalizing data and sometimes feeling remarkably stupid.

I am aware that feeling stupid or feeling smart is an entirely subjective internal experience. Furthermore, it is likely that feeling remarkably stupid is actually due to being able to perceive my mistakes and/or shortcomings in their full implications and on (perhaps too) many scales. I am not writing this to polish my own ego here, this is speculation. I have been very frequently puzzled by other peoples' behaviors, and this is not the pleasant, relaxing kind of puzzled where there is some verifiable formulation of the question to begin with*, but the kind of maddeningly unquantifiable mystery that follows no logic except self-interest.

I don't understand most people. I believe I understand a large aspect of them, but I don't understand why. I have met so many people who seem content to live in the shallow end of the pool, who have never regarded information as anything other than temporary and fleeting, and I cannot help but wonder why they are content with it. Sure, everyone becomes a philosopher on their deathbeds, but what of the rest of their time before it? I cannot relate my frame of experience to theirs. I make no claim that my mode of thought is superior. I cannot comprehend satisfaction without questioning the vast beauty and complexity of the world sparking all around me.

On the other hand, nerds and scientists are comprehensible people. They operate on the same strong currency of curiosity and wonder that I do, and as such I find them much much much more relatable than most "normal" folks. Sometimes I amuse myself by trying to view the nerd/hacker/scientist cultures of which I am a part like I am an outsider to it, and the way that we interact with one another is in many ways fundamentally different. We are scientists, nerds, or hackers because we love what we do and are deeply emotionally vested in the outcome of our clever work. We question the world around us and reinvent our relationship to our understanding thereof frequently, and that, more than anything, is what sets intelligent people aside from others.

*E.g., a jigsaw puzzle has a solution if the complete set of pieces are placed in the correct spatial sequence, or the structure of a protein may be hacked to test its function in measurable environments.

1 comment:

Tea said...

I tried to explain this sentiment to my sister this morning, and she just gave me a confused look and walked away. She doesn't seem to understand my perpetual need to dig for more information.