How to spot a dumb person

      9 Comments on How to spot a dumb person

Everyone knows some dumb people. Some of us try to reason them, some of us get mad at them, some of us laugh at them, but for most of us, it depends on the circumstances.

So many people find humor in dumb people, at least when they’re not the one getting problems because of that person. Entire websites are dedicated to mocking them.

Dumb employee

Obviously, there are sites that are exactly the same idea with the goal of laughing at dumb customers instead.

Everyone, at some point, had to deal with a dumb person. I’m willing to bet that everyone, at some point, has also been a dumb person. The interesting thing is that in a big percentage of the stories in websites like the one above, the dumb person acts like the “smart” person is dumb, while they are the smart one. They are so convinced of this, that they can often go to great lengths to try to convince our storyteller that they are wrong. They also get about as exasperated as the narrator during the conversation. As for the stories that were not eventually resolved by a third-party, both people probably walked away asking themselves how could the other one be so stupid.

both think the other is dumb

Taking into account selective memory, cognitive dissonance, and other biases, I’m pretty sure that, provided we hear about the story from the opposite side’s point of view, we would side with them pretty often.

The point is that I’ve been thinking about it, and I can’t figure out a good way to actually spot a dumb person. If I was an objective bystander, there is always a chance that I’m about as dumb as the “smart” one (in my opinion), so the actual smart one looks dumb to me.

How many times have you walked away from an argument thinking about how stupid the other person was, as opposed to the number of times you walked thinking about how stupid you are compared to them?

Obviously, there are cases when a person feels as if they were stupid. Still, I’m sure everyone is the “smart” one in their mind more than half of the time, which means, mathematically, that most people are pretty often wrong about their own intelligence. Yes, that probably includes me.

There is also the cognitive dissonance part. Whenever I act stupid and realize it later, there always seems to be an excuse. Obviously, there’s no way I really am stupid, so I must have been distracted, tired, unlucky, etc. Since I’m super smart, my stupid words and actions must be due to an external factor. Also, since all of my stupid actions and words are due to an external factor, that means I’m super smart, right? On the other side, if another person acts like a complete moron during our interaction, then they should stop talking. I mean, they’re obviously dumb, why did they get hired in the first place? I also probably lost my faith in humanity during our exchange.

Still, I don’t think it’s possible that there actually are no dumb or smart people. Obviously, someone has to be right every time. Is there really no way to know? Considering that everyone is either smart, dumb, or somewhere in between, nobody can truly be objective. Almost everyone thinks they’re on the smart side. Actually, the smart side could just be the side with more people, while majority rule and bullying allow them to continue pretending to be smart. How can anyone know an IQ test is accurate, if the one who made it didn’t get top score? And if he did, then how do you know the test doesn’t check how close to his level you are, regardless of if it’s below or above? How can anyone be qualified to judge intelligence without first having been objectively judged as “good”?

Most people then use the philosophical reasoning.

  • If you’re asking yourself those questions, that means you’re smarter than most people already.
  • Dumb people are full of confidence, while smart people are crippled with doubt
  • As long as you’re happy with the result, then you were smart enough
  • Using pure logic is definitely smart

But that still doesn’t mean anything. If you’re doubting everything and trying to find the truth, you’re smart. Unless of course if you do it a little too much, then you’re a crazy conspirationist. Socrates doubted everything and was using pure logic. He was killed. Was that smart? He made his point, and is now known around the entire world thousands of years later. He still failed miserably at staying alive and following our evolutionary instincts. He was a victim of natural selection. If everyone had been like him,  things would have been different, but for most of history, thinking about stuff was significantly less useful for the individual and for the group than fighting or running away from stuff.

reasoning a bear

What is so objectively good about doubt anyway? It usually lowers happiness, self-esteem, and wilingess to share anything you discover. Most important discoveries in the beginning of humanity were probably the result of a full-of-confidence-but-dumb-person being lucky, while hundreds of similar people didn’t discover anything great. You need confidence to act, no matter how good or bad the idea is.

So what, does intelligence just not exist? Maybe intelligence does exist, but it isn’t actually a good thing? Most known species are doing pretty well in life without caring about that. I care about it, but I’m not really sure why.

  • charly evans

    We all have many different forms and levels of Intelligence. My friend can talk my ear off about Political Science and come across as a smart person only because he knows his subject. He loves politics so he will excel in it. I hate Politics. But i now other Topics he is not familiarized with. Is he Stupid for not knowing it? There are many people who value their lives in different ways. Others would rather be locked up in a room for 24/7 reading books day and night. Others will study less and enjoy life more, Camping, Bike Riding, Hiking, Dancing etc. Do people have the right to call them stupid because they do not know as much as they feel they should? Just exactly how much knowledge is one required to learn so he or she gets the respect from the So called Intellectual person? There are literally billions of Topics people can educate them on right down to their very fingernail and why the nail swells up like it does. That little topic can lead into several months of researching. Any ways i am the one who enjoys life. I go out often and just enjoy life. I read and watch documentaries but i tend to more with my life than just reading every day. Sure you will build yourself Intellectually but is this what makes a person better than the other? My friend is a Genius. He sits at home on sunny days and reads and reads. This is all he does. He has no other friends. He has no other hobbies or common Interests. He is 50 now and time is running out. My friend has all this knowledge and many people think he is very intelligent but hey the guy is still living with his Mother and Father who are ready to kick off any time now.My friend doesn’t like Camping or Bike riding. All he does is stay at home and read. So the answer to the question how to spot a Dumb Person? You can’t spot a Dumb person. For example the movie Rain Man played by Dustin Hoffman. people would right away assume he is dumb and Intelligent. mathematical Equations while pounding himself in the head with his hands.These people are Very Intelligent. The problem with Society is everyone is trying to out do each other in a battle of wits. The loser gets labeled as stupid. Concentrate on being a better person. Being Kind to one another, Honest,Loving.and understanding towards others who may be a little different. There is a lot more to life than fishing around trying to spot a dumb person so they can have the enjoyment of Belittling them.

  • mh

    I think there’s an important distinction lost when we divide people into “smart” and “dumb”. That distinction is, the difference between knowledge and intelligence.

    Is the “dumb” person in the illustration at the beginning of this post very capable of learning, but just hasn’t learned the particular thing that the “smart” person knows? Or is the “dumb” person slow to figure new things out (but still potentially very knowledgeable in some areas, which may have been why they were hired).

    I think you can fairly easily test how quick someone is to learn new things. Give them a thing they haven’t encountered before, and see how quickly they figure it out. People could be compared on this scale, objectively, without the test having been designed by a genius.

    Similarly, you can test how knowledgeable someone is on a particular topic, objectively. Take a list of things that could be known about this topic, and ask them questions to find out how many of them they know.

    What you can’t tell, at least initially, is whether someone appears smart because they learn quickly, or appears dumb because they’re in a new situation that is very familiar to you, but not to them. In order to tease out people’s relative standing on knowledge and intelligence, you have to test those two things separately.

  • Kingfisher12

    There’s a few points in the ‘smart vs. dumb’ question, but I’d start with paraphrasing another ancient philosopher (Epictetus I think) who said that the only people who are not philosophers are sages, and senseless people. Sages, because they have wisdom, and senseless people because they think they are wise. Everyone else is seeking wisdom and is therefore a philosopher. (To Epictetus, to qualify as a sage you would have found the key to happiness and be in a constant state of Joy – similar to Nirvana in some eastern philosophies).

    The solution to simultaneously holding doubts, while acting with confidence is what I might call ‘humility’. Humility goes towards everything with the attitude ‘I won’t make the same mistake twice, but I’m okay with making all new ones’. In every situation the person with humility goes in with confidence that they are the smart one, but hoping that they are actually the dumb one. Because being the dumb one means you get to learn something.

    The confidence in humility isn’t about fooling yourself that you are actually the smart one in the room. It comes with the attitude that you are smarter than you were yesterday, and yesterday turned out well enough for you to see today. It’s the confidence that you have as much right to be dumb as anyone else who was wise enough to survive this long. The humble person does not look on the dumb with pity or annoyance. If anything the humble person views the dumb person with nostalgia, remembering when they were once that dumb, and realizing that in many ways they still are.

    • Kaito Kid

      I actually like this way of thinking a lot. Do you have any particular work from Epictetus or other that talks about this that you would recommend?

      • Kingfisher12

        I’m not entirely sure it was Epictetus, but I’m a big fan of him as a philosopher, and Stoic philosophy in general. I do recommend reading Discourses of Epictetus and Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

        I think humility is the only way to live life without being miserable, since a lack of humility leads mostly to frustration. I don’t have any specific writings in mind on the topic, but most collections of philosophical writings have similar things to say about humility.

        One other thing I might add is something my brother-in-law (a university professor) said; “doubt your doubts”. It might be foolish to assume that you know something, but it is equally foolish to assume that you don’t. Instead, just accept that absolute certainty is probably beyond our grasp and just do your best with the light you’ve got.

        • Not sure I’m stoical enough to be a Stoic, but I do like the “humility and doubt” idea, that’s definitely something I try to do at least some of the time:-)

  • On the core smart vs dumb point, I think Scott Adams pointed out – in one of the earlier Dilbert-and-work books, possibly “the Dilbert Principle” – that everyone is dumb some of the time and smart some of the time. You are, I am, he is, everyone is. He gave some nice personal examples of how one minute he’s operating a computer and navigating the internet, while the next minute his pager doesn’t work, he takes it to a repair shop and wordlessly the repairman whips out the battery, inserts it the right way, and the pager works again.

    To put that a bit more seriously, we’re all good at some things, and lousy at others. Even if we’re normally pretty good at something, sometimes we have a bad day – or minute – and we just can’t work out what we’re doing wrong, we get stuck in a loop etc. Then we deploy our single most advanced weapon (that I’m convinced AI will need): boredom:-) and try again later, when it’s instantly obvious what the solution was. Or we explain our problem to someone else – and solve it ourselves half way through the explanation – even if that “someone” we’re explaining it to is a rubber duck.

    • Kaito Kid

      I see your point, but don’t you think that on average, some people have just more smart moments than others? if yes, how do you objectively identify those people?

      • Yes, that may well be true. As to objectively identifying how smart people are, that’s tricky. A while back, a friend of mine had a daft idea for a new social media app: community consensus driven “how nice are you” (kudos) ratings. every time someone behaves stupidly, you post a “person X, decrement kudos” event to some registry. similarly, every time someone behaves really cleverly, you post a “person X, increment kudos” event. the registry simply counts the +ve and -ve kudos points for each user, and reports an overall kudos score: the sum. then the app reports anyone’s kudos score when anyone asks, or reports the top-N “best kudos” people, and the bottom-X “worst kudos” people. If that system was in place, “high kudos” might correlate with “smart people”, or maybe not, I dunno:-)