Six Heuristics For Judging Intelligence

The challenge is no longer finding information, it’s trying not to drown in it. Today, how we filter defines much of our intelligence.

To avoid being an intellectual pinball, we need heuristics to figure out if someone’s worth listening to.

Here’s six:

Intellectual Humility

‘Anybody who doesn’t change their mind a lot is dramatically underestimating the complexity of the world’ – Jeff Bezos

What’ve they changed their minds about? What’ve they been wrong about? What aren’t they sure about?

If the answer to all 3 is ‘nothing’, they care more about thinking they’re right than being right. Confidence is important psychologically and socially, but it’s often the enemy of good ideas.

Confidence in specific areas doesn’t disqualify automatically. Some things we can be quite sure of. Smart people can distinguish between simple and complex. They know which types of things to be sure and unsure about.

Either way, if they aren’t good friends with cognitive dissonance they’re out.

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Directing Your Subconscious

Like a video game character, I’ve got a energy bar suspended over my head. So do you. If it’s full we do stuff well, if it’s empty we’re basically turds. Doing healthy things keeps it full longer, but I’ll save that for another time.

When’s the last time you had to study for something?

Maybe you procrastinated and had to catch up. Or maybe you wanted to crush it. Either way you sit down for a monster study sesh, like 4 hours. After an hour your bar is empty, so you spend the next 3 hours mashing buttons that don’t work. Your a turd for 3 hours and it’s no fun. This frames the experience negatively and you procrastinate next time.

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A Stoic Blueprint For Chronic Pain

I didn’t make this thing to talk personal stuff. The following is about useful ideas, but I do need to paint a quick picture.

I had urination problems and couldn’t sit down without a doughnut cushion. My sore back and guch (don’t google image) meant I spent most of 5 months laying down. After seeing multiple experts I still don’t have a good reason as to why.

It sucked but some people are much worse off.

Here’s how in some ways, it’s made my life better.

Dystopian Holograms

Anxiety is largely the distance between expectation and reality.

If you expect a promotion at work and don’t get it, life sucks. If you expect everyone to be nice and they’re jerks, it’s a bad day. If you don’t expect your back to hurt and it does, it’s stressful.

Pain sucks but what sucks more is the domino effect is creates. Why does it hurt? Will it be like this forever? Will it get worse?

Beginning every day I prepared myself for it.

Not just a little but worse than I’d ever had. There was no gap between expectation and reality. By preparing myself I couldn’t be disappointed, I could only be pleasantly surprised. On an average day I now felt lucky.

Now there’s just one domino.

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Why The Middle Ground Isn’t Reason

Negotiating is dumb isn’t it?

Two people are bullshitting and both know it. Two extreme anchors are set, so when they end up in the middle both parties leave feeling good.

The same thing happens when we reason. We feel like we’ve conducted thinking if we take the middle ground.

In a debate we assume our favourite ideas are placed there for a reason. Lots of people have thought hard about this stuff. Maybe they have. But dig deeper into the origins of any belief and it’s more like a bottomless laundry basket. The anchors for these beliefs are probably more arbitrary than we’d like to think. Perhaps they’re built on holograms.

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The Shoulders Of Holograms

‘My technique is don’t believe anything. If you believe in something, you are automatically precluded from believing its opposite.’ – Terrance Mckenna apparently

Whose the biggest know-it-all you know?

They meet someone new and get the impression he’s a dick.

The potential dick and the know-it-all chat for a minute and go separate ways.

It’s concluded that someone new is a dick.

Humans are usually good at first impressions. Heaps of data is processed and instantaneously transformed into an opinion. This speed would have been important to our ancestors.

The table is set.

Subsequent information is based on this initial impression.

Your know-it-all parts the Red Sea of information. Any word or gesture that can prove them right will. The rest is discarded.

If this all happened 20 seconds later perhaps someone new thought of something funny. The first impression changes and everything else is a little funnier. Or perhaps he said something insightful but the know-it-all didn’t notice, too busy proving them self right.

Human’s are bad at updating first impressions. This isn’t about judging a book by it’s cover though. This same structure underlies all thinking.

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The Dumb Thing Smart People Do

Was Shakespeare a fascist?

I don’t really know what the word ‘fascist’ means and I can’t remember reading Shakespeare. Clearly this makes me perfectly suited to criticise lots of intelligent people.

Lets begin.

If someone could be bothered reading Shakespeare they’d see words they’d not seen before. They’d also see familiar words used very differently.

In the meme-universe of language, words change. It’s a pretty hostile universe: word-memes die, new ones emerge or they morph into something else. Survival of the fittest.

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Fertile Mental Habitat

No configuration of squiggles or grunts, inside or outside your head will ever capture the complexity of the world (and beyond). Just because these configurations aren’t perfect though doesn’t mean they can’t be useful.

A highly imperfect but useful squiggle is as follows:

Input = Output

Here I’m talking about your mind – you get out what you put in.

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