Why Smart People Defend Bad Ideas

[First published April 2005]

We all know someone who’s intelligent, but who occasionally defends obviously bad ideas. Why does this happen? How can smart people take up positions that defy any reasonable logic? Having spent many years working with smart people I’ve cataloged many of the ways this happens, and I have advice on what to do about it. I feel qualified to write this essay as I’m a recovering smart person myself and I’ve defended several very bad ideas. So if nothing else this essay serves as a kind of personal therapy session. However, I fully suspect you’ll get more than just entertainment value (“Look, Scott is more stupid than we thought!”) out of what I have to say on this topic.

Success at defending bad ideas

The monty python argument sketchI’m not entirely proud to admit that I have a degree in Logic and Computation from Carnegie Mellon University. Majoring in logic is not the kind of thing that makes people want to talk to you at parties, or read your essays. But one thing I did learn after years of studying advanced logic theory is that proficiency in argument can easily be used to overpower others, even when you are dead wrong. If you learn a few tricks of logic and debate, you can refute the obvious, and defend the ridiculous. If the people you’re arguing with aren’t as comfortable in the tactics of argument, or aren’t as arrogant as you are, they may even give in and agree with you.

The problem with smart people is that they like to be right and sometimes will defend ideas to the death rather than admit they’re wrong. This is bad. Worse, if they got away with it when they were young (say, because they were smarter than their parents, their friends, and their parent’s friends) they’ve probably built an ego around being right, and will therefore defend their perfect record of invented righteousness to the death. Smart people often fall into the trap of preferring to be right even if it’s based in delusion, or results in them, or their loved ones, becoming miserable. (Somewhere in your town there is a row of graves at the cemetery, called smartypants lane, filled with people who were buried at poorly attended funerals, whose headstones say “Well, at least I was right.”)

Until they come face to face with someone who is tenacious enough to dissect their logic, and resilient enough to endure the thinly veiled intellectual abuse they dish out during debate (e.g. “You don’t really think that do you?”or “Well if you knew the <insert obscure reference here> rule/law/corollary you wouldn’t say such things”), they’re never forced to question their ability to defend bad ideas. Opportunities for this are rare: a new boss, a new co-worker, a new spouse. But if their obsessiveness about being right is strong enough, they’ll reject those people out of hand before they question their own biases and self-manipulations. It can be easier for smart people who have a habit of defending bad ideas to change jobs, spouses, or cities rather than honestly examine what is at the core of their psyche (and often, their misery).

Short of obtaining a degree in logic, or studying the nuances of debate, remember this one simple rule for defusing those who are skilled at defending bad ideas: Simply because they cannot be proven wrong, does not make them right. Most of the tricks of logic and debate refute questions and attacks, but fail to establish any true justification for a given idea.

For example, just because you can’t prove that I’m not the king of France reincarnated doesn’t make it so. So when someone tells you “My plan A is the best because no one has explained how it will fail” know that there is a logical gap in this argument. Simply because no one has described how it will fail, doesn’t necessarily make it the best plan. It’s possible than plans B, C, D and E all have the same quality, or that the reason no one has described how A will fail is that no one has had more than 30 seconds to scrutinize the plan. As we’ll discuss later, diffusing bad thinking requires someone (probably you) to construct a healthier framework around the bad thinking that shows it for what it is.

Death by homogeny

shelf of boxesThe second stop on our tour of commonly defended bad ideas is the seemingly friendly notion of communal thinking. Just because everyone in the room is smart doesn’t mean that collectively they will arrive at smart ideas. The power of peer pressure is that it works on our psychology, not our intellect. As social animals we are heavily influenced by how the people around us behave, and the quality of our own internal decision making varies widely depending on the environment we currently are in. (e.g. Try to write a haiku poem while standing in an elevator with 15 opera singers screaming 15 different operas, in 15 different languages, in falsetto, directly at you vs. sitting on a bench in a quiet stretch of open woods).

That said, the more homogeneous a group of people are in their thinking, the narrower the range of ideas that the group will openly consider. The more open minded, creative, and courageous a group is, the wider the pool of ideas they’ll be capable of exploring.

Some teams of people look to focus groups, consultancies, and research methods to bring in outside ideas, but this rarely improves the quality of thinking in the group itself. Those outside ideas, however bold or original, are at the mercy of the diversity of thought within the group itself. If the group, as a collective, is only capable of approving B level work, it doesn’t matter how many A level ideas you bring to it. Focus groups or other outside sources of information can not give a team, or its leaders, a soul. A bland homogeneous team of people has no real opinions, because it consists of people with same backgrounds, outlooks, and experiences who will only feel comfortable discussing the safe ideas that fit into those constraints.

If you want your smart people to be as smart as possible, seek a diversity of ideas. Find people with different experiences, opinions, backgrounds, weights, heights, races, facial hair styles, colors, past-times, favorite items of clothing, philosophies, and beliefs. Unify them around the results you want, not the means or approaches they are expected to use. It’s the only way to guarantee that the best ideas from your smartest people will be received openly by the people around them. On your own, avoid homogenous books, films, music, food, sex, media and people. Actually experience life by going to places you don’t usually go, spending time with people you don’t usually spend time with. Be in the moment and be open to it. Until recently in human history, life was much less predictable and we were forced to encounter things not always of our own choosing. We are capable of more interesting and creative lives than our modern cultures often provide for us. If you go out of your way to find diverse experiences it will become impossible for you to miss ideas simply because your homogenous outlook filtered them out.

Thinking at the wrong level

Several story tall buildingAt any moment on any project there are an infinite number of levels of problem solving. Part of being a truly smart person is to know which level is the right one at a given time. For example, if you are skidding out of control at 95mph in your broken down Winnebago on an ice covered interstate, when a semi-truck filled with both poorly packaged fireworks and loosely bundled spark plugs slams on its brakes, it’s not the right time to discuss with your passengers where y’all would like to stop for dinner. But as ridiculous as this scenario sounds, it happens all the time. People worry about the wrong thing at the wrong time and apply their intelligence in ways that doesn’t serve the greater good of whatever they’re trying to achieve. Some call this difference in skill wisdom, in that the wise know what to be thinking about, where as the merely intelligent only know how to think. (The de-emphasis of wisdom is an east vs. west dichotomy: eastern philosophy heavily emphasizes deeper wisdom, where as the post enlightenment west, and perhaps particularly America, heavily emphasizes the intellectual flourishes of intelligence).

In the software industry, the common example of thinking at the wrong level is a team of rock star programmers who can make anything, but don’t really know what to make: so they tend to build whatever things come to mind, never stopping to find someone who might not be adept at writing code, but can see where the value of their programming skills would be best applied. Other examples include people that always worry about money despite how much they have, people who struggle with relationships but invest their energy only in improving their appearance (instead of in therapy or other emotional exploration), or anyone that wants to solve problem X but only ever seems to do things that solve problem Y.

The primary point is that no amount of intelligence can help an individual who is diligently working at the wrong level of the problem. Someone with wisdom has to tap them on the shoulder and say, “Um, hey. The hole you’re digging is very nice, and it is the right size. But you’re in the wrong yard.”

Killed in the long term by short term thinking

Tasty foodFrom what we know of evolution it’s clear that we are alive because of our inherited ability to think quickly and respond to change. The survival of living creatures, for most of the history of our planet, has been a short term game. Only if you can out-run your predators, and catch your prey, do you have the luxury of worrying about tomorrow.

It follows then that we tend to be better at worrying about and solving short term issues than long term issues. Even when we recognize an important long term issue that we need to plan for, say protecting natural resources or saving for retirement, we’re all too easily distracted away from those deep thoughts by immediate things like dinner or sex (important things no doubt, but the driving needs in these pursuits, at least for this half of the species, are short term in nature). Once distracted, we rarely return to the long term issues we were drawn away from.

A common justification for abuse of short term thinking is the fake perspective defense. The wise, but less confident guy says “hey are you sure we should be doing this?” And the smart, confident, but less wise guy says “of course. We did this last time, and the time before that, so why shouldn’t we do this again?” This is the fake perspective defense because there’s no reason to believe that 2 points of data (e.g. last time plus the time before that) is sufficient to make claims about the future. People say similar things all the time in defense of the free market economy, democracy, and mating strategies. “Well, it’s gotten us this far, and it’s the best system we have”. Well, maybe. But if you were in that broken down Winnebago up to your ankles in gasoline from a leaking tank, smoking a cigarette in each hand, you could say the same thing.

Put simply, the fact that you’re not dead yet doesn’t mean that the things you’ve done up until now shouldn’t have, by all that is fair in the universe, already killed you. You might just need a few more data points for the law of averages to catch up, and put a permanent end to your short term thinking.

How many data points you need to feel comfortable continuing a behavior is entirely a matter of personal philosophy. The wise and skeptical know that even an infinite number of data points in the past may only have limited bearing on the future. The tricky thing about the future is that it’s different than the past. Our data from the past, no matter how big a pile of data it is, may very well be entirely irrelevant. Some find this lack of predictive ability of the future quite frustrating, while others see it as the primary reason to stick around for a few more years.

Anyway, my point is not that Winnebagos or free market economies are bad. Instead I’m saying that short term bits of data are neither reliable nor a wise way to go about making important long term decisions. Intelligent people do this all the time, and since it’s so commonly accepted as a rule of thumb (last time + the time before that), it’s often accepted in place of actual thinking. Always remember that humans, given our evolution, are very bad at seeing the cumulative effects of behavior, and underestimate how things like compound interest or that one cigarette a day, can in the long term, have surprisingly large impacts despite clearly low short term effects.

How to prevent smart people from defending bad ideas

smart people defending bad ideasI spent my freshman year at a small college in NJ called Drew University. I had a fun time, ingested many tasty alcoholic beverages, and went to lots of great parties (the result of which of course was that I basically failed out and had to move back to Queens with my parents. You see, the truth is that this essay is really a public service announcement paid for by my parents – I was a smart person that did some stupid things). But the reason I mention all this is because I learned a great bit of philosophy from many hours of playing pool in the college student center. The lesson is this: Speed kills. I was never very good at pool, but this one guy there was, and whenever we’d play, he’d watch me miss easy shots because I tried to force them in with authority. I chose speed and power over control, and I usually lost. So like pool, when it comes to defusing smart people who are defending bad ideas, you have to find ways to slow things down.

The reason for this is simple. Smart people, or at least those whose brains have good first gears, use their speed in thought to overpower others. They’ll jump between assumptions quickly, throwing out jargon, bits of logic, or rules of thumb at a rate of fire fast enough to cause most people to become rattled, and give in. When that doesn’t work, the arrogant or the pompous will throw in some belittlement and use whatever snide or manipulative tactics they have at their disposal to further discourage you from dissecting their ideas.

So your best defense starts by breaking an argument down into pieces. When they say “it’s obvious we need to execute plan A now.” You say, “hold on. You’re way ahead of me. For me to follow I need to break this down into pieces.” And without waiting for permission, you should go ahead and do so.

First, nothing is obvious. If it were obvious there would be no need to say so. So your first piece is to establish what isn’t so obvious. What are the assumptions the other guy is glossing over that are worth spending time on? There may be 3 or 4 different valid assumptions that need to be discussed one at a time before any kind of decision can be considered. Take each one in turn, and lay out the basic questions: what problem are we trying to solve? What alternatives to solving it are there? What are the tradeoffs in each alternative? By breaking it down and asking questions you expose more thinking to light, make it possible for others to ask questions, and make it more difficult for anyone to defend a bad idea.

No one can ever take away your right to think things over, especially if the decision at hand is important. If your mind works best in 3rd or 4th gear, find ways to give yourself the time needed to get there. If when you say ” need the afternoon to think this over”, they say
“tough. We’re deciding now”. Ask if the decision is an important one. If they say yes, then you should be completely justified in asking for more time to think it over and ask questions.

Find a sane person people listen to

Some situations require outside help. Instead of taking a person on directly, get a third party that you both respect, and continue the discussion in their presence. This can be a superior, or simply someone smart enough that the other person might possibly concede points to them.

It follows that if your team manager is wise and reasonable, smart people who might ordinarily defend bad ideas will have a hard time doing so. But sadly if your team manager is neither wise nor reasonable, smart, arrogant people may convince others to follow their misguided ways more often than not.

And yet more reasons

I’m sure you have stories of your own follies dealing with smart people defending bad ideas, or where you, yourself, as a smart person, have spent time arguing for things you regretted later. Given the wondrous multitude of ways the universe has granted humans to be smart and dumb at the same time, there are many more reasons why smart people behave in stupid ways. For fun, and as fodder, here’s a few more.

If you have some thoughts on this essay, or some more reasons to add, leave a comment:

  • Smart people can follow stupid leaders (seeking praise or promotion)
  • Smart people may follow their anger into stupid places
  • They may be trained or educated into stupidity
  • Smart people can inherit bad ideas from their parents under the guise of tradition
  • They may simply want something to be true, that can never be


275 Responses to “Why Smart People Defend Bad Ideas”

  1. Frank Smith

    I love your writing. How do you make money doing this? Can I have some of it?

  2. Berthold

    Once in awhile, you read an article because it sounds interesting. And while you get into it, you realise that the article is about you. Personally. And you see that what you perceived as “trying to find the best angle by taking a counterpoint” looks to other people like “jesus, what a stupid c*nt”. And how much you hated it when your father did that just to steel you for difficulties ahead (it sorta did). Just because it seemed like a smart idea.

    Guess what.

    It ain’t.

  3. Susan

    My son and I both have this problem and our conversations can escalate into a shouting match in 10 minutes. I have a background in Philosophy so I will pick apart anything and come up with ten if’s. He is really smart and because he has been able to bully people easily all his life, he will NEVER give in. I argue just because I love debate, but he argues to be right. So, lately I’ve been employing the “hum, I’ll have to think about that” technique; or just silence when he is raving. He can’t argue with me if I don’t say anything. AND it’s difficult to not respond for my part. I need to listen more to what he is trying to say and not start mentally listing all the reasons he may not be right.

  4. John

    Great article! I just want to say that there is one more reason why a smart person may defend a bad idea and the reason is because he/she can.

    Albeit they are rare, there are certain personalities (think of Myers-Briggs), particularly the INTJ type – who make up around 1% of the population -, that are capable of seeing both sides to any argument. More so, they are perfectly capable of making the case for both sides of the same argument, and if someone else or group of people are already supporting the ‘good’ side of the argument, the INTJ type will most likely take up the ‘bad’ side of the argument, or a you call it, defend a bad idea.

    It has nothing to do with ‘being taught into stupidity’ or ‘following stupid leaders’, or even ‘wanting for something to be true, that can never be.’

    This is not to say that what you stated in your article is not true, in fact it probably is true with most people; I’m simply pointing out that there is a very intelligent minority of people that will and do support bad ideas if they simply want to do that, while being perfectly aware of what the other side of the argument entails.

    Again, excellent article!

    Yours truly,

  5. don mcgrath

    Linked to smart people following poor leaders, is that they sometimes do so out of FEAR. Fear is very prevalent is corporate settings.

  6. Owen

    Good or bad ideas are themselves only a matter of opinion.
    One man`s junk idea maybe another`s gold, (if an idea can actually be made to work successfully by the other man`s own skill or ability.)
    Wisdom,that is knowing that there is no such thing as an obviously bad idea,just that a solution to the idea has yet to be found.
    Smart people,no such thing,everyone can generate smart ideas if they put their minds to it including the uneducated.

  7. Jay

    Nice article, but another possibility that the smart one isn’t wrong and you are xD

  8. J

    smart people wouldn’t and/or couldn’t defend the idea to write this essay.

  9. TheOneWhoKnowsNothing

    Who owns the right to sell the worlds resouces e.g food, water, fuel and knowledge?
    Who owns the right to live longer than thier equal?
    Who owns the right to a life of luxury over a life of poverty?

  10. Suzi47

    Considering that, like all people have noses, I am opinionated and was quite vocal. Your essay, reminds me that last year I decided to keep my ‘opinions’ on ‘religion and politics’ to myself and only offer helpful hints on ‘gardening’ that have proven successful for myself.
    It was either THAT or hide in a closet or put duct tape over my mouth.
    I think your Essay was funny and enlightening and certainly inspiring. Charge forth~

  11. Ricardo Patrocínio

    I think the point here is not so much to know if someone is right or not, I never met a stubborn alone! It is more about testing the idea to see if it has any value. Great ideas frequently came from people who challenge the status quo, and at the beginning they are often perceived my many as bad ideas.

    We should have an open mind and ask the right questions with the propose of understanding the other person point of view, and not to prove he is wrong. In my opinion trying to prove someone wrong is one of the main reasons people defend bad ideas, no one likes to be told he is wrong. I highly recommend reading Dale Carnegie book “How to win friends and influence people” for more insight in this subject. You can download it for free in the internet as it is already in Public Domain.

    Breaking an argument down into pieces is an excellent way of testing if there is any value to an idea, and if there is, to make it stronger.

    So my advice is:
    1) Try to have an open mind;
    2) Try to see the other person point of view, and understand what motivates his behaviour;
    3) Test the idea breaking it down into pieces, and if you see any value in it, strengthen it by embracing it;
    4) If you see more value in others idea that in yours, be courageous and change your opinion.

  12. Daily Success Place

    It’s so true many people use the most irrational logic to develop and convince their arguments. We all do it at times, don’t we?

    The thing I’ve learned is that people don’t want to hear our logic ’til they “hear our hearts”. They want to know we care before they want to know the information we hold.

  13. Dr Watson

    Sorry, didn’t get very far into this. Anybody who cant spell “catalogued” loses credibility with me.

    If you don’t have a basic grasp of the English language, I am not interested in reading more.

  14. coldarc

    people who are used to be right will strive to be right no matter how wrong their ideas are. why are so many pople obsessed with the truth. people see only the facts that refelct their own ego. sometimes the educated smart people can´t put two and two together. sometimes the logical tactic is more intersting than the solution. if sombody think of somthing nobody has done before, the smart guy easly dismiss
    it out of hand. the ego to be right puts its own premise beforce soultion completely ignoring the opponents argument and kills the discussion.

  15. STaTT!K

    Thank you for spending your time to put this together.
    I found this while trying to figure out some issues about myself,
    i’m not sure if this has helped yet but i like your opinion..

    I myself don’t feel as smart as people make me out to be, too many reasons to list… i value other peoples opinion.. i just cant get it out of them usually

    Then i see humans that think they are smart and not at all
    there are diff types of what you could call smart people

    “i really overdid my comment so i took out most of it”… it was getting close to the size your post so i gave up and since this was like 5 years ago and you probably wont read it anyways

    heh and Aaron, GG… u are correct, i was actually going to comment about that
    but just to make this more accurate the alternator generates power that charges a coil and transforms the volts up real high while dropping the amps to nothing to make the spark…

    maybe the metaphor should have been “strike anywhere matches and fireworks”

    I really only planned to say thank you for the writeup.

  16. STaTT!K

    well…. ok i didnt scroll down to see yes you are still replying

  17. Lynn

    Foolish pride and haste were at the root of my personal disaster. Critical thinking skills are so important to living life well. Cognitive bias and out-of-control emotions can blind one to reality. Like a chain that is only as strong as its weakest link, one bad decision can ruin a career, a marriage and/or other important relationship and reak havoc on the lives of others in one’s circle of influence. It can shatter one’s mental health too, if it causes guilt and shame for having compromised one’s ethics and values. The more important the decision, the more important it is to get advice from trusted friends and take time to get all the relevant facts, carefully weigh them out and calculate the risks and rewards in a non-emotional way. Anger can be one of the strongest emotions to counter. “Better safe than sorry” and “a bird in hand is worth two in the bush” are some maxims that come to mind.

    The book of Proverbs contains many of these nuggets of wisdom about wisdom. I wish I had read some of these passages in Proverbs every morning before going to work. If I had, I likely would still have my dream job and my self respect and the respect of family, friends and former co-workers. Some lessons are best learned from the experience of others. Here’s another maxim that applies, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

  18. Michael

    “They may be trained or educated into stupidity”

    I was pursuing an engineering degree at the U of I, until I stopped. I “learned” things everyday. More like cramming. I tried to memorize anything and everything that came out of my professors’ mouths. I wanted the grade. In Cru’s (Campus Crusade for Christ, an Evangelical Christian organization) terminology, I idolized the grades. This lifestyle left me feeling burnt out and tired at the end of most days.

    Now I’m pursuing a degree in Communication from the same university. My problem with trying to memorize everything has greatly diminished, but not without disappointing consequences. My anatomy class, a 5 credit hour class, is currently my most difficult class. I fear that I’ll get a poor grade in the class, namely because I find myself doing many more fun things (reading a fantasy novel called Sabriel, browsing StumbleUpon for funny articles) throughout the day than getting homework done.

  19. Scarlett Wednesday

    Brilliant (and humble) piece of work. Well done Mr. Burkun.

  20. Lia Kass

    This gives air and order to notions that have spun through my mind forever but I lacked the smarts to organize and explain. Thanks! Good job! Can’t wait to read more.

  21. Lia Kass

    PS. Gotta love the term “recovering smart person” ……and an April Fools birthday is made in heaven.

  22. NoOne Special

    Makes sense to me. Seems others have a problem, or lack of experience. Of course as another has said, dont follow a leader or group off the bridge. Its along way down.

  23. Cassle

    Another reason in my mind: it might be also because of the experience from the past. For the example, a kid who always get blamed by his / her parents tends to avoid getting trapped of being fault. In the way to defend themselves, these kids want to show that their faults is not really wrong (even though every fault is always wrong). So they end up to give bad/wrong perspectives to escape away.

  24. NoOne Special

    Cassle, what a brillant observation you have!
    I agree.

  25. Bob

    Great post, it also remind me of cases in a team where a smart person is really defending something that is really right, but the whole team couldn’t see it and believe strongly that he is just somebody who think he is right all the time.

    I’m in such a situation before, there a smart person in our team against a certain idea, quoting plenty of research reports and such that it did much more harms and hardly any pros. I’m pretty neutral as I don’t like to argue but the rest of the team is against him & think he couldn’t see the whole picture. But they are wrong. He have in fact done plenty of home work to come to such a strong conclusion. He eventually got the sack.

    Years passed and he turn out to be right, the company I worked for has fallen but virtually nobody recalls about the incident, that the whole disaster could have been prevented if they stop thinking that the “smart guy” is just obsessed with his own thought.

    I would like to say smart people sometimes have this ability to see the unknown and it could be hard for them to explain it to others who might not understand. As a result, they think this “smart” person have a huge ego and refuse to admit defeat. But sometimes they don’t admit defeat for a reason. Because they know too well.

    Still it’s hard to judge, I continue to leave this for the project leader to deal with.

    1. Fem

      Someone who’s intuitive ..

  26. Hajduszoboszlo

    It´s an important criteria for many companies to hire leaders who can make a difference between important and less important tasks. You have very limited time to get things done, so you really have to know what to focus on and what is likely to be skipped.

  27. Waweru

    I wondered for many years ! !
    I guess this article in a way answered many of the questions and disapproved several other assumptions.

  28. Turtle

    Nice article! I live with my brother who is like this, and he wants to go back to medical school.

  29. Paulo Eduardo Neves

    There’s a new edition of the book “Difficult Conversations”. Update your link so I can buy through your Amazon link. Thanks for the article.

  30. craig christianson

    i enjoyed your opinions and essay, not only did i gain in-sight on “how to diffuse smart peoples bull-shit” but also gained perspective on my own behavior as well thanx.

  31. Sussi

    Hi there
    Ever read Chris argyris’s “Teaching Smart People How to Learn”

    I sort of expected to see it in your references.

    By the by – just read your Confessions – and LOVED it – only… I an still REALLY scared of lecturing. Isn’t that sad… I am told I am good at it – but I just KNOW I can do better – I can tell from looking at them that I tend to talk too much. Or maybe I am not provocative enough

  32. Ikonos Youros

    I saw the picture of the nice sandwich, and now I’m hungry.

    Oh, the essay?

    It’s garbage.

  33. kat

    i am very smart and so is my friend and we both have no common sense

  34. mangojet

    This article is really great. Very interesting and innovative. My boyfriend does this all the time (defend bad ideas, simply because he has to be right about everything), and I actually told him exactly what this article is about -that he needs to be right always even about stuff he do not know about. Great to see that there might be something about it. Thanks!

  35. Jenn

    The problem with some people is they hate it when someone knows almost everything.

  36. fajas colombianas

    Why you ask? It is because of ego. People have huge ego’s that at times in their life, they defend something that they know that is wrong but still defend it because of their pride.

  37. Paul Cottingham

    As a Mensa member with an IQ of 164, I suppose you could call me unusualy smart. The position I take is that I am always knowingly right and say why, and if no one can say why I am wrong then I am right. Therefore I can honestly say that I am always right and also change my position if someone proves me wrong. I can understand people who stick to something even when proven wrong. As a spoilt egotistical child I was that kind of person, who then turned into a depressed teenager who then became a contented adult who can say “I am always right” without being egotistical, but instead trying to provoke someone to try to prove me wrong so that I can decide whether to change my position or not so as to remain in the right. An example I can give is this. The biggest science issue in Mensa today is the debate about Climate Change. The best way to calibrate Carbon Dioxide warming on Earth is to use the Atmosphere of Mars. Using the scientific paper (Greenhouse effect in semi-transparent planetary atmospheres, Ferenc M. Miskolczi, 2007) I calculated that the total for man made warming was an irrelevant 0.015 Kelvin, I subsequently found that was very close to the figure given by (Jaworowski, 2007) of 0.01 Kelvin. My article for the Space special interest group of Mensa “Global Warming on Mars and Climate Change from Space” was subjected to scrutiny, but to date only one error has been found. This error did not effect the final result because it involved removing six zeros and placing the word million in the article. I made the error of only removing three zeros. However my whole article was dismissed by this one person based on this single issue, also this was the only part of my article that this person commented on. Although he had to be knowledgeable to recognise this error he did not reveal the details of the error or the correct answer. I suggest that he must be one of these smart people who defend bad ideas.

  38. Thinkwildly

    Smart people can be humorous. Funny and intelligent, or just crazy. There mental and physiological development are insainly fragile and DNA may result “Smart people”…. to inadvertently not b smart…haha…sad but odds are yeah. U get the idea…

    Intelligence;) To observe information and retrieve data by, testing, researching, identifying, any or all information.
    (Usualy what the person is searching for)

    Now psychology, is a tricky one. Because of the person’s unique start. Now when the “smart person” attempts the above (tiny paragraph), the person identify s objects to his goal. Creating the thought (that should start research) to complete goal in mind. the human obsession takes over and the thought sprouts. This is a big subject due to um……. robot me. i think differently. “have to set a win win goal. think all scenarios. identify, process, Adapt” We are only human. we have faults its true. unless ur dumb…. then we can work on that. The truth hurts but it helps. let it inspire you. Time alone was my key the intercrap slowed me down but the internet set me free. i am a robot i ThinkWildly. Is there a stop to information…

    Thats another…..um story….yup the worlds Realy big.

  39. Monkey Man

    Loved the article. Sorry, but I am a privacy freak. No real ID given.

    If you look underneath each of the categories (and you touch on it) all irrational thought derives from primate instictive behaviors, most of which are not well suited to current social and environmental constructs.

    H.S. is just another animal . . . yes, really smart, but still an animal. A few people will acknowledge and then, through self-awarenes, mitigate their animal instincts, but the overwhelming majority (83% +/-) either lack the abilty or lack the desire to rise to something more.

    I think of them as rabid monkeys and have found it best to avoid their notice.

    That said, if we are doomed by the insanity of H.S., well I love a good adventure. Enjoy the ride.

  40. Dave

    I enjoyed the essay and fascinated with different approaches to this problem. Sometimes intellegent folks talk like they are an authority on topics that they think they have a deep understanding of. But sometimes they have only gone about two and a half inches deep into the topic. And this may be somewhat deeper than the average Joe has gone but their egos prevent them from wanting to entertain further discovery or discourse. I believe some intellegent people consistently do this.
    It’s helped me to try and size up the situation at the begining of the debate to see if it is even worth “sparring” with this person. I look at this dilema from a psychological perspective because we all have “issues” but some smart folks will never be aware, nor want to be aware of them. Their narcissism will never allow it. And it’s worth noting that we all have various degrees of narcissism but it’s useful and smart to be aware of it and know that some have toxic levels of it. I believe many toxic egos won’t respond to logic. I think the emotional part of our brain is a valid resource that can be a useful way to enhance our understanding of things and people. It may be useful to become more aware of our own feelings and motives before engaging with some individuals. Logic will work with most people and don’t want to discount it’s usefullness. I just wanted to point out that there are other things to consider and it seems to be what confuses us. It’s just hard to understand why smart people make poor decisions and I think the emotional piece is important.

    Another perspective is to define what is smart. Researchers are now defining various kinds of intelligence. To use a computer analogy, some individuals have very good “processors” but poor “scanners”. In other words, they may have been High School Valedictorians but we never hear brilliant innovative thoughts uttered from their fast talking mouths. They just have good processors. I have wondered about some individuals that are considered smart but in some ways have simplistic, narrow ways of thinking. They may, however, be very good at information retrieval. Some, of course, are fortunate to have both.

    If this other person is our boss, then there is a bigger problem. Volumes of research could be done on how to deal with toxic egos in the business environment. Sometimes I think unhealthy egos are actually valued in some businesses. But I don’t think politics or our collective egos will allow us to see the real truth. I think logic can be very helpful and I admire the writing skill and smart perspective in this essay. And maybe we can use logic to convince others of the importence of having emotionally centered people in positions of power.

    1. tammyruger

      Not to happen. Emotionally-centered people have the wisdom to avoid positions of power and so stay in the shadows of obscurity. Those who are egocentric crave the attention and spoils of power because that is how they define themselves. And so, with Obama’s second term, this country will forever wallow in the depths intellectual despair.

      1. Dave

        Tammy, Thanks for the comment. I agree with you that emotionally cemtered people have the wisdom to avoid positions of power. I have been looking at this after being knocked around periodically by bad bosses. This is after working in the business world for 20 plus years. I have had good bosses but it appears that in the higher levels of management there appears to be higher levels of unhealthy personalities. I have had an interest in this and still learning, so I want to believe there are emotionally centered folks in management. And it’s hard to know because some unhealthy egos are subtle and it’s only evident after spending time with the individual. Some men and women carefully craft their image in order to hide the unhealthy ego. They learned how to be proficient at playing the game.

  41. Susie

    delightful essay! many points common to Mensa groups at least!



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