Friday, July 6, 2012

Well aren't you smart?

I can read a book in a day. Easily. A really great weekend for me is one where I just sit and read and finish off two or three. But those are books. I just finished a book that took me three weeks to read and it was only 180 pages or so long. But it was a Book not a book. And I have to admit that most of what I read washed right over me in a "well that's interesting" sort of haze, but that's okay. The book was The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow and I am more than comfortable not being as smart as they are.

The first thing that usually happens when you tell someone that you aren't smart, or that you don't understand something is that they try to buck you up by telling you just how smart you are. Or that you do get it and you just aren't giving yourself credit. And I totally understand this urge. That desire to make someone feel better about themselves. But honestly, if I tell you that I don't get something or I am not smart enough to understand a concept, I'm okay with that, I'm not looking for a compliment. It doesn't mean that I think I am dumb. I know that I am pretty intelligent. But I also know that if you consistently find that you are the smartest person in the room you need to find a better room.

Challenging yourself and what you think and why you think what you think is important. And expanding the base of what you know about is as well. If you only stay in the circle of information you know without adding to and growing that circle it's going to get pretty stale. Like a pond with no fresh water supply. But that also means being okay with the times that you hear about something that interests you and you look in to it further and find that it's really sort of beyond your grasp. You have options at that point, you can build your base knowledge and come back to it later, you can walk away from it completely thinking it's just not for you, or you can take what you do understand out of it and go on from there. The last is what I usually do with Hawking's stuff. When I hear him lecture or read his books or his articles I know full well that most of it is going to be above my head. But there is always something in there for me to grasp on to and puzzle about. Something that is going to make me think harder than I have been. Something interesting! And that's good enough for me.

I am very comfortable admitting when I don't know something. I'm comfortable saying that I don't have all the answers. I'm an agnostic who is registered "unaffiliated" after all. But I will keep looking and learning and finding things that are interesting and for me that is enough. A friend of mine uses the expression, "you don't know what you don't know" and I like it a lot.

He uses in decision making, that basically you do the best you can with what you have, but "you don't know what you don't know" so you can't make decisions based on what you don't know and even later when you do know it, you can't go back and change what decision you made in the past before you knew what you now know. (Did you follow that at all?) Anyway... I like it for me and my life.

I don't know what I don't know but I do know that I can know more, you know?


  1. I have accepted the absolute truth that I am not smart enough to understand two particular things: Chemistry and Excel. I have been defeated, accepted defeat and moved on. All the rest is still up for discussion.

    1. Years ago I took a class on Excel and I learned how to do all of these super cool things. And then I never had any reason to do all of those super cool things and so I promptly forgot. But once upon a time I could do super cool things in Excel. For about three days.