What is ‘smart’?

So, just what is ‘smart’? If I’m trying to become smarter I should probably define what it is I’m after.

Being smart to me is the ability to find solutions to problems, through acquiring information, making connections among the different pieces of data, applying reasoning and creative skills, and generating a solution.

It is also the ability to create or discover new things that didn’t exist before. Making an observation of mold in a Petri dish and discovering penicillin, or painting the Mona Lisa fall into this category.

Take a look at the list I put in my previous post:

Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Isaac Asimov and Marilyn vos Savant – the real people on my list. They were / are all polymaths. Wiktionary defines a polymath as ‘A person with extraordinarily broad and comprehensive knowledge.’ This describes everyone in my list. They applied those skills to a variety of fields and did some pretty amazing things. So, one way that I’d like to be smarter is to be able to do many things, and do them all well.

Sherlock Homes. A fictional character. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based the character after his real life mentor, a Dr. Bell, who was his teacher in med school. Allegedly Dr. Bell was capable of doing the same feat as Sherlock Holmes could do in the stories. He would look at a patient and know by observation, often within a minute, what was wrong with them.

I have long been a fan of the character of Sherlock Holmes. His methods were to observe and then deduce. Deductive logic goes from the general to the specific. I’ve always felt more like Dr. Watson when Holmes said to him (in A Scandal In Bohemia) ‘You observe but you do not see. The distinction is clear.’ So being able to reason out any problem and make connections is another part of being smart, in my estimation.

Mentats. Another fictional character. The Mentats come from Frank Herbert’s Dune series. They were walking human computers, having developed their mental reasoning abilities to the point where they would rival a computer in speed and efficiency. There are days where I have problems adding two plus two in my head and coming up with four.

In the stories they also drank a substance called sapho juice which could double or triple their mental prowess. The drawback was that it was addictive.

NZT. A fictional drug in the movie Limitless. Everyday guy and slob, Eddie Morra (played by Badley Cooper), hooks up with an old friend who is dealing a new experimental ‘supplement.’ It turns out it is a new illegal and untested drug that increases a person’s mental abilities exponentially. The problem is that it wears off after a while, is highly addictive, and withdrawal has serious detrimental side effects that destroy one’s health. Clearly, using drugs to increase one’s mental capacity is probably not the best move.

While taking NZT, Eddie learns many languages, figures out a nearly fool-proof system of collating information and using it to make money in day trading, and can converse with people at parties on nearly any topic. He remembers text from books he read years ago and uses that information to win over his landlord’s nasty wife (who hates Eddie and thinks he is a deadbeat.) Eddie notices she has the same book he once saw in the apartment of a girl he was dating (and that he flipped through while waiting for her) and then proceeds to ramble off an analysis and solution to the wife’s problem in her class.

So what do I take away from all these examples? I think the key components could be distilled down to the following list:

  • Making connections
  • Analyzing problems
  • Observation
  • Memory retention and recall
  • Rapid learning

The other problem with this project is establishing a baseline and being able to measure my progress. How will I know if I am ‘smarter’ unless I can have a starting point that objectively measures what I can do and then see if I do better or worse over time? I will have to look into it and see if there is a way to take the Stanford-Binet IQ test online, or perhaps at a local college.

It may not be the best yardstick to measure by but it would be something to judge against as I progress with the project.