Many people are justifiably concerned about the wage disparity in this country. Although it is higher in some states, the federal minimum wage is $7.25. Contrast this with the multi-million-dollar salaries of some executive CEOs, combined with the ridiculously high severance packages they allow themselves, and you can well understand why many workers consider the system egregiously unfair.
As bad as this problem may be, I am actually more concerned about the growing Intelligence Gap in this country – the difference between the smartest and dumbest people in this country. For years I have maintained a personal “Guinness Book of World Records” in my head, albeit with only one category. Namely, The Dumbest Thing I’ve Ever Heard. The first entry into that inauspicious category was a magazine report announcing that the Army had authorized the issuance of maternity camouflage. I’m not referring to the new “fashion chic” where women wear miniskirts of olive drab. I’m talking about a working uniform for a female who is obviously in a “family way”. The article contained a photo of a woman who appeared to be ten months pregnant, and carrying an M-16. My immediate reaction was, “Who in their right mind is going to send a woman into battle when she’s clearly hours away from giving birth?!”. That’s when I realized I had answered my own question. Nobody in their right mind would do such a thing. I became catatonic when I extrapolated that maternity camouflage had to have been approved by numerous people sitting around a mahogany table for several weeks and voting that this was a brilliant idea. As my youngest brother used to say nearly every day, “You can’t fix stupid”.
(This is a less dramatic article describing maternity wear in the Air Force.)
I regret to report that maternity camouflage was eventually replaced by even dumber people or ideas. I used to ask myself, “How dumb can people be?”, but I stopped asking because I feel that people are adopting it as a personal challenge. A year ago a former friend sent me an eMail attempting to convince me that the world is flat. Naturally, I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. Last weekend when I mentioned him to a woman who had called me, she responded “That’s ridiculous.” Yes. However, she immediately alleged that the world is not flat, it is hollow, and that reptilian aliens are living inside our planet. Her “proof” was that we have never taken a photograph of the north pole where the entrance to their secret cave is located. I had never considered the possibility that the flat-earth-guy could be considered smarter than someone else. (For the record, there is no land mass at the north pole. This fact allowed the submarine USSN Skate to surface through the ice in 1959.)
I have grown despondent lately because I frequently encounter people who are functionally illiterate, or who don’t even know what coins to give me after the cash register has calculated my correct change. Einstein said, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” After enduring several months of our questionable pandemic, I’ve begun to wonder if we could invent a virus that is only fatal to stupid people. I am eager to contribute money to that kind of research. You would be worried if you knew what academic level I would program into such a contagion. Suffice it to say that I do not suffer fools gracefully.
At the opposite end of that spectrum, I am thrilled to have discovered numerous YouTube videos featuring people who are so smart they make me dizzy trying to assimilate their knowledge into what I already know. I have recently stayed awake until 2:00am listening to a gathering of Ph.Ds and Nobel Prize winners contribute what they know about the topic being discussed. They are clearly functioning at sixth or seventh level concepts.
A first level concept identifies a tangible object, like “table” or “chair”. I can point to a table and say, “This is what I mean when I say table”. However, tables and chairs can be combined into a second level concept called “furniture”. Although the table IS furniture, it wouldn’t make sense to say “This is A furniture”. Similarly, toasters, blenders, and coffee makers are first level concepts that can be combined into a second level concept called “appliances”. Furniture and appliances can be combined into a third level concept called “household items”. A person’s ability to understand higher level concepts is indicative of their relative level of intelligence. You will never be able to understand Calculus until you master arithmetic, algebra, and trigonometry first.
At the end of this post you will find several links to scientific discussions that have held me in rapt fascination over the last few days. I invite you to watch them, and to comment if you understood and enjoyed them. I flatter myself by imagining that many of my readers test on the high side of the Mensa scale. Please do your best not to disabuse me of that fantasy.
If you are interested in increasing the efficiency of your thought process, I invite you to purchase my book, Philosophical Lighthouse, Our philosophy guides, not what we think, but how we think. There are good philosophies and bad philosophies. I’m hoping this book will help you find a better one than the one you currently have. Or, if you have a burning question that you absolutely must know the answer to, you are invited to schedule a short video chat with me. I would be happy to help you help you in your quest to solve the puzzle. We should endeavor to continue learning as long as we are able to open our eyes in the morning. The universe is a fascinating place if for no other reason than there will always be new mysteries to solve.
Arizona State University hosts several functions each year for the Origins Project, now called ASU Interplanetary Initiative, to investigate fundamental questions about the universe. The scientific discussions are moderated by Lawrence Krauss, one of my newest favorite people in the world. Several prominent scientists are invited to share their thoughts on a given topic, followed by some Q&A with the audience. (The Q&A is always a second, separate video.) Here are some of the Great Debate topics that have captivated my attention:
The Storytelling of Science
A Night of Magic and Illumination
(I’m planning to attend a future event at ASU, if only to meet Lawrence Krauss.
If you’re interested in joining me, let me know.)
Sean Carroll is another one of my newest favorite people in the world. Not only is he brilliant beyond my wildest imagination, he is so articulate that I can actually understand much of what he’s telling me. He has an incredible sense of humor that only an academic will notice or appreciate. It is my fervent hope that I will soon be able to include his personal contact information in my list of phone contacts.
Mysteries of Modern Physics