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🤯Unknown Unknowns #80 - The Smartest Guy in the Room
"Never think you're the smartest guy in the room... unless you're the smartest guy in the room" - Neal Caffrey
I was thinking about the saying, "‘Happiness is reality minus expectations" and I was thinking that it applies to intelligencealso.
Functional Intelligence = How Smart You Really Are - How Smart You Think You Are.
When you think you're smarter than you actually are is when you get into trouble. You may try to fool other people. At the extreme, Ponzi schemes are classic examples. People such as Bernie Madoff and "allegedly" Sam Bankman-Fried started off by making money for early clients. However, when they start losing money (as they inevitably will), the Madoffs of the world never admit their losses. They cover them up thinking they can make it back. Their arrogance is eventually their undoing.
However, even the most intelligent people, if they are realistic, know their limitations and work hard to overcome them.
Isaac Newton is an example of both sides of this equation. He didn’t know his limitations and lost a fortune speculating on the South Sea Bubble saying, “I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies but not the madness of people.”
However, he was truly humble in the sciences:
I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. ― Isaac Newton
Not overestimating yourself is the biggest signal of intelligence.
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Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman's book, Manufacturing Consent, talks about the power of the media. The media's power comes from the Overton Window.
"The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside." - Allan Bloom
In their book, there’s a theory that the powerful employ propaganda, through the media, to guide the masses. While this sounds like a conspiracy theory, the power of the media isn't disputed. Is the media a pure disclosure of facts or has its power been appropriated?
The authors talk about the conflicts of interest that are inherent within the media business. They say that the national media isn't an independent source of objective information. Rather, there are five filters that information goes through before it reaches the audience.
Filter #1: Media ownership - Interests of the owner. Information that benefits the owner is amplified and information against the owner is curtailed.
Filter #2: Advertising - The monetary interests of the owner.
Filter #3: Access to News Sources - News sources need to be cultivated. The is loathe to do anything that cuts off their access. Especially relevant for official channels.
Filter #4: Flak - Fear of blowback. Media will avoid subjects or themes that will create negative public feedback for them.
Filter #5: Fear. "If it bleeds, it leads." News that creates fear is good for business.
Again, this sounds like a conspiracy theory, that there's a shadowy presence pulling strings to influence people. But Manufacturing Consent argues that these filters appear naturally as a result of human cognitive biases. People who work with these filters will be included in the media and those who fight against them will not.
Subtle authority pervades every system. I saw this in my finance career. Work within the system or you'll be forced to find another system. Promotions are slanted toward yes-men. If you don't bend the knee, you wind up beyond the Wall.
Manufacturing Consent is especially pertinent with the ongoing release of The Twitter Files. We can see the Chomsky-Herman lenses at play in a media organization. No matter what your opinion on Musk, censorship, or political affiliation, this is a rare chance to study the powers at play. I’m looking forward to the rest of the releases and seeing if the filters describe the actions of the players.
There was a timely debate on whether the mainstream media should be trusted. One of the debaters was Matt Taibbi, one of The Twitter File reporters, and another was Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink and Outliers, among others.
The first book that I read by Gladwell, I thought he was a genius. By the second, I had lost all respect for him. His books are filled with anecdotes, cherry-picked to support his arguments. The same goes for his arguments in this debate, where he relies on anecdotes, appeals to authority, and ad hominem attacks.
It’s especially ironic because he was affirming that mainstream media should be trusted while using the same rhetorical methods that mainstream media attempts to maintain their authority.
To trust the mainstream media, one would have to assume that the mainstream media is impervious to The Psychology of Human Misjudgment.
It’s interesting seeing the intersections between Eastern and Western thought. This tweet made me think of cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias. The natural response is to withdraw when we encounter something we don’t understand.
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Leaving you in peace,
In this essay, I'm talking about intelligence as an abstract idea, not something that can be precisely measured.