You Really Should Know This Already

Today’s XKCD is brilliant, possibly surpassing even the famed “Someone is wrong on the Internet” strip. It skewers that most persistent of poisons (one XKCD itself falls victim to at times), the idea that everyone else is stupid.

Unfortunately, some people read that and think “Ha ha, that’s funny.  But really. People are stupid.” and I feel like there’s something essential missing in their education.


See. the thing is, “smart” is a pretty bullshit metric all by itself. Individuals are alternately smart and stupid on an array of topics according to their priorities (and, of course, most often judge intelligence by the ones they excel at).  As such, any given person maps out like a crazy zigzag.


We are ultimately going to judge people by what we prioritize. So if I’m a developer who like comics and Doctor Who? Then this guy is an idiot


And this guy is clearly brilliant.



This is neither complicated nor contentious. It only becomes so if you cannot recognize that it’s something that you do (where “you” includes me and everyone else).  If you can’t see that, there’s a good chance that:



EDIT: i realized I left that on a snarky note, so let me add something important. This is awesome.  You are surrounded by people who know more than you about more things than you can count. Things that you don’t even know enough about to know how ignorant you are.  That means the world is full of fantastic opportunities and really interesting people once you can step outside the comfort of what you’re already smart about. Delight in it!



5 thoughts on “You Really Should Know This Already

  1. John C

    That the rest of the world around you knows stuff you will never know is truly amazing. When you’re putting together your pub quiz team you don’t want to surround yourself with people who have exactly the same interests as you do – if I did that we’d never get a single sport, popular music, or soap operas question right! And you never know when you’re going to need an expert on steam trains, or Tielman Susato…

  2. Ewen Cluney

    It’s a thing I’ve noticed in recent years that there’s basically no such thing as “general” intelligence per se. There’s just too much stuff out in the world for any one person to master it, and no matter how smart a person is at certain things, they can still be total idiots at others. I know Japanese, and there are plenty of people who are way smarter than me at any number of other things that I’ve seen totally flounder with the language.

    There are all kinds of things that involve deeply specialized knowledge and kinds of thinking that don’t translate to other similarly deep fields, and more people need to both understand that a person who doesn’t share your hard-won expertise isn’t dumb just because they didn’t spend a decade doing some very specific activity, and that people can be brilliant at some things and totally ignorant about others.

  3. Terry O'Carroll

    This all results from a confusion of the meaning of the words stupidity and ignorance. Intelligence is a measure of the level of development of one’s ability to reason accurately. If you can’t do that, you’re stupid. If you don’t know something, you are ignorant of that subject.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      In the absence of a window into other people’s heads, our ability to judge [CRITERIA WHICH WE ARE OBJECTIVELY CERTAIN IS INTELLIGENCE] is limited to inference. So even if it came down to that one thing you would still be profoundly limited in your assessments. My irrational may be (and often is) someone else’s rational with priorities I neither know not understand (because I’m to stupid to see them).

      As to that definition, I agree it is a part of it, but far from the whole. Please feel free to take that as a simple difference of opinion, but if you are curious, the types of intelligence is actually a really fascinating topic.

  4. Chris Sniezak

    Now the coolest part of realizing this bit of information, aside from emerging from the realm of the idea of a self centered world, is if you’re willing to engage people on a topic and know how to ask a bunch of leading questions plus have a bit of deductive reasoning you can learn a while bunch of stuff from the people around you.


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