Friday, March 19, 2010

Movie time sort of

There's a movie site that decided that it would be a good idea to interview non-movie people about their tastes in movies.  I kind of liked the idea, since I'm often disagreeing with movie industry folks about movies.  So when I was invited to answer some movie questions, I did so.  You can see the result at
Robert Grumbine – Movies and the Masses.

I'm kind of impressed at the author's skill there -- finding what must be about the only two scientist characters from movies that I look better than.  (My wife would say that the list is much longer, and maybe she's right.  Just in case, I'm still not taking her in to get her eyes checked.)

But the 'masses' bit, and another part of the article bring up an interesting point about science and scientists, or at least about how I think about it, and that is the role of 'smartness'.
One line of it is, contrary to the interviewer's saying that I'm too polite to say I'm smarter than you, it's not a matter of politeness.  There are two parts to that.  One is, simply, I have no idea.  Most of you, I've never met to have any idea how smart you are.  To judge by the questions, many of my readers are quite bright, so I'm duly hesitant to make such an easily challenged claim..

The other side of this line is that I have long felt that intelligence, smartitude, was not represented well by a single number, or by a single test.  There are some things I'm good at.  But other sorts of things, I'm not very good at.  Both being things that involve intelligence, or at least some kind of intelligence.  The case was made independently and well by Howard Gardner.  His most recent book (that I've read, at least) being Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century.   It's something he's been working on for over 20 years now.  The basic idea is that there are indeed different intelligences.  One being a math/logical reasoning type, but also a language intelligence, and an artistic one, and several others.  So, even if it were established that I were more intelligent on the math, chances are excellent that you're more intelligent on one or several of the others (pretty much everybody has me beat on the artistic).

The other line is even more important, and something I touched on implicitly in Do I have to be good at math to be good at science.  Namely, a lot of what matters is whether you're willing to do the work.  Smartness is a talent -- it makes it easier for you to do something (learn some topic for instance).

I'll analogize.  People can be talented at running, or playing basketball, and so on.  For running, I have a modest amount of talent, enough to be ahead of, say, 65% of people my age and gender if we all were to get in to shape and train comparably well.  The reality, though, is that I finish ahead of 99% or more of them.  It isn't because I have more talent than that many.  It's because almost all of them aren't in shape and didn't even come out to the race.  A large fraction of them have more talent than me -- if they did train, they'd beat me.  In the same vein, if they train harder and smarter, people with far less talent can beat me even when I'm training reasonably.

So it goes for science as well.  You can be very smart, and smart in something relevant, but if you don't do the work, you don't get very far.  On the other hand, someone who doesn't have as much smartness can do much better -- because they're willing to do the work.   Your best results, same as for sports, will be with people who both have a lot of talent and do a lot of work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There can be some correlations however :-) The linked table is from 2002 and it should be noted that the GRE was redesigned in 2003. Nonetheless, I think some generalizations may be drawn.
2002 GRE scores by intended subject area