14 December 2009

"Don't know what a slide rule is for..." --Sam Cooke

I used to think I'd like to go to MIT. Not because I ever actually wanted to work that hard but just to hang around with the brainiacs. The fact that I didn't have the grades, or the test scores, or the extracurricular activities, or the money, or the ability to keep up didn't really faze me. If was a fantasy. I pictured myself socializing with these ubergeeks, catching threads of ideas and getting spun up in their intellectual hoohah.*

I never got to MIT although I've met some amazing people who graduated from there. And, let's face it, most realities don't hold much resemblance to the fantasies we carry, anyway.

On Friday, I got unofficial word that an assignment I'd casually suggested about six months ago may be on the radar for me. If this pans out, this means within a few months I'll be burning through my Metro card, have a higher dry cleaning bill, and be hanging out with some serious brainiacs. For real, these people can think circles around me. Circles, stars, clovers, you name it. Am I jazzed? A little. Am I intimidated? A lot. It ain't MIT but maybe I'll get to break bread with the ubergeeks yet.

Question du jour**: Have you ever found yourself significantly out-brained? If so, was it a good thing or a bad thing?

* See, if I had gone to MIT, I would have had a better term for that.

** This question is dedicated to Bowie Mike and his thirst for questions.


FoggyDew said...

While working as a reporter I met some crazy smart people from all walks of life. From doctors and lawyers and indian chiefs, to astronauts, chefs, biologists, preachers, librarians, masons, physicists and longshoremen ... you name it I've probably interviewed it.

But, I feel, many of them were so laser-focused on what they do few had as broad a range of experiences as me. I like to think of myself as the ultimate generalist. Basically I know just enough about many, many things to be a total pain in the ass to everyone.

There is my friend Eric, though, that guy is insane smart. As in Los Alamos, Ph.D., lasers and muons and Higgs boson smart. He can be a bit intimidating in the brain housing group.

The Bug said...

When I was in seminary I used to go to dinner with a group of people, most of whom were into all the deep questions of theology. I was a bit of fluff - not dumb, just not really interested in the inner workings of German theological philosophy. One of guys used to just stare at me like I was from another planet - he couldn't understand my irreverant sense of humor.

Nowadays, if I go to a history conference with my husband I have that same experience. I'm not incapable of understanding all the theories regarding history - I just have little interest in it. So, to some of his more serious or snobby friends I'm an intellectual lightweight. I'm ok with that.

AbbotOfUnreason said...

Now, I didn't go to no high-falutin' MIT, but I, uh, something. What was I going to say? Sorry, I got distracted by "intellectual hoohah".


froggy said...

I used to coach academic, creative problem solving teams. I had this one boy who was off the wall creative - he won a special award for his improv work, slayed the judges. He was also an engineering, science geek and was responsible for several new general rules I had for my teams - 'report all spurting blood wounds to the coach, do not set your team mates on fire, if we get kicked out of a store you don't get snack'. What he also did was make my daughter laugh and helped her recover from two years of hyper competitive team work (I wasn't the coach) and her laughter was worth everything to me.

Anyway - my point - I have one. I talked to an MIT graduate about him and he said 'don't send him to MIT' basically he felt the joy in the boy would not survive.

Tina said...

Yep - i enjoy it - makes me thing and work harder. I don't like being the smartest one in the room. Although i like striving to become the smartest. If that makes any sense.

emmajames said...

You came up with the idea for the assignment - don't forget that! - so you are completely up to the challenge. Congrats.

WordNerd said...

My younger brother goes to MIT. Over the summer, he and his friends dropped by for a visit while passing through on their way to test some experiment they were conducting. Having lunch with them was one of the funniest, oddest, and most entertaining meals I've ever had. They were great, and I've honestly never seen my brother so happy.

I like being out-brained. It gives me the opportunity to view things from a different perspective and learn something new.

Kate said...

I'm kind of a general smarty-pants, so I'm rarely out-brained and I like it when I am, because I SOAK IT UP!

So no - not out-brained, but I've been known to pretend I am in order to get laid. Does that count?

Little Ms Blogger said...

When I graduated college I moved to Boston. My first job had me working with a MIT grad...she was a marketing major...I was stumped because I couldn't figure out why someone would go to MIT for a marketing degree when there were a million other colleges in Boston I'd to first for the marketing degree.

My sister is a research scientist at Hopkins...so yes, I'm definitely out-brained.

Titania said...

Funny, although I have a PhD, I always feel the dumbest of the room... My PhD friends, classmates, professors, bosses... They are so smart, it is scary... At the same time, I feel like I learn tons from them, which is great.

lbluca77 said...

I've never been out-brained. I'm the one doing all the out-braining.

Ya I'm totally lying about that.

I'm back to blogging once again.

Mike said...

'intellectual hoohah'

I think you hit the nail on the head with that phrase.

Masala Chica said...

the inventors of the software i work with were TJ prodigies who went to MIT and CMU. They are pretty brilliant and it was exhausting trying to understand them when they got really technical, not because I didn't want to - but because its hard for them to "democratize" what they know . . . if that makes sense. Sounds like a great opportunity!

Merujo said...

When I first started at my current gig, I thought I'd be out-brained on a regular basis because I'm surrounded by scholars of all ilk. Then I started working with these guys on their projects and discovered that many of them can't tie their shoes without assistance. I realized everyone has their niche, and I completely lost any feeling of professional intimidation.

Cyndy said...

When I transferred to another school for my junior year of college I started hanging out with a few of the straight A types who lived down the hall. I discovered that for the most part I was not really intimidated by their intelligence. It just seemed like their interests and priorities were different from most of the party people I was used to hanging out with. It was nice to all of a sudden have a few smart nerdy friends to kind of balance things out. I was surprised to notice that they didn't seem to be amazingly smart, just extremely diligent and obsessed with excellence.

I think I'd be much more likely to be intimidated by someone's attitude than I would be by their IQ. And I think I'd really enjoy being the token dummy in a group of super smart people. That would actually be kind of awesome.

Bowie Mike said...

I had a friend who was enrolled in MIT's physics program. He would tell me about this incredible research involving the use of high powered magnets and all the potential applications and benefits. I was impressed, but I recall at least three occasions where he accidentally wiped out the data on his ATM card and credit cards because he took his wallet into the lab.

Another MIT story I have involves some software that my team developed. We were meeting over the phone with a client (including three wizards from MIT on the client side) and discussing how the software solved a certain problem. We explained that we viewed the problem to be too complex to solve with a single solution, so we broke it up into two problems that we solved independently (an oversimplification, of course). The MIT guys insisted that, no, a single integrated solution was needed, and they dismissed us and our approach. Fast forward three months, and we are meeting with the client in person. They said that they've come up with a wonderful solution. The three MIT wizards worked toward a solution for three months when one of them decided that they were over thinking the problem, and that it was better solved by breaking it up into two problems to be solved independently. They had so quickly dismissed our approach three months earlier to the point that they hadn't even retained it, and then they independently came up with the same solution. When I pointed this out, the client literally screamed at me in the meeting, "WE HAD THREE MIT GUYS LOCKED IN A ROOM FOR THREE MONTHS WORKING ON THIS SOLUTION! THERE IS NO WAY IN HELL YOU CAME UP WITH THIS FIRST!" Talk about intimidating. I'm sure the MIT guys could have talked circles around me, but sometimes simpler is better. Sometimes there may be an advantage to not having a genius gene.

I'm already over-commenting, but I'll leave you with one last thought. I saw a documentary where these three modern day musicians jam with some older blues "legends." One of the "younger" guys was asked if he was intimidated performing with these legends. He said something like "well, they've got their thing, and I've got mine." So if/when the project comes about, just remember to bring your thing.

Bilbo said...

Since I can be out-brained by a wagonload of hay, I don't think I'll answer.

The Chauffeur said...

thank the invisible sky wizard for my sister, or i'd be the only moron offspring in a family of geniuses.

Ibid said...

In middle school I ran the chess board that checked the memory of two guys who were playing without looking at the board.

An old roommate of mine recently got his Doctorate from Cornell. His thesis was on prenatal activity in the visual centers of the brain.

Most of the time I get outsmarted by experts in a specific field. People who are impressed by my brain are impressed by the variety of topics in which I show skills.

lacochran said...

FoggyDew: Generalist pain in the ass? It's a goal I can get behind.

The Bug: To choose not to care must be nice.

AbbotofUnreason: RPI is fallutin' enough. I hear there's a lot of dwelling on hoohahs there.

froggy: Interesting. I am definitely pro-joy.

Tina: It makes a lot of sense.

emmajames: You have a lot of emotional intelligence--thanks for saying that. :)

WordNerd: Bro obviously likes hanging out with you, too.

Kate: I don't know if it counts but it's certainly understandable. Mind if I put you on my speed dial under "smarty-pants"? I may need to use my phone-a-friend lifeline.

Little Ms Blogger: Maybe she wanted to learn how to market to brainiacs?

Titania: I can't imagine you being the dumbest, no matter the environment. Nope. Can't see it.

lbluca77: YAY!!! Welcome back! Your dreams were your ticket out... Welcome back...

Mike: You like nailing, do you?

Masala Chica: Not sure if you mean "put it into layman's terms" or "share the wealth"--wait, that would be socialist, right? But, then, Republicans claim these terms are synonymous now. :)

Merujo: Good point. Everyone has their weaknesses. Well, except Steve Martin. He can do anything. But, wait, he dated Anne Heche! So, hey! I'm feeling better.

Cyndy: So, "out-diligenced" instead of "Out-brained"? You're probably right. Brains without diligence gets you nowhere.

Bowie Mike: Loved the stories. Thanks for sharing. I'm hoping simple is at least useful for this assignment.

Bilbo: Hey! Or, should I say: Hay! At least you got the dancing smarts.

The Chauffeur: Apparently the invisible sky wizard thought you two could amuse each other.

Ibid: Interesting way to answer/not-answer the question.

Tinksfairy said...

Everytime I hang out with my best friend. She's fluent in French, and I've taken French, so when we're in public instead of whispering, she talks to me in French. And I then spend 5 minutes trying to figure out what she said. (While nodding and smiling at the inside joke she thinks I'm in on)

Barbara said...

I think it's a good thing to be just a little outbrained. It makes you turn on brain cells you had forgotten about and sort of stretch.

No one under the age of 30 knows what a slide rule is these days. What a shame. My father's slide rule was one of his prize possessions.

Kate said...

I've certainly been around people who are much smarter than I am. It's generally a good thing unless they have some sort of ego about it. At that point, I realize while they have a lot of book smarts, they are sorely lacking in emotional intelligence. Personally, I'd rather be a bit less book smart if it means I could be more emotionally intelligent.

repliderium.com said...

Being out brained is great because it makes you think and research and want to know more (unless you're out brained by a shitty little snide turtleneck wearing wanna be philosopher. Then it's grounds for murder.)

Maya said...

Probably daily! But, there have been times (especially in school) that I was doing the outbraining, so it balances out I guess.

spleeness said...

I'm outbrained ALL the time. And I love it. In fact, I was just getting ready to post this comment when hubby interrupted me to describe some engineering issue he's having at work. I'm not an engineer and half the time I have no idea what he's talking about but I love stimulating conversation and learning things. I'm good at listening and asking questions and that seems to help.

I used to feel inadequate, like there was a difference between me and someone very accomplished in math/science/engineering. Like I could never be smart enough. But after getting to know some wonderfully intelligent people, I realize fundamentally we're similar. (Aside from their very wrinkled brains, lol.)

This is why I don't treat anyone differently. I've seen brilliant janitors. When someone has a spark, you know it. It matters less what they do than how interested they are in the world around them.

Maybe that sums up why this post was so exciting to me. I like to be around thinkers too. Congrats on your new position!

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