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Mark Atwood
fallenpegasus
fallenpegasus
An overview of a systemic problem
Yeah, so it's on slashdot already. But it's still worth reading.

It's less about "nerds" than it is a systemic look at a systemic problem.

http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html
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Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 19th, 2003 11:58 am (UTC) (Link)

Spot on.

That's why we're home schooling Sakura.
lionmage From: lionmage Date: February 19th, 2003 01:37 pm (UTC) (Link)

Interesting article...

It's an interesting article, and worth more reflection.

Personally, I always assumed that there were several factors involved in popularity and why nerds and intellectuals tend to be unpopular. Certainly it's true that truly smart people don't value the same things that popular people value. Popular people tend to be superficial, and focused on appearances. Smart people tend to focus on the world of the mind, and let appearances go.

But mainly, there were two factors that really seem to jump out at me. First, there's a long tradition of anti-intellectualism in the United States. This helps explain the outright hostility that most nerds and other intellectuals seem to receive at the hands of jocks and other popular folks. It amazes me what assumptions the popular mundanes seem to make — many of them seem to believe that intellectuals somehow view themselves as being better than everyone else, without necessarily having a shred of proof to back that claim up. (On the other hand, by any objective measure, smart people are superior to most mundanes — in the area of intellect, which is what the intelligentsia prize most anyway.)

The other factor seems to be that many smart people suffer from a mild form of autism. I know that more and more of the people I associate with are being diagnosed with things like Asperger's Syndrome. Most forms of autism seem to carry with them a kind of curse, in that the sufferer is keenly unaware of social nuances of any sort. However, autistics (both high-functioning autistics and the "Rainman" variety) are blessed with incredible intellectual skills, at least in a few areas. You've heard the term "idiot savant" bandied about, and I don't think it's entirely accurate, but it is descriptive.

How many times have you heard a nerd described as having no common sense, but being really book-smart? Perhaps there's a real neurological deficit that, while it causes severe problems with social skills, also unlocks greater mental potential. And maybe there's a whole spectrum — some people are able to function reasonably well in society, with only a minor deficit due to their nerdiness, while others can barely function at all.

Which also brings me to Vernor Vinge and his discussion of the Technological Singularity. He talks about how, in the coming Singularity, super-intelligent machines/beings/whatever might spawn entities that are of human-equivalent intelligence, but might not be easily recognizable as something human or person-like. Such entitites wouldn't necessarily be skilled at interacting with beings like you and me in a general social manner; they'd be laser-focused on one or a very few areas of expertise.

Which paints a scary picture of the future for humanity and what comes after us. Imagine a world where the closest thing to something human is even less socially capable than Rainman.

Anyway, since modern society wouldn't function without nerds and other intellectuals, it seems clear that there's survival advantage in people being born who are wired for smarts instead of social skills. Humanity as a whole benefits, even though people who suffer the social ostracism because they're nerds have to put up with a world that treats them as undesirable. Perhaps if the nerds of the world woke up and realized their true value, they could put the mundanes in a stranglehold and demand the respect they're due.
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 20th, 2003 09:54 am (UTC) (Link)

Now where have I seen this..?

"Sometimes, particularly in university math and science departments, nerds deliberately exaggerate their awkwardness in order to seem smarter. John Nash so admired Norbert Wiener that he adopted his habit of touching the wall as he walked down a corridor."

(cough cough) As-pur-gurs (cough cough)

:)
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