Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What if everyone was smart?

  1. Jan 25, 2012 #1
    I recently checked out Poul Anderson's novel "Brain Wave" where everyone suddenly becomes smart when the Earth moves out of a region in space that was inhibiting neuronal action in people's brains. Everyone becomes super smart, and this basically causes a collapse of society. Things like money economy and centralized government disappear, people suddenly begin rebelling against the governments and even creating their own religion. This was very interesting to me because the novel discusses consequences I never would have even thought would have occurred.

    Then I began thinking, what if it was like a procedure that could be done for a very hefty price (as opposed to the novel, where everyone becomes a super-genius in an instant), so only the richer parts of society would become smart. How would this change?

    I would imagine money economy would be more important rather than disappear. Since only the rich would be smart, the rich would get the better jobs and get better pay, while the poor get the worse jobs and worse pay. It'd be like a catch-22, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the gap between them widens. I'm not sure how this would affect government and stuff like that.

    And then I began thinking something else. In the book, everyone becomes super-smart, as in abnormally smart. What if instead, everyone gained knowledge sufficient for a high-school or college degree, like standard education knowledge? Since people aren't super-geniuses, I'm sure this would change the consequences.

    I know this is kinda random, but I just found it really interesting. Anyone want to discuss?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 25, 2012 #2
    Any sudden change of any sort can cause calamity.

    Sudden intelligence was explored in a movie called "Charly" that came out in the 1960's: a retarded man is cured by a brain operation and begins to acquire normal intelligence. As he does, much upset results.


    The same theme came up in a couple episodes of the various Star Trek series. I think the whole notion of sudden intelligence might have been suggested by what happens in some small percentage of cases of bipolar disorder: their problem solving abilities increase exponentially before the mania peaks. But, of course, they crash eventually and there is emotional calamity.
  4. Jan 25, 2012 #3


    User Avatar

    Flowers for Algernon, the book from which the movie was adapted, was a great read.
  5. Jan 25, 2012 #4

    Char. Limit

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    If everyone is smart, then no one will be.
  6. Jan 26, 2012 #5
    There is a difference between education and smartness.; you can be well educated and at the same time be observationaly clueless. Having a great level of education does not qualify nor entitle you to be smart. To show people that you are smart you will still need things like discipline, dedication and desire. When you become respected as a result of your competition amongst your peers you may seem smart. Just saying that there are plenty of people who go to college, get a degree and are completely helpless.

    It's like saying that having lots of money entitles you to benefits that others cannot afford. Afford is not synonomous with deserve. Nor is need synonomous with want. But hell, history shows again and again that such things may be true because people are dumb enough to be persuaded that such things are true - without a fight. So, you may have a point.
  7. Jan 26, 2012 #6


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    I think this is difficult to discuss without defining precisely what you mean by "smart". You could be a genius at math, but if you are unwilling or unable to accept other peoples opinions and viewpoints then you aren't going to do well in alot of areas such as managing people or working on big projects that require a team.

    Being able to sort through a hundred different options and finding the best solution to a problem is different from being able to do quantum mechanics math in your head. Some of the "smartest" people in the world would make terrible leaders or politicians.
  8. Jan 26, 2012 #7
    Well, right now only a few smart people can build a nuclear weapon or create highly lethal and contagious viruses. If everyone was smart, there might be two possibilities: Everyone could have their own nukes and lethal viruses or we might be smart enough to decide no one needs these things. Of course the second option is smarter than the first option, but as we "progress" perhaps we will get to the first option first, which is a problem.
  9. Jan 26, 2012 #8


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    I think these are more related to availability of the required components, equipment, and money, not just pure smarts. These things can be designed so that someone using step by step instructions can do it if they have the right materials and equipment. Most of the actual work in construction, maintenance, and related areas are done this way.
  10. Jan 26, 2012 #9
    Not a problem for smart people. The point is, is "smartness" survivable?
  11. Jan 26, 2012 #10


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Can you elaborate? Just because you are smart doesn't mean you have the ability to create a nuclear weapon from scratch materials. This requires entire industries and thousands of people.

    Again, define "smartness", otherwise this is kind of a pointless discussion in my opinion. I'm not trying to be difficult, I really need to know the context of the discussion.
  12. Jan 26, 2012 #11
    If you're "smart" enough, these things can be accomplished. Besides, making a lethal virus can be done in a single lab with just a few smart people.

    I'm distinguishing between "smartness" and intelligence. The former IMO is related to technical ability while the latter is related to understanding the consequences of one's actions both for the individual and society in general.
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2012
  13. Jan 26, 2012 #12


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Only if you have the required equipment. And like I said before, if you can make it into a step by step process then almost anyone can do it.

    The problem I have is that I don't think it's possible to break this down into just a couple of general categories. There is no such thing as simple "technical ability" in my opinion. The basic skills to do maintenance on our cruise missiles here requires the ability to read, turn a wrench, plug in some cables, and use a keyboard. However, there is much more to the job than just that. The ability to plan ahead, solve problems, work with people, and do basic math can drastically alter whether someone is successful. And it isn't a set standard. As your job position and rank change the amount that each "skill" helps you can change as well.

    So how do you determine who's smart or intelligent? I've seen people that are excellent at everything except for working with people fail miserably because of it. On the flip side I've seen absolute morons excel simply because they can work with people and can use their teams successfully in spite of not being able to do the basics very well.

    So, would someone who's intelligent be good at only some of these? How about smart?

    See some of these skills to get an idea of what I'm talking about: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skill

    Also, intelligence itself is pretty ambiguous as well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligence
  14. Jan 26, 2012 #13
    Yeah, I think I actually read the book years and years ago, and was impressed by it, but I was probably only 15 at the time.
  15. Jan 26, 2012 #14
    On the principle that sudden change is usually not a good thing, I don't think it matters how you define "smart". A sudden change in a lot of people's level of intelligence, however you define it, would just about be guaranteed to be disruptive to society.
  16. Jan 26, 2012 #15


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I remember reading it and enjoying it back in junior high school, but I don't even remember anything about the story other than the title. Maybe time for a re-read.

    I'm going to play devil's advocate here. What if everyone is already smart? People tend to define smartness according to what's important to them, maybe what they're particularly good at, or maybe by the things they find particularly challenging. Both are self-serving definitions. The first lets the person elevate their own smartness standing, while the latter allows them to excuse ignorance of something as acceptable because they've elevated it to a category achievable only by a super genius.

    So, while folks are tossing around being able to build a nuclear reactor as a level of smartness, what if we changed the requirement a bit and defined it as being able to build a house, or fix a car, or operate construction equipment? Or, what about being good at gaming the system to get free meals and shelter while sitting around all day not working? (My cat seems really smart in terms of communicating her demands for food and a warm lap to sleep on when she wants it.) If we more broadly define smart as being able to acquire a skill set that enables one to obtain all of the essentials for survival, very few people would fall into the stupid category.
  17. Jan 26, 2012 #16
    In a lot of ways this scenario already exists doesn't it?

    I know it's hard to always consider where we rank among the World population, but if your posting in this forum I would guess it's in the top few percent.

    I have (and always have since a fetus) 24/7 access to nutritious food (brain developement).

    I can read & write (thanks to spell check), and have relatively free access to relatively unbiased education.
  18. Jan 26, 2012 #17
    I like the idea of future technology being able to connect wires to the part of the brain responsible for learning and then you can effectively download knowledge and then after 5mins of your brain being stimulated by this technolgy thats it, you have learnt it.

    That would be so amazing.
  19. Jan 26, 2012 #18
    The book sounds kinda backwards to me as I would think the world flying into a "stupid zone" would do more harm then one that makes you smart. It almost sounds like a dream come true to me honestly. Just think about it you would no longer see stupid people running around shooting each other. Instead it would be genius's running around shooting each other how could that be worse?
  20. Jan 26, 2012 #19


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Charly was the best movie ever! My mother and I went to see it together, and I never saw her cry so hard about a movie. Very moving. I read the book later, but the movie was even more immediate and emotionally gripping, IMO. One of the very few examples of when a film adaptation might overshadow the novel. Cliff over-did himself on this one. Sometimes, the Academy should award two Oscars, not just one.
  21. Jan 26, 2012 #20
    Not everyone would be at the same level of "smartness" as there are limitations of an individual's brain. We'd still be where we are, but in a different sense in my opinion.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook