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Ask HN: What are the signs that someone is intelligent?
18 points by rayxi271828 50 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 53 comments
Came across this thread in Reddit, alas, most of the answers were really disappointing: instead of signs of being intelligent, the answers were "good qualities dumb people can very well have, but especially nice if displayed by someone intelligent" (Examples: "Not condescending", "Make YOU feel intelligent", "Dare to say I don't know", etc.).

Wondering if I could learn from better quality answers here in HN.

I am of the belief that there are many types of intelligence. With that said, I am most impressed with three traits of intelligence as they apply to almost any situation:

1. Knowing what you don’t know and knowing your limitations. Most people struggle with this.

2. People that ask good questions. Most people either ask no questions out of fear of being seen as dumb or ask, well, dumb questions.

3. Being able to figure things out on their own, without explicit instructions or directions. Sometimes a teacher or trainings help, but more often than not the answers are out there or can be discovered with a little bit of effort.

These traits show a good understand of one self and the situation.

Again, I don’t like to say intelligence is any one thing. The linebacker that reads the play perfectly pre-snap and shoots the gap as soon as the ball is hiked shows incredible intelligence that doesn’t translate to much these days outside of sports.

I think asking the dumb questions is important. It shows they aren't afraid to admit they may not know basic things and have desire to learn and adapt

The ability to think critically.

If my example does not fit the scenario we're discussing every time and in every case and in every variation, put your own example in place. I am not arguing about the example, it's an example. It's an e.g. not an i.e! Please understand the point of examples. It's a quick reference so we're on the same page, it is not the discussion.

If you've ever said "it's more like.." in response to someone's analogy yes I'm talking about you too haha. If I get it by making the analogy and you get it by annoyingly correcting me on which analogy I should have used.. we're good. Communication has occurred.

I guess not hyperfocusing on the conversational trimmings makes a person seem smart to me, stick to the meat and potatoes and I'll enjoy talking to you if nothing else :)

Few things that stand out for me when someone is intelligent:

1. The quality of their questions: they're able to get to heart of the matter very quickly through asking relevant questions.

2. Ability to be perceptive, seeing both something that's odd and something that's not there, such as the curious incident of the dog in the night time.

3. Ability to explain things at the right level of the audience: I'm a big fan of 'Things Explainer' for this very reason.

Everyone "is intelligent" unless they have a severe brain disorder or damage. Many species demonstrate intelligence according to the dictionary definition. You're probably asking how to tell if someone possesses higher-than-average or exceptional intelligence. That's what IQ tests supposedly measure, so you could use IQ test scores.

Without access to IQ test scores or something analogous that measures what generally gets called general intelligence or G, you have to observe how well a person solves problems, especially novel problems that require reasoning ability. That can get situational: a person may show high intelligence solving a math or programming problem, but get stuck trying to start a stalled car or frying an egg. A smart person can reason about and solve problems, so they should eventually get the car started and learn how to fry an egg using their own resources and something like scientific method (eliminate variables, simplify the problem, hypothesize, test, refine, repeat).

I generally associate curiosity with intelligence. You can see that most easily with young children. Some seem curious about everything and ask lots of questions and try new things, others seem incurious. Adults may lack curiosity due to lack of interest, or focus on something else more important to them -- curiosity seems more situational with adults because they have more experience and preferences, and more demands on their attention and time. Even so, a curious adult willing to learn something new and take some risks (even just the risk of failing or looking inept) will strike me as more intelligent than someone who shows no curiosity.

An intelligent person wants to learn. An unintelligent person either thinks they already know everything, or doesn't care to learn anything new.

Self-awareness. The ability to apprehend their own subjectivity and understand its limits is not just what separates the dumb from the smart but also man from animal. The dumb go through life never interrogating or understanding their own desires or the source of their worldview. What makes great comedians great? The ability to play with their own subjectivity, to understand the absurdity at the heart of their being while admitting that they can never really transcend their tragic humanity.

Too many people equate intelligence with thinking rationally. Actually, it’s a midwit habit to believe that rationality is achievable. The smart move is to realize the irrational source of all our preferences and prejudices without discarding them on that account, to embrace irrationality as a necessary component of human reasoning.

Depression and anxiety are signs of intelligence to me.

Ourselves and our behavior is one of the most difficult things to understand, I would lean toward agreeing with this statement

I measure intelligence by the degree of how fooled I was on the nth encounter in respect to the (n + 1)th. By "fooled" I don't mean anything connotative in nature, just how wrong I was in any respect that mattered, given I wasn't an idiot at the moment.

For example, an older man used to serve me my sub every day, at a fast food joint, and on our last encounter he handed me his book; it turns out he was a millionaire--he simply enjoyed hospitality and writing (makes sense ;).

However, one should aim to improve their ability to measure intelligence. This is done by being silent--by this I mean, stop your internal dialog (don't talk to yourself).

This is accomplished when you acknowledge you simply are not that important, however, this will socially isolate you in unexpected ways. A practical way to measure your progress is how defeated you are by someone less smart than you; when this is no longer true, then find a smarter person, and so forth.

If you manage this feat, you will notice you were merely taking inventory of your own world and no other one, your entire life (not learning from others). Here, I'm suggesting, that you must find truly intelligent humans, they rarely approach you, unless you are also smart.

All good points listed in the comments. My view is that most of these depend on the ability and practice of thinking for oneself. I once pondered if/when I had a clearly original thought that wasn't connected or influenced by something closely related. It was surprisingly difficult to come up with strong concrete examples. I did come up with a good one though--back in grade 7 long before the Tau manifesto I came to the conclusion that Pi was dumb: why make a ratio vs a diameter that's made up of 2 R's? It was an epiphany at the time (so was able to remember the actual moment in time and place when we were being shown constructing the area by adding the two semidiscs sliced in wedge ribbons). Clearly a ratio of full arc vs 1 R is more 'pure' in a sense. The fact that so many people can't even imagine Pi being so awesome and perfect today despite the Tau manifesto shows how clearly influenced they are and incapable of thinking differently from the masses (at least on this point).

Only skimmed about half of the manifesto so far (so maybe they're getting to this), but: Wouldn't one practical difficulty be that Pi somehow magically shows up in a lot of formulas that aren't (directly, to the layman [like me]) related to circles and geometry? Then that would have to become 2 Tau everywhere, and in places where it's Pi squared it's 4 Tau-squared, etc. Buggers up a lot of stuff with unnecessary constants (like 2 and 4).

Otherwise, sure.

There are many types of intelligence - many yet to be classified - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_multiple_intellige...

So most answers will be half baked.

I'd reckon sense of humor to be good indicator. If you're about to tell a joke in a room full of people, some people can consistently gauge early where you're going with it. And I find that intelligent.

I’ve been thinking about that. I think it’s a good assumption that people will enjoy jokes more that they are surprised by. As a corollary, in the limit, you get absurd humor where the punchline is by definition not predictable.

AFAIK There's no good measure of inteligence.

I personally like to differentiate raw power (int), smart (usually derived from int), wise (data quality, breath) and memory. To compare to NNs:

  Int = compute
  Smart = architecture
  Wise = test data
  Memory = ?
Types of "intelligence" depend most likely on dominating architecture.

There are people that have math, social or artistic skills from my observations and each seems important to me. Depending on those different excellece niches.

Curiosity. There is an endless variety of types of intelligence, so much so that always recognizing it is impossible. But curiosity seems to be the single common feature.

- Understand second order and third order effects of a decision or action

- Varied perspectives and approaches to a given problem

- ability to ask good open-ended questions

- Understand the technical (rules or science based) and non-technical (humanities) implications

- abstract thinking ability, logical and mathematical intuition

People who listen carefully to what other people are saying and also people who are self-aware (meditation helps us understand our own minds and control what we think about).

There are multiple types and manifestations of intelligence. We would have to know what type or manifestation specifically one is looking for.

Is able to override his/her emotional part of the brain with rational decisions.

Surely without emotion, no-one would make decisions because they wouldn't care.

get the same solution/result of the others but quicker with so far more ease

They carefully consider unintended consequences of what they are doing.

Isn't that wisdom?

I would say, wisdom is when you more or less can predict which consequences there will be. But trying to evaluate them, even if you do not know for sure what happens, is IMHO a sign of intelligence.


Doctors? Morons. Lawyers? Morons. Scientists? Morons. PhDs? Morons.

Only Faangers, agile scrum masters, and engineering managers are those who are paid optimally, with flexible work arrangements.

Does the world need another web dev project manager on adderral who went through a boot camp and took a job that will be the first to be cut in a downturn? And then what? We’ve got a class of people who expect 6 figures who have no tangible skills?

I feel like this attitude is born from one extreme or another: a blue collar community with a lot of people who picked on a smart kid, who then went on to optimize for money. Or an extremely out of touch upper class family who imparted such a toxic view of people on you because it was easier to justify that they aren’t people who deserve anything (or they’ve earned a shit life) so that your family felt good about paying them minimum wage.

Either way, I’d argue this is an unhealthy attitude and a bad way to judge intelligence… Literally everyone not in FAANG or tech is a moron. That discounts 99.999% of the world’s population as idiots who haven’t figured it out. If you can’t learn anything from that group of people, I feel bad for you.

It's not only that everyone except webdevs are "morons", but also the aspect of all these "morons" not "deserving" to make a good living. The first is a technical determination; the second is a moral / ethical / value judgment. The first is hilariously erroneous, but never mind that; my point is that the second, all by itself, is totally unsupported, wildly biased, and... Well, all in all, feels pretty despicable. "Evil" is too grand a word; it's just asshole.

It’s occasionally nice to have a reminder that these people exist and operate this way, and that you may be interacting with one…

Your disrespect for other jobs (than tech) is appalling to me. Have you ever stopped and considered that if everyone started doing tech, there'd be no one making food, clothes, laptops, buildings, and just about anything in the planet?

Don’t be so appalled. It’s appalling someone builds iPhones and sneakers for a few dollars a month. That’s appalling.

Once upon a time that job paid well, but now it doesn’t. It’s appalling that people don’t accept these facts. It’s fine, the pyramid of life depends on the morons at the bottom. Smarten up.

Even your dumbest college idiot that majored in Trombone or Art managed to accept the reality and went to a bootcamp, the literal king dumbasses - even they smartened up.

> Even your dumbest college idiot that majored in Trombone or Art managed to accept the reality and went to a bootcamp, the literal king dumbasses - even they smartened up.

God damn, the hell is your problem? This is so blatantly rude and lacking in social awareness.

You know you don't have to say things just because you believe them to be true if it's a sensitive issue right? Otherwise you're just deliberately being mean to others.

What do you do for a living anyway? Seems like you're a narrow minded tech worker chalk full of himself. If you intend to be a modern day slave master, at least give people the proper dignity before the whole mob comes for you.

A brief look over the user's comment history, it seems they work in webdev

You sound like someone who was born on third base and thinks they hit a triple.

I'm not sure what a good definition of intelligence would be, but it doesn't include approaching the world through stereotypes.

^Whatever this is... not that.

Really? My view is that people who care so much about optimizing their own income miss the larger picture of the systems they work within. I see so many people creating pointless bullshit just to make more money and this is the opposite of intelligence

We need more people thinking about ideas instead of thinking about money and how they compare to the next person

The entire history of humanity is the fight between those who work, and those who make others work. Workers never won this fight, ever. The pyramids got built for free, serfdom, slavery, wage slaves, it’s the the only fight there is.

Millions died in the trenches in WW1, millions died in every war. Dumbasses, they played you.

Have you ever woken up at 6am to go to a job? Did you take a 30 year loan to buy a house? Did they tell you can only really quit working at 65? Sorry, If you don’t optimize for income, you are beyond retarded.

There’s 8 billion people on this planet, and I intend to have people do my work for me.

Or even better, have them pay me for doing something completely useless like building a web app, or even better, managing people to build said web app, or even better, hiring the manager to manage the slaves and then collect most of the check, dole out crums. I don’t know, seems like a small subset of society gets it, so I can’t be that crazy. This is how a lot of the world works, no? Am I making this up? Isn’t that what being smart is? Getting it.

If you don’t get it, you are probably not intelligent.

>The entire history of humanity is the fight between those who work, and those who make others work. Workers never won this fight, ever. The pyramids got built for free, serfdom, slavery, wage slaves, it’s the the only fight there is.

Okay? That's why unionization is important for the ones who don't have the power.

>Millions died in the trenches in WW1, millions died in every war. Dumbasses, they played you.

I'm unsure what point you're attempting to make with this statement.

>Have you ever woken up at 6am to go to a job? Did you take a 30 year loan to buy a house? Did they tell you can only really quit working at 65? Sorry, If you don’t optimize for income, you are beyond retarded.

Again unsure what point you're trying to make. Why does it matter when I wake up to do my work? I wake up at 5-6am every day because that's my optimal sleep schedule.

>There’s 8 billion people on this planet, and I intend to have people do my work for me.

Okay? So you purely see work as a means to what, get more stuff and food? That's tragically simple-minded. Work can be done to solve real problems and help people, such as researching diseases that impact humanity. Is that the work you're having people do? You seem more focused on material goods and personal energy expenditure than anything else

Yeah, sure, that exists. Thing is, though, only those who exhibit exactly that attitude call it "intelligence". In the language the world uses, it's called "egotistical asshole".

And, sorry, but however smart you think you are, you don't get to make up language; it's a community product. So what you are -- or aspire to be -- is not "intelligent", it's asshole.


>the fight between those who work, and those who make others work

>I intend to have people do my work for me.

>have them pay me for doing something completely useless

>managing people

Some people and/or their ancestors have been involved doing these type of things or at least aware of them for many generations. In some sense or another they've been there and done that.

Among them, there are some who want to accomplish more in ways that require they put their own nose to the grindstone not much differently than is being done by those under highly coerced labor.

No matter how smart you are there are some things that can not be realized otherwise, and those who have the weakest true ability will more likely fail when this type of strength becomes challenged.

There's the story of the carpetbagger who came in from New York City to a small Texas town on the train in the Old West. Where a few of the regular old boys were sitting outside the station like they normally do, sometimes whether a train is due or not. Now the city slicker debarks the train and asks if anybody can carry his heavy bag to the hotel a few blocks away for a small payment. One of the idle setters steps up, in his overalls, and agrees so off they go, the visitor not even breaking a sweat in his tailored suit as they come past the finest estate right there in the middle of town. He wants to know who owns that, and his intentions are not truly benevolent, so he asks his porter whose home that is. The local fellow, hayseed still in his mouth, answers that it's his own home, and he'll be going back there to his barn to continue shoeing some of his horses after he gets done carrying the luggage and collecting his payment for the task. The shyster in his astonishment asks how did the Texan manage to end up with such a nice spread?

"By carrying my own damn luggage."

Don't feed the trolls people. Great satire though.

Unfortunately this doesn't appear to be satire

That kind of makes it even better satire.

What are the signs that someone is a psychopath?

They get what they want out of life.

LOL, no. That's not a sign of intelligence. I know babys that crying get all what they want. Also apply to people dumb as a potato but (with a protector, rich parents,...).

That’s considered optimizing. Dumb, unintelligent people don’t optimize. Babies crying to get what they want is like paying 10 cents on the dollar. What a bargain.

The harder someone works, the dumber they are. Why’s it take so much effort for one to get what they want? Learn to cry, whine, and make people do what you need for you.

For some people, what they want is to be challenged. Here in my 6th decade, I’m teaching myself clojure.

Not because someone's making me or because it’s going to pay me a nickel more, but just because I love being mentally challenged*.

* https://explosm.net/comics/3286/

What happens if everyone do that?

That’s the beauty of it, everyone won’t lol. You want to be smart, realize that and move on up.

Ah yes, the leeches in society are truly the smart ones!

How appalling

Many people prefer to be thought fools. For example I personally prefer to sit quietly and observe until the need comes for action. I find that my actions (although effective) are not understood by those who try to control me. It's quiet fun for me to watch as they meet with unanticipated difficulties... had they understood the danger they would stay away. Yet if I were to let people see who I am from the beginning they might lay better plans.

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