Five Popular Posts Of The Month

Friday, January 19, 2018

What does it mean to be "smart"?

What does it mean to be “smart?”
or "Dr. Voroshilov is Coming Out of a Closet":

This post is a continuation of "What Is So Special About Being s Scientists?"
“What a smart person”.
“That is a smart move”.
We often say or hear similar statements.
But what do we mean when we say something like that?
What does word “smart” mean?
The Google dictionary quickly and conveniently gives us several options, like:
Other dictionaries provide a very similar feedback. According to many sources, “smart” is the same as, or similar to “intelligent”, “clever”, shrewd”, “bright”.
However, this information does not really help us to understand what does “smart” really mean.
So, we need to dig deeper into our own practice.
We often use this word when we need to describe a person who has some knowledge which we consider above the usual every-day knowledge, or who can do something which we consider not trivial.
Hence, a smart person is the one who is being considered (described) as being smart by other people. Often, that person has been told to his/her face: “you are smart”.
For example, various people told me on various occasions that they thought that I was smart, including my students (if you follow to this link
you can read some of the student feedback).
Should I believe when people say to me that I'm smart, or should I try to find another evidence? I chose to believe - naturally. But still want to have a better understanding of what they mean.
Being smart is often related to actions that, on one hand, are wanted from a professional, but on the other hand, one has to do something beyond regular professional activities.
For example, I believe that if I wouldn’t be smart I couldn’t start my professional career from scratch three times, and succeed every time.
If I wouldn’t be smart I couldn’t learn a foreign language from books, radio and TV to the level sufficient to become a successful physics teacher.
If I wouldn’t be smart I couldn’t write a book, or run this blog about educational practices.
I know, that saying “I’m smart” may not sound right for some other people.
Bragging about being smart doesn't usually help finding friends, and may even repulse people.
But, I firmly believe that the world needs more smart people (as a teacher, I consider as one of my major goals showing students that everyone is smart, everyone has abilities "required" to be called "smart", and physics is one of the best subjects which helps boost those abilities).
The world needs more geeks, and nerds, and smarty pants.
Smart people deserve recognition as the important part of the society.
I see many reasons for that, including (but not limited to):
1. In the current political environment people who make smart political choices are in high demand.
2. Smart people know the difference between the news and fake news.  
3. Smart people base actions on a reason, not just on emotions.
4. Smart people try to balance traditional values with innovations.
5. Being smart does not mean one knows everything. On the country, being smart means one knows the limits of one’s knowledge.
6. Being smart means being able to listen to other people without obsessing about differences, but focusing on the common grounds.
7. Smart people do not force everyone to agree with them, instead they just roll out their logic and let people to decide.
8. Smart people usually talk less, but ask a lot of questions. But they do that not to attack other people, but simply to avoid misunderstanding, to make sure that when people use the same words, they also imply the same meaning - which is not always a case!
Was I born smart?
Of course – NOT!
No one is born smart, but 
EVERYONE is born potentially smart.
Don't believe it? Use your imagination (and ability no AI has, and no AI developer knows how to develop). Imagine that baby-Einstein was left in jungles and was nurtured and educated by monkeys (another version of "Mowgli"). He would become just a very smart human-like monkey.
Healthy infants (99 % of population) may have slight deviations in the potential of smartness, but the actual level of being smart mostly depends on one and one thing only – LUCK!
More specifically - GOOD LUCK.
An ability to run has its own physiological basis - legs.
An ability to reason (including being smart), also has a specific
physiological basis - a developed brain.
Everyone has a brain, but, when we are born our brain is not developed yet, it is just potentially developed, and the level of brain development depends a lot on a good luck one has.
A good luck means - when and where one was born, his/her parents, friends, teachers, and it is mostly responsible for who one will become in his or her 20s (the rest will be up to him or her). For example (more in:, since I was little my parents tried to teach me reading, chess, music; I have not become a chess master or a musician, but those lesson definitely help my brain development (and I have no responsibility for that – just was very lucky).
Word “smart” has been hacked by people in the marketing.
Nowadays, we have “smart cars”, “smart bulbs”, “smart water”, “smart thermostats”, “smart phones”, and more “smart things”.
I think, what we really need today is “smart bars”. A merger between a book club, a debate team, and an open mike. Every big city needs at least one smart bar, so people who consider themselves smart could gather together and openly display their smartness without being ridiculed for being smart (a short video on the matter:
Although, even now, after talking about what smart people do, or why are they important, we still have no definition/meaning of word “smart”.
We already mentioned that in order to be considered as “smart” an action should be not trivial, not obvious. At least for people who observe that action. However, that also happens when someone does not know what to do (how to achieve a certain goal), but then that someone comes up with an idea that initially was not on the surface (was not obvious). 
We may say that: “One had a problem, and one found the solution”.
Word “find”, however, is not the best word to describe what happened.
“Find the solution” sounds like someone was looking around, literally searching for something (a book, a box, a letter, a drawer) with word “solution” on it (“Did you look under the table?”). Of course, this type of a search does not happen in a real space, but in a space of ideas, statements, texts (for example, browsing through a library, encyclopedia, the Internet), and may require some time and effort. Often, when people see someone who came up with such a solution, if they did not know that before, they call the found result of that search as “smart”. But not the person.
Historically, if instead of using a library or the Internet, a person finds the solution via browsing through the memory (e.g. Jeopardy players), that person is considered as “smart”.
This is an interesting contradiction: when one searchers outside of his or her brain and finds the solution – he or she is not smart (yet); but when one searchers inside of his or her brain and finds the solution – he or she is called “smart”.
To resolve this contradiction, we would have to call people smart (or not) independently of where did they do the search for the solution – no matter if the search happened inside or outside of their brain.
If a person finds the solution stored in his or her memory due to the search inside his or her brain, I would not call that person “smart” but “knowledgeable” (a.k.a. erudite). However, this term - smart - has been historically used to describe a person who has a lot of information stored in his/her memory.
The amount of searchable information stored in the memory becomes the parameter of “knowledgeability” (erudition), or  “smartness”.
A very difference case - if there was a problem, and the solution was "found", but not via a search and selection from previously existing options (inside or outside a brain), via a process of reasoning - that means the solution was created, designed!
And if that previously non-excited and “manually” created/designed solution does not look obvious, if it is not trivial – then many people also call it “smart”, and the person who came up with it should also is called “smart”.
This interpretation of “smart” makes it basically equivalent with “intelligent”, when “ intelligence” is understood as “ability to create solutions to problems which have never been solved before, and represented in symbols” (© Valentin Voroshilov, 2017;
In this interpretation, “smart” is not related to the amount of knowledge one has stored in his or her memory and can retrieve, but with the ability to use the knowledge to create new knowledge - in the form of a solution to a certain problem (that can be used in a form of certain actions needed to solve a problem).
This interpretation of “smart” deserves its own word, term, name; and, actually, it exists - clever.
And from this point forward we will use the following terminology.
Smart - a person who has a vast amount of information stored in his/her memory and can retrieve it on demand (or find it quickly using an outside search - because that also requires certain smartness to figure out what information is important and how to find it).
Clever - a person who can use his/her (or searched) knowledge to design new knowledge using the process called "thinking".
Thinking - a deliberate manipulation with abstract mental entities in order to achieve a specific mental goal, i.e. to develop/construct/design a specific mental object/construct/concept/model.
Dumb - a person who cannot learn sufficient amount of information due to physiological (genetic) limits. Dumb is the opposite to smart.
Stupid - a person who cannot think due to physiological (genetic) limits.
Idiot - a person who cannot think due to psychological reasons (e.g. arrogance). Stupid/idiot is the opposite of clever.

 We can see, that in this case:
1. Not every knowledgeable/smart person is automatically clever.
2. Not every clever person is automatically knowledgeable/smart. 

Smart and clever are two dimension of intelligence.

The role of education is to "produce" people that are both - knowledgeable/smart and clever (know things, and can think). 

However, currently the society keeps the focus only on the first part of being educated - knowledge.

Knowledgeable people are the basis of a society, they are responsible for a stable functioning, they preserve existing traditions, and sometimes they may object even progressive changes. However, clever people can outsmart knowledgeable ones (like Russian FSB outsmarted American CIA, FBI and NSA in 2016)

Clever people are the agents of change, they can challenge established views and traditions, but sometimes they push for a change just for the sake of the change.

Of course, ideally, one should be both – smart and clever.

In conclusions, we can define a “clever person” as a “problem solver” (“a solution creator”); and a smart person as a solution depository.

As a “problem solver” a clever person is the one who:
1. Knows what he or she is doing;
2. Knows why he or she is doing what he or she is doing;
3. Knows why he or she is doing what he or she is doing the way he or she is doing it;
4. Can explain to others 1, 2, and 3.

The more difficult, less trivial problem one can solve by creating the solution, the higher the level of “cleverness” of that person.

Thank you for visiting,
Dr. Valentin Voroshilov


Thinking - a deliberate manipulation with abstract mental entities in order to achieve a specific mental goal, i.e. to develop/construct/design a specific mental object/construct/concept/model.
That is why currently there is no AI that can think, and will not be any soon.


To learn more about my professional experience:

No comments:

Post a Comment