How to act like you’re bright

This blog post is brought to you by a recent bad experience I had watching a 5-minute clip from Big Bang Theory on the recommendation of a friend who thought I might find it amusing.

Bleagh. This is supposed to be a show about geniuses? It’s not. It’s a show about a dimwit’s idea of what bright people are like. The slowest person in my peer group could out-think and out-create any of these sad-sack imitations of “smart” on any day of the week.

These actors are not bright, and don’t know how to fake it on screen. It occurred to me that I have seen this pulled off occasionally; the example that leaps to mind was Jennifer Love-Hewitt playing a bright scientist opposite Jackie Chan in Tuxedo (2003). She did a good enough job that I was later quite surprised at how relatively free of the ravages of intelligence she sounds in propria persona.

Ms. Love-Hewitt must have been at least smart enough to know that she should emulate the mannerisms of very bright people, and then set about doing it. After thinking about this, I thought it would be entertaining (and possibly useful) to compile some actionable advice for actors finding themselves in a similar situation.

Here goes a list of bright-person behavior signals which, while not universal, are very common…

Bright people have very precise diction and tend to self-assimilate to educated speech norms even if their formal education is minimal. Enunciate as crisply as you can. If the character is designed to have a regional or lower-class accent, dial it down a little. [UPDATE: I may have overgeneralized a bit here. Strongly true of STEM geeks, but maybe not as reliably of other kinds of brights.]

Bright people concentrate. Their casual attention to a task or person is as intense as most peoples’ full attention. So fixate on those targets – not to the point of being glassy-eyed about it, but to the point where stillness and attention dominate your body language.

Bright people spend a larger fraction of their time in an ‘on’ state of mental alertness or conscious thought than non-brights do. This has consequences in visual saccades that are easy to see – with a little practice, you can grade people by intelligence in bank or movie-theater lines by watching eye movements. Look for relatively little time spent in a defocused, half-asleep state – or, conversely, lots of time when the eyes are tracking or making motions indicative of either imaginative activity or memory retrieval. Thus, when you play a bright person, always be looking at something.

Do not fall into the robot trap. Bright people are not emotionless, not at all. They do tend to be more introspective and more controlled, which makes their emotional signaling less obvious. A good way to approach this mental stance is to behave like someone who is seeing wry, dry humor in everything.

The most common minor failure mode of bright people in dramatic situations is that they’ll have visible difficulty tolerating stupid behavior by those around them. The thing to get is that this is not egotism and shouldn’t be pushed out that way unless the character is an asshole by design; playing it not as assholery but as weary exasperation is usually truer.

Bright people move differently. This one is complicated. If they’re naturally physically graceful, the always-on/full-attention trait amplifies that a lot. If they’re physically clumsy, they may still exhibit startling if confined physical competence in trained skills – typing, playing a musical instrument, martial arts, whatever. What ties this together is that they’re good at all kinds of learning, including learning to use whatever physical ability they have efficiently.

152 thoughts on “How to act like you’re bright

  1. Hey esr …. my kids think Big Bang Theory is funny. They even try, at times, to figure out which character in the show is me. Which, generally, fails miserably. Having watched the show, off and on, because of my children, I have come to one inescapable conclusion. Penny, the blonde waitress/aspiring actress is the only actually brilliant person on the show. The rest of the characters are boring, cardboard stereotypes.

    Also, everything that you said.

  2. Um, the evidence would suggest that Mayim Bialik is actually bright, so if she doesn’t come off that way to you perhaps the problem is not the one you identified.

  3. Milhouse, I like Mayim Bialik … but in Big Bang Theory she comes off as desperate to have a boyfriend, not brilliant/bright/smart. Perhaps I haven’t watched it enough. BUT that seems like a fault of the writers and directors.

    And bear in mind that esr watched one episode. Even less likely than me to think much of the characters.

    I still claim that Penny is the only smart/brilliant person in the show.

  4. It’s too bad you had a bad experience with BBT. A lot of us, bright people, former hackers, used to being around the bright and occasionally the truly brilliant, greatly enjoy it. Of course it is a satire – the people are not supposed to be perfect replicas of geniuses – everything is exaggerated.

  5. >Um, the evidence would suggest that Mayim Bialik is actually bright

    Possible, but that face was not in the clip I saw.

  6. This is from memory. The people making Arrival (the movie based on “The Story of Your Life”) studied bright people so the actors could do it well. One of the things they noticed was that bright people’s eyes light up at a new/good idea.

  7. >The people making Arrival (the movie based on “The Story of Your Life”) studied bright people so the actors could do it well.

    I would love to read their coaching notes. I’d like to see how much they overlap with mine in the OP.

  8. A solid analysis, and consistent with my own observations of “Big Bang Theory”. ESR, I’d be curious to know: What other fictional folks would you regard as smart?

    Somehow, my first thought was Columbo, even though I haven’t seen an episode in perhaps 25 years. And, Peter Falk’s eye problems would tend to run against your observation about eye-movement patterns.

  9. Bright or non-bright is all in the eyes. Dull unstimulated eyes or bright curious eyes.

  10. Bright people have very precise diction and tend to self-assimilate to educated speech norms even if their formal education is minimal. Enunciate as crisply as you can. If the character is designed to have a regional or lower-class accent, dial it down a little.

    I think this can be tricky.

    I remember something my dad said when I was a little kid, that rang true for decades thereafter. “Smart people can say things in very complex ways, like ‘pedal habiliments ambidextrously lubricated and illuminated for the infinitesimal remuneration of ten cents per operation’. *Really* smart people just say ‘shoe shine: ten cents’.” [I later found this was a common joke sign at the time.]

    I’m likewise reminded that Dirac used to criticize Feynman because he “talked like a bum”.

    Then again, Feynman’s Long Island patois is arguably an anti-pattern – he sounded dumb, unless you paid closer attention to what he was actually saying.

    So it can be tricky. Articulate too much, and you sound exactly like someone trying to sound bright. In the limit, there’s probably no substitute for just being bright. OTOH, if the audience either isn’t paying or can’t pay that much attention, they may assume you’re dumb because you talk like a bum, or that you’re smart because you use big words.

    Which explains a lot beyond just how to sound bright.

  11. I would be interested to hear how people evaluate my speech, especially since it’s pretty stereotypically Texan (Houston subdialect).

  12. I hated all 15 minutes I ever saw of that show. That said, I pin most of the blame on the writers, not the actors. The actors are trying to enact weirdly terrible clown stereotypes of brilliant people who somehow possess utterly no clue about everyday life. Because the show is popular, I assume these stereotypes have been crafted for the pleasure of the audience, and for want of any other visible source, I conclude that pleasure must derive from the incongruity of smart people behaving almost preternaturally foolishly, due to a total lack of common sense. Mold this already bad idea into the shape of a typical lowbrow wacky sitcom, and you get a supremely weird clown show — in this case a very popular one. Given their success, it makes as much sense to assume the actors are doing a bad job and would care about improving their performances and acting “bright” as does the idea that the Keystone Cops would want to know how to perform convincingly in a police procedural.

    Also: “Bright people have very precise diction and tend to self-assimilate to educated speech norms even if their formal education is minimal. Enunciate as crisply as you can. If the character is designed to have a regional or lower-class accent, dial it down a little.”

    Really?

  13. I’d put any episode of Benny Hill—Hell! ANY BBC comedy from the 70s and 80s—over the Big Bang Theory. Pfft! Tripe.

    As for identifying bright people, don’t forget there’s also Bright-Fu obfuscation/sandbagging that needs to be employed at times in order to avoid detection. It’s Card Game 101.

  14. I just noticed another commenter adduced Feynman as evidence to the contrary. I suppose he’s a notorious case. But we shouldn’t overstate the case — Feynman certainly didn’t speak it “like a bum”.

    I have and had a number of older relatives who spoke like that (most are now dead). That precise Brooklyn dialect (Feynman came from Far Rockaway, Queens, but close enough) no longer exists, but it was very widespread. His grammar was perfect and his word choice was excellent, thought he kept it almost as simple as possible. But though he doesn’t resort to the showy sesquipedalianism of, say, William F. Buckley, he was perfectly comfortable with abstruse vocabulary when it helped His writing is unusually clear for a scientist — I can only think of a few writers who achieved a more unvarnished style, and they were all professionals.

    He must have cared about grammar and syntax, because he avoids all the infamous solecisms that might be naively expected to accompany that dialect. (This was true of many of my relatives as well.) But he also obviously gave zero units of concern (I guess hoots in his day) about achieving a refined, precise or high-status sound.

  15. >Um, the evidence would suggest that Mayim Bialik is actually bright

    Possible, but that face was not in the clip I saw.

    From what I can tell, she’s a bright person accurately portraying a character who is written as a midwit-writer’s-caricature-of-bright-person. Her character joined after the main cast and their dynamic was already clearly established, and Bialik plays her as an exquisitely tuned counterpart to Parsons’s.

  16. Bright people have very precise diction and tend to self-assimilate to educated speech norms even if their formal education is minimal. Enunciate as crisply as you can. If the character is designed to have a regional or lower-class accent, dial it down a little.

    I would be interested to hear how people evaluate my speech, especially since it’s pretty stereotypically Texan (Houston subdialect).

    I’ll disagree contingently with Eric on this one–there is a facility for talkin’ edumacated, but the sharper the person, the more likely he is to be able to code-switch registers deliberately. Feynman was famous for it. I know a Tennessean who can switch between formal academic and 100%-accurate Southern belle at will. g provides at base a substrate for mental flexibility.

  17. My take after watching a part of an early episode was that they charecters had the personality of ‘C’ students, but were written like they had been given the correct answers. I did not watch it again.
    One more characteristic of brights – they tend to be interested in many things. These characters were one track in their thoughts and interests.

  18. >ESR, I’d be curious to know: What other fictional folks would you regard as smart?

    More than I can remember. I read SF, doncha know.

  19. >Feynman was famous for it.

    I think Feynman’s New York dialect was a dimwit filter. He knew what to think of anybody who processed the dialect but not the word choice and vocabulary he wrapped with it.

  20. >Eric, have you seen Arrival? If so, what did you think of it?

    I have seen it and I liked it very much. It was a real-goddammit SF movie, like Inception and Interstellar.

  21. >Bright or non-bright is all in the eyes. Dull unstimulated eyes or bright curious eyes.

    You know, I think you’re not wrong. A lot of (though not all) bright people do have bright eyes.

    The next interesting question, then, is what makes eyes bright? What optical or surface property are we actually seeing there?

  22. >I’ll disagree contingently with Eric on this one–there is a facility for talkin’ edumacated, but the sharper the person, the more likely he is to be able to code-switch registers deliberately.

    Actually, I agree with you. But that’s more difficult to render as advice to an actor. You’d have to include something about why or when you get deliberate codeswitching, and that part is tricky.

  23. Yeah, I watched a bit of that much-hyped sitcom long ago. As Jay Sherman would say: “It stinks!”. And I bet its title uses the word “theory” in the sense of “hypothesis”, a usage I strive to avoid.

    >ESR, I’d be curious to know: What other fictional folks would you regard as smart?
    More than I can remember. I read SF, doncha know.

    What about Kwai Chang Caine and Angus Mac Gyver?

  24. > It’s a show about a dimwit’s idea of what bright people are like.

    I’ll say. The reason I generally give for hating the show is that Sheldon is such an over-the-top, Hollywood-stereotype nerd that *I* want to beat him up and take his lunch money.

    That said, I’m not sure the show isn’t *deliberately* trying for the “dimwit’s idea of what bright people are like” vibe just for the sake of cringe humor, which seems to be fairly popular in sitcoms these days. I myself can’t stand cringe humor, but any intelligent person that does will likely love the show.

    > Bright people have very precise diction and tend to self-assimilate to educated speech norms even if their formal education is minimal.

    I find that I tend to assimilate in word choice to what I read, but if anything, my accent and tone has moved away from the educated register with age: I grew up in Colorado and now live in the Dallas area, and fairly often catch myself slipping into a stronger Texas accent than what I hear around here on average (though nowhere near the strongest accents in the area).

    One thing that seems to be fairly common among bright people is that they tend towards a somewhat formal bearing naturally (and in more than just speech), but tend to little tolerate any attempt to make them even more formal than they already are. Formalities that are mere status signaling tend to be despised.

  25. >Feynman was famous for it.

    I think Feynman’s New York dialect was a dimwit filter.

    I’m not talking about that, but rather his ability to shift complexity scales. “Cargo cult” and “o-ring in ice water” are accessible to the masses, while he invented a completely new language to describe nuclear interactions that got adopted as universal essentially without modification (and is a model of conciseness for the information presented).

    A lot of (though not all) bright people do have bright eyes. The next interesting question, then, is what makes eyes bright?

    Crackpot hypotheses: Eyelids opened wider. More frequent tear refresh conjoint with more frequent saccades. Both testable by video analysis.

    But that’s more difficult to render as advice to an actor. You’d have to include something about why or when you get deliberate codeswitching, and that part is tricky.

    Ah, at this point I’d kinda gotten lost in the rant and overlooked that you were (ostensibly) providing acting advice… O:-)

    This would really be advice to the writer, though, and given the baseline egregious pop-culture mistakes the BBT writers let through, it’s clear that for all their vaunted “science editors” their input is limited to checking the math.

  26. >Really?

    Your skepticism puzzled me at first. Then, as I was doing something else (actually, playing a boardgame with my wife Cathy) I realized that I could generate at least one plausible theory about it.

    Now that I think about it, while the the thing about self-assimilating to educated speech norms is in my experience very true of hackers and STEM geeks…it might not be of other kinds of brights. Is that it? Are you and I sampling different populations?

  27. >What about Kwai Chang Caine and Angus Mac Gyver?

    Never saw McGyver. Caine read to me as both skilled as wise, but not super-bright.

    Yes, I am part of the generation of martial artists who got the idea that “That would be really cool…” from the original Kung Fu TV series. And fifty years later I will admit to being quietly delighted by the occasional opportunities life hands me to sound like Master Po…

  28. Now that I think about it, while the the thing about self-assimilating to educated speech norms is in my experience very true of hackers and STEM geeks…it might not be of other kinds of brights. Is that it? Are you and I sampling different populations?

    To insert myself–remember that in STEM, precision of speech is critical for useful communication, and this is not necessarily the case in other fields, or in ways that are readily apparent to an outside observer. Individuals engaged in pursuits where proportionally less time is spent in communicative speech activity (and programming is itself mostly communicative) will have less habit-forming pressure toward conformance to formalism; consider painting or instrumental music as contrasts, and why Peter Schickele can write symphonic music that is comic.

  29. >Then what did you mean by this?

    I knew of the character. Mainly from a magazine article semi-seriously taking McGyver apart for inconsistencies and implausibilities. And I’ve tripped over the isolated clip or two, but never even close to a whole episode.

    That series happened long after I stopped watching TV.

  30. > Really?

    Now maybe it’s my young age and Colorado upbringing (so that I don’t have a firm grasp on the relative status of east-coast accents), but Feynman’s accent in that video there does not strike me as low register. In the occasions when I hear an accent like that (mostly in old films) it strikes me as a rather high register and enunciated accent, albeit quite old fashioned. It’s like the old transatlantic broadcast accent with the Britishisms removed.

  31. My experience with exceptionally intelligent people is that they possess an extraordinary ability to focus on something and then accurately discern its essence through observation and analysis. Different people accomplish this in different ways (with perhaps a few common traits such as you mention in the OP), but they all tend to persist with uncommon diligence. And they do this because it’s natural, and they are generally oblivious to the reactions of others around them.

  32. “Thus, when you play a bright person, always be looking at something.”

    My current cat has always struck me as smart, but I’ve never been able to articulate _why_ I think he’s smart — I mean, he doesn’t do the Sunday Times crossword in ink, or anything. But he always is looking at something! My earlier cats often just zoned out, but this guy is clearly paying attention.

  33. >What about Kwai Chang Caine and Angus Mac Gyver?

    Never saw McGyver. Caine read to me as both skilled as wise, but not super-bright.

    Yes, I am part of the generation of martial artists who got the idea that “That would be really cool…” from the original Kung Fu TV series. And fifty years later I will admit to being quietly delighted by the occasional opportunities life hands me to sound like Master Po…

    Ha-ha Ha-ha-ha!!! “Suggestible-Fu” – Even better!

  34. > Now maybe it’s my young age and Colorado upbringing (so that I don’t have a firm grasp on the relative status of east-coast accents), but Feynman’s accent in that video there does not strike me as low register.

    In my case it’s a Michigan upbringing, but I have the same reaction. Feynman’s accent in that video isn’t the old transatlantic film & broadcast accent, but I do hear a relationship to it. Feynman’s speech also has the lower proportion of sentence fragments and grammar clunkers that I associate with “bright” speech, rather than the higher proportions I keep hearing in the speech of not-brights.

    Back when I was an undergrad, I had math and science professors with thicker accents and muddier enunciation than Feynman showed in that video.

    Bright types do tend to have large vocabularies, but it’s a gross parody to depict a bright character as regularly using lots of big, rare words. IME most bright types will use a big rare word on occasion, when it’s just the right word, and will underestimate just how unusual the word is.

  35. Crackpot hypotheses: Eyelids opened wider. More frequent tear refresh conjoint with more frequent saccades. Both testable by video analysis.

    Concur with wider eyelids. Consider how easy it is to tell someone with eyelids actively opened, versus relaxed. I would go so far as to say that bright eyes are a special case of alertness, generally correlated with brightness.

    Imagine yourself just waking in the morning, still groggy, eyes bleary, somewhere south of condition white. Then imagine relaxing your eyelids, and making other bodily movements you would make if alert. Then imagine having alert eyes and relaxed everything else.

    I suspect tearing would be unrelated – if you had wet relaxed eyes or dry alert eyes, the eyelids would be the dominant factor.

  36. PS – Why do the obvious lemmas fail so often in these threads?

    One would think the intellectually curious would, at the very least, pull on these if, for no other reason, than to dismiss the wanton troll amongst their most purine (and feebly obsequious) thoughts.

  37. >Feynman’s accent in that video there does not strike me as low register.

    Yeah, there’s some interesting sociolinguistics here. Regional accents that might be read as “low” in young people sometimes become status markers associated with authenticity in older people. I remember reading about the original study demonstrating this effect – it was on Martha’s Vineyard, where older upper-middle-class people took on the accent traits of working-class fishermen.

  38. I disagree with the title, this show was NEVER good, but just vulgar and unmitigated tripe…

    A close friend tried to get me to like it by making me watch three episodes, each with a guest star “guaranteed” to hook me; Shatner, Hawking and Nimoy. I patiently watched them, and at the end of it, when he looked at me hopefully, I muttered that I didn’t even like the woman in it, let alone anyone else…!!!

    I suppose it’s because, having met many real scientists and other actually really intelligent people, this show doesn’t even rate to me.

    As far as actors playing intelligent people go, almost every actor who’s played Dr. Who, even in the current awful series that I dub “Dr. Who Lite”, has managed to pull this feat off… Exceptions are Colin Baker, Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston; ugh!!!

  39. I don’t actively watch the show, but I have enough exposure from friends and family that do.

    From what I know, the two primary driving themes of the plots are: watch our (stereotypical) nerds fail to operate on a basic social level, and watch our nerds try to mate with the opposite gender, ideally with stereotypical nerds of that opposite gender.

    It’s really not interesting or humorous most times, lest not to me.

    Sometimes they venture off into parodying the Star Trek fandom or gaming fandoms, which have little relation to the core values the characters are supposed to embody, but they tend to be quite a bit more on-the-nose and genuinely funny in these moments.

  40. I think I’ll add to my last point: Star Trek and gaming are far more accessible to the writers and actors and they probably have direct experience in these topics, if not fandom themselves. That would give them a large advantage to accurately portraying them.

  41. “Now that I think about it, while the the thing about self-assimilating to educated speech norms is in my experience very true of hackers and STEM geeks…it might not be of other kinds of brights. Is that it? Are you and I sampling different populations?”

    Well, yes, but that’s not entirely it. And it’s obviously true that bright people in all walks of life conform their speech at least somewhat to the educated norms they learn. I did it, too.

    But … it’s very complicated, in my experience. When I first read this post, I immediately thought of some very bright but also immature and naive college students I knew when I was in my 20s who undertook such assimilation particularly fervently, and produced a weirdly flat, deracinated way of speaking with much less music in it than almost any other dialect I know. The really grating aspect of their efforts, to my ears, was the deliberate suppression of pitch. (I don’t really know why they did this, but I have observed it and I guess it is an unpleasant side effect of the effort put into deliberately controlling and altering speech patterns that were set down in childhood.) They were all very bright, so that part fits, but they were also very young. Now I’m almost 50 and I hear this much less, never among my age cohort, no matter how bright the speaker may be. So rightly or wrongly, I associate extreme deliberate efforts to assimilate to educated norms to be a thing that bright young adults often do and usually grow out of, ending up with some more natural way of talking that’s probably somewhere between the dialect they started with and their personal “educated” ideal. (It just occurred to me that this also might have just been a 1990s fad.)

    And finally, I get the sense that some of this may depend on the extent to which the particular bright person struggles to create his or her identity, which has to do both with intelligence and a many other things about their personality.

  42. I think I’ll add to my last point: Star Trek and gaming are far more accessible to the writers and actors and they probably have direct experience in these topics, if not fandom themselves. That would give them a large advantage to accurately portraying them.

    And yet these are the areas where the failures are most objective, obvious, egregious, and consistent.

  43. >Feynman’s accent in that video there does not strike me as low register.

    Yeah, there’s some interesting sociolinguistics here. Regional accents that might be read as “low” in young people sometimes become status markers associated with authenticity in older people. I remember reading about the original study demonstrating this effect – it was on Martha’s Vineyard, where older upper-middle-class people took on the accent traits of working-class fishermen.

    One really hasn’t lived the accent dream unless one has experienced the late Appalachian parlances of Earl Hamner, et al, of “The Waltons” family fame.

    [Most all of them are all dead now, so, good luck with that. But, not entirely.]

    http://ideastations.org/radio/news/waltons-reunion-celebrate-hamner-his-hometown

    As for mid-PA, unless you count Bobby Rahal (as an index in this stupidly-derailed thread), just thank your pierogies that it’s almost over.

  44. @esr
    “I have seen [Arrival] and I liked it very much.”

    There is a Dutch angle to this movie. The speech processing software shown on the screens of the field linguists in Arrival is Praat (www.praat.org). It is the leading platform for speech research, and is also used to analyze animal vocalizations (and a host of other things, like EEG signals). It is written by two men at the university of Amsterdam. And it is GPL.
    https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2016/11/what-arrival-gets-right-about-talking-to-superintelligent-noisesquids-from-space/

    The lead developer does Praat as a side project. His day job is professor in phonetics and phonology.

  45. With respect to accent I’ve noticed my high-tech-redneck friends have perfect southern gentleman diction. Its more an achievement of not merely doing a thing, but doing a thing extremely well.

  46. Airline pilots are not generally considered to be a dull, insipid or stupid subset of the population. The great majority of them hold one form or another of a STEM degree, be it via an Embery-Riddle type flight university, a Military Academy or an Engineering degree, be it mechanical, electrical, aerodynamics, or etc.

    Yet, you’ll hear the bulk of them make their cabin announcements in generic, Southern “Pilot Patois”, nearly indistinguishable from one flight to another.

    Even the Yankee pilots tend to slide into that drawl within a decade’s time in the front office.

    Like Feynman’s Brooklyn/Rockaway accent, it’s not a speech bereft of vocabulary nor wit. Rather, it’s a very smooth, non off-putting way to convey information in a manner that the listener finds familiar, non-distracting and conducive to the accurate and effective transfer of facts, information and instruction to the listener.

    That, in it’s realm, is a brilliantly intelligent manner of communicating.

    If you want to see, live in action, a group of only average-intelligent people successfully (to most) pull off the trick of appearing to be bright and witty, one needs only watch the average local TV reporter, be it “live” and in the field, or the vaunted Local Anchor, at their finest.

    Most, who I generally find to be insipid, misinformed and grossly ignorant of which they “report”, yet do so with seemingly great authority and gravitas, withal.

    The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, a theory not yet unproven.

    Yet, the two collegiate majors having the lowest SAT requirements for acceptance? Education. And, Journalism, inclusive of Communications majors.

    Hmm…maybe an idea. Get a whole bunch of retired airline pilots to become news reporters. Bet we’d get a lot more accuracy in news, with the added bonus of them being too smart to stand on the Galveston Seawall and have their ass kicked by a Hurricane Ike wave breaking over said Seawall! (looking at you, Geraldo!)

    Jim
    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  47. ESR,

    I think your eye movement part needs clarification. There are different eye movements associated with imagination, thinking, recalling etc. vs. actually looking a things. The former is more common for bright people, who easily find their surroundings boring and think about something else.

    I find the http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AbsentMindedProfessor is more common than the situationally aware type.

    I think one reason why geek culture is connected with ADHD that ADHD is best understood as a constant low arousal state, when things seem boring and you need stimulation. This can easily be connected with high intelligence, as a world made for mediocre intelligences can see positively boring.

    This why I find the absent minded professor steretype apt: hard to be situationally aware when your interesting thoughts compete for your attention with a rather boring street scene.

    I suspect your situational awarness may have been learnt during your martial arts or firearms training and likely you see a lot of situationally aware people if you associate largely with that crowd. But if you meet “pure intellectuals” who were never really into anything body-related you will find neither that situatonal awareness nor that graceful movement. They will be often lost in thoughts.

  48. “Dirac used to criticize Feynman because he ‘talked like a bum’ “

    Class prejudice? Dirac was raised and educated in England which is notorious for snobbery.

  49. >Yet, you’ll hear the bulk of them make their cabin announcements in generic, Southern “Pilot Patois”, nearly indistinguishable from one flight to another.

    You are quite correct. Pilots are indeed an exception to the first mannerism I reported. But there’s more to this than you appear to know, because that accent has a more specific home and a selective reason it has tended to spread. This has been studied!

    Your “Southern patois” is actually, specifically, a transmitted imitation of Chuck Yeager’s West Virginia drawl. The history is actually clear here – it propagated from Yeager through military test pilots to civilian pilots, and furthermore the reason is not a mystery. It happens that this particular accent is unusually good for maintaining intelligibility over noisy radio channels. That plus Yeager’s stratospheric prestige locked it in as a subcultural norm in a way neither trait alone would be likely to have managed.

    The thing to notice is that the pilot accent and the hyperstandardized STEM-geek accent are parallel adaptive responses to similar functional pressures.

  50. “Dirac used to criticize Feynman because he ‘talked like a bum’ “

    That sounds like a joke. See this anecdote:
    Dirac was known among his colleagues for his precise and taciturn nature. His colleagues in Cambridge jokingly defined a unit called a “dirac”, which was one word per hour.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Dirac#Personality

  51. >I think your eye movement part needs clarification.

    It does, but I accepted some vagueness there in order to not have that ‘graph run overly long.

    >But if you meet “pure intellectuals” who were never really into anything body-related you will find neither that situatonal awareness nor that graceful movement.

    One would think so, yes. But it is a fact that I spot bright people of the “pure-intellectual” category in bank lines by looking for alertness in eye movements. My theory is that these movements are automatic during beta-wave (conscious) thought even if the locus of attention is interior. Which is why I didn’t say to look for situational awareness – it’s not that, though it looks like situational awareness – it has the same or a very similar saccade pattern.

    Or, to put it differently, people zone out and defocus when they drop into a light alpha state. What I’m watching for in bank and theater lines is really the beta-time/alpha-time ratio; the higher that is, the brighter the person probably is.

    You should try this yourself. I think this trick should be easy to pick up once you know it’s there.

  52. And fifty years later I will admit to being quietly delighted by the occasional opportunities life hands me to sound like Master Po…

    *laugh*

    You are not alone.

  53. What do you think of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in the British TV series?

  54. >What do you think of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in the British TV series?

    Fscking brilliant. He’s either actually very bright himself or has learned to imitate the manner with uncanny exactitude. The hints in his bio strongly suggest that he’s for real.

    You know who else goes in that bin? Daniel Radcliffe – I’m actually slightly more sure that he’s a real bright than I am of Cumberbatch, though my confidence about Cumberbatch isn’t particularly low. I wish I could say the same about Emma Watson, but she seems rather dimwitted off stage – I’m afraid Hermione was probably imitation.

  55. Big Bang Theory is Nerd Blackface. Because hey, we can “other” nerds safely. It is as obnoxious in its stereotypes as “Good Times” was in the 1970s.

    I use it as a filter. People who want to gush about it to me get roughly two chances to self educate, and then I move on.

  56. The point of TBBT is not to convincingly portray very bright scientists. Rather, it is to set up characters as nerds, so that the writers can throw in a remarkable density of politically incorrect jokes. In light of this goal they have achieved overarching success.

  57. As I recall from an earlier version of your how to notice smart people (I think it was how to notice fans), you described the eye indicator as rapid shifts between interior and exterior attention.

    So, how would you identify a smart person who’s blind?

  58. >As I recall from an earlier version of your how to notice smart people (I think it was how to notice fans), you described the eye indicator as rapid shifts between interior and exterior attention.

    I think Dividualist has caused me to update that to beta-alpha ratio. Similar observational cues, slightly different theory.

    >So, how would you identify a smart person who’s blind?

    I’m not sure I could. The clinical question is whether blind people do beta-state eye saccades. Thinking about the one blind person I know reasonably well (who is. usefully, quite bright) I think the answer is no.

  59. This post raises an interesting ontological question?

    Being highly intelligent is an essence, but may manifest outwardly in many forms depending upon one’s life circumstances. However, when an actor (of limited intelligence) attempts to “play the part” of a highly intelligent person, they cannot magically become highly intelligent and consequently must resort to imitation skill. If this mechanism were genuinely feasible, I wonder if we would have evolved differently as a species, e.g. fitness selection for fakery skill.

  60. A number of the mannerisms listed are really easily confounded by other characteristics. For example, many of the brightest people I know are foreign-born. Their English is riddled with missed phonemes, awkward verb placement, and false cognates. They have gaits that look unnatural outside of their homeland and hold a pen so bizarrely it’s impossible to expect decent penmanship from them. When you speak, they often half-close their eyes simply to block out visual distractions that hinder them from processing your language. But they are leaps and bounds ahead of their native-born colleagues despite not displaying the signs you identified. Another example would be people on the autism spectrum, who are often very bright. I know there used to be a foreign character on TBBT, although it’s been years since I’ve watched. So Raj might get some slack.

    And as regards the perception of diction at different ages, think about how different demographics voted in the 2008 American presidential election, when after eight years of George W. Bush, Barack Obama did fantastically well among university-aged voters. I doubt it was a major factor, but interesting to ponder nonetheless.

  61. >A number of the mannerisms listed are really easily confounded by other characteristics.

    Granted. That doesn’t make them wrong, though, just confounded.

    Remember: advice to actors.

  62. James Thompson had a post recently:
    http://www.unz.com/jthompson/the-secret-in-your-eyes/
    about a paper
    J.S. Tsukahara, T.L. Harrison, R.W. Engle (2016) The relationship between baseline pupil size and intelligence. Cognitive Psychology Volume 91, December 2016, Pages 109–123

    from the abstract:
    Abstract

    Pupil dilations of the eye are known to correspond to central cognitive processes. However, the relationship between pupil size and individual differences in cognitive ability is not as well studied. A peculiar finding that has cropped up in this research is that those high on cognitive ability have a larger pupil size, even during a passive baseline condition. Yet these findings were incidental and lacked a clear explanation. Therefore, in the present series of studies we systematically investigated whether pupil size during a passive baseline is associated with individual differences in working memory capacity and fluid intelligence.

    Across three studies we consistently found that baseline pupil size is, in fact, related to cognitive ability. We showed that this relationship could not be explained by differences in mental effort, and that the effect of working memory capacity and fluid intelligence on pupil size persisted even after 23 sessions and taking into account the effect of novelty or familiarity with the environment. We also accounted for potential confounding variables such as; age, ethnicity, and drug substances. Lastly, we found that it is fluid intelligence, more so than working memory capacity, which is related to baseline pupil size. In order to provide an explanation and suggestions for future research, we also consider our findings in the context of the underlying neural mechanisms involved.

  63. Dirac used to criticize Feynman because he ‘talked like a bum’

    In light of responses, I looked into this again. Turns out I was mistaken. It wasn’t Dirac. According to Christopher Sykes No ordinary genius : the illustrated Richard Feynman (by way of Wikipedia), it was Wolfgang Pauli and Hans Bethe. Both were friends of his; it was good-natured ribbing (that part I remembered; I remember video of Feynman telling this joke himself). I get the impression Dirac probably respected Feynman’s intelligence, if they weren’t actually friends.

    Regarding actor advice: the contrast between Dirac and Feynman, as well as all of the rest of the Los Alamos crowd, not to mention modern day bright people such as Terence Tao or Eliezer Yudkowsky or Gilbert Strang, tell me that the best advice is probably to tell actors to watch these people when they’re being bright, and let the actors’ trained mimicry skills do the rest.

  64. On the matter of “bright eyes” and eye movement, it is worth noting that bright people who are listening may have their eyes closed altogether, but their posture should otherwise be one of alertness. And if you are actively trying to convey brightness, make sure to come up with one astute question to ask about whatever you are listening to.

  65. (Side note: I am finding that the “Notify me of follow-up comments by email.” box isn’t working as advertised. For this post, at least. No idea about other posts.)

  66. Some of this, like the enunciation, could well be symptomatic of autism. Also the weird mix between clumsy and graceful. I mention this because it’s common for hacker types to mistake autism for “bright”, when it’s mostly more “a kind of intelligence that’s easier for me to recognize”.

  67. >Some of this, like the enunciation, could well be symptomatic of autism. Also the weird mix between clumsy and graceful.

    You have a point, but as I was assembling the list I was particularly looking for common traits observable in neurotypicals as well as autists. The beta-time/alpha-time ratio, in particular, seems to be a tell for both populations, and may actually be more difficult to observe in autists because of their tendency to avoid eye contact and overstimulation.

  68. >Some of this, like the enunciation, could well be symptomatic of autism.

    There’s more to be said about this. I have a not-yet-very-well-formed theory that very bright people develop a tendency to look like fake autists. It goes something like this: autists have weird knacks like hyperacuteness at pattern matching in noisy data because, in the absence of working mirror neurons and a complete theory of mind, their attention goes to kinds of processing that neurotypicals under-power (relatively speaking).

    But what if you’re a neurotypical who thinks so fast that you can power up one or more of those knacks even with your theory of mind eating as much processing capability as it does in an average neurotypical? You won’t be an autist, but you may exhibit abilities and consequent behavioral tendencies that 99% of the time are autism tells.

    I think I know people like this. Hell, I may well be a person like this. Autism assays stubbornly refuse to tag me, and yet…

  69. > The thing to get is that this is not egotism and shouldn’t be pushed out that way unless the character is an asshole by design; playing it not as assholery but as weary exasperation is usually truer.

    I’m not sure. Weary exasperation tends to come off as assholery: Certainly to its target, and I think quite often to third parties that don’t understand the reason behind the exasperation. I think this almost more needs to be advice for screenwriters than actors: Make sure that you set things up so that everyone in the audience understands *why* the character is exasperated. Even so, my impression is that brights (or at least STEM-type brights) tend to be real assholes with a probability greater than the general population. I often find myself emphatically agreeing in my head when they say assholish things, but tend to think they could be a bit more tactful about it.

  70. Bright people don’t queue in banks. If Benedict Cumberbatch were bright ‘The Imitation Game’ wouldn’t be so wrong. In the BBT there are occasional characters who are very bright but outside the SF loving nerd stereotype.

    The BBT is a mainstream US situation comedy. It is sometimes quite funny. Over-analysing its premise would seem to be asking the wrong questions. Generalising the apparent characteristics of ‘brights’ is leaping off a cliff, legs akimbo, with bozo bit firmly set.

    Paul

  71. “Yeager’s stratospheric prestige…”

    Literally stratospheric. But I bet you meant that.

  72. It’s established that people in attentive, psychologically “aroused” or flow states have dilated pupils. The research about people solving multiplication problems comes to mind.

    As pupil dilation allows more light into the eyes, I suspect that additional light scatters across the iris in subtle and interesting ways which could lead to this “bright eyed” look.

    If bright people are often paying more attention, as you’ve suggested, dilated pupils and the consequent optical changes would be a telltale indication of that attentiveness.

    Ref: http://mobile.the-scientist.com/article/33563/the-meaning-of-pupil-dilation

  73. >If bright people are often paying more attention, as you’ve suggested, dilated pupils and the consequent optical changes would be a telltale indication of that attentiveness.

    That is plausible.

  74. >It’s established that people in attentive, psychologically “aroused” or flow states have dilated pupils.

    A very interesting possibility just occurred to me. Could mild photophobia due to flow state explain why so many programmers and creative people are night owls?

    This isn’t me, BTW; I’m a wren rather than a lark or owl, easily adapting to either a day or night schedule. But I have noticed that compared to people around me I seem to be slightly photophobic.

  75. esr:

    You won’t be an autist, but you may exhibit abilities and consequent behavioral tendencies that 99% of the time are autism tells.
    I think I know people like this. Hell, I may well be a person like this.

    But you’d said you were “more a shadow Tourette’s case than a shadow autist”.

  76. >But you’d said you were “more a shadow Tourette’s case than a shadow autist”.

    That’s right. I’m not claiming to be an autist now. Reread my wacky theory carefully, please.

    Epistemic status is: very speculative, so don’t put a lot of weight on it.

  77. My dad was in the Air Force. So when I took flying lessons my instructor said, “You need to talk like a normal person on the radio. You sound like a better pilot than you are, so people expect you to be able to do things you can’t do yet. That’s dangerous for everyone. Got it?”

    So, having a defined pilot dialect, which is learned by oral tradition, gives everyone a quick and accurate read on the skill level of the people they’re sharing the sky with. So chuck Yeager’s drawl was like a crystal dropped into a super saturated solution.

  78. >So, having a defined pilot dialect, which is learned by oral tradition, gives everyone a quick and accurate read on the skill level of the people they’re sharing the sky with. So chuck Yeager’s drawl was like a crystal dropped into a super saturated solution.

    That is beautiful. That is one of the sweetest stories about purposive cultural adaptation I have ever heard. Thank you for improving my knowledge of the pilot-dialect phenomenon.

  79. “Bright people have very precise diction and tend to self-assimilate to educated speech norms ”

    Notable exception for young clever people. They tend to read well, much, and widely and so encounter words-in-print they have rarely had opportunity to hear pronounced. And by applying conventional rules of phonics they then use the new vocabulary, aloud, with novel and sometimes nearly unrecognizable forms.

    My daughter had occasion to suggest I was “suh-NILE” at one point. Her bedroom was in disarray and a state of utter “CHOWSE”. A barbed-wire fence was littered with “DER-bis.” (A bit of hasty dislexia mixed in with the mistaken emphasis on that one.) Etc.

  80. >So chuck Yeager’s drawl was like a crystal dropped into a super saturated solution.

    Yeah, you reminded me of something. I once used that same simile, “like a crystal dropped into a super saturated solution”, in a later historical summary, about my original Cathedral and Bazaar talk in 1997/1998. So, why am I bringing it up now? Because you’ve shown me a second example which, in spite of having a superficially very different fact pattern, displayed very similar dynamics.

    Sometimes a culture will reach a supercritical state where it only needs one tiny shift of consciousness about its practice to undergo a rapid, major phase change. By your account, pilots (probably in historical context U.S. military pilots) in the days Yeager made his name had a nexus of unresolved problems about radio intelligibility and how to signal in-group/competence status. Yeager comes along, impresses the living shit out of everybody with grace under pressure. Young pilots do what humans do and try to learn how to be like Yeager inside (clearly a functionally good idea) by imitating his presentation.

    Then the culture (or equivalently, a critical mass of individuals almost simultaneously) wakes up and realizes “Holy shit! This do-it-like-Yeager thing solves some problems!” Yeager’s speech and mannerisms propagate through pilot culture like a shockwave, and decades later your flight instructor still firmly grasps what problems that solved.

    This…this is familiar. I’ve been here. In late 1997 the hacker culture was riding a growth surge driven by Linux and mass-market Internet. It had unresolved problems about how to consciously model and improve its folk practices and explain them to others. So I drop in the ideas in my original paper (many eyeballs, release-early-release-often, starlike communications structures as a solution to the diseconomies of team scale)…the culture wakes up and realizes “This solves some problems!” and these ideas propagate like a shockwave – really they’d reached the corners of our world by ten months later.

    In both cases, “crystal dropped into a super saturated solution” is really descriptive – you really do see an almost unbelievably (before then) rapid and uniform adoption of new norms. The culture knows what it’s doing when it changes and that knowledge is never forgotten afterwards.

    Now I want to find a third example.

    I suspect if and when we do it will involve another subculture that is heavy in metis (distributed folk knowledge) that it hasn’t yet fully articulated and systematized.

    Ooooh. Maybe I do have a third example. The early spread of formal heraldry among European feudal elites was a much more sudden and faster process than most people realize: IIRC it all went down in a few decades just before 1200CE, which was ridiculously fast given their communications and transport technology. Before that you have simple shield and banner decorations used for battlefield ID; after that you get the whole panoply of armorial bearings with familial associations, an elaborated and largely common symbolic language, professional heralds, grants of arms, legalistic disputes over arms, etc.

    It really kind of seems like somebody invented this new toy and pretty much the entire feudal elite woke up and said “Wow! This solves a whole bunch of problems about affiliational displays, status signaling, and identity assertion!” and it spread like a shockwave…

  81. >And by applying conventional rules of phonics they then use the new vocabulary, aloud, with novel and sometimes nearly unrecognizable forms

    Yup. I was one of those kids.

  82. >Could mild photophobia due to flow state explain why so many programmers and creative people are night owls?

    I think it has more to do worth flow states masking interrupts. When I get into a flow state and don’t have someone around to remind me to eat, I tend to eat at very odd times, so it’s not just sleep that gets disrupted by flow state. And I’m quite certain that I don’t avoid the outdoors because of sunlight, I gravitate to the indoors because there are more interesting things to do there. If I could back up my brain state, switch off pain, and participate in a live-ammo Jutland reenactment every weekend, I’d spend every Saturday on the deck of a battlecruiser.

    RE: “Pilot Patois” and Yeager, I have *definitely* noticed a special intonation and timing to the speech of pilots and ATC. I had not identified it as a southern accent of any kind, and indeed, to my ear it seems to ride on top of the accent of the speaker. The thing I’ve noticed is that it turns up *whenever* and *wherever* English is used for aeronautical communication, even if everyone involved is a second-language English speaker with a thick accent, they still tend to have that special timing. But now that I think of it, the timing does fit well with with a southern drawl.

  83. >>And by applying conventional rules of phonics they then use the new vocabulary, aloud, with novel and sometimes nearly unrecognizable forms

    >Yup. I was one of those kids.

    [aol]Me too[/aol] or a reasonable face-smile thereof. Although I didn’t use my reading vocabulary aloud very much. I was aware, even as a sprout, that my reading vocabulary was bigger than my spoken one, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself.

  84. @ESR

    Alpha-beta waves: this aspect sounds a bit like bright people find it hard to relax?

    But if I see people chilling around a pool and one of them cannot relax but doodles in a notepad working on some design, I am not sure I see simply a bright person or an ADHD hyperactive trait… for me these seem so related that it is hard to tell difference, because if ADHD is a constant understimulation / low arousal / finding the world a bit boring, high intelligence could easily explain that trait. Highly intelligent people find themselves in a videogame of life set to cakewalk easy mode. Of course it can be understimulating and boring…

  85. >Alpha-beta waves: this aspect sounds a bit like bright people find it hard to relax?

    Doesn’t follow. Just because your beta-to-alpha ratio is normally high doesn’t mean it’s always high. You might be situationally cueued to shift to a different activation pattern. I think this varies a lot by individual, too much so to make hard generalizations about.

  86. ERS, I would suggest you to ask somebody who watched the whole series to pick some selected episodes that are good samples.

    A single sample might be the bad outlier over something otherwise brilliant.

  87. You are conflating brightness and successfulness/competence (even for STEM geeks)

    Many of the traits you list are those which lead bright people to be good at things. Thus, if you identify bright people with MIT students or some other achievement bar you will indeed find they focus more spend less time half-asleep etc.. etc.. However, if you find someone who is naturally very bright but has been stuck in a thoughtless job for a long time or in an enviornment where that intelligence goes unrewarded (or punished) they will be just as glassy eyed and half-asleep as anyone else.

    Things like constant visual saccades are very dependent on both what kind of things the person thinks about and how they do so. Sure, I know some very good mathematicians who think in a visual manner so there eyes dart about when working on a problem. Others become totally glassy eyed and look as if they are zoned out when concentrating.

    Your comments about physical movement, again, track traits of successful people (focusing on skills they wish to learn and mastering them) not necessarily brightness. Arguably this is the more important quality but still.

  88. On pilot speech and radio communication:
    When I was learning to fly, I’d been a ham for 15 years already, so talking on the radio came completely naturally to me. I was telling Houston Approach what I wanted professionally before I soloed. Didn’t seem to affect how I got treated, though. Certainly, my instructor didn’t say anything to me about dialing it back…

    And if you listen to the tape, Harrison Ford sounds like a professional pilot as he tells John Wayne Tower “I’m the schmuck who landed on the taxiway”.

    Thinking about it, I do make some judgment on hearing other pilots talk to ATC, but only if they sound like nincompoops. Assuming someone’s a good pilot because they sounds like one is a good way to have a problem.

    Not all pilots and controllers use that same measured cadence, though. Especially in the Northeast, controllers in particular are known for speaking in a rapid-fire staccato and expecting you to keep up. The aviation writer Gordon Baxter, a good old boy from Beaumont, would tell a story about dealing with one such. After the third try to receive a complex IFR clearance, he finally told the controller “You hear how fast I talk? That’s how fast I listen, too.” The controller slowed down.

    There’s a popular column in IFR magazine, Heard on the Air, of funny things people have heard on their aircraft radios. A lot of them derive their humor in part because of just what was said in that calm, cool, collected professional aviator voice. (For a sample, check out the Short Final column at their sister publication AvWeb.

  89. This description strongly corresponds to my observations of HIQ people.

    A natural question is whether one seeking to develop their intelligence would benefit from self-consciously adopting these mannerisms. My initial thought was no: one should rather adopt the mental habits and behaviors whose outward manifestation is these mannerisms (such as curiosity, focus, humor, thinking things through, care about precision and accuracy, etc). But on reflection, perhaps there is some value in using the external manifestations as “cues” toward the appropriate inward attitudes.

    And of course, some of these mannerisms (e.g. intolerance of people slower than themselves) are partly flaws and should not be imitated. (Though some impatience for others, and interest in avoiding pointless conversations, is valuable.

  90. As an aside, and not unrelated to the topic on hand, I am now wondering whether “corresponds to” or “corresponds with” is more appropriate in my comment above.

  91. >As an aside, and not unrelated to the topic on hand, I am now wondering whether “corresponds to” or “corresponds with” is more appropriate in my comment above

    Either is correct.

  92. > That is beautiful. That is one of the sweetest stories about purposive cultural adaptation I have ever heard. Thank you for improving my knowledge of the pilot-dialect phenomenon.

    Thank you. I designed that story to be both interesting and useful to you, so calling it beautiful is high praise indeed.

    Last Fall I decided to thank you for your blog by giving you a coin you value highly: insight. This proved… difficult. I kept encountering a specific failure mode:

    > “Now I want to find a third example… Ooooh. Maybe I do have a third example.”

    You, or one of your commentators, would buzz in on the few occasions I had something to share. So I took Richard Hamming’s advice from “You and Your Research”. I just spun up a background process that said, “Making an unexpected and valuable comment on this blog is an interesting problem. Wake up if you find a matching pattern in an adjacent field.”

    > Yeah, you reminded me of something. I once used that same simile, “like a crystal dropped into a super saturated solution”, in a later historical summary, about my original Cathedral and Bazaar talk in 1997/1998. So, why am I bringing it up now? Because you’ve shown me a second example which, in spite of having a superficially very different fact pattern, displayed very similar dynamics.

    I don’t remember hearing you use the crystal and saturated solution analogy, but ‘different fact pattern/similar dynamics’ is exactly what my background process was looking for.

    So, I can now say, “Thank you for your blog.”

  93. On the subject of linguistics, I have an uncanny ability to make working class white people from the northeast like me. I think it comes from linguistic mirroring I unconsciously perform, and which is particularly strong for this group since I grew up in South Philly. This is probably an unconscious defense mechanism.

    (I can do it with blacks too, though I’m not nearly as effective. And a few times it’s happened when speaking to southerners.)

    One consequence of this is that I was able to predict, after hearing him talk for two minutes, that Trump would do very well with working class whites. I think that a large share of Trump’s “authenticity” is linguistic in origin; something that has been almost completely neglected by the media.

  94. > Thinking about it, I do make some judgment on hearing other pilots talk to ATC, but only if they sound like nincompoops. Assuming someone’s a good pilot because they sounds like one is a good way to have a problem.

    Basically, my instructor agreed with you. He wanted me to sound like a newb until I stopped being a newb :-)

  95. >I can do it with blacks too, though I’m not nearly as effective.

    OK, your linguistic mirroring is better than mine. I can do that with working-class northeasterners, white Southerners, and (by field test) both Canadians and Dublin Irish. Wouldn’t want to try it with blacks, though; too much risk of a backfire.

  96. >Certainly, my instructor didn’t say anything to me about dialing it back…

    Well, the easy hypothesis is that your Texas accent isn’t enough like a Yeager drawl to create a recognition conflict. They sound pretty distinct to me.

  97. Related reading that you may find interesting:
    http://yudkowsky.tumblr.com/writing

    It’s an AI researcher talking about how to write intelligent characters in fiction that don’t trigger the same sort of uncanny-valley reaction you’re talking about with on-screen actors. The “level 1 intelligent characters” article in particular resonates strongly with me, and I’m curious what your take on it is.

  98. >It’s an AI researcher talking about how to write intelligent characters in fiction

    Eliezer’s a friend of mine, and better known by reputation to my blog regulars than he apparently is to you. None of us would describe him merely as “an AI researcher”; he founded the interesting rationalist subculture around the blog Less Wrong.

    Pretty much anything he writes is worth your time. This is no exception – his advice is all good. If you really want your world rocked, read Twelve Virtues of Rationality.

  99. >Certainly, my instructor didn’t say anything to me about dialing it back…

    OK, this is embarrassing, but it’s relevant so I’ll admit it.

    To me, the alphabet was pronounced Alpha Bravo Charley Delta Echo Foxtrot. Before my dad would pull out of his parking spot, we all had to confirm our seat belts were on. He would say, “One.” My mom would say, “Two”. I was “Three” and my sister was “Four”. The goal was to make it sound like just one person was talking.

    “One. Two. Three. Four”.

    I didn’t just sound like a pilot, I sounded like I was in the Thunderbirds. For a young adult male to be that fluent on the radio, but be barely able to land on a clear day with no wind, was genuinely dangerous. I’m glad my instructor dialed me back.

  100. “Look for relatively little time spent in a defocused, half-asleep state – or, conversely, lots of time when the eyes are tracking or making motions indicative of either imaginative activity or memory retrieval. Thus, when you play a bright person, always be looking at something.

    I’m not sure this is always the case. Using MBTI typology, I think that’d be accurate for INTJ types, that is, the practical, external world-focused kind of bright person. INTP types, on the other hand, are bright in a more theoretical, speculative, inwards-focused kind of way, so it’s typical for them to look absent minded.

    INTPs also tend to be more talkative, in a “shooting in all directions” kind of way, as they speculate a lot aloud. This gives others the impression they’re uncertain and that they rarely get to the point. INTJs tend to think things thoroughly before speaking, and then to state their conclusions in no uncertain terms.

    If there are multiple bright characters in a show then, it’d be useful for actors to know better these two basic templates instead of trying to act only bright individuals of the INTJ variety.

  101. “Big Bang Theory is Nerd Blackface. ”

    +1

    Exactly why I cannot watch this show.

  102. ESR> Now I want to find a third example.

    ESR> I suspect if and when we do it will involve another subculture that is heavy in metis (distributed folk knowledge) that it hasn’t yet fully articulated and systematized.

    Just because of timing, I may know exactly such a sea-change: Rock and Roll. When Chuck Berry first put out his JBG licks, the transition of Rock-and-Roll music was almost instantaneous and the sound carries through to this day. The arrangement and chord progression that describes “rock” are a direct line back to CB’s licks. I guess CB was the “Yeager Voice” for rock musicians.

    Wouldn’t have thought if this if not for hearing recent discussions about this very topic because CB’s death last week.

  103. I think Benedict Cumberbatch is a weird case. In Sherlock he’s very believable as a genius: focused, exasperated at other’s inability to keep up with him, but, crucially, when Sherlock runs into another very intelligent character, he’s not upset they’re as smart as he is – he’s interested. A lot of what he does seems to have a certain playfulness to it. Sure, people are getting murdered, but he’s a consulting detective because it’s more fun than any other game in town.

    Contrast with Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, and he just seems… slow. (In comparison, at least.) And the playfulness is gone, which is a shame, because everything I’ve read abut the actual Alan Turing suggests that he had have fun with what he did.

    Maybe it’s just bad writing.

  104. Now I want to find a third example [of people trying something, finding out it solves problems, and what is tried quickly spreads].

    This sounds like an echo of one of my earlier paragraphs.

    Articulate too much, and you sound exactly like someone trying to sound bright. In the limit, there’s probably no substitute for just being bright. OTOH, if the audience either isn’t paying or can’t pay that much attention, they may assume you’re dumb because you talk like a bum, or that you’re smart because you use big words.

    Once more for emphasis: the audience may assume that you’re smart because you use big words.

    What if the problem people are trying to solve is getting attention? Status? Credit? Respect? Solution: use big words. Avoid contractions (a practice I heard mentioned after the release of the Coen Bros.’ True Grit as being popular in the 19th century frontier). Talk like a scientist, and people treat you like a scientist. Just like talking like Yeager will get you treated like an experienced pilot.

    The biggest difference I see is that talking like Yeager when you are no Yeager has the nice property of putting you and others into real danger relatively quickly – it’s fail-fast – so people learn to not do that until they’re damned ready. Scientists, by contrast, often don’t face immediate danger. …well, not in danger of being disproven, at least. If they do, it’ll happen long after they’ve gotten their awards. It’s fail-slow. Unless you’re a physicist or chemist, of course. But of course, we still tend to trust physicists and chemists.

    But all this is dancing around my central point that a lot of problems get solved this way, because humans mimic what appears to work*, and that some of those are actually failure modes because the problems some humans are trying to solve are not aligned with avoiding long-term failure, but rather with short-term failure.

    *I should try to find SF that plays with this idea. How would a sapient species fare, if it did not learn through mimicry as primates do?

  105. >INTP types, on the other hand, are bright in a more theoretical, speculative, inwards-focused kind of way, so it’s typical for them to look absent minded.

    I think you get similar beta saccades in that case, but the eye motions tagging imaginative activity will be more frequent; if I remember my NLP that’s upward and right. Absent-minded is not the same as zoned out; they’re concentrating on something.

  106. I would think that a healthy society/culture should primarily reward genuine high intelligence (in whatever outward manifestation it takes) rather than promote a stereotypical contrived illusion of high intelligence created by the Hollywood entertainment machine.

    Questions for the fans of TBBT, do you aspire to emulate the role-models portrayed on the show? Do these characters exhibit any sort of real-world merit other than serve as a vehicle for humor? Richard Feynman was a very funny (and multi-talented) guy, but no one would ever mistake him for a comedian rather than genius.

  107. For a possible third example (or fourth or . . .) I’d offer double-entry bookkeeping and limited-liability corporations. (I think Marx cited both of those somewhere.)

    I bet when we really start looking, we’ll find a lot.

    Oooh – single-snake lines at airport counters.

  108. A single sample might be the bad outlier over something otherwise brilliant.

    esr’s analysis is spot-on and not the result of an unfortunate sample.

  109. My obvious hypothesis (possibly mentioned above, but too much to scroll through) is “BBT isn’t trying to model brilliant people.”

    It’s trying to model what its target audience will assume is what brilliant people are like.

  110. > esr’s analysis is spot-on and not the result of an unfortunate sample.

    Dunno …
    I’ve always seen BBT as a show about nerds, not necessarily geniuses — except Sheldon.

    And there’s a significant difference between the early “nerdy” seasons and the later seasons that are more about friends and relationships, while at the same time the later episodes suffer from flanderization (cfr. TV Tropes : characters turning into caricatures of themselves)

    So the sampling does matter, imo.

  111. (Side note: auto-notify definitely appears to be borked in some way, at least for me. I’m getting no subscribe confirmation emails.)

    It just occurred to me that Die Hard 2 features something at least very close to Yeager-speak being used as a minor plot point.

    In other news: examples of bright ideas spreading furiously are threatening to become apparent all over the place. It describes virtually any innovation known well enough that someone here has heard of it, or a turn of phrase anyone’s seen more than twice on social media, etc. I have to think there’s a more refined version. But I’m too busy to resolve it right now.

  112. >For a possible third example (or fourth or . . .) I’d offer double-entry bookkeeping and limited-liability corporations.

    That’s a good one. Except you may be a few causal steps downstream of what I think was the actual shockwave; the adoption of Arabic numbers. Double-entry bookkeeping isn’t possible without them, and followed very rapidly on them.

    >Oooh – single-snake lines at airport counters.

    A fast-spreading technology, too, but not the kind of thing we’ve been talking about because it’s not generative enough – doesn’t have its own substantial downstream effects on mindset and culture.

  113. > Except you may be a few causal steps downstream of what I think was the actual shockwave; the adoption of Arabic numbers.

    Related to this, what about other forms of mathematical notation? Did any of them create a shockwave?

    Another possible example: The skeletal-formula drawing conventions of organic chemistry. I remember my graduate school adviser saying “You must learn to draw structures.”

  114. esr:

    I’m not claiming to be an autist now.

    And I didn’t read you that way. I just found your remark odd in the light of certain statements you’d made in old threads (I linked to one such remark, but there are a handful more).

    That said, I guess there’s nothing contradictory about being autist-like in some respects and Tourette-like in others. I recant.

  115. @esr:
    > Except you may be a few causal steps downstream of what I think was the actual shockwave; the adoption of Arabic numbers.

    Didn’t that take a few centuries though?

  116. And there’s a significant difference between the early “nerdy” seasons and the later seasons that are more about friends and relationships, while at the same time the later episodes suffer from flanderization (cfr. TV Tropes : characters turning into caricatures of themselves)

    I’ve read somewhere that the creator and writers of TBBT realized after a couple of seasons that the viewing audience (probably highly skewed toward intelligence and nerdiness) were thinking that it was supposed to be a show celebrating super-smart nerdy people, and that Leonard was supposed to be the point of view character they should identify with.

    That was wrong: it was Penny, the “normal person”, we were supposed to sympathize and identify with — the show was actually about how horrible it was that she had to deal with these people all the time — and to make that clearer they made the male characters even more over-the-top than they had been in the first place.

    That’s when I stopped watching. I didn’t like any of the characters anymore.

  117. Bright people do not always want to be identified as bright.

    Identity and culture are complicated things. Too many people seem to be coming from environments where showing as educated and bright is a safe way to claim status.

    So the diction thing is out. It’s not universal, it’s aspirational. What is a universal sign is, as was said, the ability to switch registers fluently and seemlessly.

    Second on the eyes.

    One odd characteristic I’ve persistently noticed in unusually intelligent people is the crinkle in the lower lids when they sense something amusing. Laughing eyes, I believe it’s called.

  118. >Didn’t that take a few centuries though?

    I checked and you are correct; I was misremembering something I had read about the jump from adoption of Arabic numerala in the Italian city-states to double-entry bookeeping and the beginnings of physics physics.

    Looks like Linda Seebach’s original remark about bookkeeping as a primary shock was on the mark after all.

  119. I replayed that in my personal history, learning bookeeping / accounting really helped me to have a more precise, more formal understanding of finance, business and economics.

    Reminds me of my pet peeve: why don’t economists speak the language of bookkeeping/accounting? When mises.org goes on and on about how central or commercial banks create money out of thin air, I would really like to see some T-accounts. This sort of stuff has a poor reputation, a boring thing for boring people but I think it is like math, a formal language for a certain set of (business-economics) problems. They should be using this language this would cut out a lot of ambiguity. But there is this social problem that if you draw mathemathical formulas with variables you look smart, if you draw T accounts you look boring…

  120. All right, dumb question time. Why is accounting more than, as Tom Clancy put it, “moving money from column A to column B and pretending it’s important”?

  121. @Jay
    “Why is accounting more than, as Tom Clancy put it, “moving money from column A to column B and pretending it’s important”?”

    Accounting is understanding the flow of money through a company. That is important.

    Putting the numbers in the correct cells of a spread sheet is not what counts, understanding where the costs and profits are is what counts. A good accountant allows a company to underbid the competition and ensure that profits are made.

    Double entry book keeping has been seen as the competitive advantage that allowed the Italian city states to drive out the competition in Mediterranean trade and commerce.

    Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance.
    http://www.economist.com/node/21560846

  122. The_Dividualist,

    Economists don’t speak the language of accounting because economists are doing a fundamentally different job from accountants. Accountants are tracking, in precise detail, where a particular person or organization’s money is going. Economists are trying to come up with general laws about how money moves (or, more broadly, how decisions get made) — for which equations are a much better notational fit than T-accounts.

    Jay Maynard,

    Double-entry accounting is a log of who paid what to whom and when; furthermore it has built-in consistency checks. (e.g., every credit to one account must have one and only one debit from another account) Think of it as a sort of data structure for tracking money flows. If you run a business, having that database to refer to is vitally important.

    Though accountants can sometimes get inflated views of their own importance. Microcomputer accounting software was a hard sell at first because small-business accountants were afraid of losing business. And you still have to fill out a 1040 every year (in contrast to Canada or Europe where taxes are withheld with no return necessary except under special circumstances) bevause Congress is lobbied by H&R Block and Intuit to keep U.S. taxes complicated so they can continue to sell tax software and services to the public.

  123. @Jeff Read
    ” (in contrast to Canada or Europe where taxes are withheld with no return necessary except under special circumstances) ”

    Indeed, in the Netherlands we do them fully online. Almost everything in the forms is already filled in as almost everything is already withheld.

  124. > Why is accounting more than, as Tom Clancy put it, “moving money from column A to column B and pretending it’s important”?

    Accounting doesn’t move money around, spending it does.

    Double entry accounting adds a checksum to the record of the money that moved.

    Adding a checksum makes the records of moving money much more accurate and reliable.

    Accurate and reliable records of ALL the money that moves through an entity enables auditing.

    Auditing of accurate and reliable money flows enables professional management, equity, and the limited liability corporation.

    Prior to double entry accounting, damn near all businesses were family businesses [citation needed]. Because only family could be trusted enough to manage the family’s money.

    I don’t have enough adverbs to express how big a deal double entry accounting was to the rise of the modern world. In game terms, double entry accounting unlocks the “Industrialization” skill tree.

  125. >In game terms, double entry accounting unlocks the “Industrialization” skill tree.

    Well put. Though I might refine that by saying it opens the “Capitalism” skill tree; once you have it, you can do limited-liability corporations and organize enough capital to fund industrialization.

  126. > Bright people concentrate. Their casual attention to a task or person is as intense as most peoples’ full attention. So fixate on those targets – not to the point of being glassy-eyed about it, but to the point where stillness and attention dominate your body language.

    Then avoid saying “meow” ;p

  127. Some critical points you might have fun with:

    1. Sherlock was extremely good as a ‘genius’, but the BBT nerds except sheldon aren’t geniuses. Sheldon comes across as a savant/obsessive, not as someone of extraordinary GENERAL mental ability. -That is, someone who’s molded their thinking so thoroughly around something that they forget/lose interest in other things. This is a pretty common way to be really good at something, and doesn’t require extreme (general) intelligence. So where’s the problem?

    1b. a small self segregated friend group might easily gather together a few of the less obviously-bright people in the physics department. People are drawn to similar people, and once together that similarity can reinforce itself. A small group of physicists with a ‘local culture’ of appearing nonthreatening and normal (well, ‘nerdy’) is pretty plausible, isn’t it?

    2. There’s many ways to be intelligent, many ways that can interact with personality-and-temperament, and many ways that underlying reality can express itself, or not. Why is depicting smart people who superficially appear to be smart better than depicting ones who don’t? In general or specifically wrt TBBT.

    3. This might be a straightforward yes, but: Are you carefully seperating out ‘pure brightness’ from other things like determination, problem, solving skill, and bravery (and/or risk-insensitivity)? -which make up a part of your identity, and perhaps ‘hacker-identity’ at large. Programming is ‘platonic’, but it’s as much about hard work and attention to detail as anything purely intellectual. I see a few comments here calling these people dweebs and generally saying they don’t look capable of Getting Things Done (TM). But, and correct me if I’m wrong, that’s not what theoretical physics is about. -It’s far more about your PEAK (how do I bold?) intelligence, not your constant intelligence. (which is another reason demeanour may be less closely linked- there’s less reason for a theoretical physicist to be ‘always on’).

    4. is bright eyes a quantitive vs qualitive endeavours thing? Taking an extremely brief survey through some of my favorite authors, they don’t seem to have bright eyes, and perhaps even duller eyes than average. ‘Crackpot theory’: doing a lot of quantitive processing and hard system building requires a lot of output, and gets the electrics flowing faster, hence bright eyes. Making very subtle/soft distinctions requires a lot restraint, hence slows things down, hence dull eyes. -bright eyes are a sign of brightness, but only in terms of capacity for throughput not capacity for subtlety. Also charles manson had the brightest eyes dull eyes are great go TEAM!

    (biased? me?)

  128. @The_Dividualist:

    > Reminds me of my pet peeve: why don’t economists speak the language of bookkeeping/accounting?

    They do, at least in a simplified form. Reasoning in terms of budget constraints is an essential tool of economists.

    Basically economists conceptualize the economy as the product of interactions between agents who maximize their objectives subject to resource constraints (i.e. constrained optimization).

    To describe this, you need to specify three things: how agents interact (some notion of contracting and markets), their objectives, and the constraints they face. The latter generally takes the form of budget constraints (along with production technology). So a system of accounting is an essential component of economic thinking.

    This isn’t just hypothetical. I’m an economics professor, and I routinely teach my students to think in terms of budget constraints and accounting identities. Though you have to avoid pitfalls here (i.e. accounting identities shouldn’t be confused with behavioral or equilibrium relations).

    I further give my students problems that amount to accounting exercises. I encourage them to use spreadsheets to track the numbers for a particular case. I do this both to make the concepts more concrete, and because I like to think I’m sneaking in some practical skills they can use after they graduate.

    p.s. Mises.org is not representative of the majority of economics.

  129. >Economists don’t speak the language of accounting because economists are doing a fundamentally different job from accountants. Accountants are tracking, in precise detail, where a particular person or organization’s money is going.

    Yes.

    >Economists are trying to come up with general laws about how money moves (or, more broadly, how decisions get made) — for which equations are a much better notational fit than T-accounts.

    No.
    Economists are trying to justify what the state, their paymaster, wanted to do anyway.

    >Mises.org is not representative of the majority of economics.

    Which is by itself a good thing, except Mises.org folk are simply perverse anti-state economists, trying to delegitimize everything the state wants to do.

    Good physics always reduces to, eventually, billiard balls knocking into each other. (More or less.) Good economics must likewise reduce at some point to particular accounts and particular accountings.

    When doing good physics it’s necessary to check the general theory against particular real situations now and again. E.g. we say ‘entropy always increases’ but it’s also necessary to work out how the little bits get to their new diverse states, and how they know they’re supposed to. We make mistakes with the theory and it shows up as inconsistencies with the billiard-ball level, and then we go back and find out where we screwed up the theory.

    Economists never break out the T-accounts, meaning they don’t care if they become inconsistent with the cash transaction level. And indeed they’ve become so inconsistent, which is why they find predictive macroeconomics so difficult.

  130. We use our senses (e.g. sight, hearing, etc.) to receive input about the reality that surrounds us, and that input is interpreted and analyzed in the brain. Accounting is a new form of sensory input in which we seek to obtain unique and specific information about the modern societal world in which money is a surrogate indicator of resource value. When you distort either this sensory mechanism (or the unit of measure, fiat currency), it harms us the same way that impaired vision is harmful. The quality of decision-making correlates with clarity.

  131. > No. Economists are trying to justify what the state, their paymaster, wanted to do anyway.

    Nope. Not consciously, at least. Consciously most academic economists are trying to win academic status games.

  132. Ken Burnside on 2017-03-28 at 11:46:04 said:

    Big Bang Theory is Nerd Blackface.

    When one of my wife’s friends recommended it to her a couple of years ago, and we watched a few episodes, my immediate (and persistent) reaction was “nerd minstrel show”, too. I had a mixed relief/despair/WTF when I did a web-search for “Big Bang Theory” + “minstrel show” and found that it returned plenty of hits.

    What was interesting, though, was that many of the “minstrel show” web-search hits included contrasts of `The Big Bang Theory’ against other contemporary shows, e.g.:

    * https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5163887

    In particular, what I kept seeing was “Real nerds watch Community”. So we started watching that, and really liked it.

    And at some point `Community’ actually had an episode showcased one of the things that was wrong with `The Big Bang Theory’, by starting out an episode that was written and presented more in the style of `The Big Bang Theory’ than the normal `Community’ style. This post on slashdot explained that particular problem w/ `The Big Bang Theory’:

    Then there’s the dialog pacing, which is constructed to suit the exaggerated laughing instead of the comedy. This awkwardly false nature can be easily seen if you take away the laugh track [youtube.com] or (less subtley) replace it with a caricature laugh [youtube.com]. This is a problem with a lot of sitcoms, but Big Bang Theory seems to be especially bad.

    Now take a look at John Cleese’s approach on handling audience laughter [youtube.com] while filming Fawlty Towers. Here’s an example from A Room with a View [youtube.com]. Compared to that, Big Bang Theory feels stilted and forced, while Fawlty Towers has a more natural rhythm that’s so much easier to laugh at.

    Of course, it also helps that Fawlty Towers had good writing and actually is funny. Two things Big Bang Theory can rarely claim.

    So, even ignoring the `nerd minstrel show poking fun at how stupid nerds like me are’ issue (which Eric identifies as `actors not knowing how to act like smart people’; I don’t think I buy that they’re accidentally presenting the characters as stupidly as they do…), the show still stinks.

    IIRC my wife’s friend said “it gets better if you watch it for long enough”; like, if we could just make ourselves sit through a few tens of episodes then it’d increase the likelihood that we found something in it to like. Yeah.

    Also interesting: I ended up being more tolerant of my wife’s “Grey’s Anatomy” habit just because Sandra Oh’s character was included as `something like me’ in a sympathetic mode rather than a schadenfreude caricature….

  133. “The Big Bang Theory” is easier to take if you think of it as analogous to the “Joe Isuzu” commercials of a few decades ago. You can laugh at the people who take the stereotypes seriously.

  134. When I was a kid, I was shocked the first time I heard Isaac Asimov on television. His accent was…not the one I’d imagined.

    The astronomer Edwin Hubble famously adopted an Oxford accent after studying there as a Rhodes Scholar. Some of his colleagues apparently found this fake. I think it was self-defense. Hubble was born in the Ozarks. Even today, “sounds like a scholar from Oxford” undoubtedly has professional advantages over “sounds like a character from the Beverly Hillbillies”.

  135. All this talk of The Big Bang Theory reminds me of how much Silicon Valley gets right. It’s all played for laughs, of course, but there’s a conversation in the episode about “tip to tip efficiency” that struck me as nail-on-the-head nerdery.

  136. A friend of mine had touted BBT to me many times, and when I finally watched it, I was disappointed for all the reasons mentioned here. However, another friend recommended “The I.T. Crowd” to me, which has a somewhat similar premise, exaggerated nerd types dealing with life, etc., but I love that show.

    The nerd stuff is legitimate and not faked. Richard Ayoade’s Moss character is probably as much a silly stereotype as anyone on BBT, but he’s a really likable character that I think people can relate to (my wife just dotes over him). Plus, he’s funny as hell. Chris O’Dowd’s Roy is less exaggerated, but also comes across as really genuine, even when what he’s engaging in typical sitcom farce. (Interestingly, the American pilot had Richard Ayoade playing Moss, but Joel McHale playing Roy. McHale’s got the comedy chops, no doubt, but he could not have been more wrong cast as Roy. He’s just too good-looking and smooth.)

    “The IT Crowd” is also a show, along with “Community” (which I also love), that has portrayed D&D (a serious nerd culture touchstone) pretty realistically.

  137. Unlike many others here, I quite enjoy “The Big Bang Theory”. I never thought of Sheldon, Howard, Leonard, or Raj as characters who are geniuses, which is why I think that “a non anon”s comment above is correct. The actors are not incorrectly portraying smart people, they are instead quite correctly portraying people who want to be thought of as smart, but who really aren’t. They surround themselves with the trappings of genius, but aren’t geniuses themselves.

    I define intelligence as the ability to apply what you know to accomplish your goals. By that definition, Sheldon isn’t even particularly bright. (His goal is to win the Nobel Prize, but he’s a theoretician. I am aware that there are exceptions, but it is well known that theories, by and large, do not win a physicist the Nobel. It’s something that a person who has that goal would know.) Also, by that definition, Penny is the brightest person on the show because she knows how to get what she wants. She’s also the biggest stereotype because she’s an actress who waits tables to make ends meet until she gets her big break.

    I’m pretty sure that if they wanted to portray bright people, then they would do just that. Actors have a long history of playing characters smarter than they are. Mannerisms are easy to copy, and there are lots of examples to learn from. It’s somewhat harder to talk like a smart person, but figuring out what to say is the job of the writer, not of the actor. So, while your advice on how to act like a smart person may be on-target, I doubt that it would be unknown to those that might need that advice.

    Also, I think you’re taking this way too seriously. It’s just television. If you don’t like it, watch something else, or even better, do something else.

  138. Well, one of my criteria for thinking people bright is that they don’t come up with simplistic criteria for thinking people bright. Hey, esr, here’s a list of a few people I think are or were were “bright”. How would they score, according to you? Compare and contrast especially the first two pairs on the list.

    Ludwig Wittgenstein
    Bertrand Russell

    Albert Einstein
    Niels Bohr

    Wolfgang Pauli
    Paul Dirac
    Noam Chomsky

  139. >Well, one of my criteria for thinking people bright is that they don’t come up with simplistic criteria for thinking people bright.

    You seem to have a reading comprehension problem. The post wasn’t about how I tell who the bright people are, it was about actors can perform an at least superficially convincing imitation of one.

  140. Indeed. It’s a fair cop. Not so much a reading comprehension problem, more temporary (hopefully) sarcasm blindness. Mea culpa.

  141. Heh. “Sarcasm blindness”. This isn’t quite the term I thought would apply, as Eric wasn’t really being sarcastic in his post.

    I thought for a moment that it meant that feeling when I skim something and decide to commit to a sarcastic retort so quickly that I’m blind to some detail in what I read that would make it much more agreeable. But I found the term on TVTropes, and that’s not what it is, so now I need a term for “so sarcastic I’m blind”. Still, TIL…

    (Edit: that edit plug-in works, if this goes through, even on back threads! Still, I do hope the window will be longer than 5 minutes…)

  142. Make of the following what you will. (I read the whole book some time ago but only have a dim idea of what he is talking about.)

    “he common mortal, that manufacture of Nature which
    she produces by the thousand every day, is, as we have
    said, not capable, at least not continuously so, of obser-
    vation that in every sense is wholly disinterested, as
    sensuous contemplation, strictly so called, is. He can
    turn his attention to things only so far as they have
    some relation to his will, however indirect it may be.
    Since in this respect, which never demands anything but
    the knowledge of relations, the abstract conception of the
    thing is sufficient, and for the most part even better
    adapted for use ; the ordinary man does not linger long
    over the mere perception, does not fix his attention long
    on one object, but in all that is presented to him hastily
    seeks merely the concept under which it is to be brought,
    as the lazy man seeks a chair, and then it interests him
    no further. This is why he is so soon done with every-
    thing, with works of art, objects of natural beauty, and
    indeed everywhere with the truly significant contempla-
    tion of all the scenes of life. He does not linger ; only
    seeks to know his own way in life, together with all that
    might at any time become his way. Thus he makes topo-
    graphical notes in the widest sense ; over the considera-
    tion of life itself as such he wastes no time. The man
    of genius, on the other hand, whose excessive power of
    knowledge frees it at times from the service of will,
    dwells on the consideration of life itself, strives to com-
    prehend the Idea of each thing, not its relations to other
    things ; and in doing this he often forgets to consider his
    own path in life, and therefore for the most part pursues
    it awkwardly enough. While to the ordinary man his
    faculty of knowledge is a lamp to lighten his path, to the
    man of genius it is the sun which reveals the world.
    This great diversity in their way of looking at life soon
    becomes visible in the outward appearance both of the
    man of genius and of the ordinary mortal. The man in
    whom genius lives and works is easily distinguished by
    his glance, which is both keen and steady, and bears the
    stamp of perception, of contemplation. This is easily seen
    from the likenesses of the few men of genius whom Nature
    has produced here and there among countless millions.
    On the other hand, in the case of an ordinary man, the
    true object of his contemplation, what he is prying into,
    can be easily seen from his glance, if indeed it is not
    quite stupid and vacant, as is generally the case. There-
    fore the expression of genius in a face consists in this,
    that in it a decided predominance of knowledge over will
    is visible, and consequently there also shows itself in it
    a knowledge that is entirely devoid of relation to will,
    i.e. pure knowing. On the contrary, in ordinary counte-
    nances there is a predominant expression of will; and
    we see that knowledge only comes into activity under
    the impulse of will, and thus is directed merely by
    motives.”

    Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea https://archive.org/stream/theworldaswillan01schouoft#page/244/mode/2up

  143. RE: Sherlock Holmes (and my pre-2000, BBC dick-sucking penchant)

    Does not Jeremy Brett get ANY mention in all of that???! HE was the Sherlock Holmes to beat—of all time!

    Seriously, people! We cannot, and should not, all fall in file to the forwardly fashionable facetiousnesses of Google MapReduce. Dismissing today’s tripe for the glory of “the day before yesterday’s” tripe really doesn’t cut it in my opinion.

    I think we can all do better.

    (Last I checked, Donald Knuth is still waiting for errata submissions.)

  144. Today it struck me where I had seen the odiousness of The Big Bang Theory before.

    Its humor resembles that of User Friendly, the webcomic, as does its inexplicable popularity.

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