(Roughly) Daily

“Intelligence is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas.”*…

On the attribution of intelligence…

A new study published in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal — the annual fun one — sought to settle once and for all which phrase to describe a simple task is more deserved, “It’s not brain surgery” or “It’s not rocket science.” They did this by administering an intelligence test to 329 aerospace engineers and 72 neurosurgeons. Turns out it’s conditional: the rocket scientists and neurosurgeons are pretty much evenly matched, though the aerospace engineers were better at mental manipulations while the brain surgeons were better at semantic problem solving. That said, no significant difference was found between the aerospace engineers and the control population, while the same held among the neurosurgeons, although they did have a speedier problem solving time that was statistically significant. That said, the paper’s authors contend maybe pedestaling this kind of niche intellect is overall discouraging to people given the results, so I think the obvious compromise is that we all agree to just change to, “Well, it’s not exactly blogging about MoviePass,” to honor the real titans of our day…

Not Exactly Brain Surgery,” from Walt Hickey (@WaltHickey) in his essential Numlock News (@NumlockAM).

Read the underlying research here.

* Susan Sontag


As we get smart, we might send polymathic birthday greetings to Piet Hein; he was born on this date in 1905. A mathematician, inventor, designer, author and poet, his short poems, known as gruks (or grooks), first started to appear in the daily newspaper Politiken shortly after the German occupation of Denmark in April 1940 under the pseudonym “Kumbel ”tombstone’] Kumbell.” He invented the Soma cube and the board game Hex, and designed the famous “super ellipse” traffic circle in Stockholm.

Before the war Hein had, in his own words, “played mental ping-pong” with Niels Bohr. After the war Hein was a close associate of Martin Gardner and his work was frequently featured in Gardner’s Mathematical Games column in Scientific American. At the age of 95 Gardner wrote Hein’s “autobiography” and titled it Undiluted Hocus-Pocus. Both the title and the dedication of the book come from one of Hein’s grooks.

Piet Hein, standing in front of the Hans Christian Anderson statue in Copenhagen


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