توعية وتثقيف

Ignorance and Stupidity (2/2)…


Ignorance and Stupidity (2/2)

In the previous post I started a discussion of ignorance and stupidity. I noted that: a) they are not the same thing; nor are they necessarily connected; b) neither is the same as the lack of intelligence; and, most importantly, that c) ignorance is a correctible condition whereas stupidity is a born-in trait. Having dispensed with ignorance in the previous post, we now turn to the more complicated topic of stupidity –

Every waking moment our brains continuously run through a 3-stroke cycle: ‘observe- decide- act’. That cycle can be fast: [see snake (observe) -> must escape (decide) -> run (act)]. Or it can be slow: [college grads make more money (observe) -> must get into college (decide) -> study hard (act.)]

Any of these 3 steps can go wrong, leading to an undesirable outcome:
1. Step 1 can go wrong because of poor sensory faculties, incuriosity, lack of motivation, etc.
2. Step 2 goes wrong when we arrive at the wrong conclusion or no conclusion.
3. Step 3 fails when the action is wrong, (e.g. run toward the snake rather than away from it,) or when we fail to act.

The kernel of stupidity lies mostly in step 2. In this step the brain integrates the inputs (sensory, learned, etc.,) with the data already stored in it, (values, upbringing, culture, role models, fears, superstitions, etc.,) and makes a decision. This happens in the prefrontal cortex. Teenagers sometimes exhibit poor judgment because their prefrontal cortex is not fully formed. Grown-ups do stupid things mostly because the stored database is bad (dogmas, superstition, provincial culture, poor upbringing, bad role models, etc.) Or because the brain is incapable of performing the analysis and the synthesis required to reach a proper decision (differentiating cause from effect, connecting cause and effect, spotting common traits, detecting clues, etc.)

Although stupidity is predominently the result of a failure in step 2, deficiencies in the other steps can also contribute to it.

In part 1 we saw that being ignorant of something does not make the person ignorant. Similarly, a normal person can do or say something stupid once in a while; and that does not make him/her stupid. To earn that “distinction”, stupidity needs to be the default mode or a characteristic trait.

Again, this is just a quick sketch of a complicated subject. There is much more to it than that.

___________________________

PS. The medieval Arab poet Al-Mutanábby wrote a beautiful line about stupidity.

لكل داء دواء يُسْتطَبّ به إلا الحماقة أعيت من يداويها

It means: For every ailment there is a medicament. Except foolishness; it defeats those who try to cure it.

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مؤسسة ندى لحماية الفتيات

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