Some of the most unintelligent people I’ve met had Ph. Ds or ran large companies.
I don’t mean that in a sarcastic or ironic way, I’m being completely serious.
This seems impossible, but it’s actually more common than many of us realize.
These are the classic signs of a highly educated person who’s just not very smart…
1) They’re unwilling to engage in critical thinking
Critical thinking is the willingness and ability to challenge beliefs and assumptions.
It’s the ability to analyze and look at issues from various angles.
Some of the most educated people I’ve met just won’t do this.
I understand overall conclusions that may be reached by highly educated people like “democracy is good” or “technology is a net positive.”
But one of the markers that this person isn’t really that smart is that they just see it from one perspective.
They can’t look at these types of broad beliefs from another perspective or challenge them.
No matter how deep their knowledge is on any subject, it’s all knowledge pointing in service of an overall narrative or belief.
And they won’t challenge that. Which brings me to the next point…
2) Their knowledge is highly ideologically slanted
There are people who have aced every test and know how to write an incredible essay.
They can solve the formulas and challenges present in an equation and dazzle professors.
But the knowledge they have gained has been highly slanted in an ideological way.
This, combined with a lack of critical thinking, leads to a lack of mental dexterity and a dull, repetitive way of looking at the world.
Typical examples would be a person who’s only willing to consider mainstream Western medicine as valid and regards all alternative and indigenous medicine as dangerous quackery.
On the flipside, somebody who thinks all modern Western medicine is corrupt and false and only alternative or indigenous medicinal systems are valid would also be ideologically tainted.
3) They don’t want to learn anything new or additional
In the above examples we can see how even knowing a lot can be held within fairly black-and-white confines of ideology.
Education is presumably about learning, but some of the most educated people I’ve met are the least desirous to learn anything new.
First of all they think they already know most of what there is to know, at least in their area of expertise.
Secondly, this type of person has been taught to look at credentials and then at knowledge.
The result is a tendency to dismiss new knowledge or paths of inquiry that aren’t delivered by somebody equally authoritative.
“Where’d you get that, the University of YouTube?” the highly educated literature student smirks when his girlfriend tells him about a new theory of who inspired Shakespeare’s work.
This brings up the next point…
4) They look down on those who are less educated
Clearly not everybody is equally educated, and intelligence comes in many forms and levels.
In my view a certain amount of elitism is inevitable and even necessary:
If I somehow joined a top-tier poker tournament as a fairly inexperienced player, it’s natural the other players would immediately realize I wasn’t that hot and smirk a little before cleaning my clock.
But highly educated people becoming elitist is a bit different and is part of why there are some unflattering stereotypes about Ivy League colleges and blue blood academia.
The reason it’s different is that many of the attitudes about being better and smarter just aren’t grounded in reality or any real impact they make in the world.
This brings up the next point…
5) Their ideas are overly abstract and don’t touch the real world
Some educated people use their knowledge and skills to earn a good living and impact the world. Others simply don’t.
I’ve met some highly educated people who are left with few career options but to work within academia because their knowledge has become so rarefied and specific it only has value within the academe.
When a person is an expert on something very specific but abstract such as concepts of virtue in ancient Greece, but it has no impact on their daily life, it’s fair that we wonder what the point is.
That’s not to say that virtue in ancient Greece isn’t interesting or even potentially fascinating. It could be the subject of a book or film.
But if your sister, for example, studied this subject and every family reunion is her ignoring other topics and turning it back to “well, in ancient Greece…” the family is likely going to get a bit bored!
6) They only believe something if it’s peer-reviewed
In academia, exclusive research and data is published in peer-reviewed journals.
These are costly and hard for the public to access, and are also written in ways that are very hard for the average layperson to understand.
Those who are highly educated but not that intelligent often speak in academic jargon and legalese even when they’re away from the lecture hall.
They only believe something if it’s peer-reviewed and often end up years ahead of the rest of society in adopting new knowledge or discoveries.
It’s prudent to be cautious about word of mouth or larger than life headlines, to be sure, but this refusal to believe anything until it’s exhaustively peer-reviewed can be an inhibition to real progress.
7) They lack practical knowledge and skills
Practical knowledge and skills matter quite a bit, particularly when it comes to day-to-day problems.
I’ve met highly educated people who aren’t sure how to jump start a car and find washing clothes to be mind-bending.
The typical stereotype here is that their head is just lost in the clouds and in big ideas.
But if you’re so smart that you can’t read instructions on laundry detergent or watch a 2-minute video for how to jumpstart a vehicle, how smart are you really?
8) They have trouble understanding simple concepts
We’re all smart about different things and have minds that work differently.
But a telltale sign that a highly educated person isn’t that intelligent is that they have a lot of trouble grasping simple concepts.
While they may be geniuses at molecular biology or a leading theorist of market economics, they can’t get their dog to calm down by giving him a bone.
Their lawn’s sprinkler system gives them a migraine and they hire a plumber to clear a slightly plugged-up sink instead of just pouring down some draino.
The bottom line here is the fact that they’re very educated but just not very smart about many practical things.
9) They have a poor understanding of emotions
Emotional intelligence is very important, but unfortunately some very educated and powerful people are lacking in it.
One of the signs of low emotional intelligence is an inability to navigate their own or other people’s emotions.
This means all sorts of clashes and miscommunications, impatience with those who disagree, having trouble managing a team of employees and more.
Education may have made this person an expert in a certain field, but in their personal life and their interpersonal interactions they’re a disaster.
This is very common to see, especially in the corporate world in my experiences.
Is higher education worth it?
Higher education can certainly be worth it in my view, especially in some fields.
These include engineering, architecture and scientific pursuits, as well as many other programs.
But the ultimate decision has to be up to you.
There are certainly smart people who pursue many degrees and educational opportunities and bolster and refine their intelligence in ways that are useful and powerful in the real world.
At the same time there are people I know who have found academia wasn’t their preferred path to touching the world.
I’m also one of those people, having obtained my undergraduate and a one-year diploma but experienced most of my success, career growth and opportunities outside of academics.
Justin Brown’s experiences in taking his Ph. D. program is an insightful look at some of the limitations of higher education and how inaccessible it can be to the public.
Justin realized that he was being conditioned to write and think in a way that wasn’t very accessible or useful to the general public and making ideas felt in the real world.
Furthermore, the career opportunities coming out of academia were not overly splendid, to say the least.