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MIT Syndrome

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Jan. 24th, 2007 | 11:23 pm

I first came up with this about five years ago, talking to TorgoX.

There are a lot of smart people out there who have trouble talking to other smart people. You would think they would be on the same wavelength, but in practice they explain too much; it makes you want to cut them off with "yes, I get it. STOP. I already figured out the rest. PLEASE."

I call it MIT syndrome because I assume it must happen a lot every September: all their lives, these kids have been the smartest person in the room. Now they're thrown together with other kids just as smart. They're used to spelling things out for others; now, from sheer force of habit, they're spelling things out to one another.

I don't know that it actually happens; I'm just picking on MIT because they're famous. And geeky.

I expect the smarter ones adapt quickly: they say only the nonobvious things. If it goes without saying, don't insult my intelligence...

Some never adapt at all. They must not be as smart as they think they are.

Um, I'm going to stop explaining now.

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Comments {6}

Greg Connor

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from: gconnor
date: Jan. 25th, 2007 07:41 am (UTC)
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This reminds me of watching TV crime scene analysts who have to tell each other what they're doing or the audience won't get it. Your co-worker already knows what Luminol does; you don't have to say "I'm going to spray some Luminol" just to see if they say "Oh, that should show any blood under UV light." They will.

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mengwong

Academic Culture vs Polite Society

from: mengwong
date: Jan. 25th, 2007 05:43 pm (UTC)
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Yes! I had some other thoughts brewing about this.

Take, for example, the argumentative, disagreeable blowhard. He dominates conversations, points out the most niggling inaccuracies in other people's remarks, and constantly corrects everybody around him. He ignores the main arc of the conversation and goes off on tangents that illustrate some minor platitude that, while true, may not be particularly insightful. Sometimes you just want to grab him by the collar and say "is it really THAT IMPORTANT for you to be RIGHT ALL THE TIME?"

How do people get that way?

Were they brushed at birth by the finger of Satan? No.

Did they inherit some autistic gene from an infelicitious marriage of two extremely nerdy engineers? Perhaps.

But another answer is much simpler. They spent a lot of time in school.

The culture of school is precisely opposed to the rules of polite society. Here's what happens.

In the academic environment, certain sorts of behaviour are encouraged. Like Pavlov's dogs and Skinner's pigeons, we humans can be trained. If you put us in a series of small boxes called "seminar rooms" and praise us for arguing with our peers, why, after ten years of this business, is it any surprise we graduate with the most disagreeable dispositions in the world?

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mengwong

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from: mengwong
date: Jan. 25th, 2007 06:03 pm (UTC)
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Another example: the logorrheic introspector.

He mumbles under his breath all the time. If you say, "what? I couldn't hear." He responds: "oh, nothing, I was just thinking out loud."

If you listen, you'll hear a running commentary on his thoughts and actions. Hmm. I kinda need to go to the bathroom. I probably shouldn't have had so much iced tea at lunch. But it was pretty good, with lemon and everything. Are people going to think I'm weird for going to the bathroom twice in twenty minutes? I hope they don't think I'm playing with myself in there. That would be bad. Well, if I'm going to go, I'd better go now. Hey guys, I'll be back in a bit.

There are two problems with this. One, it makes him stupid: if you have to slow your thoughts down to the pace of your speech, you aren't going to think as much. Two, it's annoying to the people around him: they frankly aren't interested in the verbose debug trace of his mental processes; it's just a lot of crap they need to filter out. Is there something meaningful in there? Maybe. Maybe not. After a while, people stop caring.

Again, these people weren't touched by the finger of Satan. They don't have some kind of biochemical imbalance, some genetic flaw that codes for inhibited reuptake of the i-talk-too-much neurotransmitter.

They just grew up reading novels. That's all.

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Brad Fitzpatrick

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from: brad
date: Jan. 25th, 2007 08:49 am (UTC)
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Um, I'm going to stop explaining now.

Heh.

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Kalev

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from: kalev
date: Jan. 25th, 2007 09:57 pm (UTC)
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I think more than anything it's that academic/IQ-like intelligence has absolutely nothing to do with social intelligence and, at times, seems diametrically opposed to it. Our notions of "smart" are pretty limited and in the example you lay out, "smart" is more a matter of "does well at learning (perhaps even simply regurgitating) in a traditional scholastic environment," which does not, more often than not, cover learning about how to communicate in an effective and socially acceptable manner.

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Wohali

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from: wohali
date: Apr. 1st, 2007 05:13 pm (UTC)
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Two points:

1) Never underestimate the shame and stigma of being intelligent in modern society. Perhaps explaining things over and over again is a form of social camouflage.

2) We're all stupid in small ways. Explaining non-obvious things provides an out for saving face ("He'll explain that, I don't have to embarrass myself by showing I don't know what he mean") or acquiring knowledge one has a hard time learning ("Oh, I'm so glad she explained that...I always forget that.")

Admittedly the second example is a variant on the first. (There! I just did it!) So over-explaining can also:

3) deal with inadequacy syndrome
4) act as a way to cover up for ignorance

Discuss.

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