At what point did you realize the limit of your intelligence?

Most people think they’re of above average intelligence, and on the SDMB doubly so. But most of us also know we’re not the smartest folks around.

I grew up being told that the only reason I wasn’t doing better than I was in school was because I didn’t work hard enough, and there was a lot of truth to that.

But a few years ago I asked the question “So, how does DNA actually work? I hear so much about it, and I grasp the basic concept of what it is, but how does DNA actually make a cell work?” Some nice Dopers explained it, and I looked it up online, and I just could not get it. I tried, and it bounced off my forehead like a rubber ball. I just sat here in this very chair, my head slapped to my forehead, thinking “I just don’t get it. I CAN’T get it. How could ANYONE get it?” It was like trying to fit a baseball bat through a keyhole. My brain could not accomodate it.

What was your moment of finally realizing how smart you weren’t?

Taking Business Calculus (C+) in spring of '06. Then taking Statistics (B+) in spring of '07. The calc class was just brutal. I think I could have worked harder and gotten a solid B, but I went on a business trip to London in the middle of the semester (I’d never been to the UK before), and lost a lot of ground. Like many other branches of math, repetition gets you there, but those insanely gigantic formulas were daunting, and the amount of work it took just to survive was stupefying. That’s the hardest I ever worked for a C (I graduated with honors).

High-level chemistry in high school with a focus on organic. Never did get over that. There go my childhood ambitions of medical school; I’m never going near chemistry again.

In high school I hung around with a number of geniuses. I’m smart, but not as smart as them. On learning my IQ (which is in the high range of the distribution), one of them just smiled pityingly and said, “That’s not too bad.”

Graduate school–chemistry. I was bright enough that the first 12 years were a breeze, you didn’t need to take books home. College wasn’t bad–had to work, but a breeze(but, I must admit, it was probably not as rigorous as it would have been in a top 20% institution).

Graduate school chemistry, at the Univ. of North Carolina. Damn! They wanted me to work my ass off. Treat it like a 40++hour/week job. And, it was tough. I quit after the first semester, but would have been kicked out anyway for not being smart enough.

High school calculus. That’s when I decided to become a Business major.

College level philosophy classes. Didn’t know what to expect and thought it would be a breeze. Had genius instructors who whizzed through stuff that I just wasn’t getting or if I got it, I wouldn’t retain it. Typically I would be asked what some famous philosopher we had studied would say about something and I would get it exactly backwords. The only reason I did fairly well was that noone else in the class understood it much better.

That and getting on the internet.

Junior year of college. Not any particular class, it was just like, “Okay, my brain is fooking full, no more is going in.” I was studying speech language pathology at the time - and none if it particularly complex, I just wasn’t able to learn it with one hearing like I was used to. And since I’d always learned stuff with one hearing, I had no idea how to “study”. Still don’t, really. I’m just hoping I’ve been away from school long enough that my brain has made room for more. I got two A’s in my two classes last semester: Biology for Science Majors and Chemistry 101, so there’s hope!

Also Junior Year in college (third of five)…

I was doing physics at the time with a minor in history. I was taking both Relativity and Intro to Quantum Mechanics. For a good part of the semester I thought I was really getting it and then over about three weeks I felt it just sliding away from me. I realized that no matter what I did I’d never be that sort of thinker and be able to grasp the cutting edge of physics at that point.

Switched to History with a Mass Comm minor and moved on. Now I’m just a businessman with a lot of interest and lay knowledge in how the universe works (on a good day).

But for a while there I really thought I was going to flight up and be one of the people in the world who ‘got’ relativity.

Training the dog.

I have been blessed with many gifts, don’t get me wrong. I can do and make many wondrous things and often receive compliments on my skills. It sometimes seems as though anything I put my hand/head to, I can master, I pick things up quite quickly.

Then there’s the dog. I have read all of the books, all of them, some of them more than once. I watch all the shows. I have friends who are masterful with their dogs, giving me tips and advice on a regular basis. But I can’t get it, dammit.

Sure, we are making ever so slow progress but when I see the results others can achieve I am truly humbled. Blind spot? Stupid spot? I don’t know. But whenever I get to thinking I’m just oh so clever I look over at the ill mannered dog and know I’m not really all THAT clever!

For me, the latest example was a couple of days ago when I was reading about the new TVs in GQ.

I used to know all about the latest technology, and here I am now with non HD TV, non digital cable, and reading about 4:3 and 16:9 and the various DP(s?) and which is good for what, well, my head exploded a little.

Not only am I even stupider than I thought, I’ve also become my father, and I’m not sure which of us is more upset about that.

I was always the smartest kid in the class throughout grade school. In high school, I figured I was pretty much as smart as most of the others - tho lazier! But it was pretty clear there were a couple of kids who just picked up incredibly complicated maths and sciences with little effort. I had no question but that they were on a different level than me.

It has been pretty similar thereafter. In just about any situation/group there are a good many people as smart as me - but not all that many who are clearly smarter. When you get to know one of them, it is pretty obvious. The other obvious thing is how much of the time the just plain “smart” folks are pretty much faking it. Quite often I think that I’m not all that smart so much as a whole lot of people are really fucking stupid! Or if not stupid, then just really incurious and not well read.

Highschool physics made me think I was a genius.

Highschool chemistry removed that illusion.

When I tried to program that dadgum VCR. That and the intertubes–though I hope I can do a google some day.

Seriously, my laziness has always provided an ample buffer against running up against my intellectual limits.

Business calc? I had to take 2 years of Engineering Calc. I had a lot of trouble with it and had to retake it over the summer at a dumbass state college. But actually, once I understood it as taught be someone not speaking with a Chinese or Indian accent, it made perfect sense. What really sucked was the post-calc math. That was some freakin hard core Stephen Hawking differential equation shit as far as I was concerned.

I don’t really think I’m that smart because if I was so smart, shouldn’t I be a world class surgeon or at MIT designing some super robot or some shit or working at a hedge fund designing some trading model? But then the cashier at work looks at me stupidly when I had her $2.15 for a $1.64 coffee (hint: laundry quarters are more valuable to me than dimes) and I realize most people are actually pretty dumb.

I was at a Dunkin Donuts in Cambridge Mass explaining relativity (I’d had one intro to physics class at my liberal arts college) to a girl I was trying to impress. An MIT student was listening in and said “no, no, it’s like this…”. I never did get laid. :frowning:

Caltech is where the smart people go to find out what it’s like to have an IQ of 100. That’s where I found out what it’s like to have an IQ of 75.

Law school kicked my ass. I was Smarty McSmartperson all through high school, college, CPR class, etc. But in law school, there were a handful of people who were, simply, brilliant. There were plenty of dim bulbs, and plenty of workhorses like me, but there were some people who were just effortlessly smart and picked up concepts that I just couldn’t understand. I found it quite intimidating.

Integral calculus, specifically the fundamental theorem of calculus. Differential calculus I have no problems with, and actually kind of like. I see how derivitives work and understand them as useful simplifiers of more complex functions. Taking a function and making it more complex though, that makes no sense to me. And it never helped that all my instructors(took the class multiple times, as in more than 2, more than 4 actually) ever gave as a useful application of integrals was “if you want to paint a wall and need to know how many square feet it is…” Gaah, finally I just buckled down and said “you know what, I don’t have to understand it, I just have to do it” and just applied the formulas and got a B in the class. Previously I had been beating myself up trying to understand it and just flat out failing.

Still don’t understand what the supposed beauty of the fundamental theorem of calculus is. Sure, everything has an anti-derivitive, but what the hell good is it? Unless some dumbass made a wall out of a rediculous function and you’re expected to paint it without wasting a drop or missing any spots, I just, based on my college experience, never got the point. It’s unusual for me that I haven’t continued studying it as an adult and figured out what is beautiful about the fundamental theorem, I’m sure there’s something and probably lots of somethings. I’m normally a lifelong learner, but with this one topic, I’m just so burned out on it that I’m fine with remaining ignorant.

Well, now that I’ve said that, I’ll probably give it another go, but maybe not, we’ll see.


When I almost didn’t click on this thread, thinking “nah, that’ll just let me trick myself into thinking I’ve reached that limit.” A bit of a wakeup.