What Does It Feel Like To Be Stupid?

May 2, 2014 | 10 Comments » | Topics: Writing

george bush

The following is a very unusual account of a true but unusual experience:

I had an arterial problem for a couple of years, which reduced blood supply to my heart and brain and depleted B vitamins from my nerves (to keep the heart in good repair). Although there is some vagueness as to the mechanisms, this made me forgetful, slow, and easily overwhelmed. In short, I felt like I was stupid compared to what I was used to, and I was.

It was frightening at first because I knew something wasn’t right but didn’t know what, and very worrying for my career because I was simply not very good any more.

However, once I got used to it and resigned myself, it was great. Even though I knew I had a worrying illness, I was happy as a pig in mud. I no longer had the arrogance of being frustrated with slow people, I abandoned many projects which reduced a lot of stress, I could enjoy films without knowing what would happen (my nickname before this used to be ‘comic book guy’ if you get the reference), and I became amazingly laid back and happy go lucky. I got on with people much better. I developed much more respect for one of my friends in particular who I always considered slow – it turned out he is much deeper than I thought, I just never had the patience to notice before. You could say I had more time to look around. The world just made more sense. The only negative, apart from struggling to perform at work, and having to write everything down, was that I no longer found sci-fi interesting – it just didn’t seem important. (I’m not joking, although it sounds like a cliché.)

Eventually after more physical and life threatening symptoms developed I got the right tests and they found my arteries were blocked up (2 out of 3 of my main coronary arteries 100% blocked – they couldn’t work out why I was alive – it later turned out that I had unusually good peripheral circulation from my intense cycling). I’ve since had stents to open up the arteries again and made a full recovery.

After a year or so I am almost as ‘clever’ as I used to be, although I tend to ignore distractions more than I used to and focus on a smaller number of projects. I’m still more laid back than I used to be though, and have more patience with people. Most people still find me more socially competent. I also enjoy sci-fi again.

So an unusual perspective, from a fairly unusual circumstance, but that’s what it feels like to be be stupid when you used to be fairly bright. In some ways it was a great learning experience, although obviously in other ways it is a life changing fact I have to live with. Not many people get to walk about in other peoples shoes, and then pick up where they left off. Plus it’s obviously nice to still be alive.

In short I would say that the frustration of dealing with slower people is worse than being one of the slower people, even if you know you are slow. Obviously most people who are relatively slow, don’t know it, but I think I’ve glimpsed how they experience the world.


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  • Homie

    Obama is just as stupid, why no picture of him?

  • Johnmehoff

    It’s like a reverse “Flowers for Algernon”.

  • Caroljm36

    Maybe that’s what happened to me…I’m still frustrated with slow people though.

  • Mike DiPaola

    Based on what I just read, either you are still stupid or you were pretty stupid to begin with…

  • Lee Johnson

    Wow. You could have told my story — seriously. I was never diagnosed, and a doctor suggested it was stress (I was taking care of a father with Alzheimer’s and my mother had a series of strokes; I was also building a business while my father steadily destroyed my house … and I was helping a friend build her business).

    For about 10 months last year, I had some kind of cognitive failure. I dropped about 25-30 IQ points (I tested myself.) I was worried for my career, missed my brain, simply couldn’t access higher logical processes, find the right words. I’m still not back fully.

    But I had the same experience of the world you did. I intuitively got along better with others. People seemed to like me better and I liked them. The world made more sense. Other people seemed funnier and more interesting. I was more willing to ask for help when I didn’t understand something, and found people were glad to assist.

    I’ve heard that you can’t really have a satisfying conversation with someone who is more than 15 IQ points away from you in either direction. Once you’re in the mid-130s, it means you can’t really enjoy a conversation with about 90 percent of the human race. Drop yourself down to 105 to 110 and you can have fun talking to practically everyone!

    But not only that, one thing I discovered is that a lot of people have a lot of wisdom, and for the first time I was really hearing people.

  • I am a pretty smart guy (149 Wechsler), and I have only been really frustrated trying to converse with two groups of people. The first group is those that are in the 110 to 120 range. I find they think that because they are slightly above average, they think they are much smarter than they are. The second group of people is liberals. No matter their intelligence level, they think they know everything. And really it is not much of a conversation, because they refuse to listened and just keep repeating talking points. Similar to the author, I have found some below average people to have a simple, but deep wisdom.

    • DocViewer

      You didn’t need to tell us your test score. Your nuanced account of “liberals” demonstrates your great intellect.

    • Tom Servo

      The problem with liberals isn’t intellect, per se. It’s that they’ve made the decision that Emotion is always going to be more important than Reason, and the most important thing in the world to them is that they construct a narrative in which they are made to feel Morally Superior to everyone else (except those who agree with them completely) every minute of every day. That’s why committed liberals are generally the most insufferable self-righteous prigs on the face of the earth.

      • LuceroLee

        “It’s that they’ve made the decision that Emotion is always going to be more important than Reason, and the most important thing in the world to them is that they construct a narrative in which they are made to feel Morally Superior to everyone else ”

        Because conservatives never do this…conservatives never use emotional rhetoric to push anti-abortion agendas or cite religious beliefs as a basis for morality.

  • fishaddict

    I am with you and drive people crazy with my routines and lists. I have a form of inoperable brain cancer that is slowly chipping away. I also have a couple of degrees in behavioural neurobiology and so am observing outside the box from within as it were. It really is fascinating,creepy, and scary to see the progression.