Just as there is a difference between job training and education, there’s a difference between intelligence and skill.
A recent DailyKos post by a neurologist disputed the notion that being a neurosurgeon should be taken as evidence that Ben Carson is smart. The author distinguished between genuine intellect and technical skill.
“Smart” is a multifaceted cognitive feature composed of excellent analytical skills, possession of an extensive knowledge base that is easily and frequently augmented, possession of a good memory, and being readily curious about the world and willing, even eager, to reject previously accepted notions in the face of new data. Being smart includes having the ability to analyze new data for validity and, thinking creatively, draw new insights from existing common knowledge….
My point is that neurosurgeons are not automatically smart because they are a neurosurgeon. To get through training and have any sort of practice they must be disciplined, have immense ego strength, a reasonably good memory, and have mental and physical stamina. However, like many other doctors, they are not always smart. Neurosurgeons, like other surgeons, can be outstanding technicians but that is different than being intellectually brilliant. A truly brilliant internal medicine specialist once told me that “you can train anyone to perform a procedure”. I’ve seen surgical assistants, not doctors but physician’s assistants that specialize in surgery, perform technically difficult procedures with stunning alacrity. It’s the old rule: do something enough times and you will get damn good at it.
I thought about the difference between skill and intellect–both of which are important, but which are not the same thing– when I heard Marco Rubio’s astonishing statement in the recent GOP debate that “Welders make more than philosophers. America needs more welders and less [sic} philosophers.”
Not only was Rubio wrong on the facts (philosophers actually earn more than welders), but think about what this sneering dismissal of the worth of intellectual pursuits tells us about his worldview. Clearly, Rubio (and apparently everyone on that debate stage) evaluates the worth of any profession solely on the basis of what it pays. If welders did make more than teachers, then welders would obviously be superior.
I’m a big fan of market economics, but the fact that the market rewards pornographers more than it rewards nurses doesn’t mean we need more pornographers and fewer nurses.
Let’s be clear: the skilled trades are important and honorable. But scholarship, research, scientific inquiry and yes, philosophy and theology, are essential to human progress. They also give our lives meaning and purpose.
Socrates–a philosopher– said the unexamined life is not worth living. There wasn’t anyone on that debate stage who appears to understand that sentiment, let alone agree with it–and that is terrifying.