Willingness to look stupid

Dan Luu:

People frequently1 think that I’m very stupid. I don’t find this surprising, since I don’t mind if other people think I’m stupid, which means that I don’t adjust my behavior to avoid seeming stupid, which results in people thinking that I’m stupid. Although there are some downsides to people thinking that I’m stupid, e.g., failing interviews where the interviewer very clearly thought I was stupid, I think that, overall, the upsides of being willing to look stupid have greatly outweighed the downsides.

I don’t know why this one example sticks in my head but, for me, the most memorable example of other people thinking that I’m stupid was from college. I’ve had numerous instances where more people thought I was stupid and also where people thought the depths of my stupidity was greater, but this one was really memorable for me.

Back in college, there was one group of folks that, for whatever reason, stood out to me as people who really didn’t understand the class material. When they talked, they said things that didn’t make any sense, they were struggling in the classes and barely passing, etc. I don’t remember any direct interactions but, one day, a friend of mine who also knew them remarked to me, “did you know [that group] thinks you’re really dumb?”. I found that really delightful and asked why. It turned out the reason was that I asked really stupid sounding questions.

In particular, it’s often the case that there’s a seemingly obvious but actually incorrect reason something is true, a slightly less obvious reason the thing seems untrue, and then a subtle and complex reason that the thing is actually true2. I would regularly figure out that the seemingly obvious reason was wrong and then ask a question to try to understand the subtler reason, which sounded stupid to someone who thought the seemingly obvious reason was correct or thought that the refutation to the obvious but incorrect reason meant that the thing was untrue.