two hypothetical questions related to intelligence/happiness

is happiness life’s singular purpose?

very reminiscent of the angeles POV, which is that we can’t just expect that relationships will work or or we will be happy, we have to DECIDE to do so.

1) attractiveness vs. intelligence when determining happiness


TC – A Game

You now have magical powers, which are as follows. You can make yourself either hotter (physically) or smarter (mentally). This is a one-time-only deal, and once you do it, you can’t change back. But — and here’s the rub — if you make yourself physically hotter, you will experience a corresponding decline in your intelligence, and vice versa for the smartness thing. So if you say, “I want to be 15% smarter,” then you will experience a corresponding 15% decline in your physical attractiveness. And remember, once you’ve done it, you can’t take it back.

far and away, one of my favorite discussion questions of late 2011.  partially because it starts off as fun and light, because it is “an innocuous appearing question but actually quite personal”, because it has the potential to lead to a lot of interesting discussions, depending on where the group would like to go with the question.  anyway, strongly recommend as cocktail conversation/late night dorm room chats.

my answer: 10% increase in attractiveness, 10% decrease in intelligence.

i’ve asked a lot of people the above question, and over 80% of my friends would want attractiveness over intelligence. some interesting discussions:

what is a limiting factor? i think this is the largest determinant for your answer.  the people who chose intelligence were in grad school or at a job where intelligence significantly impacted performance.  for me, where my job does not require a significant amount of intelligence and i’m trying to court people aggressively, i’m definitely going to opt for attractiveness. 

have a couple where both are in medical school and MARRIED, ick.  they definitely chose intelligence.

what gets you farther in life? i don’t even think this is a contrarian view at this point, but attractiveness will get you farther than intelligence, any day.  from a salary standpoint, job progression, quality of partner, etc.  (nick would like to point out that this does not apply to “fringe jobs”, e.g., nuclear physicist.)

the bubble!!!!!!!!  one of the best 30 rock episodes, hands down.

what makes you happiest? also not sure whether or not this is a contrarian viewpoint, but attractiveness is often positively correlated with happiness, and intelligence is negatively correlated with happiness. 

TC – I Am So Handsome

Modern civilization is designed around the elevation and adoration of beautiful people like me. We are the only culturally acceptable type of human, the only ones fully embraced by television and movies, the demographic who matters most. It’s not our fault — humanity’s collective eyeballs seek out only symmetrical faces that adhere to the golden ratio for beauty echoed throughout the universe, the underlying measurements and proportions that denote hotness written into the fabric of reality. You, on the other hand, are a square peg trying to shove your way through a round hole. And what’s worse is your self-image is clearly all screwed up because you seem so content with looking like that, or maybe you’re just not smart enough to notice. In any case, if I looked like you, I would either get plastic surgery or kill myself. Probably I would kill myself. Aww, but it’s so cute you’re okay with it. Girls would date you. I’m sure they would. At least one. Somewhere. I’m sure of it.

i know it’s meant to be a parody, but …. i mean, it’s true, right?…

Slate – Why Are Smart People Usually Ugly? – apparently smart people are usually more attractive, but pop culture tells us that smart people are usually ugly.  gist of it. i’m skeptical.

best of both worlds? every once in awhile, i bring up how i’m, ahem, fascinated by the untouchables, aka this random “elite” group of attractive, young, white, tall, “strapping” gay males who only hang out with each other.

sometimes I wonder how much better relationships would be if we were all forced to be blindfolded from before we meet each other and through the first 6 months of the relationship. I feel like those would be the best friendships/relationships ever. besides running into everything haha. I mean, the ugliest people are more likely to have more kick ass personalities than the prettiest. probably because they have to rely on it more, but still. I think if we were all blind folded you’d see celebrities making out with hobos on the red carpet
–jeremiah of maleminded

tri tells me this a lot.  that basically any attractive guy is an idiot.  upon seeing and commenting on a very talented boulderer who is always a) shirtless (because he should be) and b) wearing a goorin bros baseball cap, zach looks at me in the eyes and goes: “….james, you realize he’s probably a douche, right?”

2) happiness vs. intelligence

Christopher Narain19Hunnid Christopher Narain
Is it just me, or are happiness and stupidity completely interchangeable?

i was watching the above video a couple years ago, and noticed that the dog was endlessly entertained by something trivial, and the following question came across my mind:

HYPOTHETICAL QUESTION: a new procedure has been discovered that will effectively reduce your intelligence to that of a dog.  however, you are GUARANTEED to be as happy as the dog is in this video, achieving the highest amount of happiness from something as simple as a ball tossing machine.  in short: will you trade your intelligence for guaranteed happiness?

i enjoy asking this question because i think the gut answer is SO DIFFERENT from the logical answer, that is:

A) the logical answer is yes. if happiness is indeed life’s ultimate goal, then we should be willing to give up everything for happiness.
B) i would never, ever do this procedure in a million years. 

i’ve asked this question to a ton of my smartest friends who i respect a lot, and it really frustrates me because i still cannot reconcile these two answers.  i cannot logically explain my emotions; hence, my emotions must be wrong?!

yes, i am aware that there are a bunch of “troll” answers that reconcile by rationally explaining why the procedure is bad (aka attacking (A) above): how can you guarantee that the dog will be happy, what is happiness without sadness, etc.  which i don’t think are fair questions based on the rules of the hypothetical question game.

nick was able to reconcile his opinion by stating that happiness was not his ultimate goal, that personal accomplishment should also be life’s goal.  (similar answers include “happiness is different from satisfaction/fulfillment”.) and you can accomplish much more as a human than as a dog. 

trevor referenced a book that was an allegory to the communist takeover, but what i got from his POV (which i don’t think was necessarily the point he was making) was that we shouldn’t have to give up intelligence to be happy, that we can have it all.

my answer is that the procedure fundamentally alters your Identity (capital I), and that i would not be the one reaping the rewards of the procedure, this other person who i don’t even know would reap this happiness.  which i don’t think is a great answer, but that is the best i can do for now. 

(the implicit question of the hypothetical question is, does being smarter make you unhappier?  addressed above.  my answer would be…. higher intelligence gives you the chance for more happiness and more unhappiness?)

is happiness so difficult?!  who knows.  good luck.


2 thoughts on “two hypothetical questions related to intelligence/happiness

  1. […] makes you charismatic/confident.  i love talking about how important it is to be attractive (like right here).  one of the theories being, you’re hot, people naturally are forgiving, and look up to […]

  2. […] xmas time. and each year, we revisit two questions: 1) the smartness/hotness potential tradeoff (discussed here), and 2) the gas station […]

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