Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Do smart people look smart?
(Top Nikola Tesla; second from top, you know who; right, the young Leo Tolstoy, and below, the older version)
Upon meeting someone new, sometimes you get an immediate impression of intelligence -- even before hearing them speak. Certain people just radiate brains.
Facial expressions have much to do with it. A mouth which constantly hangs open generally does not broadcast intelligence. Vacant eyes can reflect either dullness or sociopathy. But an alert expression, and keen eyes which move quickly and seem to take in a lot usually convey intelligence. (And a certain sparkle to the eyes often connotes a sense of humor.) An intense look can mean intelligence, though it can also denote one of the more minor forms of insanity, such as bipolar disorder.
(Of course, after the first few sentences we hear out of someone's mouth, as we quickly learn to associate that person's face with a certain level of insight and logic and wit, and the individual features and overall facial expression soon matter less.)
I've included a couple pictures of widely recognized geniuses as examples. Again, there is the same problem as with serial killers: a photograph taken when very young conveys little, and there is a wide variance between photos taken when older. Plus there is the prejudicial effect of already knowing who someone is. When we see a picture of Albert Einstein, we can almost feel his genius radiating out from the photograph. But if we didn't know who he was, and we saw a snapshot taken right after he had woken up, might we not mistake him for just another bleary-eyed old wino? And if, 100 years ago, this old wino had come up to us on the street to tell us that gravity bends light, might we not have thought him crazy as well?
Nikola Tesla is the main inventor of the radio, his patents made AC power commercially viable, and he contributed to the development of robotics, radar, and computer science. He was also said to have had a photographic memory, being able to memorize entire books at a time. The picture of him above shows a level, piercing gaze; it is easy to imagine one would think him intelligent (if a bit foppish) from just that picture.
I've included two pictures of Leo Tolstoy just to show how photographs vary, and how character emerges later. The picture of him as a youth shows someone who could easily be, well, developmentally disabled. The picture at left shows a powerful face with a great deal of intelligence and character: even Tolstoy's beard seems full of IQ points. (At the same time, if you didn't know who he was and were told he was one of history's worst serial killers, that wouldn't be hard to believe either.)
I'm not sure what conclusion to draw. I've known people who look smart but are dumb, and the opposite. But there is still a certain look which I associate with brains, probably best typified by these pictures of Tesla and the older Tolstoy.