I was talking with a friend the other day about how brave the black conservatives Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams and Clarence Thomas are. I said I admired them because they spoke the truth even though it meant ostracism from their brethren. I also said that I thought Sowell and Williams were quite intelligent.
My friend agreed, but added that he had met Walter Williams, who didn't strike him as being all that smart in conversation. He said that of the three, Sowell is the brightest. He also mentioned that he had heard that Sowell is something of a recluse and doesn't like to be recognized by fans.
I reminded my friend that he had once said the same thing about someone else, whose intelligence is beyond question.
I think a lot of really smart people simply get into the habit of dumbing themselves down for every day discourse because they're so much smarter than most of the people they meet.
I suppose the reason they dumb themselves down is mostly because of the universal human desire to blend in, and not be the tall poppy that gets cut down.
The other problem is, if these smart guys are just going to be themselves, they'll often end up being resented as condescending showoffs. And correcting others all the time is pretty much a guarantee of becoming unpopular. Who wants that?
Some of these people also get used to not having people understand them, so they get into the habit of explaining things that may not need explaining to their current audience.
As a result of these habits, they end up not coming across as being nearly as smart as they are, even when they're with other smart people.
I've known a fair number of people I'd classify as super-smart. Most didn't bother to dumb themselves down, but a few did. Most of the ones who didn't dumb themselves down managed not to be off-putting, but some didn't. It often boiled down to how argumentative they were.
There are also, of course, people who absolutely have to show off their intelligence to everyone they meet; but they tend to be less smart than the people who are less needy.
As far as Sowell not wanting to be recognized, I can sympathize with that. Since much of what he writes consists of pointing out black dysfunction and racial double standards, many of his fans would probably be whites who are reflexively anti-black, which would make meeting them a somewhat uncomfortable experience for him.
In any case, next time you meet someone who talks about the weather with the best of them, don't assume he's necessarily dumb.