Maybe the title is slightly misleading. Of course, the odds are, there will always be someone who is smarter than you in some capacity or another. I’m also avoiding the broadness of the word “smart,” which of course, is very hard to define.
That being said, learning how to think on a higher level than your peers is achievable. Using the word, for all intents and purposes, becoming “smarter” than the vast majority of the population is not as difficult a feat as it might sound.
Here are 3 simple tasks that will allow you to become smarter than the vast majority of the population:
This first task is also the most imperative. Philosophy, the study of logic, is a subject that permeates all other subjects. Its lessons are often so universal, it’s not improbable that an alien race is currently professing some of the exact same material.
The problem with most people is that they do not know how to think. There is a major difference in knowing how to think, compared to knowing what to think. Knowing what to think is easy. It requires no real mental exertion, only the regurgitation of what others have said before from memory. Knowing how to think requires slightly more effort.
The truth is that you can become smarter than the vast majority of people around you by properly learning what most others have never learned: valid logical thought. Many students go throughout their entire school careers without once stepping into a philosophy classroom, and those who have taken a philosophy class, will only scratch the surface.
A continual study of philosophy will allow you to recognize that the truths of the world are not up to you. Whether or not the world is round is not up to you, it is round, and you can only accept this. There is no place for opinions in philosophy, philosophy acts to dispel the world from opinions. You should do the same; attempt to dispel yourself of opinions, and only focus on the truths of reality.
But where to begin? First ask a philosophical question. Does God exist? Do we even exist. Why is there something rather than nothing? Do we have free will? What is the best moral system? What are numbers? Some of these may sound trivial, but a quick investigation into the logics of each will prove that these questions are anything but trivial. Research everything you can about that philosophical question and compare the arguments. If you’re completely knew to philosophy, you might want to spend time learning the basics. Study the logical fallacies, all of them. The thought processes that come in tandem with such study will allow you to analyze the world in a much clearer way than most everyone else.
An intense study into philosophy will give you abilities that others don’t seem to possess. You’ll be able to see past the emotional jargon of politicians, and decipher political language. Listen to a political speech, and view the speech as if it were an argument. What is this politician actually saying? What facts do they bring to the table? What valid logical statements do they make? Count how many logical fallacies they use. You’ll find that most say very little past “I will make everything great.”
Another great place to start is Steve Patterson’s Square One, which dives into the foundations of knowledge.
“Everything Popular is Wrong” (At Least Almost Everything)
That’s actually an Oscar Wilde quote, omitting the “almost everything.”
“People go, do you really think the vast majority of the world is wrong? Well yes, I don’t know how to say that nicely, but yes.” -Tim Minchin
One of the strongest human intuitions is the social proof phenomenon. People are very easily susceptible to the pressure of their peers. Take for instance, a common social proof test. If you’re standing in an elevator facing towards the door, and two other people enter the elevator, but instead, face toward the back wall, you will feel an overwhelming force urging you to turn around as well. Few people actually have the willpower to override this instinct. This same instinct applies to our thoughts; you have the freedom of thought, only so far as you ignore the boundaries of what’s socially acceptable to believe.
Lies and myths are just as easily spread throughout society as the truths are, and an investigation into the mainstream beliefs of virtually all subjects will reflect this. (I think economics takes the gold medal for perpetuating the most myths, but that’s for another time).
Most facts today were originally seen as unpopular opinions. Most historical celebrities are only celebrities because they spoke about topics outside the sphere of conventional wisdom. Just as the heretics who believed that the Earth revolved around the Sun were eventually proven right, the modern beliefs that may seem heretical to the vast majority are very likely to be proven correct.
If you want to truly be smarter than everyone else, it’s a good idea to suspect the most popular beliefs, for these beliefs are the most risky. However, please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not necessarily suggesting that you should go join a UFO cult just yet. I’m only suggesting that you should be the most critical of the beliefs that are the most accepted and well-known. A belief that’s held by the majority does not mean it’s the correct belief. Combined individual ignorance does not equal collective wisdom.
Debate & Learn to Love Being Wrong
I can attribute a very large portion of all that I know today to debating those who were smarter than me. In my opinion, debate is the best way to learn any subject. Debate gives you a real incentive to learn information, that being the joy of being right, and the heaviness of being wrong. It’s a real challenge, a battle of wits, and it can feel like training for a sport.
That being said, please heed this warning: don’t ever debate with anyone whom you have a great affection for. You can easily lose the respect of a great friend or loved one through such arguments. I’ve only ever met a few people who truly appreciate the challenge; most people will, unfortunately, take it personally. There are places where people who actually do appreciate the challenge go to debate. I highly recommend debate.org. Although there are always jokesters within every forum-style website, I can guarantee you that there are many professionals on this website as well. If you’re not prepared, they’ll school you- send you back to the first grade even.
But that’s all part of it; formal debate not only teaches you the subject material, it teaches you how to be wrong. Few people can stomach the feeling of being wrong — people will deny their incorrectness relentlessly, until their brain eventually rewires itself to accept such cognitive dissonance; aim to avoid being this person.
Those who understand their faults are more likely to correct them, which is essential to being smart. If you truly want to be smart, you must strive to rid yourself of incorrect beliefs; you will need other people to point out your weaknesses.
My advice is to go start a debate on debate.org, all while keeping an open mind and expecting to be schooled the first time. Learn to appreciate being wrong, and eventually you’ll get to a point where finding people who can prove you wrong will become a chore in itself.