The Perils of Being "Too Smart"

June 9, 2023

A fascinating Sephardic expression states, "It's not good to be 'too smart'". One might question this sentiment; after all, it seems to contradict conventional wisdom, doesn't it? The standard assumption is: the smarter, the better.

But let's think about how we process information. A profound relationship exists between the brain and the heart. The more we employ our mental faculties, the less we tap into our emotional ones, erroneously believing that employing the brain is sufficient to arrive at the best decision. So, if a person is extremely smart, they are likely utilizing primarily their brain, which can hinder their heart's engagement.

Not all decisions can be made based solely on tangible information that the brain can analyze. “Too smart” individuals might not harness their intuition. They might over-intellectualize risks and fail to sense the nuances of a situation, fail to discern right from wrong from a values standpoint. Truly distinguishing right from wrong calls for something more than cerebral cognition. One must feel the situation and judge the merits of the choices in front of them. That is where the heart speaks.

Sometimes, it's crucial to momentarily suspend thinking and listen to the heart about what truly makes sense. I have solved some of my most complex problems during meditation. When the meditation was over, I had an answer.

In meditation, you stop thinking or getting attached to thoughts. You just calm your mind, which enables the heart to open. And ideas, judgments that the brain did not process emerge.

I recently came across a newspaper article about a robotic police officer in San Francisco with lethal capabilities. This robot, leveraging artificial intelligence, assesses threats and decides whether lethal force is necessary. It's a machine that processes information more rapidly than a human ever could. To me, that's being "too smart". But where is the heart in all this? There is no intuition, no judgment beyond pure intellectual analysis. Imagine the potential for erroneous lethal decisions.

Making decisions involves more than just processing information. To handle uncertainty and risk, it takes more than logical thinking. When all information processing has been exhausted, the last source of uncertainty and risk needs to be addressed. One must pause and intuition, judgment, and experience play a role. For that, it is not enough to just be smart. One needs to be wise, for which listening to the heart is indispensable.

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes