Who is truly the smartest person who ever existed?

You are besieged by a giant spider, and have barricaded in a room. The spider occasionally leaves and goes to chill on the outer wall of a decently distant building which can be seen from the only window of the room. A very muscular guy is holding the door closed (the spider often tries to open it) while some math nerd attempts to prepare a basic ballista to fire from the window, for which they can only create one shot and it requires calculus to secure success.
The nerd may or may not succeed - it's pretty doubtful, tbh. The muscular guy, on the other hand, having so basic a job, will always succeed.
Going by your claim, he is not just the most useful one, but also the most intelligent one. To hell with nerds, right? ^^
 
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Gorbles, sometimes I hope you are just trying to be funny :p
Don't be like some who really need the difference between making a point and being literal to be explained.
I mean, I'd object in either sense! Even factoring in exaggerations, analogy, the works. We've too-strictly mandated utility as a side-effect of "intelligence", and "intelligence" is generally quantified in STEM terms (correlating to IQ). By "we" I mean humanity, generally. I'm not speaking in the individual sense, strictly (again).
 
No, it's me because I am the only person to live in this simulation. Everyone else is just included for flavor.
Oh my. When I saw this thread, I immediately came here to post exactly what I am now replying to. But the real reason I came to this forum was to talk about
Sabine Hossenfelder, who is one of my favorite non-existent persons that I have spawned in this simulacrum.
 
This is an impossible question to answer, because it would be impossible to establish a fair measure. As an analogy, who is the strongest person who ever existed? To establish that we would need a set of definitions and games and measures, but the measure is unlikely to be unbiased. Who is the fastest person to have existed? Now we might define that based on a 100m sprint time.

Finally, genius (not specifically the question) is difficult to define and impossible to measure. Give me a few nights to clarify a definition for genius and explain why I said it is impossible to measure.
 
My belief is that most likely, the smartest person who ever existed is someone who is unknown to history, at least in 2023. Most likely they were never known to history at all, but if they were, they are likely someone whose existence has been forgotten.

Why? The law of averages. Today, most countries have at least primary, and in many cases secondary, education provided free of charge to everyone, although quality can vary. But that's a pretty recent phenomenon, even in the most developed parts of the world. It was not common in the 1800s, let alone the 1300s.

So, most likely the smartest person who ever existed never had any good opportunities for education. They worked as a blacksmith producing higher-quality goods than the smiths in the next villages over, or were a serf who made keen observations about irrigation techniques. I'm reminded of Edmond Albius, who figured out how to artificially pollinate vanilla as a slave in Madagascar. He's probably not the smartest person ever, but he's a good example of someone whose potentially was likely much higher than their social status allowed them to demonstrate.

Or perhaps they played an important role in a part of humanity's past that is lost to history. Developing agriculture or early legal codes in the Indus Valley or Mesopotamia. We know of Sargon of Akkad and Hammurabi, but how many exceptionally intelligent people must have been involved in that stage of human history, prior to the development of writing, or at a time when unless your deeds were literally carved in stone, they wouldn't survive to the present?

For that matter, the people who invented various forms of writing must have been pretty smart people.

It's also entirely possible that the smartest person ever lived even farther back in time than that. If they lived 30,000 years ago, we'd never know of them. We tend to assume that people today are smarter than people 30,000 years ago, but considering that well over 90% of human history is before written human history, I wouldn't be surprised if there were an outlier before written history who would technically be the smartest ever.
I was thinking along these lines. We'll probably never know who the smartest person was, because they were probably prevented from achieving their potential, because of their gender, or their ethnicity, or their religion, or because of the events of their day. One of my college professors used to say that "the cure for cancer may have died, face down in the mud, in Vietnam." I read that during WWI, ~15,000 students at Oxford University enlisted and ~20% of them were killed. Some of those who survived probably suffered permanent brain damage and psychological disorders. And in how many societies and in how many eras throughout human history have women been allowed to excel just as much as men? 40%? 10%? 1%?
 
I was thinking along these lines. We'll probably never know who the smartest person was, because they were probably prevented from achieving their potential, because of their gender, or their ethnicity, or their religion, or because of the events of their day. One of my college professors used to say that "the cure for cancer may have died, face down in the mud, in Vietnam." I read that during WWI, ~15,000 students at Oxford University enlisted and ~20% of them were killed. Some of those who survived probably suffered permanent brain damage and psychological disorders. And in how many societies and in how many eras throughout human history have women been allowed to excel just as much as men? 40%? 10%? 1%?
However, there's a reverse factor of time period and, "advanced societies," to consider that runs a a counter-point to better education and access to knowledge. I was reading in an article (hard-copy magazine in a doctor's office waiting room, I'm afraid, so I can't produce it - as much as I'd love to) that our forebears in the era often called the Victorian Age (or the Imperial Age, or the Bell Epoque, or the late Industrial Age, or whatever one prefers) had several IQ points on us, today, on average, and those in Antiquity had a notable number more - because everythig in daily life was so much more incredibly difficult. Was Ada Loveless, "smarter," than modern programmers and coders when she did complex equations and calculations in long-form, on paper (no erasers), doing a lot of number-crunching in her head before even having it punched into babbage's machines? Also, "innovation is the first cousin of necessity," as the idiom goes, and many older inventions revolutionize life and living standards, whereas, to be honeest, the great majority of modern technological innovations either are iteration improvements on recent ones, fixing or mitigating crucial flaws in recent ones, creating gimmicks to dress up shoddy goods and services as more attractive and sellable, and trying to make pasr science fiction realty.
 
However, there's a reverse factor of time period and, "advanced societies," to consider that runs a a counter-point to better education and access to knowledge. I was reading in an article (hard-copy magazine in a doctor's office waiting room, I'm afraid, so I can't produce it - as much as I'd love to) that our forebears in the era often called the Victorian Age (or the Imperial Age, or the Bell Epoque, or the late Industrial Age, or whatever one prefers) had several IQ points on us, today, on average, and those in Antiquity had a notable number more - because everythig in daily life was so much more incredibly difficult. Was Ada Loveless, "smarter," than modern programmers and coders when she did complex equations and calculations in long-form, on paper (no erasers), doing a lot of number-crunching in her head before even having it punched into babbage's machines? Also, "innovation is the first cousin of necessity," as the idiom goes, and many older inventions revolutionize life and living standards, whereas, to be honeest, the great majority of modern technological innovations either are iteration improvements on recent ones, fixing or mitigating crucial flaws in recent ones, creating gimmicks to dress up shoddy goods and services as more attractive and sellable, and trying to make pasr science fiction realty.
Women were not allowed to get university educations in the UK until 1868, 16 years after Lovelace died. Compare Ada Lovelace to Isaac Newton, who went to private schools from age 12, graduated from Cambridge, and was a member & president of the Royal Society, which was closed to women until 1945. We can only imagine what 'Simon' Lovelace might have accomplished, having had the good sense to be born with testicles. ;)
 
However, there's a reverse factor of time period and, "advanced societies," to consider that runs a a counter-point to better education and access to knowledge. I was reading in an article (hard-copy magazine in a doctor's office waiting room, I'm afraid, so I can't produce it - as much as I'd love to) that our forebears in the era often called the Victorian Age (or the Imperial Age, or the Bell Epoque, or the late Industrial Age, or whatever one prefers) had several IQ points on us, today, on average, and those in Antiquity had a notable number more - because everythig in daily life was so much more incredibly difficult. Was Ada Loveless, "smarter," than modern programmers and coders when she did complex equations and calculations in long-form, on paper (no erasers), doing a lot of number-crunching in her head before even having it punched into babbage's machines? Also, "innovation is the first cousin of necessity," as the idiom goes, and many older inventions revolutionize life and living standards, whereas, to be honeest, the great majority of modern technological innovations either are iteration improvements on recent ones, fixing or mitigating crucial flaws in recent ones, creating gimmicks to dress up shoddy goods and services as more attractive and sellable, and trying to make pasr science fiction realty.
I think this goes to Harv's point about, "how do you measure it?" My initial post was essentially arguing on the premise that "smartest" implies something along the lines of "has the highest potential for making meaningful discoveries based on brain power". But as you point out, one could also argue that "smartest" could be measured in part on trained ability to come up with meaningful discoveries. Innate biological brain potential would still be a factor there, but a lifetime spent optimizing that potential could put someone who wasn't first in untrained potential ahead.

And perhaps that's the fairest measure. It's a bit like saying, "who was the fastest person to run a marathon?" (trained ability) versus "is the person who could run the fastest marathon alive today?" (innate potential, and they probably lived somewhere where marathons weren't a concept).

I am curious about the "people being smarter back then" aspect. I certainly would be better at math if I always did it by hand; the "calculator" button on my keyboard is too easy to press. So if the measurement of intelligence has something to do with the ability to do math on paper, it would be higher then - for those with sufficient education. Is there more to the claim than that? But I suspect the last sentence, about how we're only iterating nowadays, and using our intelligence on gimmicks, is romanticizing the past to a significant extent. A better plow, cannon, or loom may have been iterative back in the day, but was still probably more common than a wholesale new invention. And merchants have been selling snake oil, sometimes literally, for millennia. I shudder to think of all the unsafe, adulterated additives to food back in the 1800s to make it more "attractive", be that in appearance (chalk in bread, to make it whiter!) or price (heavy metals in blue cheese! no lengthy aging in caves required!).
 
However, there's a reverse factor of time period and, "advanced societies," to consider that runs a a counter-point to better education and access to knowledge. I was reading in an article (hard-copy magazine in a doctor's office waiting room, I'm afraid, so I can't produce it - as much as I'd love to) that our forebears in the era often called the Victorian Age (or the Imperial Age, or the Bell Epoque, or the late Industrial Age, or whatever one prefers) had several IQ points on us, today, on average, and those in Antiquity had a notable number more - because everythig in daily life was so much more incredibly difficult. Was Ada Loveless, "smarter," than modern programmers and coders when she did complex equations and calculations in long-form, on paper (no erasers), doing a lot of number-crunching in her head before even having it punched into babbage's machines? Also, "innovation is the first cousin of necessity," as the idiom goes, and many older inventions revolutionize life and living standards, whereas, to be honeest, the great majority of modern technological innovations either are iteration improvements on recent ones, fixing or mitigating crucial flaws in recent ones, creating gimmicks to dress up shoddy goods and services as more attractive and sellable, and trying to make pasr science fiction realty.
The Flynn Effect contradicts the IQ measure claim but it does not contradict your point that for those very reasons people had overall more active and smarter brains in their more demanding and intense lives, where they had to pay more attention to each and every step and couldn’t take level pavement for granted.
 
I don't know, it depends on how you look at it. Think of how our attention today is fragmented between multiple tabs, apps, and so on. From one point of view this has a detrimental effect on intelligence because we can't concentrate on anything any more. But you could flip that around and say that people today have an incredible ability to multi-task that would have seemed amazing to our forebears, who never had to cope with the sheer influx of information that we have now.
 
Differences in application of intelligence can be environment/interest based. The so-called "artistic disposition" is the opposite of focusing on stuff like math - due to the former's reliance on (as various writers put it) a type of thought "eroded by emotion" and also inspiration/waves of free-association.
Math, on the other hand, requires specific focus and mental structures which are primarily set (but not entirely set, obviously - otherwise you can't understand nor create).
Both types of thinking are important, but the latter is more practical in the rest of life too imo.
 
Differences in application of intelligence can be environment/interest based. The so-called "artistic disposition" is the opposite of focusing on stuff like math - due to the former's reliance on (as various writers put it) a type of thought "eroded by emotion" and also inspiration/waves of free-association.
Math, on the other hand, requires specific focus and mental structures which are primarily set (but not entirely set, obviously - otherwise you can't understand nor create).
Both types of thinking are important, but the latter is more practical in the rest of life too imo.
I'm not convinced. Da Vinci did both, and a fair degree of arts require a mathematical perspective, and many strongly mathematically- and scientifically-leaning have vivid fantastic escapism (case-and-point, the original, core D&D player base in the first decade or so of the game's existence were science and engineeriing students at universities, colleges, and tech institutes). Many of the authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, Space Opera, and, yes, outright Fantasy had such technical academic backgrounds. It wiould very much seem that portraying these two qualities as a mutually antagonistic binary is some really bad stereotype.
 
I can attest that D&D and its relatives still attract very maths-based play styles! Pathfinder is basically a series of engineering problems masquerading as whimsical fantasy.
 
I can attest that D&D and its relatives still attract very maths-based play styles! Pathfinder is basically a series of engineering problems masquerading as whimsical fantasy.
Haven't played D&D, but in literature it'd be difficult to argue that more than a small minority deals with symbols which are to be interpreted in a set/reasonably singular way. The existence of symbols, atmosphere, emotional peculiarities as well as humor, typically leads to varying impressions even if some parts of the work function more as cogs and links. For example, in some genres you do require a form which is calculated to have a very specific meaning - the detective story is typically a construction of an outcome and its reverse engineering in a believable way - and in bits and pieces (as in ancient Tragedy) the point is to lead to a climactic revelation which treats the steps to it as means. But if you were wondering about (say) symbols being interpreted in a calculated way, when the author does not propose a meaning for them, you can simply think of Poe's infamous speech where he tried to explain why his poem "The Raven" worked, in the process projecting very personal meaning into each symbol (Borges made harmless fun of that in many of his speeches to universities).
By contrast, in math no one cares how you interpret the fundamental elements of a statement*, as long as you come to form a sense of the overall statement that is usable and compatible - eg you are expected to agree that 1+1=2, but not expected to communicate how you form the notions of 1,2,addition,equality etc. Likewise for less basic examples. In literature (natural language) one could argue that no word really has a final meaning, and that this personal meaning matters and remains there even when you move to a "higher" level (not now the sense a word/words make, but the sense a statement makes, and ultimately the entirety of a text).

*not because it's unimportant, but since those fundamentals typically are used as axioms and definitions, thus remaining tacitly outside of the statements examined.

The above can be summarized by saying that no work of literature can be presented as a series of theorems, whereas all proven mathematical statements are exactly in that form. It's also why no literary story works for all readers.
 
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Haven't played D&D, but in literature it'd be difficult to argue that more than a small minority deals with symbols which are to be interpreted in a set/reasonably singular way. The existence of symbols, atmosphere, emotional peculiarities as well as humor, typically leads to varying impressions even if some parts of the work function more as cogs and links. For example, in some genres you do require a form which is calculated to have a very specific meaning - the detective story is typically a construction of an outcome and its reverse engineering in a believable way - and in bits and pieces (as in ancient Tragedy) the point is to lead to a climactic revelation which treats the steps to it as means. But if you were wondering about (say) symbols being interpreted in a calculated way, when the author does not propose a meaning for them, you can simply think of Poe's infamous speech where he tried to explain why his poem "The Raven" worked, in the process projecting very personal meaning into each symbol (Borges made harmless fun of that in many of his speeches to universities).
By contrast, in math no one cares how you interpret the fundamental elements of a statement*, as long as you come to form a sense of the overall statement that is usable and compatible - eg you are expected to agree that 1+1=2, but not expected to communicate how you form the notions of 1,2,addition,equality etc. Likewise for less basic examples. In literature (natural language) one could argue that no word really has a final meaning, and that this personal meaning matters and remains there even when you move to a "higher" level (not now the sense a word/words make, but the sense a statement makes, and ultimately the entirety of a text).

*not because it's unimportant, but since those fundamentals typically are used as axioms and definitions, thus remaining tacitly outside of the statements examined.

The above can be summarized by saying that no work of literature can be presented as a series of theorems, whereas all proven mathematical statements are exactly in that form. It's also why no literary story works for all readers.
This post is quite eloquent, well-researched, and showing of solid knowledge, if a bit meandering - like many posts I have made on CFC and other forums, and a few times even in debates with - and it's points are well-reasoned IN AND OF THEMSELVES - but they present no real defense, validation, or verification to support the notion of a mutually-antagonistic binary and supposed lack of incompatibility between mathematical intelligence and artistic intelligence.
 
Fwiw my view is that there is a chasm between forms in literature and those in math; in literature you can never have a closed level working as such, even in the very calculated and confined cases where the literary sentence has a mathematical meaning*, the existence of words secures that no two readers will view it in the same way (and this way carries on to the rest of the text).

*basic example: "two people are in rooms. Only one room has a window. Since only one of the people has a window in their room, they are not in the same room".
The math statement does not require rooms, people or anything to dress it; it can be reduced to symbols (as in formal logic). The literary story, on the other hand, may rely on you picking up what is inferred (they aren't in the same room) but in the meantime you were automatically burdened with the personal impressions those terms make on you.
 
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