No reasonable person would question the intelligence of Dr. Ben Carson. The man is not just your average brain surgeon – I fully realize that “average brain surgeon” is an oxymoron – but he was the first surgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head. He is unquestionably a person of great smarts and talent. So why does such a smart guy keep saying such strange things?
Carson’s recent statements are weird on two different fronts. First, despite Dr. Carson’s long list of actual accomplishments, he inexplicably feels the need to continually – and unnecessarily – embellish upon his life story. Ben Carson really did go from being raised in a ghetto to attending Yale to becoming a world-class brain surgeon. I am sure we can agree that that is a quite impressive resume. So why does he need to tell stories of being a violent kid who almost killed a friend and being offered a scholarship to West Point – both of which seem to be facts that cannot be verified – at best – and flat out fabrications of the truth – at worst.
Second, are his strange historical beliefs that he bases on his Christian faith. He has said that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was encouraged by Satan. Ah, yes Dr. Carson. Thank you for outing the scientific method for the Satanic ritual that it is! Most recently, he did not back away from a statement he made nearly 20 years ago that the pyramids were built by Joseph in order to store grain – as opposed his belief that scientists think they were created by aliens. Ummmm…..what? Pump the brakes, Ben. Even though I am – almost – sure you aren’t crazy, you’re starting to sound like you are.
Here is what we know. Ben Carson is really smart. Ben Carson indulges in thought that one would not expect a really smart person to indulge in. So what’s the deal here?
Thankfully, there is a book titled Why People Believe Weird Things by science journalist Michael Shermer to help shed some light on the subject. First, the factors that shape someone’s beliefs – no matter how unusual – are independent from intelligence. Therefore, really smart people can be just as prone to pseudo-scientific thought as those who are far less intelligent. Second, many intelligent people are only intelligent in one field. This “domain-specific” intelligence is almost certainly the case with Ben Carson. His ability to speak intelligently on matters not concerning brain surgery is continually proving to be lacking.
Interestingly, it is possible that being as intelligent and well-educated as Carson makes you more vulnerable to what Shermer calls weird beliefs. The smarter and better-educated you are, the more powerful you are at coming up with arguments to justify your positions. Shermer says that “smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.” Hence, why a world-class brain surgeon believes the pyramids were storage houses for grain.
So now that we’ve gotten at least some explanation about Carson’s unconventional beliefs, what’s up with the little white lies throughout the stories of his life history? Again, it may be as simple as realizing that intelligence and accomplishment are not tied to one’s propensity to fabricate or embellish the truth. While Carson is a man a genuine merit, he is not doing his reputation any favors with his declarations regarding fantastic ideas and embellished life stories.
As for proof that intelligence does not make one immune from unconventional beliefs or embellishing one’s accomplishments, Dr. Ben Carson is Exhibit A.
Despite all this, Carson is running a solid 2nd – to racist, sexist, egomaniac Donald Trump – in the Republican polls. God bless America.