Something I’ve been saying for years in private, and will now say again in public, is that I think humans, mostly, are not really very bright. I think we have what I call “fractional intelligence.” The rare Einstein or Newton pops up from the great mass of us and does something brilliant, but for the most part, we’re intellectual also-rans, riding on the coattails of the smart ones. And even the brightest among us don’t shine all the time.

Human intelligence is a sort of collaborative effort. I got a look at the plans for a horseshoe-making machine a few years back, something that was invented at the Burden Iron Works in Troy, New York.

It helped win the Civil War, actually, though you won’t often read that. Whereas southern mounted soldiers had to have their horses shod by a blacksmith, who would individually shape each shoe out of a straight bar of iron, heated in a furnace and pounded into the characteristic horseshoe shape on an anvil — a labor-intensive and lengthy process — northern soldiers could have their horses shod in minutes by a farrier, who would take a pre-made shoe and tack it on after only minor hammer-and-anvil shaping (and hoof-trimming, of course — which is what I’m doing in the attached picture, in about 1972).

The thing was, the original device was TWO machines. One took the iron bar stock and did this and that to it, but it took this second machine to actually create horseshoes. It was only after a couple of years that the inventor figured out how to combine the two machines into one, and end with a device that you could feed iron bar stock into one end, and collect finished horseshoes in a variety of sizes out the other.

But even me, doofus that I am, could see the simple mechanical differences between Machines One and Two, and Machine Three.

Why did the inventor not simply start with Machine Three? Because … like all of us, he wasn’t all that smart. I’d bet money that when he had the final engineering insight that allowed him to perfect Machine Three, he went D’oh! Almost certainly, even he felt it should have been obvious from the beginning, and he berated himself for being so dumb.

As an editor, I’m used to being Machine Three. A writer pens an article, or a book, or a screenplay — some of which are near perfect, others of which are barely readable — and I help them fix and finish it. They create the original story or idea, and I pitch in a little or a lot to help make it printable or salable.

If it’s a book, this can mean quite a lot of back-and-forthing, but when I was a newspaper/magazine editor, it meant only that my grubby hands guddled around in their work and changed it to suit me.

The perils of this one-way process were comically obvious when my cool young music writer at Flagstaff Live raved about a concert as “one of the dopest acts I’ve seen in years.” Stodgy Editor Me corrected “dopest” (which means “most awesome,” in case you don’t know that particular bit of slang) to “dopiest.”

They were all really understanding about it.

Anyway, you’re probably wondering where I’m going with this. It’s just this:

Unfortunately, I’m one of the half-intelligent ones, the semi-lame-brains who need help. And I blog.

One of the perils of posting on a blog without full-bore fanatic-level proofing before you hit the Publish button is that you sometimes end up with typos in the final on-the-blog piece. I don’t know what other bloggers do in these situations, but I usually go back and quietly fix whatever errors I find.

But in the original posting, when I trade in my editing hat for my writing hat (necessary in creative writing, in case you didn’t know that), I need an editor just as much as anybody. I can shift back and forth between one and the other fairly rapidly, but I seem to be less effective as an editor when it’s my own writing.

I always worry that readers will think a little bit less of me as a serious thinker when they find these things, just as I’m prone to think less of … oh, certain people of the right, or of religion, when they post their comically dyslexic paeans.

In yesterday’s post, “How To Be Wrong — Part 4 of 4,”  I had at least two really annoying typos. I corrected them when I saw them, late last night and early today, but … argh. I wish they hadn’t been there for the several hundred people who’d already read them.

So: Help me out. Be my Machine Three.

If, in the future, you see ANYTHING that could use clarifying or correction, bring it to my attention. As I already know I’m a lame-brain, a doofus, you’re not going to hurt my feelings. Drop it in a comment and I’ll make the fix.

The Doofus Code, which I’ve just now invented, says “I’d rather be right with help than wrong with pride.”

If the final product ends up being better with the collaborative effort of others, I’m not too proud to accept that help.

(Besides which, at some point I hope to be writing another book here, using blog posts as the proving grounds for the chapters-to-be.)

Also, in advance: Thanks!

Help (Really, Sort-Of, But Often Maybe Not Really) Wanted
Beta Culture: Earthman’s Journey – Part 5 of 8
Race and Culture Again: Bessie and Lois
Beta Culture: Earthman’s Journey – Part 4 of 8
  • Machintelligence

    Murphy’s law of tpyos: they only appear after you have hit the publish (or submit) button.

  • Otto Hunt

    Being an engineer and inventor, I have a bit to add/correct: visualizing how a machine is to fit together and work is incredibly hard. This is a 3-D visualization. Most can see, in the mind’s eye, only a tiny portion at any one time. It is only after building the first prototype that I typically see what I wish I would have seen prior to construction.

    I am not anywhere near the level of my heroes Nikola Tesla, etc. So I struggle with mundane stuff just as most people do. But I have energy, enthusiasm, and imagination. I review and review, and review, until I get the visualization thing clear. That is how I am able to create complex products.

  • Didaktylos

    On the subject of the horseshoe machine. I know nothing about how horseshoes are made, but is it the case that when horseshoes are made manually, it’s a two stage process? It strikes me that what happened was that in the Mechanisation Mark 1 version, the inventor was limited in his conception by feeling he needed to mirror the manual process.

  • F

    humans, mostly, are not really very bright.

    We’re the only species smart enough to be stupid. Which is something different, but I’ve been saying that to myself for years.

    Sure, I’ll happily point out an error of sorts, as long as you consider deleting my comment after you make your edit.

    It is funny that you should mention this thing, because I’ve seen a lot of editorial fodder at FTB today. Most of it, though, was quoted from other sources. Such as:

    last year the organization spent more than $1 million than it earned

    Er, what? I can deduce where the author was going with that, certainly, but are we really in that big of a hurry?

  • WMDKitty

    “I’d rather be right with help than wrong with pride.”

    I like that. Mind if I steal it? (With attribution, of course!)

    Humans are just intelligent enough to be really. fucking. scary. with some of the stuff we’ve come up with.

  • Zedeeyen

    It’s just a matter of logic, innit? If you’re of above average intelligence then by definition most people are stupider than you. If you lived in a world where you were constantly impressed with the intelligence of everyone else then you’d have to deduce that you yourself were a bit thick.

  • Johnny Vector

    “The Doofus Code: I’d rather be right with help than wrong with pride.”

    Ooh, that needs to be on a tshirt or poster.

    Also, what Otto Hunt said. I work at a place where many of the people are certainly in the top 1% intellectually, and we still need all kinds of tools and crutches to help us think.

    Is that mechanical contrivance going to work? Well… Convert the Pro-E model to an eDrawing so we can all sit around the table and look at it from all sides and try to understand how it fits together. Then print a model out of plastic on one of them new-fangled 3-D printers, so we can actually hold it. Then maybe we’ll notice where things interfere that shouldn’t.

    Will that electronic gadget work? Well, the PADS layout from the Autocad schematic was back-annotated and run through a SPICE simulation, but until we actually build one it’s really hard to tell whether it’ll hum along smoothly or oscillate wildly until it blows up.

    Add hydrazine to the mix and now you know why it’s so hard to get into space.

  • TV200

    I think you may be selling human intelligence a bit short. It’s easy, in retrospect, to say “Hell, I could have done that”.

  • davidct

    I think you are asking too much. Going from concept to perfection in one step may not happen but that does not demean the progress in between. Also remember that each step accomplished opens up another set of possibilities.

  • judykomorita

    davidct, your comment reminds me of an old writer friend who, several years ago, said “Why do they keep updating computers? Why can’t they get it right the first time?”

    For the same reason no one gets a novel or short story right the first time. Too complicated. Even the very smart can’t keep everything in their minds at the same time, top to bottom, side to side, and beginning to end. (Exception: Mozart, lol)

  • Leslie

    Hank, I’ve noticed quite a few grammatical and spelling errors on blogs from professional news organizations. I cringe because this is the medium people are reading most (at least that’s what I think).

    Blogs are written and reviewed by the authors. No more secretaries or proof readers to polish them up. Imagine the job opportunities if proper spelling and grammar became important again?

    I don’t mind seeing an error here or there at a blog like yours. It gets under my skin when it’s The Washington Post or The New York Times, though.

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