What is ‘smart’ and how does it fit our consciousness?

Sandipan Deb in Outlook:

Big_cover_20130617Which, of course, brings us to that common capitalist question: “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” There is something abhorrent about this query. Of course, Mukesh Ambani is super-smart, but so was Jagadish Chandra Bose, who invented wireless communication at least a couple of years before Guglielmo Marconi, who received the Nobel prize for the breakthrough (It is now established that Marconi met Bose in London when the Indian scientist was demonstrating his wireless devices there, and changed his research methods after that meeting). Bose also invented microwave transmission and the whole field of solid state physics, which forms the basis of micro-electronics. Bose’s contributions are all around us today, from almost every electronic device we have at home to the most powerful radio telescopes in the world. But he steadfastly refused to patent any of his inventions, or to license them to any specific company. Some 70 years after Bose’s death, the global apex body, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, officially acknowledged Bose to be the father of wireless communication.

In fact, that smug question about smart and rich is actually a stupid one. There is no natural correlation at all between smartness and wealth, or even career success. I doubt whether any great poet ever made much money. Van Gogh sold only one painting in his entire lifetime. How many great Indian authors are rolling—or ever rolled—in the dough? Instead, all of us can possibly name at least one truly talented writer/creator in our mother tongue who died in penury or committed lengthy frustrated alcoholic suicides. Ritwik Gha­tak instantly comes to mind. Smartness and academic success? Of course, we have the Ama­rtya Sens and the V.S. Ram­a­chandrans, but one can draw no definite conclusions. Not by a long shot. Tagore couldn’t stand school and had less than a year of formal education.

Siddhartha Mukherjee.

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