I’ve been tossing around the idea of Ten Smart People in a Room Theory. It works like this: say there’s some burning question that needs to be answered. It can be anything as flouncy as “did Barry Bonds use steroids?” to world-imperiling as “is Iran actually trying to make a nuclear weapon?” Ten people would be gathered in a room, and they would have the following characteristics:

– very high intelligence

– very broad, well-versed knowledge on the subject at hand

– completely agenda-free.

Now, the last of these would be hard, since almost everyone has an agenda, but it could be worked out. If one of your Ten has a book coming out about the subject and takes a side, then his book sales are dependent on his opinion, so he’d be eliminated.

Likewise, if the question was political, no partisan politicians would be allowed to be in the room either. It would simply be a room with Ten People, smart as hell, and nothing to prove. The roster would change for each question.

I think about this room a lot, because of two reasons: one, we live in an age of spin and lies, which puts even the most obvious conclusions into doubt; and two, I tend to miss the big picture and want to know what actual smart people think.

I asked some friends the other night about Barry Bonds, and the consensus was: yes, Barry Bonds took steroids and every smart person knows it. I was relieved to find out that there was a consensus, and I wanted more:

So, does Iran really want to make nuclear weapons?

Is the “bird flu” scare totally overblown?

Is Michael Jackson actually a child molester?

How will history rate George W. Bush as president?

Did Shakespeare write all of his own plays?

I want the ten smartest people to get in the room and answer those questions. Professional, smart people free of all partisan hackery or academic squibbling. Get a consensus and publish it, so at least we have a touchstone for arguments. I want things spelled out for me by serious individuals so I can make better choices with my philosophy, my writing, my voting lever, my charity and my mindset.

What would be your question?

0 thoughts on “freakophilosophy

  1. CL

    I think it would be fun and educational to do this in real life. But some of the topics wouldn’t work because the only people who really know the answers wouldn’t and couldn’t talk. It’s disingenuous for anyone to speak about whether Michael Jackson is a child molester unless they were in the room or was an attorney working on the case. Most people’s opinions are formed from a few days of court TV or general reactions to MJ’s weirdness. Opinions, even from intelligent people, on whether Iraq has or wants nukes are the same – there is a right answer, but only the top experts and the leaders of Iraq have the non-B.S., real knowledge to know. The rest of us form our opinions from the New York Times or hearing from some college friends who’s pals w/someone at the Defense Department, and right away that adulterates the conclusions by inserting gossip and hearsay. We can get that anywhere. I think 99 percent of the world is much more honest on those topics by keeping their mouths shut and opening their eyes more. It doesn’t matter how intelligent you and I are – we don’t know the answers; we can only form opinions based on third-hand knowledge.
    But some of the topics do indeed lend themselves to this kind of forum. Was the war in Iraq justified? That’s something that experts could hash out. Bird Flu, also good; George W and global warming and Shakespeare – I’d love to hear people talk about these topics without B.S. agendas and nonsense.
    Here’s a question for the experts off the top of my head: Is there such a thing as true, everlasting love, and is it ever ok to ‘settle’ for less?

  2. GFWD

    CL has limited our ability to address your topics, Ian, because if we weren’t in the room or working on the case, we cannot comment. Therefore, I cannot weigh-in with an informed opinion because I either was not there or was not born, but here are my 2 cents:
    1. I’d like to think Shakespeare wrote his own plays, borrowing liberally from others at times and occasionally relying on the inspiration of Gwynneth Paltrow. Others are not convinced. See below:
    2. The gloved one. If it looks and acts like a molester, interviews with sickening sound bites like a molester and is creepy like a molester, then it’s really impossible to know for sure. I do know, however, that the idiot parents who let their children sleep in Mike’s “molester’s den”, er um, “bedroom”, should be kicked in the teeth. Rinsed off. And then kicked in the teeth again. Just like shampoo.
    It’s fine to go visit Molester-land Ranch if your kid is dying with cancer and wants to ride the rides and play with the llamas. But don’t let them out of your sight. Besides, he hasn’t had a significant album since 1991. That’s 15 years ago and more like 22 years ago since he was king of the world with Thriller. The children today weren’t even alive then and they don’t know him.
    Of course, for my money, the moonwalk is still the coolest dance move I’ve ever seen.
    3. Bird flu. One of our three animals killed a bird the other day and none of them got so much as a sniffle. I don’t know what you can draw from that, but I’ll keep a lookout for whether our animals develop a fever.
    4. W’s legacy. I am always curious as to why a resigning general or admiral would take a stance against the sitting president when there is no obvious political or financial gain to be made. W has had that happen several times over the past year. Kind of like an admission against interest in court, the retirees’ voices make my ears perk up. When they slam the war and the decisions to start and/or sustain it, I listen. It’s hard to know whether they have an agenda, but at least they were in the room and part of the plan and their words (both pro and con) get my attention.
    But in reality, Americans have the collective memory of a “gypsy moth” (Sorkin line from ‘Isaac and Ishmael’ WW episode) and we’ll likely recall that he kept us safe from terror [so far, knock on wood] at home, idiot school-shooting Colorado loners, notwithstanding. And with gas prices coming down ($2.10 a gallon at Costco the other day), W won’t even be on our radar.
    5. Iran. Why wouldn’t they want nukes? Everyone else in the area has them and they just sat back and watched the U.S. invade and take over their neighboring country. Not to get all Patrick Swayze on you, but I imagine there are folks in Iran running around shouting, “Wolverine”, drinking deer blood and looking to prepare for a fight. Can you blame them?
    I think I effectively posted myself right out of the Top Ten. Dammit.

  3. kent

    Worst Ever****
    Next question…
    *If they just want peaceful nuclear energy, a breeder program would be an absurd and expensive distraction.
    **Like terrorism, the proper reaction is for the folks whose job it is to worry about such things not to try and scare the pants off the rest of us and just do their fucking jobs.
    ***Actually no one has ever proven anything other than that sketchy people have been able to extort money out of MJ, but he’s one weird motherfucker, and doesn’t do himself any favors in how he’s addressed these charges.
    ****for the next century the US will have two preoccupations: 1) trying to clean up the mess GWB has made 2) documenting how truly awful Bush and the Republican Party became.
    *****Shakespeare wrote the bulk of his work, but probably had uncredited collaborators. And some of the stinkers like Titus Andronicus may have been attributed to him in order to get attention.

  4. Sean

    The only one of these that inspires a response from me is the Shakespeare thing. There is so much craziness surrounding this question, and I feel like the debate is essentially useless. There’s nothing actionable about the answer. I suppose if someone did sit down and decide that five of his plays were definitely not him, then those plays would be lost in about fifty years.
    But the idea of him being gay, a woman, Jewish, a group of people, etc., is frustrating as an off-off jackass in New York because there are so many average thinkers who’s approach to his identity is a spastic indication of how their shows will be produced.
    Anyway. I’m excited about the other questions, I’m just never gonna be one of those ten people. Unless the debate is whether or not someone’s singing in tune, or if you need an ADD 2nd Ed. Dungeon Master.

  5. LarryL

    Yes, Iran wants nukes.
    Bird Flu is pure hype and fear tactics.
    Michael Jackson, yes.
    George W. Bush will be remembered as the first president willing to stand up to radical Islam after years of inaction during the 1990s. Bush will also be remembered as having the stock market hit an all-time high during his Presidency.
    Shakespeare, no.
    Global Warming is pure hype and fear tactics. Both the journals Science and Nature have published studies recently finding that Antarctica is both cooling and gaining ice. Dr. Mitchell Taylor from the Arctic government of Nunavut, a territory of Canada, said recently: “Of the 13 populations of polar bears in Canada, 11 are stable or increasing in numbers. They are not going extinct, or even appear to be affected at present.” Temperatures in the arctic were higher in the 1930s than they are today.
    Barry Bonds, yes.

  6. jason savage

    how do you define “smart”, though? lots of people with high intelligence (IQ scores, SAT scores etc) have *zero* common sense.
    there are people who know the meaning of lots of big words, but could no more assess nukes than they could fly to the moon.
    i think the question of who is smart is the really interesting one. Playwrights and professors from blue states, or more pragmatic, black and white red-staters (which oversimplifies polarities, but you know what I mean)?
    Bill Clinton is smart in a nimble-minded, quick thinking way, and Bush seems to be less so. But we don’t know as of yet (and it will take years to know for sure) who was the better President.
    I think it is very hard to aknowledge the smarts of someone with whom you vehemently disagree.

  7. Rebecca

    Since you asked what my question would be, not what I think about your questions, here is my answer:
    Is there intelligent life in the universe outside of our planet?

  8. CL

    I meant Iran when I wrote that at 4 a.m., also. Oops.
    GFWD, I didn’t mean to limit anyone’s opinions or discussion. It was just that sometimes people talk out of their arses about things that they can’t really know about. If yer gonna get 10 experts in a room, no one is an expert on whether an individual molested young boys unless he was there or has great knowledge on the case. I didn’t mean to apply that to every issue, just ones where the evidence or hints are not obvious.

  9. Piglet

    Can Dave Barry be one of the ten smart people, every time? How about Bill Moyers?
    Also, smart people don’t waste their time becoming knowledgable about Michael Jackson. Unless you and your kids share his neighborhood.

  10. GFWD

    CL, It’s all good. You made a good point. Only a handful of people really know what happened at freaky Mike’s house. And, as Piglet astutely said, you only need to pre-occupy yourself with him now if the Meagan’s Law Gazette gets dropped off on your front porch with the latest breaking news.
    Rebecca, as for intelligent life outside of our planet? Duh.
    Have you not seen E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Independence Day? Never heard of Roswell, NM? Space aliens are real, sister. Sigourney Weaver wasn’t battling anything from this earth when she got into that human forklift to protect Newt.
    The better question is, are there any other FRIENDLY aliens out there. Or did we peak with E.T. and Alf and Mork?
    Seriously, I think it’s naive to think we’re the best and most advanced that the Universe has to offer. And can you imagine the kick ass iPods and cell phones some of those intelligent cats have? Gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.

  11. Bud

    Remember Enron?
    Weren’t they, according to the documentary’s title “The Smartest Guys in the Room?” That didn’t turn out too well, did it?
    I heard something brilliant recently, on some talking heads news analysis show: “Some mistakes are so huge it takes a PhD to make them.” I think that quote sums up the worst of modern society extremely well.
    Because connecting the dots is what the human mind does best, the smartest minds especially, and in situations with incomplete information, it’s likely that diffrent great minds will connect those dots differently, creating in some cases intractable differences of opinion — and in other cases, disasters of epic proportion.
    I think humanity will be better off in direct correlation to our collective ability to say, “I don’t know enough about that” or as CL said, to keep our mouths shut, our eyes and ears open.

  12. Tanya

    I can’t add anything to the answers to questions Ian has raised. But, like Rebecca, I’ll add my own:
    What happens after you die?
    I’m of a mind that you simply cease to exist. It’s like going to sleep. You really don’t know you’ve been asleep until you wake up. Same with dreams.
    I WANT to believe in heaven and all that, and I actually do believe in God, but I’m having issues reconciling this whole after life deal.

  13. tregen

    Is the US Constitution outdated
    Is Federalism a valid governmental form given today’s technological advances.
    Should government be involved in marriage, period.

  14. Paul G

    6 person poll, didn’t allow discussion and I don’t even know how smart me and these people are :-)
    Iran: 5 yes, 1 no
    Bird Flu: 3 yes, 3 no
    Michael Jackson: 4 yes, 2 no
    Bush Remembered Good President: 0 yes, 6 no
    Shakespeare: 2 yes, 4 no
    Really good questions coming out everybody. Kinda makes me wish we could get answers to them.

  15. Tamara

    Whenever someone starts talking about bird flu and things they’ve seen on the nightly news I direct them to Barry Glassner’s great book (which needs a post 9/11 update) called, “The Culture of Fear.” It sheds a lot of light on the way we feel (as Americans) about a variety of things.

  16. oliver

    I’m an Oxfordian re: Shakespeare (i.e. all one guy, different name) and CLian re: everything else. Re: whether there’s “true, everlasting love” and if it’s ok ever to “settle,” I say “yes, of course” to both, although about the second you definitely have a bad attitude.

  17. oliver

    Oop…forgot my question for the smarties. Um, how about: “Are we living in a democracy?” and/or “Free trade: Good or bad?”

  18. eric g.

    A Kennedy brothers trifecta:
    (1) Did Oswald act alone?
    (2) What (and/or who) motivated Sirhan Sirhan?
    (3) What did Ted Kennedy do in the several hours between the time he drove off the bridge at Chappaquiddick, and did he really dive down several times to try to save Mary Jo Kopechne?

  19. Tara

    Claverack Weekender – I’m with ya, buddy! What DID happen to Paradise?
    Along the same lines, why did Firefly get the ax?

  20. wyatt

    1. John Schultz’ question (climate change?)
    2. Tanya’s question (afterlife?); possible follow-up: Will my dogs be there?
    3. Should we bother being nice to each other, or just make it good for our offspring?
    4. Why did that copy machine in the undergrad library ADD $65 to my copy card in 1989?
    5. What if Spartacus had a Piper Cub?

  21. Neva

    Okay, if anyone is still reading. Here’s one I’ve wondered about.
    In the afterlife (assuming yes to the question that there is one) – what happens to people who have had two husbands (ie were widowed and remarried)? Who are they with? Does the other person feel left out? If so, how good can the afterlife really be? Also, how old are you there? Can you pick your age?

  22. salem's little sister

    Neva- I think in Heaven you don’t care about who married who or anything like that. It’s all love and reunions. I truly believe Heaven is individual for everyone. I don’t think my heaven would be heaven for an african tribesman and vice versa. I believe God lets us create our own Heaven and in my case, I’m riding in on a great grey horse named Crystal, with my 17 year old body(I’m 33 now) and my friends and family waving me in. It makes the going not so scary.


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