How Intelligence Is Dumb

A curse-laden lesson from Oedipus Rex
11 min readSep 25


Oedipus and the Sphinx of Thebes, Red Figure Kylix, c. 470 BC, from Vulci. Via

Humans place great stock on intelligence — even looking for it on other planets — but our living family, nobody else is that impressed. Our animal family is more scared by what we’ve done to Mother Earth, which is not the same thing at all. Going by what we’ve done to the planet, intelligence is dumb.

I increasingly think that what we call intelligence is just another trait, like the tail of a peacock. Something we find find attractive within our species, but which is at best a burden and, at worst, gets us killed. The vague trait we call intelligence is, in fact, wildly maladaptive, and you don’t have to take my word for it. As Thomas R. Zentall says in the Handbook of Intelligence: Evolutionary Theory, Historical Perspective, and Current Concepts:

The role of our intelligence in the domination of our species over others seems obvious, but in the broader perspective of evolutionary success, as measured by the number of surviving members of a species, intelligence, as a general characteristic, correlates somewhat negatively with most measures of evolutionary success.

This is putting it lightly. What we call ‘intelligence’ has led to one of the most spectacular self-owns in evolutionary history. One subspecies of Mammalia is currently mass-extincting its own family, quite proudly calling it ‘growth’. This is like feeding an ever-growing tumor and saying we’re getting ‘swole’. We got so caught up in being smart that we forgot what the sapiens in Homo sapiens means. We forgot all about wisdom. As (Gump, 1994) said, “stupid is as stupid does.” Now just look around. What the fuck have we done?

What Is Intelligence?

Some of the many definitions of intelligence

I consulted two handbooks on intelligence. What they both agree on is that no one agrees. We can’t define intelligence at all. Despite considering it important enough to test children on and render in artificial form, we can’t define intelligence. We operate at great speed on a foundation of blithe ignorance, the definition of leaping before looking. As Dr. Sam Goldstein says, “there is no scholarly



Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at, or just email me at