What are some reasons why some highly intelligent people speak in rambling madness when trying to express their theories?

Because their rambling thoughts are not cleanly arranged.


A popular startup question is “Can you describe your business in 7 words or less?” Often takes months/years for people to do that.

I call this the “Melinda Gates” elevator test (but have no idea of the original inventor). You enter an elevator with Melinda Gates, and can hand her a business card with 7 words on the back. She doesn’t have the brainpower of Bill Gates. But you want her to be interested enough to ask you for 15 sec about your idea/company after she exits the elevator (the elevator pitch).

In contrast, listening to a typical s

Because their rambling thoughts are not cleanly arranged.


A popular startup question is “Can you describe your business in 7 words or less?” Often takes months/years for people to do that.

I call this the “Melinda Gates” elevator test (but have no idea of the original inventor). You enter an elevator with Melinda Gates, and can hand her a business card with 7 words on the back. She doesn’t have the brainpower of Bill Gates. But you want her to be interested enough to ask you for 15 sec about your idea/company after she exits the elevator (the elevator pitch).

In contrast, listening to a typical startup founder is like pulling teeth.
They are trying to express their dream of countless hours over the past few years in 15–90 minutes, and have no idea how to express it in 5 min, much less 7 words.


It’s the same with pet theories.

Many smart people (especially the ones without professional training) have not put in similar presentation/editing effort in their theoretical ideas…one of their many pet projects over the past few years/decades.

People with careers - who want refereed papers to be accepted, or books to be published, or presentations to be understood … spend a lot of time editing.

…unlike the “autodidacts”…who often haven’t spent the time (or had the opportunity) to learn to communicate with a wide variety of people, with different backgrounds/interersts, and varied skill/knowledge levels.

Sometimes very little (or no) experience with peers.


Large vocabularies…does not equal…writing skill.

Many intelligent Quora writers haven’t managed to learn Writing 101
(1) Paragraph breaks
(2) Topic sentences for each paragraph

And writing skill also needs to consider the audience level.

Some people like ‎Alon Amit (אלון עמית)‎ are wonderful at this.

Alon writes mathematics for
- intelligent people who are not professional mathematicians
- usually somewhere between high school & undergraduate levels
- writing for multiple levels at once, so even if you can’t understand all the details, you can follow some simpler aspects of the idea
- with some humor & lightness
- and at much simpler levels than on Math Stack Exchange


As one friend said, there are two types of people
(a) Complexivists - who relish the richness of interconnections between ideas
(b) Simplicivists - who enjoy the basic symmetries and patterns common to ideas

There seem to be some philosophers…who seem to enjoy unnecessarily obfuscatory language. (My apologies if you are a philosopher who agrees with Strunk & White).

IMO it’s ok to write/talk in intricate language, but if you lose 99% of your audience…and they zone out or stop reading before you’ve finished your exposition…that doesn’t seem very helpful/effective to me.


- The Elements of Style - Wikipedia (1918)

There is method in that madness.

When two similarly gifted people exchange ideas, what you can sometimes observe is a mode of communication where one person makes half a statement, then the other gives half a conclusion, and incomprehensible to bystanders, they are having a marvelous conversation. It appears to be gibberish, even madness.

How does this work then?

It is about following each other's thoughts.

I say “ice cream”, you say “that always bugged me”, I say “right. They are insufferable.”, you say “but without them…”, I say “ the media”, you say “it's wrong though”, I say “we benefit though

There is method in that madness.

When two similarly gifted people exchange ideas, what you can sometimes observe is a mode of communication where one person makes half a statement, then the other gives half a conclusion, and incomprehensible to bystanders, they are having a marvelous conversation. It appears to be gibberish, even madness.

How does this work then?

It is about following each other's thoughts.

I say “ice cream”, you say “that always bugged me”, I say “right. They are insufferable.”, you say “but without them…”, I say “ the media”, you say “it's wrong though”, I say “we benefit though”, you say “just like ants”, I say “their empire is…”, you say “ Jules Verne”, I say “that was hilarious”.

We shake hands and go our separate ways. What did we even talk about? Can you tell?

The key is in that it wasn't about just one thing, but many things at once, branching with each response, covering all possible conversation threads without explicitly verbalizing them.

People who work a lot with kindred minds can sometimes get lost in this, expecting regular folks to just be able to coast along, getting their thoughts just like their peers might. And it comes off as incoherent rambling.

Oh, this one is easy.

It’s because they are remembering it, figuring out new connections, and/or realizing that they might have expressed it in an incorrect way while they are explaining it.

I know people who suffer from this all the time. They are a lot more sane when slow down and focus on figuring out how to express it (although sometimes that ends in them being frustrated that they can expound the fullness of their ideas in the moment).

Additionally, it happens because they make intuitive leaps and they don’t have the language in the moment to parse the distance.

Some highly intelligent people are thinking out loud when they are speaking.

So, if you have ever listened in to how you think, you have probably observed that your thoughts are sometimes a bit of a jumble, one association leading to a new idea, which leads to yet another totally unrelated idea. That happens when people speak - all people regardless of their intellect.

I know this probably sounds like a simple-minded response, but I’ve observed it a lot!

Thanks for the A2A request.

Intelligent people might not be articulate. My mentor/guide was highly intelligent but lacked that finesse while speaking. They might not be good orators or speakers. Speaking ability is not the same thing as thinking/ intellectual ability. Writing ability is not the same as speaking ability. Good writers might not be good speakers. Good or fluent speakers/orators might not be good writers. Sometimes, some people might have a combination of all the three abilities,sometimes two of them or sometimes, none. Writing, speaking and thinking are three different, separate and unrelated abilities.

Also

Intelligent people might not be articulate. My mentor/guide was highly intelligent but lacked that finesse while speaking. They might not be good orators or speakers. Speaking ability is not the same thing as thinking/ intellectual ability. Writing ability is not the same as speaking ability. Good writers might not be good speakers. Good or fluent speakers/orators might not be good writers. Sometimes, some people might have a combination of all the three abilities,sometimes two of them or sometimes, none. Writing, speaking and thinking are three different, separate and unrelated abilities.

Also, the “madness” of an intelligent person is a sign of being too passionately involved in a subject that they are extremely emotional about. It might also be a sign that most intelligent people are “introverted or intuitive feelers” and they speak spontaneously from their hearts/feelings/emotions although they have very bright minds.

Because the way you vocally communicate is not the way our brains work and it’s hard to color in the lines all the time.

Not all intelligent people are great communicators.

I don’t think it is rambling madness, I think it is that each intelligent person when talking to other thinks that the other person is the same as him/herself, therefore will say part of what he/she means expecting the other party to understand.

I am not claiming I am a genius, but sometimes when I talk to people, I think they know what I am talking about and they have the “what the hell” look in their face until I repeat what I said adding more to clarify.

This is a phenomenon known as ‘neoteny’, where childlike characteristics are retained into adulthood.

(This is sometimes an important aspect of evolution. It occurs in different species and may have played a role in the development of intelligence in humans in their deviation from earlier primate forms, e.g. larger head, loss of fur, etc.)

But I think you are referring to characteristics that are found in children that have been lost in adults, such as curiosity, openness to new ideas, and unrestrained creativity. (Obviously not things like size, physical abilities, knowledge, etc.)

In that respe

This is a phenomenon known as ‘neoteny’, where childlike characteristics are retained into adulthood.

(This is sometimes an important aspect of evolution. It occurs in different species and may have played a role in the development of intelligence in humans in their deviation from earlier primate forms, e.g. larger head, loss of fur, etc.)

But I think you are referring to characteristics that are found in children that have been lost in adults, such as curiosity, openness to new ideas, and unrestrained creativity. (Obviously not things like size, physical abilities, knowledge, etc.)

In that respect you are correct. Many high IQ people are like children in some of those ways.

They are highly curious and they ask far more questions than others. They are less likely to simply accept facts that are given to them and often question the answers they find. Asking the primal question “WHY?” is an very important part of human development.

Indeed, it is when children stop asking questions that the true loss of innocence begins. Think about a three or four-year-old. The question WHY often dominates their exploration of the world around them and their conversations with others. Unfortunately, they answers that they receive are often not conducive to learning. Sometimes the answers are polite “Daddy’s busy right now. Ask me again later”… or the answer can be harsh “I’m busy. Don’t bother me.” or worst “You’re too young. You wouldn’t understand”. The answers they receive may be nice or rude, but after receiving responses like this twenty or thirty times, the children finally do learn something that is life altering. They learn NOT to ask questions anymore. Eventually, they learn and believe that they are too stupid and accept and internalize that fact. Then after enforcing this belief for a few more years, we send them off to kindergarten and wonder why they have problems learning.

It is because we may have inadvertently taught them to stop questioning and trying to learn about the world and people around them.

High IQ people are often those children who received different types of answers. My father was a nuclear physicist with three Ph.D.s, but whenever I asked him a question, he would stop, drop to one knee, look me in the eye and answer my question… not in baby talk, but in adult language. My questions to him, however, trivial, were important enough to him that he would respond to me as if I were an adult.

I remember once as a child asking what caused thunder, expecting to hear a story about angels moving furniture in Heaven or giants bowling in cloud castles in the sky. Instead, he told me that “thunder was a shock wave that propagated through the air that was generated by the rapid thermodynamic expansion of air as the result of an electrostatic discharge between the air and the ground”

I did not understand a fraction of those word for a decade, and that answer resulted in a lot of additional questions from me about what those words meant. (Predictably, I grew up with an excellent vocabulary and a sound understanding of science.)


Perhaps High IQ people are those that remain curious, because they were never taught that they were too stupid to understand. Perhaps High IQ people think outside of the box because they were never placed in one and told to stay there. Perhaps High IQ people were children who were invited to play with ideas as earnestly as they played with their toys and they never lost their intellectual innocence, or had it beaten into submission or taken from them.

Perhaps all children are born with much higher IQ than we suspect and that, unfortunately, most children are taught not to ask “WHY” and not to bother mommy and daddy with such stupid questions. Children learn what they have been taught and when you encounter adults who are narrow-minded (or close-minded), unthinking, and incurious, you should consider what they must have been taught when they were young and how well they learned those lessons.

High IQ people may be more child-like in some ways, simply because they never had those curious, marvelous, insightful, unrestrained characteristics taken away. They may have simply never lost them… and that is part of what makes them different from others, or special.

Why do smart people hide their intelligence, and how do you spot that?

I find it extremely difficult to hide my intelligence but here are a few of the reasons I try so hard:

  1. It hurts me deeply to be made fun of. People make fun of me for saying things that they have never personally experienced or thought of. They believe nothing exists worth knowing that they have not personally encountered, known, or experienced.
  2. I hate being told, “You just don’t understand,” as though I was stupid. It’s like I’m standing on a hilltop and talking about what’s in the next valley. I assume the others are standin

Why do smart people hide their intelligence, and how do you spot that?

I find it extremely difficult to hide my intelligence but here are a few of the reasons I try so hard:

  1. It hurts me deeply to be made fun of. People make fun of me for saying things that they have never personally experienced or thought of. They believe nothing exists worth knowing that they have not personally encountered, known, or experienced.
  2. I hate being told, “You just don’t understand,” as though I was stupid. It’s like I’m standing on a hilltop and talking about what’s in the next valley. I assume the others are standing beside me and see what I see. But instead, it becomes obvious that they have not bothered to climb the hill with me; they are still down in the valley. And they have no intention of climbing the hill; they won’t admit that there is a hill or that I am on it. All they care about is that I am “talking nonsense,” they can’t see what I am talking about so it must be nonsense. They call me stupid, make fun of me, put me down, ridicule me, never ask me for advice, steer clear of me. Etc. To them, I am persona non grata.
  3. I can’t afford to be accused of lying. But this happens when I talk about stuff in the next valley or beyond that they can’t—won’t—see. I’ve climbed mountaintops and viewed the scene across mountain ranges, all while they remained in the comfortable little valley they were born into. I will compare scenes with others who have likewise been on the mountaintops and have knowledge of the wider world. But to try and communicate these wondrous insights to the people in the valley is stupid.

To answer your question, it is stupid to “cast your pearls to the pigs.”

Spotting a Very Intelligent Person

How do I spot another very intelligent person? It’s like a secret language. Or a special handshake. You just know it, it just becomes evident, when the person you are communicating and interacting with is of a higher level of intelligence than the average person. For me, this is a natural observation because I have had to observe the level of intelligence of others from the time I was a very young child.

Some tips: Be aware of the words they use, of the observations they make of their surroundings, of how they react to what I say—do they comprehend the subtle nuances I was trying to convey or am I “talking over their head”? Inform them immediately if they are talking over my head so they can come down to my level. That happens once in a while.

For more detailed descriptions of the kinds of things very intelligent people observe, see Sarah Bowman's answer to If someone is intelligent, but uneducated, will they seem unintelligent to educated people?

Let me answer your question with another question: if you were hanging out with a group of people, and one guy was trying to show off how smart he is, what would you think of him?

I don't know about you, but I'd probably think he was something of a braggart and an asshole. It doesn't matter if he is or isn't the smartest guy in the room - the fact that he seems so desperate to prove it for the sake of his own vanity reflects poorly on him.

I was once that guy, when I was a kid. I was very intelligent (though not as intelligent as I thought I was), and I relished in finding opportunities to displ

Let me answer your question with another question: if you were hanging out with a group of people, and one guy was trying to show off how smart he is, what would you think of him?

I don't know about you, but I'd probably think he was something of a braggart and an asshole. It doesn't matter if he is or isn't the smartest guy in the room - the fact that he seems so desperate to prove it for the sake of his own vanity reflects poorly on him.

I was once that guy, when I was a kid. I was very intelligent (though not as intelligent as I thought I was), and I relished in finding opportunities to display my staggering intellect for the rest of the world to see. I didn't do it because of some repressed insecurity (or at least not at first) - I did it because I had a giant ego and people were willing to stroke it. No one ever seemed to get annoyed at my cockiness (well, a few people did, but I could safely ignore such a small minority of people). Maybe I was just oblivious, but I think most people were genuinely impressed with my quickness and my knowledge, and wanted to encourage my academic excellence.

All that ego stroking felt pretty good, and I can understand why people would want to feel that way. But it’s bad for you. I could write a whole other answer on how my ego made my life worse, but suffice it to say that if you keep trying to show off how smart you are and people indulge you, then it’ll eventually become problematic.

I did eventually get (slightly) wiser. I realized that I wasn’t quite the intellectual titan I thought myself to be, and I realized there’s more to life than simply being clever. I met a few people who were like I had been: smart and desperate to prove it. And I didn’t much like those people. Not because they threatened my ego or anything, but because they were annoying as hell. Some of them tried to straight up hijack every conversation so they could use it to tell everyone how smart they were. Others were more subtle, but when they spoke you could tell they’d been waiting for this opportunity to show off their intelligence.

To summarize: if you constantly seek attention for your intelligence, one of two things will happen. Either people will think you’re a jerk and stop hanging out with you, or they won’t. If they don’t, then your ego will grow way out of proportion and you’ll probably become (more of) a dick. Far better to let go of your ego and stop trying to prove how goddamn smart you are to everyone.


Addendum

I just wanted to clarify here that I’m talking about people who deliberately try to show off their intelligence for the sake of it. If you’re just having a normal conversation and you come up with an insightful comment relevant to the discussion, that’s totally fine and normal. If you’re in an environment where your intelligence will naturally come up and be useful (i.e. a classroom, a project at work, etc.), then obviously people will start to notice who the smart ones are. This answer isn’t about people who are smart in a way which happens to be noticeable; this answer is about people who try to broadcast to the world how smart they are when it’s not relevant, for vanity’s sake.