How do I become more intelligent and have better conversations? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
- Do all of the obvious things that people are going to suggest and that you could probably figure out yourself. Chief among these is, of course, reading more. Read all the time, even when you are waiting in line at the DMV, even when you are in the bathroom.
- Don't forget reference books. When I was a kid I would pore over encyclopedias. These days you can do much better with Wikipedia. Read the articles you like, look at the pictures, try to understand the tables. Go on Wikipedia adventures, clicking from one thing to the next, and try to figure out how you started at Woodwinds and ended up at Beastie Boys.
- Try to unlock fine art. Try really hard to read poems and figure out what they mean or what the author was talking about. Pick out one picture in a museum and stare at it for an hour. This will feel like an exercise in futility at first, but it will get easier over time and you will be amazed at how enlightening it can be.
- Spend more time in coffee shops (or any other social, creative space). Listen to the conversations around you. Even if you think people are morons for what they are talking about, just listen to them. Try to determine if you agree or disagree and why. If you feel compelled, butt into a conversation and see what happens.
- Watch more documentaries. Documentaries zero in on a small slice of life and pull it apart for nearly two hours. The specific illuminates the whole - this the key to increasing intellect. Try to see the connections to how small microcosms represent larger working systems. This is how you better acquaint yourself with metaphor. Metaphor is the great tool of the human mind, and it's what separates us from the beasts.
- Spend less time trying to absorb the "noise" and pay attention to the specific "signals" that interest you. There is a deluge of bullshit information that is thrown at you every day, and I don't hesitate to say ignore most of it. Pop culture deadens the senses and fills up important storage space in your finite brain. If you must take it in, do so with a critical and suspicious eye. For more on this, watch Carpenter's "They Live."
- Find the others. Find other smart people and make friends with them. Don't look to argue with them. Try to understand them, debate respectfully, and learn from them. For more on this:
Now the most important question: can you do it?
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