January 22, 2014

Is Ignorance Really Bliss?

My best guess is that ignorance is not bliss; it’s just all the same stuff with less compulsion to write in iambic pentameter or compose tone rows.

Sanity, or at least a sunnier disposition and a more even keel might be bliss, but would mean the loss of all of the edge and darkness that make me who I am.

Last night I watched a re-run of “House.” It has long been my belief that Dr. House and I are soul-mates, regardless of the facts that I am married, and he doesn’t exist.

It would be a terrible relationship anyway, what with both of us being all melancholy and sardonic. Relationships work better when at least one of the parties is capable of a little joie de vivre.

Although the medical storyline in “House” is often predictable (“it’s TTP—it’s lupus—it’s his kidney—it’s his lungs—let’s drill a hole in his brain—let’s remove his spleen—let’s break into his house and snoop”) that’s not what interests me. Mostly, I am interested in the characters, enthralled that they are allowed the latitude to change and grow than the more static types in the average hour-long drama.

Last night, however, I was all about the case.

The situation, in brief, was this: Major Patient was a former genius who had been living a “regular” life for many years, including working as a messenger, and marrying a woman of average intellect.

In the course of his treatment for Mysterious Symptoms it was discovered that he had been “robo tripping,” ingesting cough syrup containing DXM, along with a little alcohol. He had been doing this not to get a buzz, but because the effects of the drug made him dumber, and therefore able to live happily with his ordinary job and his ordinary wife.

After having the drug flushed from his system, he went back to drawing complex molecular structures, but was miserable. In his un-drugged state he could not love a wife with an IQ 91 points lower than his own. (He compared her, unfavorably, to a Gibbon). In the end, with House’s tacit blessing, Major Patient went with the cough syrup, the courier job, and the wife, choosing to shutter the part of his brain that offered unlimited potential for both achievement and suffering.

This story line stirred up an issue I have wrestled with for at least 30 years. I am not a genius (and my husband is, by no stretch of the imagination, a Gibbon), and I am unlikely ever to be diagramming molecular structures.

I do, however, have intellect of a kind that seems to result in excess thinking that is rarely productive and often misery-inducing. I am not speaking here of mere worry, but of a brain crowded with cacophonous noise.

I don’t forget much, I tend to be obsessive and competitive, and I am often working and re-working ideas, disaster scenarios, and new menu ideas while obnoxiously calling out “Jeopardy” answers.

My brain stops this jangling noise when I sleep, when I drink more than I can actually drink without getting sick, or, as I discovered during a bout of sciatica, when I take Vicodin, Flexeril, and Valium at the same time. A legit and medically indicated chemical lobotomy, but a chemical lobotomy nonetheless.

So would I be happier if I were dumber?

Leaving aside all collateral issues of socioeconomic consequences, would I be happier if I were living my life with a lower IQ? (Well, it couldn’t really be my life because I am married to a man who thought it was hot that I was smart. I think this scenario only works if I am less intelligent and living somebody else’s life.)

If my IQ were lowered just the right amount, I would likely lose the ability to blog,  or to read the book I’m reading with any real comprehension. My grades would have been lower (except in math, where there was no “lower”), I might not have been able to get through law school, and I would be less capable of making rapid connections and synthesizing facts and concepts.

I would probably stop reading theology and biographies of Tesla. I might watch the same things on TV, but be able to relax and enjoy them more without focusing rigidly to make sure no plot point passed me by. I would undoubtedly be less judgmental, less analytical, and more at ease with myself and other people.

Or not. The problem with this experiment is that it’s nearly impossible to separate intellect from personality. I have “smart girl” neuroses, as do legions of women, and a lower IQ would not necessarily make me happier, just worried about a whole different set of things. The genius on “House” didn’t just lower his intellectual functioning by drinking cough syrup; he mellowed his harsh.

Intellect is not a personal attribute that can be sifted out from history and wiring. Even with an objective IQ score significantly south of the real deal, I might have become interested in theology and literature because I grew up in a household in which people talked about such things. I might also be just as neurotic and hypersensitive as I am, perhaps about people thinking I was dumb, instead of weird.

I just don’t encounter many people in my daily life who are worry-free, and some of the people I see must be of “average” intelligence or less; otherwise it’s not “average,” right?

I’ll never know. There is no cough medicine in the house, and it seems like poor judgment to run out and buy some in time to lower my IQ by tomorrow.

My best guess is that ignorance is not bliss; it’s just all the same stuff with less compulsion to write in iambic pentameter or compose tone rows. Sanity, or at least a sunnier disposition and a more even keel might be bliss, but would mean the loss of all of the edge and darkness that make me who I am.

Probably, we are all meant to be exactly who we are.

Without cough syrup.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Candie_N(Welcome Fall) on Flickr

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