A Game

Let’s play a game. Are you ready?  The rules are very simple. Okay, so; a game. Really, it’s less of a game and more of a thought experiment, which is so appropriate, this being Thought Catalog and all. Here are the rules:

1) You are you, as you are now.

2) Suddenly, you acquire magical powers. How you acquire them isn’t so important, but if you like, you can have acquired them through a Genie or through Gamma Rays or something, if that helps you.

3) You now have magical powers, which are as follows. You can make yourself either hotter (physically) or smarter (mentally). This is a one-time-only deal, and once you do it, you can’t change back. But — and here’s the rub — if you make yourself physically hotter, you will experience a corresponding decline in your intelligence, and vice versa for the smartness thing. So if you say, “I want to be 15% smarter,” then you will experience a corresponding 15% decline in your physical attractiveness. And remember, once you’ve done it, you can’t take it back.

4) Okay, so which do you choose? Smarter or hotter, and by how much? If it’s, say, 67% hotter, you will now magically become 67% dumber, as we discussed. Give your answer, and be honest. You’re alone on the internet and no one is looking. I’m going to give you a lot of white space in which to give your answer and also to avoid spoiling anything:

5) Okay, so what did you choose? Hotter or smarter? But before we get to that, let me ask you a couple of subQuestions.

a) If you had to look in a mirror and see your future self (that is, your self as it would be, magically altered by your decision), would that alter your decision at all?

b) If I told you that you had to give a speech to the assembly of the United Nations, five minutes after you made your decision, would that alter your choice at all?

c) If I told you that dumb people never really realize that they’re dumb, would that alter your decision at all?

…And actually, none of those subQuestions really matter.  I’ve done this in real life, and people never change their decision. Here’s what always happens: SMART PEOPLE CHOOSE TO BECOME SMARTER, HOT PEOPLE CHOOSE TO BECOME HOTTER. It’s sort of fascinating, and the exact opposite of what I would have predicted. I feel like writing up a paper and presenting it to the New England Journal of Medicine or something.

Originally, when I started playing this “game,” I predicted that everyone would choose “1 to 2% hotter,” based on the theory that everyone would always like to be a little hotter, and also based on the theory that dumb people never think that they’re dumb, as I mentioned above. (…And think about that for a second: No one thinks that they’re dumb. Kind of a terrifying thought. People will admit to finding flaws in their appearance, or even admit to thinking that they’re ugly. No one — anywhere, ever — has ever admitted to being intrinsically stupid, not George W. Bush, not anyone. No one — anywhere, ever — has ever walked around saying to themselves, “Yup, I’m intrinsically not so bright.” The most people will admit to is making bad decisions — “Gee, I shouldn’t have eaten that burrito right before bedtime” — but that’s entirely different; what they’re saying is that they’re an ordinarily smart person who has made an out of the ordinary bad choice. Chilling. …Anyway, where was I?)

In order to research this, I started out by asking my friends what their answer would be. Unfortunately, most of the people I know are writers, who are basically functionally non-hot. I know that being a writer is a sexy job and all, but we are not intrinsically good-looking. If we were really confident and hot, we would not have spent our adolescences locked up in our bedrooms writing short stories and haiku. Just trust me on this one. Anyway. Julie Powell, author of Julie and Julia, confessed that she felt so hopelessly un-hot in real life that she may as well just become smarter instead. Sam Apple, author of American Parent, likewise went for smarter. I asked Chuck Klosterman what he would do, but he was busy off being Chuck Klosterman and didn’t reply. All of the Thought Catalog writers went for smarter:  Gaby Dunn, Brad Pike, Josh G., Stephanie Gougghglapolous, Brandon Scott Gorrell, etc. I forgot to ask Tao Lin, who probably would have just answered with a poem about desolation and Facebook anyway. Still, a pattern was starting to emerge. [1]

I decided to move on to asking people who were hot and yet not very smart. Unfortunately, I don’t know that many people in my day-to-day life who are hot/dumb, so I was forced to go through the ranks of my ex-girlfriends, who often fit into this mold, because I am shallow and a bad person and often date people based on looks. …Bingo. This proved to be a brilliant move. The first hot-yet-dumbish ex I contacted did a big show of mulling over the question, then said that she’d choose… hotter. Why? Because she felt that people were currently “intimidated by her intelligence,” which is the best thing that I’ve ever heard, plus, no. No, honey, no. MmmmmNothey’renotintimidated. Also–

BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA! BA HA HA HA!

Oh, it feels good to laugh like that. Then, I contacted another ex-girlfriend, an ex-girlfriend legendary for her… obtuseness. In fact, this ex was responsible for the dumbest sentence that I had ever heard: Once, while standing in front of a map, she claimed that France was located in Canada, which okay, no — it’s just not. But also we were standing in front of a map at the time, which is why we were having the conversation in the first place. …She likewise chose hotter. Next, I located a few other people who are hot-yet-dumb, and they all also chose… hotter.

All of this not only confounded my first theory — that people would choose 2% hotter — but it also confounded my second working theory… which was that people are so worried about sounding shallow that no one would ever choose “hotter.” So I turned to be wrong both times. …It was confounding.

I am confounded.

…So, what does this all mean? [2] …Hey man, I just work here — y’know? Perhaps it means that we all want to excel further in the areas of our own competence — being clever or being pretty — although I don’t really think that it means that. Or, it could mean that hot people think they’re smart and smart people wish they could be smarter. Which would be sort of a double-whammy for those of us who are smart; but then, us smarties knew that the game was stacked against us to begin with. …The game. It’s just a game; it’s all just a game, and so doubtless it all means nothing. …But it is a most intriguing game, is it not? Perhaps the only winning move is not to play.

Thumbnail image – tictactoe

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