The Dunning-Kruger Effect: When Ignorance Begets Confidence


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“…ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved…”

— Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1871), Introduction – page 4.

What Charles Darwin is referring to has a name — it’s called the The Dunning-Kruger effect — and it’s fascinating to me because it’s related to something I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the past few months thinking about: How our personal level of awareness changes our perception of our world (some of you may recall that this is something I wrote about in, “Why I’m in Rehab” — a thought process I have been steadily working on ever since).

Wikipedia defines the Dunning-Kruger effect this way:

“The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to recognize their mistakes. The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their own abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority.”

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” — Mark Twain

I now know that when I started my journey — 18 months ago (577 days) — that if I wasn’t explicitly over-confident (I suspect now that I was — but that also depends partially on whether I “succeed” — which is TBD), I was certainly ignorant of many things.

Now, some people may interpret the word “ignorant” as me being hard on myself, but no — “Lacking knowledge, information, or awareness about something in particular” is exactly what I mean.

But what’s interesting (to me) is that over the course of these many months where I have been tested, faced challenges, and mostly “failed” (tried things that did not work), I’ve also learned a great deal.

Now, this is just a way of life — we all do this — we live and learn, but I feel that by intentionally facing my fears and dealing with challenges, I’ve greatly accelerated my learning — I’ve certainly learned much more than I would have if I was still sitting behind a computer monitor and living my “comfortable life”. And with that gain in knowledge, my perception of the world — and my role in it — has changed in many, many ways.

And that’s why I’ve been so interested in this “personal level of awareness” — our “personal truth” and the way we see the world.

And as I mention in “Why I’m in Rehab“, no one else on the entire planet sees the world in exactly the same way as you or I do. Not only that, but we sometimes assume that these differences are not that great — but in some cases it can be huge — such as the difference between a musician able to hear a specific rhythm, beat, melody, or instrument in the music playing over the speakers in a cafe — and another person in the same cafe who isn’t even aware of the music playingat all.

If you’re interested in reading more about the Dunning-Kruger Effect (and why wouldn’t you be?), there’s also an interesting article about it on the Psychology Today site as well as this article on another: “Do you suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect?

And a video — if you’re into that sort of thing… (youtube)

My train of thought continues in the next post, “Creativity, awareness, blind spots, and integrative thinking…”

 



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