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Colossus—the Forbin Project Re-Apprciated

The Dunning Kruger Effect

I became so tired of charges that I suffered the Dunning -Kruger syndrome that I resolved to find out what it was. Before I could, someone sent me a nice video, along with the observation:

“Here's a good video for you. It's animated, so you should be able to understand it:”

Of course! Talk about motivation! “Hi! Here’s a video that insults you! It only takes 10 minutes. I hope you’ll watch it.”

Still, he had done me a favor. I had been meaning to check it out. A taunter is not necessarily a bad thing because he helps you to test whether you can keep yourself restrained under evil. Sometimes you find that you cannot and then it is back to Bible 101 for you!

I watched it. Sigh....it is the Child’s game of King of the Mountain played on an intellectual plane by Adult Children—to the same self-aggrandizing end and with the same pushing and shoving techniques. Low information people are prone to overestimate their command of a subject? Is that really such a profound observation so as to wait for Dunning and Kruger to give it academic endorsement? Just read up on the “fool” in the Bible and you will pick up the same.

The video begins with the account of a bank robber who was caught because the lemon juice he put on his face hadn’t made him invisible to security cameras. He had imagined it would since lemon juice is a component of invisible ink. Can we agree that this fellow is not pulling with both oars in the water?

Nevertheless, university psychologists Dunning and Kruger seem to think this loopiness has broad applicability, as though anyone might commit such a faux pas. Reading of this idiot in the newspaper “led to Dunning and Kruger to examine this phenomenon more deeply.” This suggests to me that they too might not be entirely pulling with both oars.

There is a sneering quality to this video. Rather than view this fellow as a mental health candidate, these psychologists—or maybe it is just the video-maker—seem to expand his nuttiness to whomever might disagree with them over matters of science. Specifically, it is hurled at me because I do not lap up every bit of evolution they want me to lap up. I do lap up some of it. It wasn’t me who put dinosaurs on the Kentucky ark. But I don’t lap up the works.

In their experiment to “examine this phenomenon” more thoroughly, Dunning and Kruger take the lazy person’s way out and employ graduate students as their guinea pigs. Obviously, it is easier for college professors to do this—always there are graduate students lying about—but are graduate students representative of the overall population? In the matter of low-information people tending to overestimate their knowledge, are they not significantly different than the overall population? Probably the difference is not enough to make the experiment worthless, but it is enough to relegate its conclusions from book-status to pamphlet.

The cure for Dunning Kruger syndrome, as proposed in the video, if not D&K themselves? ‘Taking in more knowledge’ is the antidote. I doubt this goes anywhere near as far as taking in more humility, and graduate students are not known for this quality. Young people in general are not known for it—all the more so those who have entered the competitive heady world of graduate school. Rather than advanced learning being a cure for Dunning Kruger, it is more likely to simply transform an ignorant braggart into an educated one. Which is worse? It is hard to say. On the one hand, it is “I can handle a stupid person, and I can handle a belligerent person, but a stupid AND belligerent person...” That’s a pretty tough combination, my coworker said as we were batting the topic around. So yes, eliminating half the problem—that of being stupid—would seem to be an improvement. On the other hand, equipping braggarts with knowledge doesn’t necessarily change them into more tolerant people—as often, it simply makes them more insufferable.

Better than the recommendation to take in more learning, which depending on one’s circumstances, may not be feasible, is the recommendation to take in more humility. The world of academia probably provides the least fertile ground for growing that counsel, whereas the world of spirituality is probably the most fertile. You won’t find Philippians 2:3 on the quadrangle—counsel to “consider others superior to you.” Rather, it is usually just the opposite. Even in the most skewed comparison, everyone has at least one quality in which they are clearly superior. The trick is to find that quality and hone in on it like a laser beam.

The world of the head does not rule as it imagines it does. If not coupled with humility, then even when heady persons are right, they find that people resent and will not cooperate with them simply as a reaction to how ill-mannered they are. It’s staggering how the high IQ can be coupled with an infantile EQ.

To underestimate the gravity of what you do not know is a human tendency that will afflict all to some degree. No one is immune to the Dunning - Kruger effect. The video acknowledges this, even if it does propose a faulty solution. But the humble person who truly “does not think more of himself than it is necessary to think” has a leg up on the one who consistently does think more of himself than it is necessary to think, even when his increased knowledge reveals to him that the subject is more massive still. That doesn’t necessarily humble him. As often, it puffs him up with self-importance at the thought of what he has been able to figure out.

Dunning Kruger can work as my taunter says, but it can also work in the following Hans Christian Anderson way (per Wikipedia):

Two swindlers arrive at the capital city of an emperor who spends lavishly on clothing at the expense of state matters. Posing as weavers, they offer to supply him with magnificent clothes that are invisible to those who are stupid or incompetent. The emperor hires them, and they set up looms and go to work. A succession of officials, and then the emperor himself, visit them to check their progress. Each sees that the looms are empty but pretends otherwise to avoid being thought a fool. Finally, the weavers report that the emperor's suit is finished. They mime dressing him and he sets off in a procession before the whole city. The townsfolk uncomfortably go along with the pretense, not wanting to appear inept or stupid, until a child blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all! The emperor then sneers at the stupid little tyke, too stupid to know he is stupid, and laughs at his Dunning Kruger limitations.

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