The Sea of Ignorance and the Dunning-Kruger Effect
When the Oracle of Delphi told Socrates that he was the wisest man on Earth, Socrates responded by saying “I know that I know nothing.” Was he just faking humbleness or was he really thinking like that?
It was a real response and it has to do with something called The Dunning-Kruger Effect.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
What is the Dunning-Kruger effect?
It is a cognitive bias where people with low ability suffer from illusionary superiority. The problem isn’t in the ability to assess their knowledge, but in the inability to assess the lack of it.
Socrates knew that there were so many things that he didn’t know and he was only sure in one thing — that he actually doesn’t know anything. The acceptance of that fact made him wise — nothing more, nothing less.
The effect tells us that the less knowledge we have on a certain topic, the surer or more confident we are on that topic and the more knowledge we have on a certain topic, the less we are actually confident that we know something.
But why does this happen?
Why do knowledgeable people suffer from Dunning-Kruger Effect?
I will explain this by using a simple analogy of an island and the sea.
Imagine your knowledge to be like an Island and your ignorance (or lack of knowledge) the Sea. The place where your knowledge (the Island) touches your ignorance (the Sea) is called the Shore.
The more knowledge you attain, the bigger your Island gets. That is clear.
But the bigger your Island gets, the bigger the surface it takes upon. And the bigger the surface, the more touching points it has with the Sea. And those touching points between the Sea and the Island is the Shore. The Sea is endless so no matter how big your Island gets, the Shore will follow up.
So the more knowledge you actually have, the more you realize that there is an endless amount of knowledge out in your field that you know shit about.
Every new knowledge or a solution to a problem brings atleast two new problems. Someone who has meta-cognition (how we think about our thoughts) figures this out and is forced to be humble. Becuase you just understand that no matter how much you know, you are only certain that you don’t know anything (Socrates).
This is why the loudest people are always the people on “Mount Stupid” of the Dunning-Kruger line (100% confident with 0 skill or experience). And the ones who should speak out are the ones that are silent. Because they are doubtful. They think that they are wrong or that they are imposters.
Who are they to tell the world anything or to stand behind anything when that is not the absolute truth. Who am I to even write this, let alone push it in the real world. These are the problems experts deal with on everyday basis and it’s not going anywhere.
A simple person simply acts without thinking while a knowledgeable person thinks but doesn’t act. So how do we solve this?
Right now I have the imposter syndrome writing this. Because I am writing for people who feel and have the same problems as I do. And I know that there are so many ways I can make a mistake about this or be wrong.
But that is the whole point.
Acknowledging, as Mark Manson said, that I am “always wrong about everything” helps me improve and succeed in life. The solution is not to stop thinking and go back to the Mount Stupid.
The solution for you is to think about it, act, and afterward fix your mistake. Do this always and you will get it right somewhere along the line. This does sound like a prediction woo-woo thingy, but in all of the truth, 99% of the things we do are predictions.
As Winston Churchill said it the best:
“Planning is crucial but a plan is useless.”
So to use this quote regarding the Dunning-Kruger Effect is to say that thinking is crucial but our thoughts are useless because almost all of them are wrong almost all of the time.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” — Wayne Gretzky
So the next time you feel like an imposter, just remember that you did your homework and that you thought about the topic for a long long time and that made you prepared.
Once you are prepared, it’s time to act and let it out in the wilderness where it’s out of our control. Only out there will you see the mistakes of your thoughts and confirm the Socrates principle of only knowing that you , as well as me, actually don’t know anything.