Sphere Of Ignorance
Why stupid people think they’re smart, and how we all can gradually become less blinkered
I’ve been pondering a lot recently on the Dunning-Kruger effect. These two researchers are famous for investigating an interesting human phenomenon: the less someone knows about something, the more competent they believe themselves to be.
This is why the average driver, who objectively speaking is low-skilled and clueless, imagines themselves to be “above average” in their abilities. It’s why ignorant people think they understand the events of the day. It’s why we all think our baseless opinions and ill-understood snippets are a firm intellectual foundation beneath our metaphorical feet.
Since my earliest years I’ve been an oddity: insatiably curious about nearly every aspect of life. I quickly became a voracious reader and typically still read a couple of books per week. Not airport novels, but serious books about serious subjects. Over the course of five decades I’ve learned a great deal about economics, classical, relativistic, and quantum physics, cosmology, astrophysics, chemistry, cellular biology, biomechanics, bioenergetics, evolution, psychology, mechanics, evolutionary psychology, history, geology, statistics, and experimental design. As a result, I’m acutely aware of how provisional and incomplete our knowledge is across all of these very important subject areas. Consequently, I’m acutely aware of how provisional and incomplete my own knowledge is.
I sometimes use the analogy of a sphere. If we’re intellectually confined to a tiny sphere within which the entire contents of our supposed knowledge is contained, the surface area of that small sphere is likewise modest. At best, therefore, we are aware of only a small number of things about which our knowledge appears incomplete. A religionist may be aware that they don’t know by heart every single line of their holy book. A mechanic may know they’re not as familiar with the workings of a microprocessor-controlled fuel injection system as they are of the workings of a starter-motor solenoid. But neither has any inkling of the vast oceans of knowledge extant in the world and thus neither has any concept of their near-total ignorance.