© 2016 by Charles D. Jones

The Perfect Storm: Ignorance and Confidence

August 15, 2019

I recently had an inmate explain to me how banks loan money. He couldn't have been more wrong, and I should have just let it go. But instead I stepped off into the tar pit. When I tried to explain where he had gotten a little off track, he replied, "Well, you know what you know, and I know what I know." Perceptive comment? Probably not.

Research indicates that when we are ignorant about something, let's say something like climate change, immigration, religion, criminal justice or banking, we still self-assess ourselves as competent . It's called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, named after the researchers who identified the concept.

This research begins to make sense when I consider it because, with any topic, I'm evaluating my ignorance about that topic with the same ignorance I used to come up with my ignorance in the first place. My ignorance feeds my confidence, which only feeds my ignorance, which feeds my...you get the point...hopefully...unless you're...

It's the same reason students who do very poorly on exams rank themselves comparatively much higher than they should in class rankings. They may be ignorant, but they're confident. The opposite is true for students who do very well, ranking themselves lower than their actual ranking. Since they know the material on the exam, they assume everyone else knew it just as well.

I can't ever completely know what I don't know. But I can be a lifelong learner. I can engage with other people who know more than me and who even have opposing points of view. And I can learn to throttle my confidence. In the meantime, it's OK to have unexpressed thoughts, as I never know when I'm at my most ignorant. 

So, in closing, I want everyone to know that I feel very confident about this post.

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