We Are Poor Judges Of Our Own Ignorance


Pacific Standard  – The Science of Society has the article We Are All Confident Idiots.  Turns out that the article is much more interesting than the off putting title and accompanying graphic would make you believe. It would be a shame if people are turned away from reading the article by the very teaser meant to attract them. One might even call that ironic, given the actual content of the article.

As I read the article, I copied down a few snippets that I found intriguing.

Because it’s so easy to judge the idiocy of others, it may be sorely tempting to think this doesn’t apply to you.

This reminded me that we should not be smug about how other people fall into this trap.  The title of the article did say that it applied to all of us.

In the classroom, some of best techniques for disarming misconceptions are essentially variations on the Socratic method. To eliminate the most common misbeliefs, the instructor can open a lesson with them—and then show students the explanatory gaps those misbeliefs leave yawning or the implausible conclusions they lead to.

Given my own feelings of the inadequacy of the Socratic method, I was almost ready to dismiss the article.  However, the quote does give a hint that the very implausible conclusions that the Socratic method leads to would insulate you from falling victim to the method.  My first and second impressions were both wrong.  In the end, this issue of the Socratic method is probably only a red flag for me.

For individuals, the trick is to be your own devil’s advocate: to think through how your favored conclusions might be misguided; to ask yourself how you might be wrong, or how things might turn out differently from what you expect. It helps to try practicing what the psychologist Charles Lord calls “considering the opposite.” To do this, I often imagine myself in a future in which I have turned out to be wrong in a decision, and then consider what the likeliest path was that led to my failure. And lastly: Seek advice. Other people may have their own misbeliefs, but a discussion can often be sufficient to rid a serious person of his or her most egregious misconceptions.

This is probably the best lesson you can learn from the article.  Which is not to say that reading the whole article to see how we get to this conclusion isn’t also very worthwhile.

Thanks to João Geada for posting this on his Facebook page.

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