Friday, October 30, 2009

Dunning-Kruger (in full) effect

In Pragmatic Thinking and Learning, Andy Hunt describes what he calls "second-order incompetence" (or, the Dunning-Kruger effect) in relationship to the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. Not only are most worthwhile skills very difficult and time-consuming to develop (decades, not weeks or months), but most of us tend to overestimate our own skill level, thinking ourselves experts when really we're (at best) advanced beginners and often novices.

This is a relief to me because it explains so many things in life: reckless driving, creative writing seminars, Home Depot, the vast majority of internet commentary, American Idol auditions, the Bush administration, and libertarianism. It's not that the Galt-ish autodidacts of the world are bad people -- they are, after all, acting in what they think is their own rational self-interest -- they just suffer from illusory superiority. In other words, one lacks the "metacognitive ability to recognize his own incompetence."

The clueless are bad and blissfully unaware of just how bad there are, while the talented possess a healthy dose of self-doubt.

What the expert is able to do is shift from adolescent self-absorption to mature self-awareness. Fanciful associations become imaginative connections, and as a result they can make the leap out of frustration, hindrance and alienation into work that flows with meaning and lived-in experience.

The trick is to grow into uncertainty and ambiguity, to know things intuitively rather than logically, and to act in faith regardless of what you're doing. And then turn it back into something rational and comprehensible.

[image of the objectivist utopia of Rapture from the video game BioShock]