Some People are Simply too Self-Deceived to Know They Are Ignorant

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July 29, 2010 | 65,881 views

David Dunning, a Cornell professor of social psychology, became fascinated by the true story of McArthur Wheeler, an incompetent bank robber who believed that rubbing your face with lemon juice rendered you invisible to video cameras.

Dunning wondered whether, since Wheeler was too stupid to be a bank robber, he might also be too stupid to know that he was too stupid to be a bank robber. In other words, his stupidity protected him from an awareness of his own stupidity.

Dunning wondered if the principle could be applied to more people than just Wheeler, and along with graduate student Justin Kruger, he wrote the paper, "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties of Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessments."

According to the New York Times:

"Dunning and Kruger argued ... 'When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.

Instead, like Mr. Wheeler, they are left with the erroneous impression they are doing just fine.'"

They say ignorance is bliss … and if you agree with the Dunning-Kruger effect, this statement is very true to life. After conducting four studies, Dunning and Kruger determined that some people overestimate just how smart they are, and the less skilled a person actually is, the less able they are to realize it.

In many ways this study has great applicability for those who have formal education and choose to completely discount any natural medicine approach in favor of the drug and chemical paradigm.

“Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it,” they wrote.

For instance, the participants who scored in the 12th percentile for intelligence estimated they were actually in the 62nd. Ironically, however, the participants were able to improve upon their skills, and therefore also their metacognitive competence, and this in turn helped them realize the limitations of their abilities.

So what does this all mean to you?

Ignorance is all around us … but many do not realize their cognitive limitations. Dunning told the New York Times:

“Even if you are just the most honest, impartial person that you could be, you would still have a problem — namely, when your knowledge or expertise is imperfect, you really don’t know it. Left to your own devices, you just don’t know it. We’re not very good at knowing what we don’t know.”

“Known Unknowns” and “Unknown Unknowns”

The notion of “unknown unknowns” originated in the world of design and engineering. To put it simply, you have within your realm of experience “known unknowns” and the far more daunting “unknown unknowns.”

The latter are those circumstances that are so far removed from our ordinary experience that we cannot even fathom them -- like the idea that you could be living in a computer simulation right now. A sign of an intelligent person is knowing there are things you don’t know, but a sign of an even more intelligent person may be knowing there are things that you don’t know you don’t know.

When you may run into trouble, on the other hand, is when you believe you know everything and close your mind to learning any new ideas. Unfortunately, a great deal of the underlying premises upon which our society was built fall into this realm.

Take, for instance, the notion that the world, especially biology and medicine, operates through Newtonian physics. It says you live in a mechanical universe.

According to this belief, your body is a physical machine, so by modifying the parts of the machine, you can modify your health.

As a physical machine, your body responds to physical “things” like chemicals and drugs, and by adjusting the drugs that modify your machinery, doctors can modify and control life.

Now, with the advent of quantum physics, scientists have realized that this theory is flawed because quantum physics show that the invisible, immaterial realm is far more important than the material realm.

In fact, your thoughts may shape your environment far more than physical matter. Unfortunately, many “conventional” experts in the field of medicine refuse to believe in these “unknown unknowns” -- a definite sign of ignorance if there ever was one.

As Voltaire said, "A state of doubt is unpleasant, but a state of certainty is ridiculous."

Can You Harness That Which You Don’t Know?

Even if you are too self-deceived to know you are ignorant, you can improve your skills and help realize the level of your limitations, according to Dunning and Kruger.

I also believe everyone has the power to access their subconscious abilities, and these are skills that are not adequately measured by any conventional test of intelligence at this time.

According to Dr. Richard Bartlett’s Matrix Energetics (ME), for instance, your right brain can actually access information that is normally blocked by your conscious attention, if you allow that information to come through and pay attention to it.

Regardless of your intellectual abilities, you can learn to hear your instincts, listen to them well, and ultimately harness this energy to maximize and optimize the life experiences available to you.

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