Monday, June 21, 2010

Unknown Unknowns

Is it possible to be so incompetent that you don't know you are incompetent? How can you know what you don't know? Is this why I never get any better at Laser racing?

Fascinating article on the NY Times website today about the Dunning-Kruger effect. The example that heads the article is one of those stupid criminal stories about an incompetent bank robber who thought that rubbing lemon juice on his face would make him invisible to surveillance cameras. He even "proved" that his method worked by trying to take a photo of himself with a Polaroid camera. (This was in the mid-1990s.) He was such a klutz that he somehow failed to appear in his own photo! QED.

This led Dunning and Kruger to do some research and publish a paper entitled “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties of Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessments.”

"Unskilled and unaware of it." Perhaps that's my problem. I don't know what I don't know. How could I? How can I fix what I'm doing wrong if I am so incompetent that I don't know what I am doing wrong?

What are the unknown unknowns of Laser sailing?

I have no idea.


Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

I have no idea about how to answer this one.

For one thing I never stayed at Lasering long enough to attain your degree of perfection/imperfection. By the time we worked through our Laser decade (five Lasers) I was really too incompetent to change. (I had no idea about running backs and forestay tension & was clueless about jib trimming.) Secondly, I love making judgments (observations) of the Dunning-Kruger Effect on others. But as far as self-awareness or self-disclosure is concerned? Not so much ....

Tillerman said...

Wait. There are running backstays and a forestay on a Laser? And forestay tension is important?


You see, I had no idea about such things. They are some of my unknown unknowns. Now that Doc has opened my eyes they are merely known unknowns. At least now I know what questions to ask.

Such questions as, "How do I rig a forestay on my Laser?"

Thanks Doc.

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

Your last comment confirms my first impression.

This Dunning-Kruger Effect which you have carelessly unloosed is really an ugly, ugly worm; a destructive element for most intelligent discourse. I have already discovered another application for it (in a parallel universe) with which I will occupy myself most of my boring hours at the office.

This is probably the last opportunity you have to take it down. If it draws one more commentator, you'll have to leave it up.

David said...

Getting to know the unknowns isn't going to help. After all, the more you know, the more you know you don't know. Bummer, huh?

O Docker said...

I live with someone who knows everything I don't know.

And I know everything she doesn't know.

For the past 26 years, this has been mostly what we talk about.

Tillerman said...

O Docker I think there's a logical fallacy there. How can you know or she know that she knows literally everything you don't know? She may know the known knowns that you don't know; she may even know the known unknowns that you don't know; it's even possible that she knows some of the unknown unknowns that you don't know; but what if there are some unknown unknowns that you don't know and she doesn't know either? How would either of you know? Don't you know?

Verification word: Coutts. I bet he knows some of my unknown unknowns about sailing.

O Docker said...

Good point.

Our logical fallacies are another thing we talk about a lot.

Pat said...

At least I solved the navigation problem long ago with,
"Wherever you go, there you are".

Carol Anne said...

And then there was Larry Niven's "Unfinished Story #2"; I can't remember it verbatim, but it was very short, and it went something like this: "There are some things Man was never meant to know."

PeconicPuffin said...

An interesting tangent to this question has been posed to the venerable Click and Clack (the Tappet Brothers)in which they speculate on whether two incompetent people, putting their heads together, actually know less than they did as individuals. Their conclusion is Yes...the combined efforts of two complete fools yields a squaring of the foolishness. When three or more bozos get together, relativistic effects must also be considered.

Tillerman said...

Oh yeah Puffin. In my business life I came across a few examples of the multiplier effect when you put several incompetent people together. If they are incompetent enough that they not only fail to recognize their own incompetence but are also unable to recognize incompetence in their fellow team members, then the outcomes can be truly stupendous.

Thankfully human nature is such that 99.99% of the human population are more than able to see incompetence in their fellow men, so usually such teams of incompetents degenerate into a morass of finger-pointing and name-calling and nothing is actually accomplished. Which is far better than the alternative.

Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf said...

Faltering forces of infidels cannot just enter a country of 26 million people and lay besiege to them! They are the ones who will find themselves under siege. Therefore, in reality whatever this miserable Rumsfeld has been saying, he was talking about his own forces. Now even the American command is under siege.

Tillerman said...

Welcome back Baghdad Bob. What are you up to these days?

By the way, is it just a coincidence that the new point man for BP on the oil spill is named... Bob?

Carol Anne said...

You mean Tony's boat has replaced him as spokesman?

Tillerman said...

Could be. The boat is a loser too. Came in 4th in the Round the Island Race.

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