Intelligence versus stupidity?
The great battle of the 21st Century won't be a war between good and evil, but rather intelligence and stupidity.
This is a concern apparently shared by renowned thinker David Krakauer, the President of the Santa Fe Institute, who in a recent interview on Nautilus, actually makes the case for professors of stupidity.
The interview also features in a recent piece for Nautilus by Brian Gallagher. Gallagher shares Krakauer's opinion on the fundamental differences between intelligence, ignorance, and stupidity.
To them, intelligence is the act of effortlessly solving problems, ignorance is a simple lack of information and stupidity is being unable to solve problems despite having more than sufficient data.
Krakauer concludes that stupidity is one of the biggest concerns facing humanity. I hate to admit it, but in light of recent world events, I think he might be right.
The most powerful nation on earth is now governed by a man who describes himself as a 'stable genius' and yet recently told a Christian Prayer meet that one of the USA's greatest achievements was the abolition of human rights.
The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
Thinking fast and slow
There's something about the way Donald J Trump operates that draws me back to Daniel Kahneman's book, Thinking Fast and Slow.
If you haven't read the book, Kahneman reasons that we each have two ways of reaching decisions, the fast and the slow thinking referenced in the title. Fast thinking, is the almost instantaneous, instinctive decision making our brains do without us having to think about it, while slow thinking is a measured process more suitable to complex tasks.
Fast thinking, according to Kahneman, is our brain's way of leaping to a conclusion when there appears to be little doubt, while the opposite is true of slow thinking.
In my opinion, Donald J Trump is the poster child of the cocksure, instinctive thinker.
In the modern world, the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.
Kahneman's book further bolsters the theory by referencing numerous studies related to his way of thinking. One of these is the idea that our minds can be 'primed' to think in a certain way. In evidence, Kahneman references a study which demonstrated that voters were more likely to consider educational matters in their ballots if they were casting their votes in a school.
The idea of priming in a world of instant information is alarming. Imagine a planet where media barons and nefarious sorts can flood your subconscious with any concept they please. It's not a hard leap to make, after all, this is not some dystopian sci-fi concept... it's the current state of the world.
Of course, Kahneman isn't saying fast thinking is a bad thing or inherently wrong. His argument is simply that too often we assume we understand things when in fact we do not. It is this cocksure attitude that could well lead humanity down a dark path indeed.
Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
The paper, "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments", was tongue-in-cheek at the time but has since become a classic, winning the Ig Nobel Prize in 2001. Four studies showed that people who are very bad at something tend to overestimate how competent they actually are. Conversely, those who are competent tend to underestimate. The paper demonstrates that you need skill and knowledge to judge how skilled and knowledgeable you are.
As the selection of famous quotations throughout this blog attest, the Dunning-Kruger paper was no startling revelation. The world already knew about the propensity of some to overestimate their own competence. What Dunning and Kruger did was strike a chord with the many people who had already made similar observations about their own peers but perhaps hadn't really known how to express it.
The Dunning-Kruger effect, shown opposite, is intended to give us pause to check our own overconfidence but, somehow, we are more inclined to be better at spotting it in others...
The really bad driver who firmly believes they are good at it. The dull person who thinks they are funny. The colleague who thinks they are so great at their job, but isn't. Or, the rich businessman who thinks he's such a great president!
The effect itself makes it particularly difficult to spot our own self-deceptions when deeper knowledge is lacking.
Each and every one of us has the capacity to overestimate our own competence. We are all prone to occasionally think we are better at something than we actually are. Like when we buy flat-pack furniture or a new household gadget and decide we don't need to look at the instructions. Or, when we sing in the shower and convince ourselves we've got The X-Factor. Or, when we drive and assume that everyone else is always in the wrong. Or, perhaps, when we find it so hard to accept that we clearly weren't the best candidate for a particular job or contract.
'The Donald' just takes it to an extreme level. Consider the fact that he said this about his own top intelligence staff concerning their advice on Iran:
Q: Do you have confidence with [CIA Director] Gina Haspel and [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats to give you advice?
TRUMP: No, I disagree with certain things that they said. I think I’m right. But time will prove that. Time will prove me right, probably.
Yes, you read that right. The US president has more belief in his personal hunches than some of the most experienced and most knowledgeable intelligence experts in his country... Isn't that just a teeny bit scary?