Friday, November 01, 2019

Society for the Prevention of Dunning-Kruger

A fool is he who thinks that what he knows is without mystery. --Dávila

It's no doubt accurate to say that everyone is subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect (heretofore DK). The problem is, there is an inverse relationship between its effects and awareness of its presence: in other words, the less we know, the more we think we know.

Now, we all like to think we're immune to the effect, but it seems to me that it is built into the nature of things. Literally. For as we've discussed before, it is only possible to know anything about anything because we cannot know everything about a single thing.

In other words, our finite intelligence is, as it were, an echo of God's infinite intelligence. That being the case, one could define God as the one being who necessarily doesn't suffer from DK but makes it inevitable (or in-Eve-ate-apple) for the rest of us. Awareness of this principle makes a man humble. Denial of it makes a man proud. See Genesis 3 for details. Indeed, you could say that DK is merely a form of idolatry (or maybe vice versa).

Is there more DK these days than in the past? The answer may surprise you. But first I have to think about it.

I was about to say there is more of it, but it's much like trying to determine if there is more greed, cowardice, lust, or envy than in the past. All we can say is that these are all permanent features of human nature, so they will always be present to one degree or another. We do, however, agree with Sr. Dávila that

Modern stupidities are more irritating than ancient stupidities because their proselytes try to justify them in the name of reason.

Modern sophisticates like to imagine that people of the past were immersed in a religious worldview that caused them to think they knew much more than they did -- in other words, that religion is just a cover for ignorance. But again, the temptation to idolatry is ineradicable, such that we have any number of ideologies (or better, ideolatries) that serve the same function, e.g., scientism, Marxism, Darwinism, and all the rest.

Science? Please. We love science, but to think that it can provide any kind of comprehensive explanation of the world is the purest DK. No one can can be a great scientist -- or thinker at any rate -- who is only a scientist. Consider:

--To believe that science is enough is the most naïve of superstitions.

--Nothing proves more the limits of science than the scientist’s opinions about any topic that is not strictly related to his profession.

--Stupidity appropriates with diabolical skill what science invents.

--Being only falsifiable, a scientific thesis is never certain but is merely current.

--What is capable of being measured is minor.

Exaggerate much? No, not at all, because Science, when it finishes explaining everything, but being unable to explain the consciousness that creates it, will not have explained anything.

In other words, once you've reduced to the world to a calculation or quantity, you'll still have to account for the calculator and quantifier. And there is -- literally -- an infinite distance between the two. This distance is -- literally -- unbridgeable from the bottom up. Conversely, from the top down it is not only explicable but even necessary, in the sense that it is necessary for the Creator to create.

Which is another way of talking about the complementary principles of immanence and transcendence. Scientism imagines the world can be intelligible without intelligence, which is to say, immanent without transcendence. But if intelligence isn't transcendent, it isn't intelligence, precisely.

Or, put it this way: if there is no transcendence -- no vertical inscape hatch -- then all statements are ultimately tautologies. To take an obvious example, if we are explained by our genes, then we couldn't explain our genes. Rather, the explanation would be genetically caused and therefore circular.

Only recourse to transcendence accounts for both the continuities and discontinuities of the world. Again, from the bottom up -- from any materialistic standpoint -- intelligence and intelligibility, mind and matter, must be discontinuous. And if they are purely discontinuous, then there is no accounting for knowledge. Knowledge could only be an illusion of continuity, just a projection of our own psychic categories. Taken to the extreme, it would mean we can know everything about nothing. Terminal DK.

In truth, there are real continuities and discontinuities built into the nature of things, the former being radial, the latter circumferential. Imagine a circle with a point at the center: ʘ. That's God (or Creator) at the center, world (creation) at the periphery. However, there are multiple worlds, e.g., metaphysics, physics, chemistry, biology, et al. As such, we have to imagine a series of concentric circles, each corresponding to a particular world.

But there is also continuity, which can be conceptualized by imagining an arrow (or arrows) emanating from the center. And guess what: you -- your soul -- is one of those arrows, precisely. This is what it means to be in the image and likeness of the Creator (the center), and why we can have real knowledge of the other circles. Each circle discloses truth, but only because they are linked (via the arrows) to the Center.

DK prevention, right there.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Dunning-Kruger of the Spirit

Time only to lay a foundation...

The other day I read an essay on the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is without question one of the most important drivers of history. It is probably accurate to say that more things happen because of what we think we know than what we actually know, but who knows? The upshot of Dunning-Kruger is that man -- both individually and collectively -- is shadowed and haunted by "false knowledge" -- i.e., the whole category of things we know that just aren't so.

Let me highlight some passages from the essay that stuck out for me:

In one study, roughly 90 percent [of respondents] claimed some knowledge of at least one of the nine fictitious concepts we asked them about. In fact, the more well versed respondents considered themselves in a general topic, the more familiarity they claimed with the meaningless terms associated with the survey.

In short, confidence and cluelessness are directly proportional, at least in many people much of the time. And it seems that the unearned confidence prevents people from seeing how clueless they are. One thinks of Michael Scott in The Office, "the world's best boss." Or, in a more comedic vein, one thinks of the breezy confidence and utter vacuity of an Obama, "the world's greatest president," or of most any mainstream journalist or pundit.

Speaking of which, has any man in history exposed more political and journalistic Dunning-Krugery than Trump?

For more than 20 years, I have researched people's understanding of their own expertise -- formally known as the study of metacognition, the processes by which human beings evaluate and regulate their knowledge, reasoning, and learning -- and the results have been consistently sobering, occasionally comical, and never dull.

As a fellow once said, "being educated means 'being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don't.'" But "this simple ideal is extremely hard to achieve. Although what we know is often perceptible to us, even the broad outlines of what we don't know are all too often completely invisible. We fail to recognize the frequency and scope of our ignorance" (emphasis mine).

Bottom line: "in many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize -- scratch that, cannot recognize -- just how incompetent they are..."

But why? Well, for starters, recognizing "their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack." Boom: the ignorant are too ignorant to appreciate how ignorant they are. Thus, "the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge" (emphasis mine). Ignorance can feel just like knowledge. Or maybe you were never a liberal.

I'm thinking back on when I was young enough to know everything. Naturally I was a liberal, because -- as formalized by Hayek -- liberalism (or leftism, to be precise) is founded upon a pretense of knowledge that is strictly impossible for anyone to possess. At its extreme it leads to a kind of omniscience that serves as the pretext of the totalitarian state.

Example, plucked from this morning's headlines: former California governor Jerry Brown "told Congress on Tuesday that President Donald Trump and the Republican Party were responsible for the ongoing California fires because of their opposition to drastic climate change policies."

"California’s burning while the deniers make a joke out of the standards that protect us all,” Brown told the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday... “The blood is on your soul here and I hope you wake up. Because this is not politics, this is life, this is morality... This is real."

While it's nice to see a leftist acknowledge the reality of the soul, California is not burning because of Trump, much less because of the failure to enact any conceivable climate change policy. That's just clueless omniscience made even worse because it is enlisting the conscience to make its case. From this it is but a step to righteous violence -- to violence sanctioned by the conscience because the people who disagree with Brown are willfully and ineradicably evil. No wonder the left sympathizes with al-Baghdadi: professional courtesy.

Now, is there a solution to this perennial problem of ignorance-as-knowldege? We haven't yet finished laying our foundation, but I don't want to end on a pessimistic note, so I'm going to jump ahead with a passage by Schuon that goes directly to the question:

whoever wishes to use his intelligence without risk of going astray must possess the virtue of humility; he must be aware of his limitations, must know that intelligence does not come from himself, must be sufficiently prudent to make no judgments in the absence of adequate information.

Pride goeth before a fall into Dunning-Kruger.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Less is More, More is Less

As usual, an improvised post that is recommended to no one and not recommended to anyone.

Let's go back to the essay we were discussing a couple of posts back, on What Sincerity Is and What It Is Not. First of all, what is it?

Just spiritballing it here, but it seems to me that it would constitute an alignment between one's surface and depth (itself an acknowledgment of vertical degrees of human being-ness). We all have a "social self," or surface ego, with which we get through the day; and a more personal self which we share with others along degrees of intimacy. There are a few people in our lives with whom we can let it all hang out, and others with whom we must more or less tuck it in.

For example, living in a deep blue precinct of California, I must be extremely selective in revealing my scarlet (R) letter, just as a Jew living in Nazi Germany would have been ill-advised to advertise his religion. Am I comparing Nazi Germany to California? Of course I am. For the former is to the latter as psychosis is to neurosis, or as vivid is to subtle. I don't start from the principle that everyone is sane; rather, with the principle that everyone is more or less deranged in some way or to some degree.

Now, no one is more sincere than the sincerely crazy person. Generally, the more crazy the more sincere. But the same can be said of stupidity and ignorance. The more intelligent one is, the more qualifications, reservations, and exceptions one will have, at least in the great middle area between metaphysics above and empirical sensation below. (Remind me to get back to my as-of-yet unwritten post on Spiritual Dunning-Kruger Syndrome, whereby the most ignorant know the most, whether the D-K victim is religious or secular.)

In other words, there are principles at the top that cannot not be; and there are experiences at the bottom that are what they are. For example, right now I'm feeling this keyboard in front of me. Although a wholly contingent experience, it nevertheless partakes of a kind of absoluteness, because it is absolutely and undeniably happening.

In general, the problem with any form of empiricism, rationalism, or materialism is that it covertly (and absolutely) elevates the relative to the absolute. While it is true that "what is, is," it really depends upon the meaning of "is."

That is, you can't deny the irreducible isness of the subject up front, and then use it to affirm the fundamental isness of the object. Rather, once you eliminate the former, then nothing can be said of the latter. So, "He who does not believe in God can at least have the decency of not believing in himself" (NGD). It's just common courtesy.

Regarding those qualifications and exceptions pertaining to the vast middle area of the cosmos, I have arranged the following aphorisms in stepwise fashion so as to arrive at the final point:

1: Anyone can learn what it is possible to know, but knowing it intelligently is within the reach of few.

2: It is not the one who answers the questions, but the one who complicates them, who knows the subject.

3: As long as we can respond without hesitating we do not know the subject.

4: That which is incomprehensible increases with the growth of the intelligence.

5: To mature is to comprehend that we do not comprehend what we had thought we comprehended.

6: Erudition has three grades: the erudition of him who knows what an encyclopedia says, the erudition of him who writes what an encyclopedia says, and the erudition of him who knows what an encyclopedia does not know how to say.

7: We do not know anything perfectly except what we do not feel capable of teaching.

Therefore, it seems that who knows the most says the least. I know what you're thinking: Bob, you are SO BUSTED, with exhibit A consisting of the millions of words you have inflicted upon us over the past 14 years.

And I plead NOT GUILTY, first, because I said long ago that I only blog for myself while permitting others to look in on the process if they care to do so; and I have never once posed as a teacher. As always, I never recommend the blog to anyone. Rather, I only offer it. I have no control over the rest.

But am I sincere? Yes, I can promise you that. I would never knowingly lie or mislead, because the stakes are too high. Why pretend that you can lie to the one person to whom it is impossible to lie, i.e., God? Rather, one must approach God with total sincerity, i.e., with a perfect alignment of heart, soul, and mind; or will, sentiment, and intellect; or virtue, truth, and beauty; etc. The whole existentialada. Leave nothing out. Schuon:

man must firstly "unite himself with God" in his heart, secondly "contemplate God" in his soul, and thirdly "accomplish in God" with his hands and through his body.

Doctrine, method, will. Or truth, way, freedom. You can hand someone the truth on a silver platter, and even show him the way, but he is always free to reject it. Scratch this person and you will always find pride -- the pride of Genesis 3 All Over Again. Conversely, humility is both a cause and effect of approaching God, in that the more we know of what infinitely surpasses us, the less we know, until finally we know nothing about everything and can't possibly explain how we can be so full of it.

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