Too stupid to know you’re stupid

Great Errol Morris series in the NY Times this week. Excited enough about part 1 that I’m posting this before reading part  2. Morris is speaking with David Dunning, a Cornell professor who came up with the Dunning-Kruger effect.

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.


And I became very interested in judgments about the self, simply because, well, people tend to say things, whether it be in everyday life or in the lab, that just couldn’t possibly be true.  And I became fascinated with that.  Not just that people said these positive things about themselves, but they really, really believed them.  Which led to my observation: if you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent…If you knew it, you’d say, “Wait a minute.  The decision I just made does not make much sense.  I had better go and get some independent advice.”   But when you’re incompetent, the skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.


People often come up with answers to problems that are o.k., but are not the best solutions.  The reason they don’t come up with those solutions is that they are simply not aware of them. Stefan Fatsis, in his book “Word Freak,” talks about this when comparing everyday Scrabble players to professional ones.  As he says: “In a way, the living-room player is lucky . . . He has no idea how miserably he fails with almost every turn, how many possible words or optimal plays slip by unnoticed.  The idea of Scrabble greatness doesn’t exist for him.” (p. 128)


The average detective does not realize the clues he or she neglects.  The mediocre doctor is not aware of the diagnostic possibilities or treatments never considered.  The run-of-the-mill lawyer fails to recognize the winning legal argument that is out there.  People fail to reach their potential as professionals, lovers, parents and people simply because they are not aware of the possible.

His fantastic example is of a gentleman from Pittsburgh who robbed a bank in broad daylight with no disguise and was recognized and arrested immediately following his photo appearing on the nightly news. Turns out the gentleman had taken precautionary measures, applying lemon juice to his face to render him invisible to all video cameras. So Dunning took this example and developed this theory that we’re too incompetent to be aware of our incompetence. If we had the knowledge to know we needed to seek objective outside expertise, we would have done so. Without that knowledge, we use what we have and make terrible terrible decisions.

Anyway, great article. All should read.

Speaking of Cogito ergo doleo

From the NYTimes blog Happy Days: The Pursuit of What Matters in Troubled Times comes this article about uncertainty causing unhappiness. I know it’s no shocker, but my own depressive natures are definitely reflected in not knowing what the heck our lives are going to look like a year from right now. 

What You Don’t Know Makes You Nervous

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Seventy-six years ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt took to the inaugural dais and reminded a nation that its recent troubles “concern, thank God, only material things.” In the midst of the Depression, he urged Americans to remember that “happiness lies not in the mere possession of money” and to recognize “the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success.”

“The only thing we have to fear,” he claimed, “is fear itself.”

As it turned out, Americans had a great deal more to fear than that, and their innocent belief that money buys happiness was entirely correct. Psychologists and economists now know that although the very rich are no happier than the merely rich, for the other 99 percent of us, happiness is greatly enhanced by a few quaint assets, like shelter, sustenance and security. Those who think the material is immaterial have probably never stood in a breadline.

Zurich birthday.

first day of the conference was pretty good, though the guy that did his lecture all in german was rather difficult to follow… even with the english version power point.

i skipped out of the last session of the day to go take a nap after not getting to sleep until 3am last night. now that it’s 1:40am, i’m thinking tomorrow may be a bit difficult to get through as well…. at least i’ll get an hour more sleep this time. 

after my afternoon power nap, I hopped the trolley down to the Rathaus stop (apparently actually pronounced RatHouse) and headed over to Lenin’s house. It was a fun strange little trip through a bunch of little footpaths and back alleys with weird interesting shops. Once we got there we realized that, unlike what the interwebz told me, there’s just a plaque on the building, not the tour of old rooms, old artifacts, and furniture that i was hoping for. 

here are lenin pictures, one of the plaque, and one of the strange half/half mirrored bust downstairs at a puzzle shop.





also, as noted above, today was my birthday. i have some fun pictures of the greatness of birthday dinner which i’ll post later when i wake up again.

Day 1. Part 2.

Major problem: Walked around all day today taking pictures only to realize that when I’d uploaded that photo from my camera’s photo card, I’d left it in the computer. Now I can’t upload the pictures I took of the Marc Chagall windows at Fraumunster and the lake/mountain pictures. 

In leiu of that, and because jet lag is startting to get me and I’m in desperate need of a power nap, here are similar photos I nabbed from teh interwebz. 

Lake/Mountains/Beautiful Zurich:

Je suis arrivé (Wrong language, I know.)

Hi all, 

At the request of the ever cantankerous and sometimes beloved Mikhail, I am travellogging my trip to Zurich. Step one:  I have arrived! One quasi-long and one really long plane flight later, Kevin and I hopped a ‘Ben Bus’ to our hotel and have successfully checked in.  I chomped down the complimentary gummy bears, turned on some crazy German cartoons, and took a picture so you could see what it looks like outside my window: 


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Public Art or ‘Wait, What Does That Even Mean?’

I have always felt like Denver has weird and not very provocative public art. I like that the giant bear, the big dancing people, the chair and the toy horse, the broom and dustpan, and the crazy crazy mustang exist, but really, what are these things saying?

English Russia has a great new post up showing a public art installation called The Sins Monument in Moscow. This is the kind of stuff I’m talking about. It’s like a crazy cross between The Wind in the Willows, Dante and Hieronymus Bosch.

Go see the whole album here.

Award Winning Journalism.

As I was reading our dear Mikhail’s previous post (in which he successfully and importantly used the phrase “On Like Donkey Kong” in a sentence) it came to my attention that the “Possibly Related Posts” WordPress is trying to send me to include one called:

“Berserk Donkeys and Super Rabbits…”

Upon further research into the reliability of this tale, the investigative team of Emelianov/Hawthorne have uncovered the following important facts:


2. The above truth proving website includes the following VERY IMPORTANT UPDATE:

We’re obliged to Galway First’s [the newspaper in which this story first appeared] Keith Lynch for getting back to us this afternoon. Here’s his response:

Sadly Ms Legova has now gone into hiding following the incident. The man at the centre of the case, Mr McCarney was heavily fined and is rumoured to now be bankrupt.

But, most importantly, we have highlighted a serious issues. Donkey crimes like this are all too common in Ireland’s west. The gardaí have intensified their efforts to stop this horrible abuse. We were just glad we could bring it to the people.

Please draw your attention to the following story in which a man and his beloved donkey try to make new friends:

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