“To be ignorant of one’s ignorance is the malady of ignorance.” — A. Bronson Alcott
I saw this TMZ video (56 s) posted on the BCM Facebook page; in it Cesar Millan says “dogs don’t think.” Naturally he is wrong – as he usually is – but I was struck by how confident he is when making painfully stupid claims. It’s not an uncommon condition, certainty and ignorance go hand-in-hand.
We’ve all met confident idiot; a self-proclaimed expert who spouts absurdities with the absolute certainty that only be fueled by true ignorance. The confident idiot is not a new phenomenon – though it seems like the internet has spawned hordes of them and I am not the first to note their existence.
“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge” — Charles Darwin
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” — William Butler Yeats
“The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” — Bertrand Russell
These fools have even immortalized in a Woody Allen movie.
I wish life was like too; and even when it is, the confident idiot is not swayed.
In Dominance and Pseudoscience: Making Sense of Nonsense, Bekoff answers one CI I’ve mentioned before, Kevin Behan.
CI: “The current science says dominance is variable according to a number of factors, and that it is also instinctive and unconscious. But then one will not be able to enunciate this factor of variability without projecting human thoughts and rationales into the minds of the animals, which immediately contradicts the notion of instinct. Which is it, instinct or psychology? If instinct, how then is it variable?”
Bekoff: In any basic ethology course or Animal Behavior 101, students learn that dominance is not “instinctive and unconscious.” And, students also learn that just because a specific pattern of behavior is instinctive this does not mean it cannot be modified due to individual experience. These sorts of individual tweaks lead to variability.
The Confident Idiot (CI) goes 3 for 3. Not unconscious. Not. instinctive. Not invariable. But you can be sure, like all fools he is confident in his proclamations.
Here we have a McLuhan-moment comes to life, but a year and a half later the CI is still repeating his nonsense about instinct. Of course the world of dog training is filled with confident fools and CI is not alone.
Cesar Millan confidently asserts that it is possible to “reward fear” , dogs are “dominant to light (and shadows)” and women are “claimed” by their male dogs. Brad Pattison is adamant positive-training creates “aggressive dogs”, claims submissive urination is a dominant dog attempting to “manipulate” and learned helplessness results from carrying a dog up the stairs.
Most recently the Confident Idiot asks “why isn’t there a domesticated version of the raccoon perhaps the most prolific animal at the dump?” The CI thinks he has stumbled onto some deep problem when all he is doing is arguing from ignorance and personal incredulity. The CI is confident that with these questions he has destroyed evolution. He might as well ask why Gorn, Tygra and Hawk never come to the parent-teacher meetings and point to this as evidence of his “energy” religion. [See this article, or better yet the paper as to the importance of rare events in evolution]
Why does ignorance result in certitude? Why are the least informed the most dogmatic?
There is a paradoxical phenomenon associated with overconfidence, it’s the Hard-Easy Effect; the tendency to underestimate performance with easy subjects while difficult tasks tend to produce overconfidence.
In a 1987 study comparing international bridge players and amateurs, the participants were asked to assess the chances of making a final contract (don’t ask me what that means) on a bridge round. The high level amateurs felt certainty (100% sure) in 29% of the cases compared to the international players who gave a 100% probability only in 2.5% of the trials – the international players were always right.
Another link between marginal knowledge and overconfidence was explored by Kruger and Dunning in the now-classic paper ‘Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments’. Or more colloquially, ‘Incompetent and Oblivious: People who suck don’t know they suck and think they are smarter than they really are’
According to Kruger and Dunning, the unskilled face a double burden; same set of skills needed for competence are also needed for accurate self-assessments. Specifically, the incompetent lack the metacognitive skills to 1) achieve high performance, and 2) properly assess their skills.
Metacognition refers to the awareness and ability to monitor our own thought processes; it is usually described as thinking about thinking and while not essential to learning it is essential to the acquisition of expertise. I didn’t bother to check if poor performers are not metacognitive because they are incompetent or if they are incompetent because they are not metacognitive. Or a little bit of both?. But I think I can safely say one thing:
These people don’t know what they are saying because they don’t know what they are thinking.I don’t have a solution for the confident fool, all I know (or maybe I just think I know) is that we need to be aware of them and not mistake their certainty for knowledge.
“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” — Voltaire