If you want to know everything about ancient Egypt, read a magazine article about it. If you want to know a little less, read a book. If you want to know nothing, study Egyptology.
It is a paradox, but it is true.
As Einstein once said, “The more I learn, the less I know.”
Or was it Aristotle? Or Churchill? It’s usually one of the three, and who cares about correct attribution?
But I digress. The problem is not with those people who learn just enough to know they know nothing. The problem is all the others.
These are the people who believe they can land a jumbo jet on an aircraft carrier because they played Microsoft Flight Simulator a few times.
And the millions of sadly ignored All Black coaches who have watched a few tests on TV.
And, not to forget, our team of five million epidemiologists.
We know the issue as the Dunning-Kruger effect. People with low abilities often overestimate their competence.
Surprisingly, the effect is named after David Dunning and Justin Kruger – although I am sure Einstein could have said it, too.
Dunning and Kruger also gave us a good explanation for their discovered effect. They claim that people are not just incompetent. But people also lack the ability to process enough information to realise how incompetent they are.
Well, I need to think about that.
Unfortunately, modern culture amplifies the Dunning-Kruger effect. Instead of warning people of their inability, it encourages them to live it.
If you have ever watched casting shows or reality TV, you know what I mean.
There are the would-be entrepreneurs going on The Apprentice who could barely calculate the GST on their products.
There are the singers on America’s Got Talent who should not even perform under the shower.
And there are the amateur chefs on Hell’s Kitchen who drive Gordon Ramsay to cascades of expletives.
We can but speculate where this exaggerated belief in one’s own ability comes from.
Is it the schools where every child is a winner? Where there is no failure but only deferred success?
Is it the helicopter parents who stop their children from ever failing – and if they do blame the teachers?
Or is it our general norm of non-offensiveness which makes us call every bent spoon a spade?
Honestly, I have no idea. I guess I am going to write a book about it.