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When Ignorance Is Bliss
There’s a great advantage in not knowing that you don’t know. Profound ignorance – being totally clueless – often leads to unjustified self-confidence and optimism. How many fearless explorers, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, inventors and politicians would have risked their fortunes, reputations and lives if they had known about the obstacles and hazards they would need to overcome?. Is self-delusion a prerequisite for success at the highest levels of achievement? For most dreamers, grandiose fantasies end badly. Reality has a way of smacking one in the face. How many times can a clueless entrepreneur go bankrupt before he gives up or strikes it rich? Does winning big really prove one's competency? In 1999 psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger described research into this process, which has become known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. They sought to understand why incompetence, instead of leaving people disoriented, perplexed, or fearful, leads some of them to have “inappropriate confidence buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.“ In 2014 Dunning wrote about more recent applications of Dunning-Kruger effect on education, business and politics. If you have time, you can read it here: Pacific Standard Magazine, “We Are All Confident Idiots”: An icon of cluelessness was the grinning idiot, Alfred E. Newman, the “What, Me Worry?” kid. He started appearing on the cover of the satirical “Mad Magazine in 1956.” What I didn’t remember until I looked it up was that his original appearance was to announce that he was a write-in candidate for President of the United States. In politics, as in many other enterprises, it seems that ignorance is not only bliss, but it can lead to fame, fortune and power. There are reports that many voters wrote in Alfred E. Newman for president last year. Does he look "presidential"? Dunning writes, “Because it’s so easy to judge the idiocy of others, it may be sorely tempting to think this doesn’t apply to you. But the problem of unrecognized ignorance is one that visits us all. And over the years, I’ve become convinced of one key, overarching fact about the ignorant mind. One should not think of it as uninformed. Rather, one should think of it as misinformed.” Do you have any examples you would share with us about your own experience with over-confidence? In Greek mythology, Icarus ignored his father’s warning not to fly too close to the sun. When the wax and feathers came apart and he fell from the sky, it was clearly his own fault. But there are many explanations: Was he clueless because a young man seldom understands the warnings of his father, was he overcome with the euphoria of flight, or was he driven by ambition? There is a painting of Icarus falling on the on a wall of Bankruptcy Court of the Amsterdam Town Hall - where he is said to symbolize high-flying ambition. We’ll also talk about the “Peter Principle”: that in a hierarchy, people tend to rise to the level of their incompetence. Professor Laurence Peter in his 1969 book suggested employees are promoted by their bosses because success at the current job often leads to failure at a more difficult job. Let’s discuss whether the ambition of the employee may be the stronger factor and to what extent it may be based on ignorance and unjustified optimism. A good example of over-confidence leading to failure was provided by Nassim Taleb in his 2008 book, “Fooled by Randomness.” Brilliant mathematicians with newly minted PhDs were hired on Wall Street as “quants” to develop trading algorithms. When their algorithms paid off, the quants believed their success was due to their infallible genius. When their luck ran out they failed miserably. According to Taleb, they were not only ignorant of investing principles but they grossly underestimated the importance of randomness in the markets. Does your own success or failure in investing have anything to do with ignorance-induced over-confidence? If you RSVP and later find you cannot attend, please cancel your reservation as early as possible so someone else can take your place.


1600 Arch Street · Philadelphia, PA

Respond by: 1/27/2018

What we're about

Public Group

The Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society is a Meetup group that brings together thoughtful people for stimulating and civically minded conversations.

We meet in a relaxed setting on almost every Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 AM and occasionally in the evening. Most of our events aim for a small group ambiance with about 10-12 participants. Sometimes we use larger spaces with different group dynamics and formats.

Almost all our events engage participants in a group conversation to explore a wide range of topics including society & culture, philosophy & religion, design, science & technology, psychology, politics, economics, and current events.

We organize a safe, facilitated forum of inquiry and exploration.

Our interactive format engages participants to speak up and be heard, to explore our assumptions, to listen and hear others, and to find and build meanings.

We value topics that matter, diverse points of view and ways of knowing, sensitive listening, and your contributions to our explorations.

In addition to ideas and resources posed by the event host(s), our conversations are informed by participants exchanging experiences, interpretations, understandings, beliefs, feelings, values, thoughts, and ways of thinking.

Through discourse and consideration these ideas can reveal a web of relationships which participants can form into meaningful insights and new possibilities.

We start the conversation so come participate and accept your own genius.

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