Bare Bones Biology 063 – Power of Ignorance

There’s nothing wrong with ignorance, you know. People get all het up about that word, ignorant. Ignorance has nothing to do with how smart you are. It simply says you don’t know something. Every creature on earth is ignorant about some things, actually most things. Einstein was somewhat ignorant about ecology. Why not? He was a physicist. Physics is not ecology. Einstein spent much of his time thinking and learning about physics; and he did not run around trying to convince people that he knew about things he didn’t know about. He knew what he knew, but the thing that made him so smart is that he also knew what he didn’t know.

I was thinking about ignorance and reading a peer-reviewed research study that was done by Justin Kruger and David Dunning at Cornell University.

I’ll quote their conclusion, leaving out just a few words:

“People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities . . , in part, because people who are unskilled . . . suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. … Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.”

Well, I’m always suspicious of people who use big words when they could make better sense using ordinary words, but these people certainly understand what the words mean, and their methods and statistics, and also a long list of references, all hold up well, so I’m pretty sure their results are accurate. The bottom line is — the best way to grow your competence is to be very clear about what you know and, more importantly, what you do not know. Or as I say it, the best way to grow your personal power is to know the difference between the facts, the lies, the opinions, and self-serving poppycock. People respect knowledge more than recycled blather. Would you hire an engineer who doesn’t know the difference between a slide rule and a calculator?

So I thought it was really interesting — that same day, I received copies of an article in The Economist. The editorial and the article clearly review many of the problems that we humans face in our ecosystem today. And they use all the right catch phrases. Resilience for example:

“. . . it is possible to add to the planet’s resilience, often through simple and piecemeal actions, if they are well thought through.”

But apparently they don’t understand the relationship between resilience and the numbers of species in an ecosystem, because they also stated that half the earth’s species are going extinct. And they did not mention that we are almost entirely ignorant of the functions that most of those species perform to maintain the resilience of the ecosystem. So – given our enormous ignorance, I don’t understand how they plan to carefully think through a method of improving resilience while at the same time extincting half the earth’s species. Would you hire these people to engineer the future of the earth ecosystem that provides your air, food, water and work – literally your life?

And if we revert to commonsense, there is an idea they did not even consider. Wouldn’t it be safer, easier and less abusive to humans and the living earth ecosystem to remove the cause of all those problems? The common root cause that lies behind all these problems – and anyone can do the math — is excessive growth. But the implications of this fact are not seriously considered anywhere in the article.

Bare Bones Biology 063 – Power of Ignorance
KEOS FM, 89.1, Bryan, TX
Download audio later this week from http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: