It’s been said that the true test of insanity is whether or not a person thinks they’re crazy.  If you think you’re crazy, you can’t be because crazy people don’t think they’re crazy.  If however you don’t think you’re crazy… I’ll let you work it out from here.  Well there is a similar dilemma when it comes to competency and intelligence.

There is a psychological phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger Effect which states that there is “a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average.  In other words, people who are bad at things can’t tell how bad they because they’re not smart enough to identify what being bad is.  Of course if they knew what it was that made them so bad they would stop doing it.  Furthermore, the theory states that “Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.”

And the concept applies to competency in anything: fishing, baseball, painting, writing, even thinking itself.  You may think you understand how logic and reason works but if you don’t you can’t know because if you didn’t you wouldn’t have the capacity to logically decide how well you understand logic.  You see the problem?

People who dress boldly but badly, people who think they’re sports prodigies but have no success, everyone who sings karaoke, and exactly half of all people who ever did a debate and went home feeling like they won: these people believe that they are good at what they do because they aren’t competent enough to know what bad is.

Everybody thinks they’re logical, everybody thinks what they think makes sense, everybody thinks they’re good at something, and most of those people are wrong.  Just think: half of the human race has a below-average IQ.  Do you think half of people think they are below average?

So how do you escape this trap?  How do you figure out how bad you are at what you do?  Well most of you won’t think too hard about it.  But for those who care, research is the answer.  If you want to know if you’re dumb, take an IQ test.  It’s not a perfect indicator by any means but it is the best and most convenient indicator we have.  If you want to know if you are logical, study formal logic.  The more time you spend studying any field, the more likely you are to know something about it.  If you want to know if you’re good at sports, trust the statistics.  The things you think have to be confirmed by others, and your mom doesn’t count: she’ll always think you’re great.  Many of those people will lie to you and tell you, “You were great when you sang karaoke up there!” but if they are bad too then how would they know?

I think there is a threshold beyond which people stop thinking they know stuff and start researching to learn stuff.  The more people cross that threshold the better off this world will be.