Dunning Kruger
What makes people think that they are better-than-average? Why do some people have an unwavering tendency to overinflate their skills? Having a realistic view of the world and oneself is considered to be the foundation of good psychological health. However, many of us tend to move through life with a sense of unconditional, positive self-regard -- despite all evidence to the contrary -- and downplay or ignore our faults to the detriment of ourselves, our families and society at large. Researchers have discovered that unrealistic positivity is a fundamental feature of human nature.

We've all seen it; the blowhard who can't stop spouting off about topics of which they know very little, the highly sensitive co-worker who doubles down in the face of constructive criticism, the 'expert' who misleads with false claims. On this episode of The Health and Wellness Show we discuss the Dunning-Kruger effect, the illusion of competence and the pitfalls of failing to recognize the extent of one's own -- and other's -- limitations and lack of knowledge.

And stay tuned for Zoya's Pet Health Segment, where she explores the age old question: Do animals think?

Running Time: 01:07:06

Download: MP3

Here's the transcript of the show:

Jonathan: Welcome to the Health and Wellness Show everybody. Today is Friday, May 25, 2018. My name is Jonathan. I'll be your host for today. Joining me in our virtual studio from all over the planet we have Doug, Erica, Tiffany, Gaby and Elliot. I think we have everybody today.

Tiffany: Yay!

Erica: Hello.

Doug: Hello.

Elliot: Hello.

Jonathan: You sounded like the Monty Python guys. Yay. So today we are going to talk about the Dunning-Kruger effect: stupid is as stupid does. It's much deeper and more complex than that. It's kind of an interesting thing. There are a number of avenues that you want to go down when you talk about this, but we'll get to that later.

So, talking about what makes people think that they are better than average. So why people have an unwavering tendency to over-inflate their skills. It seems like a common problem where you see somebody like that as a blowhard, would be one word. But they've given it this name, the Dunning-Kruger effect. So Gaby has the medical definition.

Tiffany: The official ...

Erica: Medical definition. {laugher}

Doug: Yeah, of a psychological term.

Gaby: Okay, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which individuals who are unskilled at particular tasks believe themselves to possess above average ability in performing the task. On the other hand as individuals become more skilled in a particular task, they may mistakenly believe they possess below average ability performing those tasks because they may assume that all others possess equal or greater ability. In other words, a mis-calibration of being competent stems from an error about the self whereas the mis-calibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others. That was the super complete definition. {laughter}

Tiffany: But it also contained a definition of what is the opposite of the Dunning-Kruger effect which is the imposter syndrome.

Doug: Where basically you think that you aren't very good at something even when you are.

Jonathan: We have a clip that we're going to play and I think we'll just go to that right off the bat so it backs up what Gaby said and goes into a little more detail. That'll give us some context and then we can get into talking about this.

Are you as good at things as you think you are? How good are you at managing money? What about reading people's emotions? How healthy are you compared to other people you know? Are you better than average at grammar? Knowing how competent we are and how our skills stack up against other people's is more than a self-esteem boost. It helps us figure out when we can forge ahead on our own decisions and instincts and when we need instead to seek out advice.

But psychological research suggests that we're not very good at evaluating ourselves accurately. In fact we frequently over-estimate our own abilities. Researchers have a name for this phenomenon - the Dunning-Kruger effect. This effect explains why more than 100 studies have shown that people display illusory superiority. We judge ourselves as better than others to a degree that violates the laws of man.

When software engineers at two companies were asked to rate their performance, 32% of the engineers at one company and 42% at the other put themselves in the top five percent. In another study, 88% of American drivers described themselves as having above average driving skills. These aren't isolated findings. On average people tend to rate themselves better than most in disciplines ranging from health, leadership skills, ethics and beyond.

What's particularly interesting is that those with the least ability are often the most likely to over-rate their skills to the greatest extent; people measurably poor at logical reasoning, grammar, financial knowledge, math, emotional intelligence, running medical lab tests and chess, all tend to rate their expertise almost as favourably as actual experts did.

So who's most vulnerable to this delusion? Sadly all of us because we all have pockets of incompetence we don't recognize. But why? When psychologists Dunning and Kruger first described the effect in 1999 they argued that people lacking knowledge and skill in particular areas suffer a double curse. First, they make mistakes and reach poor decisions. But second, those same knowledge gaps also prevent them from catching their errors. In other words, poor performers lack the very expertise needed to recognize how badly they're doing.

For example, when the researchers studied participants in a college debate tournament, the bottom 25% of teams in preliminary rounds lost nearly four out of every five matches but they thought they were winning almost 60%. Without a strong grasp of the rules of debate, the students simply couldn't recognize when or how often their arguments broke down.

The Dunning-Kruger effect isn't a question of ego blinding us to our weaknesses. People usually do admit their deficits once they can spot them. In one study, students who had initially done badly on a logic quiz and then took a mini-course on logic were quite willing to label their original performances as awful. That may be why people with a moderate amount of experience or expertise often have less confidence in their abilities. They know enough to know that there's a lot they don't know.

Meanwhile experts tend to be aware of just how knowledgeable they are but they often make a different mistake. They assume that everyone else is knowledgeable too. The result is that people, whether they're inept or highly skilled are often caught in a bubble of inaccurate self-perception. When they're unskilled they can't see their own faults. When they're exceptionally competent they don't perceive how unusual their abilities are.

So if the Dunning-Kruger effect is invisible to those experiencing it, what can you do to find out how good you actually are at various things. First, ask for feedback from other people and consider it even if it's hard to hear. Second and more important, keep learning. The more knowledgeable we become the less likely we are to have invisible holes in our competence. Perhaps it all boils down to that old proverb: when arguing with a fool, first make sure the other person isn't doing the same thing.

Jonathan: The part that gets me about that is that everybody displays it at some point or another so I start thinking about when have I displayed it.

Doug: Yeah.

Jonathan: I've got to be honest, I like to think - this is going to sound bad - but that I have enough humility to admit when I don't know something, but I'm sure that that's not the case all the time. Absolutely sure of it. But I hate to think of myself as somebody who's just "Yeah, I get it!" {laughter}

Doug: I can do that!

Gaby: Oh it's so hard to be human beings.

Doug: Well what's interesting is I was reading about a study that I think Dunning and Kruger actually did about talking to people who are actually experts in a field. They would ask them questions that they wouldn't know the answer but I think it was because they perceived of themselves as an expert and probably felt some pressure to be able to answer questions in their field, would ramble on about something even when they didn't know it. So I think that that comes into it a lot although they say that it's not necessarily an ego thing. I do think that there probably is something to that because it seems that when you're supposed to know something and you don't, there's some pressure to act like you do.

Gaby: Oh yeah, it's called over-claiming.

Doug: At least it's got a name.

Jonathan: It's kind of different than faking it until you make it, right because they don't know that they're faking it.

Tiffany: That's my question. Do they know that they're just spouting a bunch of nonsense?

Doug: Well they must at some level know that they're doing it!

Tiffany: I don't know though. Do they really? That's the question for me. I don't think a lot of people know that they're just making up stuff.

Jonathan: Sure, yeah.

Doug: That could be the case. There was one clip we were looking at from the Jimmy Kimmel Show and they went to the South-By-Southwest Music Festival that happens in Texas, I believe, Austin if I'm not mistaken. They were going up to people in the street who were there for the festival. It's apparently a bunch of hipsters so everybody thinks that they are fully informed about the hottest new bands and all this kind of stuff. So they were just making up band names and asking people about them. "Oh what do you think of..." Some of the band names they were using were hilarious too, like Neil Patrick Harassment. They're going on about all these different bands and stuff and the people who they're interviewing are like "Oh yeah, they're really good! I checked them out a couple of days ago on YouTube and yeah, their stuff is really good"; just going on about how great these bands are and that they think that they're the next big thing.

This was five minutes of clips of talking to all these people rambling on as if they knew something when it was completely fictional. So I think at some level they must have known that they didn't know what they were talking about.

Jonathan: Sure.

Tiffany: But what is that thing that makes people put the brakes on when they know they're just making stuff up. Do some people not have that brake and they're just totally okay with just saying whatever? That is the dilemma that I am currently...

Gaby: Or says, "I'm an expert. I should know this. I'm just going to make it all up".

Jonathan: I think that part is ego-based in the sense that you don't want to look foolish. But obviously you're going to look foolish later when you didn't know what you were talking about but I think it overrides it in the moment. I totally do this a lot, where you take on more responsibilities than you're able to handle because you want to say yes and be nice to people. That happens to me a lot; less now than it used to but it's a thing for sure. And it's totally not altruistic. I think it's more of a flaw than anything because you're just trying to look good.

Tiffany: Impression management.

Doug: That's what I think too. It totally is.

Tiffany: Well there's this one study that hit really close to home for me because I consider myself to be a most excellent driver. {laughter} And I guess we can get into what that really means, but a group of researchers were studying people who just so happen to have just been in accidents, really bad ones that they were actually in the hospital at the time as a result of, at the time the study was going on and they still rated themselves as really good drivers even though they totalled their cars or they totalled the car they ran into. They were in hospital with all these injuries and they still said that they were a good driver.

Doug: Above average, even.

Erica: It didn't even dawn on them.

Tiffany: Yeah! Above average!

Gaby: Everybody's above average.

Doug: Yeah. It's like in the video, as they were saying. How many people actually rate themselves as above average when so many people are saying that, that it couldn't possibly be mathematically possible. Ninety percent of the people out there can't be above average. That's by definition not possible.

Tiffany: Students say they're above average in grammar and they were talking about the debate club people who said they are above average in debate when it was obvious that they weren't because they kept losing all their debates. So if everybody does it, is there some kind of evolutionary reason why? I know in some of the articles we read that if you come face to face with your own limitations that it shatters everything that you think about yourself because people have narratives that they make up about themselves as a way to maintain your psychic integrity, to believe bull crap about yourself? And is that some kind of evolutionary advantage?

Doug: I don't know. Maybe just to remain functional.

Tiffany: Yeah.

Doug: If everybody was constantly questioning everything that they did and nobody really excelled to the level of expert because they were always in this position where "I don't really know if I'm good at this", maybe that would be such a disadvantage that the brain has evolved to "Let's just ignore all that evidence that I don't know what I'm doing". {laughter}

Tiffany: We'll just keep plodding on and then maybe we'll realize the truth.

Gaby: You need some confidence to take a car. It's damn dangerous out there. You've got to feel like "Yeah, I can do this. I'm good at it".

Erica: Yeah, you have to psych yourself up to get into a moving vehicle.

Tiffany: Maybe on some deep level human beings need to have some belief that they can latch onto, whether it's temporary or permanent or not. They need to latch onto something or else they'll be adrift in this sea of not knowing anything and that's kind of frustrating and scary for people.

Gaby: Which is the case.

Tiffany: Yeah.

Jonathan: I've had that same thing Doug that you were talking about, to be actually beneficial in a roundabout way to where I took a risk professionally and said that I could do something when I knew full well that I couldn't but that I could probably learn it. And then "Oh shit! Let's do this now and make it work and learn it" and I learned that and now I have a new skill. Granted it probably wasn't the right way to go about that, but it has worked out that way a couple of times.

Erica: It's like that idea of being thrown into the deep end and learning how to swim.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Doug: I think Kruger is different.

Elliot: It's different because Dunning-Kruger is something which would actually prevent someone from taking that step to learning because to be able to see what you just described sounds like you have the self-awareness to be able to acknowledge that you are not competent at something and therefore your aim is to become competent in that by learning it whereas I think the Dunning-Kruger effect is that there is the illusion of competence already and there's not the acknowledgement of having to learn something. So it can be really detrimental because it can prevent someone from thinking that they need to learn anymore and that's what keeps them in that stasis almost.

Doug: Yeah, I think that's true. It's a different thing to recognize that you're not competent but have a goal to become competent versus somebody who is completely blind to their incompetence.

Elliot: I thought it was really interesting in that clip actually, when he said that as someone starts to learn more about a particular subject they start to realize how little they actually know. It's almost like it brings some humility to it. But I found that in my own experience with many things, but I guess the example that I would use is nutrition. When I started studying nutrition I thought I had all the answers and there was some major Dunning-Kruger going on probably. {laughter} But I went into it thinking, "I've read a couple of books, I'm an expert" or whatever. And then as I gradually started to learn more and more and more, it's like the more that I learn the less that you actually know.

Tiffany: Right.

Elliot: Actually, everything that I learned could be completely false because...

Tiffany: It's very depressing. I can see why people don't want to deal with it.

Elliot: It's painful because it almost triggers an existential kind of dread almost.

Tiffany: Crisis.

Elliot: Yeah, crisis, because you think what is the point? I think that is painful but I think that that's a natural process. But I think the problem is that when people don't experience that - and that seems to be one of the issues with the people that they're talking about - where the Dunning Kruger effect is really prominent is the people whose way of seeing things is characterized by a complete deficiency of this ability to acknowledge that they are incompetent or something.

Gaby: Another example from the nutrition field, you guys have heard of Robb Wolf?

Tiffany: Yeah.

Gaby: He's on the paleo diet. I think he admitted in a recent podcast last year or so that when he was younger he was so sure about himself and writing all these things, writing a book and now he doesn't quite know anymore so he's more quiet that he used to be. But that's a good example of somebody who can realize and learn from his mistakes whereas other people don't have that insight.

Tiffany: I used to listen to his podcasts and I thought he always came across as a little bit of an overconfident blowhard so it's good to hear that he said that. Not that he didn't give out good information.

Jonathan: Isn't it funny how you can feel that sometimes, you can sense when somebody's putting on airs or that there's a connection missing, that they're not connected to what they're talking about. It's a weird moment. It's inauthenticity that you can feel.

Tiffany: Yeah, that inauthenticity.

Doug: Somebody mentions in the chat that it seems to be that the people who actually put forth the most confidence tend to attract followers. Although some people were like "This guy sounds like a bit of a blowhard" obviously it was resonating with people because he got very popular after writing that book. So maybe by somebody coming across with such confidence - and maybe this is a hint as to why this Dunning-Kruger actually exists - that when you come forward with so much confidence you do attract people who are interested and hungry, "This guy knows what he's talking about. Maybe I should start listening to his podcasts."

Jonathan: Do you think this is tied to narcissism at all, in the sense that we're all a little narcissistic?

Erica: Or psychopathy.

Jonathan: Or psychopathy. I'm thinking there's lower ends, less extreme examples where somebody might think that they're good at something, like Tiff, you were talking about driving. Of course an accident is not unextreme but in the other sense of somebody who is fully convinced that they're an expert in nuclear physics or something like that; experiments in their basement with cadmium and stuff. I don't know. {laughter} So there are extremes. But I'm thinking there's a harmless side and a detrimental side and there's a grey area in between.

But I can certainly see psychopaths exhibiting Dunning-Kruger but I don't know if it's necessarily attached to that phenomenon.

Elliot: And is that outward manifestation of the Dunning-Kruger something that is attractive for people. When someone speaks of confidence and displays certain traits and characteristics, there are certain things that attract people and I guess if you just look at it from a purely biological perspective, like the selfish gene idea of how your genes just want to reproduce or whatever, could that be a way to attract the opposite sex? Could it be a way to potentiate the transfer of your genetic material to as many offspring as possible? Does that play a role?

Tiffany: Yeah, I think it's certainly been used that way, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Jonathan: Part of being the biggest monkey is prowess and skill and self-sufficiency and all those kind of things.

Tiffany: And sometimes a lot of that is just bluster and showboating too.

Gaby: Impression management.

Tiffany: Yeah.

Doug: So I wonder if it comes back to the whole peacock thing. Who's got the best feathers and can shake their butt in the most appealing way to attract mates? The human equivalent of that is the guy who can just talk shit the best.

Elliot: Yeah, it's similar to puffing up the chest to appear as if you're bigger and stronger whereas when you bring down the chest and you let the breath out and you realize you're just a scrawny chicken. {laughter}

Gaby: Still, I think there is more to it than this because most incompetent people lack the skill also of self-insight, to learn that they're actually incompetent. It's like stupid people. Are stupid people dangerous or not?

Tiffany: Sometimes.

Doug: I don't know if it's even just stupid people because it sounds like, from when it's described by people who have actually done studies on this, that everybody suffers from this to a certain extent, that there is something in everybody. And that comes back to the whole issue of self-awareness. When you're just nattering on about something and you don't actually know, what is it that makes you do that? Why don't you actually just say "You know what? I don't know!" {laughter}

Gaby: I don't know anything

Jonathan: That brings up a good point. Elliot you were talking about it being attractive. I wonder if we tease that out of people too because you'll notice a lot of times if you say that, somebody asks you a question and you say "I don't know", then there's this awkward silence.

Tiffany: And the conversation just stops.

Jonathan: Do you really not know? And then they'll add "Yeah, but what about..." No, I don't know. Full stop. I don't know where to go from here. They want you to know. {laugher}

Tiffany: They're begging for it.

Jonathan: I think that might be part of what compels people to go ahead and just answer the question.

Tiffany: I think it has a spectrum of being pathological or just being something that people make fun of you for. For instance you say "Oh, I am really a great singer" and then you do Karaoke one day and everybody's just like oh my god, versus someone who has a position of power or influence like these - I almost cursed - damned gender theorists, the malarky - well I almost said goddamn gender theorists {laughter} and the malarky that they push, just how dangerous that stuff is on a societal level versus somebody who's just goofing off in their parents' basement.

Jonathan: A lot of that comes down from leadership too. Look at Jeff Sessions. He says cannabis is as bad as heroin and everybody went "What?!!" But just looking at other cases too like Bush. Remember back in the day when there was a town hall kind of thing and this woman got up and was asking questions and she said she worked three jobs and George W. said "Wow, three jobs. How uniquely American" and again everybody went "What?!?!" {laughter} Do you really think that? But I think when leaders display that kind of thing a lot of people who are authoritarian followers absorb that and they start to think those things and think along those lines. It's like ponerology, ponerogenesis, but maybe in a slightly different way.

Erica: It can also be confusing in a work place where you have a hierarchy of managers and supervisors and there's a certain way for things to be done and then you notice that it's not working the way it should be and you're asking "Is it me? Am I confused?" It causes you to question yourself and your perception about what's going on but nobody wants to deal with it.

Tiffany: In a couple of articles that we read it said that people who are least susceptible to the Dunning-Kruger thing - not that maybe they don't do it too - but people who are depressed or very anxious tend to have a pathological amount of negativism or realism. I forget what they called it. They might have called it pathological realism. But those people seem to be less inclined to fall into this cognitive bias.

Doug: Which makes sense.

Gaby: More realistic.

Tiffany: Yes.

Doug: Maybe but I think they might go to the opposite extreme where they just get so down on themselves and negative all the time that they just assume that they can't do something when that might not actually be the case or assume that they're worse at it than everybody else.

Erica: And what was the name of that? Didn't you say Tiffany there was a name to that?

Tiffany: The imposter syndrome.

Jonathan: Yeah. That's a real thing and I think it can happen too in the sense that it becomes a source of anxiety. I feel that. I'm not claiming I'm a genius. What I'm saying is in my work I feel that a lot. I work with very, very talented people and I'm like "I don't deserve to be here. What's happening right now?" {laughter}

Doug: Exactly. It's called the imposter syndrome because it feels like you're in a situation and you are supposed to be an expert or something and you feel like you don't belong there, like you're an imposter.

Jonathan: And it can lock you down if you don't get past it. So there needs to be some sort of a balance there, but I think it's hard to achieve. I think it can go the opposite way. I've met people who are really talented but also very down on themselves. A good friend of mine is this way but will still get the work done. He's like "No, I'm good at what I do, I just think I'm a piece of crap". It's a weird balance of personal anxiety and all this kind of stuff. But then other people who are really talented and just don't think so and just won't pursue it.

Tiffany: Those people you kind of want to slap them too.

Jonathan: Yeah, because you have this well of skill to produce and satisfy your life and they're just kind of sitting there.

Tiffany: So as with everything there has to be a happy medium between realistic self-doubt but still the urge to get out there and do something even though...

Erica: You don't know how to do it.

Tiffany: Yeah.

Doug: It's not just self-confidence but self-awareness to a certain level too. Be aware of what you know and what you don't know and also be aware of the fact that this Dunning-Kruger thing actually exists and that when you're sitting there going "Oh yeah, I'm an awesome driver" then you ask "Wait a minute. Am I actually an awesome driver?"

Gaby: Ask my friends.

Doug: "I don't actually know if I'm an awesome driver." Yeah, ask my friends, maybe humility is necessary in that respect. I think self-awareness comes into it in a lot of senses just because you have to realize that there is this tendency to go off as if you're an expert when you're really not.

Tiffany: Yeah, and that will help you from being so gullible when other people are doing it too. So you need to spot it not just in yourself but in other people too so they don't lead you down some road that you don't want to go on.

Jonathan: And it can come into play in critical situations too. Give an example, you're on a boat and somebody's tying something wrong and you think "I think that that's wrong" but they really seem like they know what they're doing. {laughter} There are these moments where you need to step in and say "Hey, I think that's wrong". But then if you're anti-confrontational it's hard to do.

Elliot: It's interesting when you know a little bit about something and then you witness someone else talking as if they know a little bit about the same thing and you just know that that is not the case. We're talking about this Dunning-Kruger effect and sometimes it may be hard to pick up on if you're not particularly well versed in a subject. If someone speaks about it as if they are confident then you might just assume that they know what they're talking about. I know a particular guy and it's very fascinating to see this happen in real time. As I've said, I have an example of this. I know a guy who I spend some time with every now and again and he is the perfect example of everything that we're talking about right now; complete lack of any self-awareness of his own incompetencies.

It's interesting because we'll be having a conversation say about something mundane, like talking about how blood flows in the arm, for instance, something random like that, and he will butt into the conversation and explain to everyone who is present exactly how the blood flows or exactly how he thinks it flows. And it is just completely nonsensical. There is zero factual evidence. There is nothing behind it. He has zero qualifications in biology. He knows nothing about physiology. He knows nothing about it but he will talk about it as if he is a Ph.D. doctor!! {laughter}

And it's amazing because when you observe other people, they really are attracted by it! They actually believe it!! And I have to step in and say "Hey, actually no, that's not vitamin A". He talks to me about nutrition and I'm no expert but I've been studying it for four years. And he has absolutely zero knowledge in that area and he'll talk to me and he'll try to educate me on it and I'll have to step in and I'll say "I'm sorry but that's just completely incorrect. I have no idea where you've got that from".

Gaby: And studied it for four minutes.

Elliot: Yeah, but it's almost like there is no objective truth to this individual. There was this one time we were talking about theories. I think actually we were talking about flat earth. This guy subscribes to the flat earth theory. It's appealing to him and so we were talking about I think the concept of a scientific hypothesis, how a scientist would gather evidence and form a theory based on the evidence and then devise an experiment to be able to test the validity of that theory.

We were talking about scientific evidence for the flat earth and he came out and said something like "Oh, that's just a theory". I can make my theory. These scientists have just come up with that so I can come up with mine and my theory is just as valid as their theory." It was a really strange dynamic and it's like he completely has zero awareness of his incompetence and his lack of knowledge and that doesn't in any way disturb him. {laughter} To witness that is quite scary, that there are people like this who are not disturbed by the fact that they have zero awareness or understanding or knowledge on a topic but can freely speak about it as if they do. It's almost like they actually believe what they're saying.

So just reading about this in articles is all very theoretical for me but I found that actually witnessing this in real life really brought it down to earth.

Gaby: I think that's the gist of it. You're just baffled as other people go on and on and make a fool of themselves and they still believe they're professionals.

Tiffany: What does he say when you challenge him? Does he react with rage or what's his reaction?

Elliot: He reacts with almost an air of superiority. It's not so much rage but more - what's the word for it?

Erica: Passive/aggressive?

Elliot: Passive/aggressive certainly and dismissive.

Erica: Disbelief?

Elliot: And really it's almost like if you were to present this person any evidence to the contrary, it still wouldn't necessarily have any effect. It wouldn't penetrate the barrier. You can explain how something works and they will still go along with how they think it works.

Gaby: The flat earthers.

Elliot: Yeah, it's strange. But with this particular individual anyway, it's not just to do with flat earth. I think that with the way that he thinks, flat earth appeals to that kind of way of thinking. But it applies to lots of other things as well, not just flat earth but really everything he talks about. And it's really amazing to see that the people around him actually believe what he has to say because he says it so confidently. And it's only when you actually step in or you take the person to the side and you say "You do understand that that was basically a load of BS and that nothing..." and they'll be like "What?! How do you know that?" So it's very strange.

Doug: It actually reminds me of a video that was going around for a while that was this guy Dr. Milton Mills who was talking about veganism and he was talking about how all protein comes plants and blah, blah, blah. He was going on with all this completely pseudo-scientific nonsense about veganism and why veganism is the best and how everybody should just eat plants and no animals. It was the same kind of thing. He sounded like an expert going on about this kind of stuff, but the fact of the matter is if you really slow down and take his arguments one by one, it was complete nonsense, absolute, complete nonsense. And this guy is a doctor, so that's even more disturbing.

Tiffany: Speaking of doctors - no offense Gaby - I think a lot of them will use their education or at least their certificate of their education against other people to stop them from inquiring. Like if you have a boss who just bullies, bullies, bullies, bullies and you can't really approach them with any questions or get any kind of information at all, even if it's just questions on how to do your job better, you can't approach them with anything. I wonder if those people really know the lack of knowledge that they have and they use this meanness to dissuade people from getting too close or from discovering that they're really idiots.

Doug: I think it's not conscious.

Tiffany: I think that maybe in some cases it could be though.

Doug: Well maybe but I don't know. I'm willing to bet that it's some kind of automatic cognitive dissonance. Their brain just perceives that they're being challenged in some way, even if they're not in a lot of cases. They perceive that they're being challenged and they need to defend themselves. So it's not like they're even thinking "Oh, I need to shut this guy down". They just automatically do shut that person down.

Gaby: It's like they're running a program and if you confront them, that's not going with the program so they have no response for that. It's completely automated. I don't know if it's conscious or unconscious. It's probably mechanical. It's robotic, automatic.

Elliot: There's one particular case I'm thinking about where I would agree that perhaps the mechanism in a lot of the cases is unconscious but I would say that in some cases there is some conscious awareness behind it. In the case I'm thinking about I'm not going to name the particular individual, but it's a fairly well known doctor in the bio-hacker community. Everyone would know his name if they're familiar with what we talk about and this particular individual speaks as though they have the answers to the meanings of life. They know everything and it turns out that there's been several people who have followed said protocols which have been recommended by this person who were part of an online community, like a forum, which was made by this doctor, and so they tried out the protocols and they actually got a lot worse after doing it for a significant period of time and their accounts were deleted and their comments were deleted. Yeah, so in that scenario sometimes I think it can be conscious.

Tiffany: Yes and that's particularly evil.

Doug: Yeah. I wonder if there's some Dunning-Kruger effect going on there.

Tiffany: But in that case is it Dunning-Kruger? Can some people be evil and know that they're evil and use it to their advantage?

Doug: Yeah, I think so. I'm just wondering if what this doctor is saying and when he's recommending all these protocols and everything like that, if that's the Dunning-Kruger effect. He just thinks that he's such an expert and rattles on with great confidence despite the fact that he isn't and he doesn't really know what he's talking about. Leaving aside the fact that he's deleting people's accounts and doing some evil stuff on the side.

Tiffany: I think one way to get a clue about some of these people sometimes - because there are some subjects that are complex and then you have to really know a lot about it in order to understand it - but some people purposely obfuscate what they're saying and make it unnecessarily complicated.

Doug: Yes. That's true.

Tiffany: And use all these big words and word salad and run-on sentences. It's like they're doing it on purpose so no one can penetrate what exactly it is that they're saying and thereby they just fill in the blanks as to what they think that they're saying.

Erica: Or you ask a direct question and they don't answer it and they go off on some word salad tangent.

Tiffany: Yeah.

Doug: There was that debate recently, the Munk debate with Jordan Peterson and Stephen Fry against these two libtard people and one of the libtards was a preacher and he was the perfect example of that. He would just natter on and it was total word salad, throwing in all these buzz words and things like that. He was very eloquent and used a lot of big words and he would finish saying something that made absolutely no sense whatsoever and then it was just applause. Yes, wonderful! "That guy didn't say anything."

There's an interesting graphic we've got on the graphic thing for the show {laughter}

Erica: What's it called Doug?

Doug: It's the graphic thingy picture, sliding show.

Erica: Slide show thingy?

Doug: Yeah. A slide show, that's it. It's a graph and it plots the confidence on the Y axis and wisdom on the X axis and it just plots the line of how the Dunning-Kruger effect actually works. It's really interesting because in the know nothing area of the X axis the confidence is super high and then all of a sudden as you start to learn a little bit more it suddenly crashes. And it's funny because they've labeled the peak here the Peak of Mount Stupid. {laughter} So where your confidence is super high and your knowledge is super low and then as you learn a little bit more suddenly the confidence goes way down and they say program termination zone there and I think that's where maybe they're talking about people dropping out of a program or something like that. It's like "Oh wait a second. I don't know anything. I'm going to quit." And they call the little trough there the Valley of Despair and then slowly the confidence starts to go back up as knowledge keeps going until it plateaus. And they call that the Slope Of Enlightenment until the plateau of sustainability. So I thought that was interesting.

Jonathan: It is cool.

Gaby: It's like it begins with beginner's luck. It's not really beginner's luck. It's when you start learning something and you think that you know it all, that's the Peak of Mount Stupid. I can see. As you were describing this I was thinking about my martial arts learning curve. At the beginning I thought "Oh yeah! I know how to do it now." Peak of Mount Stupid, yeah? And then I fell into the Valley of Despair. "I think I'm going to quit this. It's too much time. It's not worth it. It's so difficult. You'll never do it right." Yeah.

Doug: I think that's pretty typical and martial arts is actually a good example of that. I know they say that when you're taking martial arts, once you get your black belt people consider that the pinnacle but really that's when you can start learning.

Gaby: The beginning, yeah. I got that.

Doug: It's like the black belt is the Peak of Mount Stupid. So you've got all these guys that have gotten their black belt and then they go out there and start trying to get into bar fights and stuff. No, that's the Peak of Mount Stupid right there.

Jonathan: Yeah. Elliot, what you were talking about earlier with the intent behind this kind of thing, it reminded me of the story of John McAfee, he's the McAfee anti-virus guy. Have you guys heard that story?

Gaby: Yes.

Jonathan: He made a ton of money. I'm sure I'm going to butcher this, but long story short, he took off to South America, it was Belize or somewhere else and set up this weird little commune and he had a bunch of hookers with him and he was doing all sorts of weird stuff. He was threatening people and hiring gangsters to protect himself. And during this period he had gotten this weird delusion that he was going to make jungle-sourced supplements or some sort of magic elixir from the jungle. He had actually hired a biologist to come down to this place and do research and in this interview she was like "I don't even know what he wants me to do or what we're going for" and then eventually he came back in and was like "Just put some coloured water in the beaker. The press is coming."

So they had people coming in and interviewing him about this giant breakthrough and McAfee the virus guy is making medicine now and the woman who was there knows that it's just coloured water and they never actually ended up making anything. But it seemed like he thought it would work but there was no goal. He didn't even know what he wanted. He just wanted something magical to come out of this. It was really bizarre.

Erica: It's interesting you mention him. I thought his name was McAfee (different pronunciation).

Jonathan: Yeah. No, you're right.

Erica: Before he went to South America he actually was on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. It's a very small island and he bought all this land and it's a very small community. They're very tight-knit and he moved in there and was convinced he was going to change everything. He had a town hall meeting and the whole island showed up. He sat on top of a desk in a lotus position so he was above everyone and he was like "This is my plan for the community." Within two days they ran him off the island. {laughter}

Doug: Really?

Erica: They were like "This guy is full of bullshit. He's not allowed to come back." It was kind of ironic and then he went to South America and tried to do the same thing.

Doug: It reminds me of a book by Samenow who wrote Inside the Criminal Mind and he was talking about the criminal mind. He's done a lot of work where he's interviewing criminals. He said that one thing that's common among many, if not all, is that a lot of time they have these grand, elaborate plans and they're going to start their own business. They've got this idea that they're going to start their own business and the more he probes them about it, the more it's revealed that there is absolutely nothing behind this plan. This person knows nothing about business. They know nothing about how these things work. They've just got this image of themselves as a boss ordering people around and making tons and tons of cash. There's no connection to reality there. It's just this fantasy about 'this is what I'm going to do' when really there's absolutely nothing behind it.

So it sounds like this McAfee guy is maybe the same thing. "Yeah, I'm going to make jungle supplements" {laughter} but meanwhile he knows absolutely nothing about it. Nothing whatsoever. You haven't discovered anything in the jungle that could be used as a supplement, but reality doesn't even penetrate.

Jonathan: Right.

Erica: It's like too much money and not enough sense. "I figure if I have all this money I can just change all these things that I know nothing about."

Jonathan: But there are people who are stupendously wealthy who seem to have some common sense around them. I'm sure it's a contributing factor when it's matched with the right personality. McAfee seems mentally ill to me, just straight up. I'm serious.

Doug: How did he create an antivirus.

Jonathan: I don't know. Maybe just...

Tiffany: Maybe he didn't really do it.

Jonathan: I think he just struck the...

Doug: Maybe.

Jonathan: No, I think he struck the right time and he hired the right people to do it and he happened to have the money or whatever. He's not the expert that he claims to be. But I think it's a form of mania. I don't know if anybody noticed - and apologies to people who suffer from this because it's a real thing, actual bipolar whatever that is when it manifests and you have people who go from extreme depressive periods to extreme mania. That mania is totally like what McAfee's vibe was; wide-eyed spit flying, just "I'm going to do whatever!" {laughter}

And yet there's no awareness, no plan or anything like that. It would almost manifest as sociopathy or psychopathy. There is a lack of compassion there but it's just weird. It's not so much evil as it is just bizarre. He did evil things. I believe he was alleged to have raped someone and there was a lot of stuff that went on and it was pretty dark and nobody really knows if he killed anybody.

Doug: Jeez!

Jonathan: Honestly, if you watch this documentary it kind of leans towards him being a sociopath or a psychopath. You do see people like that. Trump to me is an example. How in the hell did he get so much money because he seems really dumb to me. {laughter} I'm not bagging on him like I think he's the devil or the new Hitler or anything. I'm just saying as a man, as a person, he seems pretty slow. That's just what I think. And I think he exhibits Dunning-Kruger quite a bit, but I don't know. I don't know the man.

Doug: Yeah.

Jonathan: So I'm making judgments through the media. But I do know people like that though. If you sat down and talked to them they're kind of there and reasonably intelligent and stuff, but all of a sudden when certain things come up, they've just got to look good.

Doug: Yeah, there's no question that he's a blowhard.

Jonathan: That's what I mean.

Doug: Sometimes he's just going on about stuff and you think "I don't think he really knows what he's talking about." I don't know and maybe it's just a lack of self-awareness there or maybe because he's the President he thinks that he should know these things so he just goes on about stuff.

Jonathan: To me he's the New York version of George W to me. But personally that's just what I see.

Doug: I think there's more going on there but I don't really know. He's a puzzle.

Tiffany: Didn't he make his money in real estate?

Doug: Yeah.

Tiffany: I have no idea about the inner workings of real estate and what it takes to make money in that game, so I can't really say.

Doug: Awe, it's easy. {laughter}

Tiffany: You can't really say that he doesn't know what he's talking about. Maybe he's dumb...

Doug: Buy low, sell high. {laughter}

Elliot: I can teach you about that. {laughter}

Erica: I'll take me a pencil and my notebook. Buy low, sell high, okay. {laughter}

Tiffany: So for the average person who has a little teensy-weensy, not so harmful - at least to society and all the people around them - aspect of the Dunning Kruger effect, there is some hope but for some people there isn't any hope. So should we address what we can do in order to make this bias a little less for ourselves as individuals?

Gaby: How to protect ourselves from those people?

Doug: Yeah.

Jonathan: A healthy dose of self-doubt.

Doug: Yeah!

Jonathan: I think coming from a Christian background helps. You have a little red flag every time you think of something good about yourself. {laughter}

Doug: I don't think that's unique to Christianity.

Tiffany: Some entity on your shoulder telling you that you're a piece of crap. {laughter}

Jonathan: In practical terms I do mean that whenever you think of something like "Oh, I'm really good!" or "Oh, that was really great!" just take a step back. Was it? Okay, sure it was or no it wasn't.

Tiffany: Or what if it wasn't? You should ask yourself that question.

Jonathan: Yeah, if it wasn't then correct the error. Learn what you need to learn or don't do that anymore I guess.

Gaby: Ask for feedback.

Jonathan: Right.

Doug: Yeah, I think that's important for sure. The whole good driver thing is really illustrative of this point because if most of us are thinking that we're good drivers, above average, obviously that isn't the case. For some reason I find that that's something that a lot of people tend to think about themselves, that they are a good driver and I think it's like 'well if I get from A to B and nothing bad happens then obviously I'm a good driver'. You can ask a passenger in your car "Am I a good driver?" and they'll probably be like "Well..."

Erica: "Not really."

Doug: "You ignore signs. You cut people off."

Tiffany: "But you only say that because you're a scaredy cat. You can't drive." I think another way is to continuously try to expand your knowledge and that way you can keep yourself humble by knowing that there's a lot you don't know.

Doug: Yeah, I think that's true.

Jonathan: Or explore aspects. I like to think I'm really good at cooking but I'll try a recipe and just completely ruin it. So to try things that are challenging and like Tiff said, expand your horizons, do research and gain new knowledge. But you've got to take a risk to do it. The cliché about 'you're going to crack some eggs'.

Doug: To make an omelette.

Jonathan: Yup.

Doug: I think that's a relatively harmless area for someone to think 'oh yeah, I'm a good cook' and anybody who's eating their cooking is like "Umm, no!"

Gaby: Maybe it needs more salt! {laughter}

Doug: I think the tricky thing about that too is that it depends on the individual's tastes as well. Somebody might tell you "Yeah, this is crap but if you've got other people telling you it's good then...

Tiffany: It's important to recognize that everybody suffers from Dunning-Kruger, not just you. Other people do too and keeping that in mind makes it easier for you to not look down at other people and not think that you're superior because if you know that everybody can be full of crap at times then it makes you value your own opinion a lot less.

Erica: And don't be afraid to ask questions. If you don't know...

Tiffany: You'll look stupid.

Erica: Yeah. "I don't know how to do this. How do I do this?"

Doug: I think there's a certain barrier to get past to be able to say "I don't know", to actually not have to be an expert on things. When somebody asks you a question, actually look into your brain and ask "Do I have the answer to that?" No. I don't have the answer to that. Then I should just say that I don't know rather than natter on about things that might be true but probably aren't.

Jonathan: Realize that false information is more damaging than no information so even though it's embarrassing in some cases to say that you don't know, or even to catch yourself and think "Whoa! I've got to back up a second. I totally lied there. I didn't mean to. I don't know what I'm talking about" and just admit it because allowing that continue on often becomes much more damaging because you have then people, depending on what situation you're in, relying on your supposed knowledge.

Doug: Yeah.

Jonathan: So let's go to the pet health segment for today and then we will wrap it up when we come back.

Zoya: Hello and welcome to the pet health segment of the Health and Wellness Show. This week's topic is "Do animals think?" It's a question that has intrigued scientists for thousands of years, inspiring them to come up with different methods and criteria to measure the intelligence of animals. Listen to the following recording to learn more about this controversial question and how determining intelligence often says more about how humans think than about anything else. Have a great weekend and good-bye.

Your dog loves to curl up on the couch but so do you so you shoo him off and settle in for a cozy evening. After all, you're the human around here. You're an intelligent being not a simple creature of instinct. You can plan and dream and...oh, did your dog just outsmart you and feel happy about it or was he just following his instincts? Is there even a difference? What is he thinking?

Well it depends on what we mean by thinking and the criteria we use to evaluate it. Aristotle and Descartes both used the criteria of instinct and intelligence to divide animals from humans. Aristotle believed that humans possess reason while animals could only follow brute instincts for survival and reproduction. Almost 2,000 years later Descartes suggested a more extreme version of that idea arguing that animals following instincts were indistinguishable from robots responding mechanically to stimuli in their environments.

But the consensus against animal intelligence began to unravel with Darwin's theory of evolution. Darwin hypothesized that intelligence could evolve from simpler instincts. He had observed earthworms making choices about how to drag oddly shaped leaves into their burrows and was struck that a human might employ similar means to solve a similar problem and if, as he thought, humans are descended from simpler creatures then perhaps our minds lie at the far end of the continuum, differing from them in degree but not in kind.

Recent experiments showing that many species can solve complex problems confirmed Darwin's initial hypothesis. Elephants use objects to reach inaccessible places. Crows make their own tools and can use water displacement to get a reward. Octopuses can open jars after watching others do so and can even remember the process months later.

Such tasks involve considering aspects of a problem separately from the immediate situation and retaining the strategy for later use. Still, while animals can solve complex problems, how do we know what or even that they are thinking? Behaviourists such as Pavlov and Thorndike argued that animals that appear to think are usually only responding to reward or punishment.

This was the case with Clever Hans, a horse with the amazing ability to tap out answers to math problems. But it turns out Hans wasn't especially good at math but at reading his unwitting trainer's subtle, non-verbal cues for when to stop tapping. So Hans couldn't count but does that mean he wasn't thinking? After all, he could interpret nuanced social messages, a quality he shared with many other non-human animals.

Elephants recognize each other after years apart and even seem to mourn their dead. Bees communicate using a special waggle dance to indicate the location and quality of a food source to other bees. Chimpanzees engage in complex deception schemes, suggesting not only do they think but they understand that others do too. And then there is Alex the grey parrot who could use human language to distinguish the colours and shapes of absent objects and even understand abstract concepts like bigger and smaller. That sounds a lot like intelligence and not just the work of mindless machines.

But while a non-human animal can solve problems and even communicate, for humans thinking also involves consciousness, the ability to reflect on our actions, not simply to perform them. So far none of our studies tell us if having the intelligence to outsmart us means that our dog can also feel good about doing so. What we really want to know is, what is it like to be a dog or an octopus or a crow.

Philosophers of mind call this the hard problem because while you and I can report what it feels like to be a human, nobody speaks horse. Even a talking parrot like Alex couldn't tell us how he feels about the colours he could name. And what if consciousness comes in different forms? Would be even recognize the consciousness of bees? For that matter, how can we know for sure that other people have consciousness? Perhaps they're just well-functioning zombies.

Regardless, animal minds continue to test the limits of our understanding and how we frame them may reveal more about our minds than theirs.

Jonathan: Those goats are thinking about something.

Gaby: That's it, well functioning zombies, Dunning-Kruger effect.

Doug: Yeah exactly.

Jonathan: There you go. That was a good tie-in. Well thank you Zoya. That was really interesting. I think that we will wrap it up for today. We'd like to thank our chat participants for taking part in the chat and everybody for listening in. Be sure to tune in to the SOTT Radio Show on Sunday at noon eastern time. Go to radio.SOTT.net for that. So we will be back next week.

All: Good-byes.