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We Are All Confident Idiots (psmag.com)
285 points by r0h1n on Oct 28, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 158 comments

I think if you're truly (1) confident about your knowledge or mastery of a particular topic and (2) actually are knowledgeable, you don't have trouble admitting things you don't know.

Here's what I really hate though. When you are around multiple people who are the type to claim knowledge about things they truly have no idea about.

For example in social situations or work situations and you have multiple of these types around. When a conversation comes up and the knowledge of the people involved is put to the test. Maybe your boss is asking who knows how to perform a certain task, or who has experience with certain hardware or software, etc. Or maybe a friend is asking what is the best TV they should buy, etc. There's the people who claim to know about topics XYZ when they really don't, and you, naturally, admit that you don't know. But you might still be the most knowledgeable person about the general topic, and best candidate to offer advice or take on said task. Doesn't matter, you get labeled as the uninformed person while the "idiot" who claims to know everything about XYZ appears to be knowledgable expert. And worst case scenario is when your boss, co-workers, friends, etc. are dumb enough not to catch it.

> if you're truly (1) confident about your knowledge or mastery of a particular topic and (2) actually are knowledgeable, you don't have trouble admitting things you don't know.

Absolutely on point. I started my engineering career at 19 years of age because I was so deeply involved with my love for building computers (as in, from raw chips) that I could show the VP of Engineering at this one company that I was good hire. I ended-up working there for ten years. Everyone else in the department was at least ten years older than me. One of the first things that was driven into my head by the "elders" was:

Always admit what you don't know. It's the only way you will learn anything new.

To this day I always appreciate people who are relaxed and clear about what they don't know (or are not sure about). I know I can have conversations with them. These people don't tend to get defensive and are not insecure at all.

The other side of your statement is that, in some circles, if you assert what you do know you are instantly labelled "arrogant". If you categorically know something I have no problem if you make sure I understand that to be the case. That's just the way the cookie crumbles.

> I think if you're truly (1) confident about your knowledge or mastery of a particular topic and (2) actually are knowledgeable, you don't have trouble admitting things you don't know.

I don't think that's true in practice. For proof, just watch any academic debate, ever.

The parent comment is stating a premise as a conclusion. Not having trouble admitting when you don't know something or understand something very well is actually a third attribute (commonly called humility), not the result of the first two. If more people focused on having it as an attribute then the scenario that the parent comment mentioned (and similar scenarios -- such as disappointing YouTube comments?) would be much rarer in occurrence.

In fact, failing to have the third attribute affects the other two. Your confidence will quickly become overconfidence or pure hubris when faced with something you don't know much about. Also, in relationship to the second attribute, it is hard to convince yourself that you are not actually knowledgeable of something if you are not humble enough to consider that possibility.

George Carlin said it best: 'And it doesn't take you very long to spot one of them does it? Take you about eight seconds. You'll be listening to some guy... you say... "this guy is fucking stupid!" Then... then there are some people, they're not stupid... they're full of shit. Huh? That doesn't take very long to spot either, does it? Take you about the same amount of time. You'll be listening to some guy... and saying, "well, he's fairly intelligent... ahh, he's full of shit!"'

It astounds me how many people will just make shit up rather than profess their ignorance. I'm not even sure if they are even aware of their lack of knowledge, it is as if they discovered this lump of meat in their skull that emits random verbiage and they assume this must be truth. Like a little tv in their head, power up and go.

So the next time someone says to you they don't know something, watch out, this person is probably a genius!

Everyone is guilty of this. You, me, and everyone else on earth. Ignorance of your own ignorance is what buoys overconfidence in the first place.

From the article:

"The American author and aphorist William Feather once wrote that being educated means “being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.” As it turns out, this simple ideal is extremely hard to achieve. Although what we know is often perceptible to us, even the broad outlines of what we don’t know are all too often completely invisible. To a great degree, we fail to recognize the frequency and scope of our ignorance."

Not to the same degree. I made a choice nearly 2 decades ago to say 'I don't know' more often - I was doing on-site networking and tech support for a living, and I was tired of trying to produce on-the-spot explanations for why computers were misbehaving in order to soothe clients, so I stopped doing it. This led to some pushback at first - clients would say 'well what I am I paying you for if you don't know?!' and suchlike, but by explaining that I had a diagnostic process and a fallback position if it didn't work (provide a replacement for a piece of hardware or back up and reinstall the OS or whatever), I could usually get people to agree that an ounce of patience was preferable to a pound of bullshit. This turned out to be a good strategy and I adopted it as a habit in other parts of life, makinh conversation much easier and more interesting - eg if I met someone interesting at a party, instead of trying to maintain intellectual parity I'd say 'I'm ignorant of [your field], could you explain [some basic principle]?' and so on. At the same time I developed a habit of trying to fact-check everything before making positive statements, or if I was conversing in person, citing my sources or qualifying my remarks.

This isn't to say I'm immune to ignorance, as I have assumptions and misapprehensions like everyone else, not to mention being forgetful, so I have approximate knowledge of many things.* But assuming it as the default in both personal learning and social contexts I've saved myself an awful lot of grief. Unfortunately this sometimes leads to equally fallacious overestimates of general competence, which is also part of the Dunning-Krueger effect :-/

* with apologies to Pendleton Ward.

There is a world of difference between being ignorant of your own ignorance and just making shit up when confronted with your ignorance.

"It astounds me how many people will just make shit … "

I am not astonished at all. In a professional environment your social status is higher, if you just talk, independent of your status of knowledge. There is always plenty of time later to correct for mistakes. (You know these guys, who magically have a different recollection of what they said yesterday) You certainly remain on top of discussions. Just think about the bad impression it makes in a meeting, if you repeatedly say: I don't know.

Is this even necessarily a bad thing?

Aside from the cover-your-ass aspect of it, I find this tends to spark healthy debate, even if someone's ego gets bruised in the mean time.

The time it's bad is when nobody knows and just goes along with the blowhard.

I've worked really hard in the past few years to say "I don't know" even when I'm supposed to project expertise. I haven't encountered any real resistance to it, though doing the opposite does inspire confidence, particularly when you're trying to sell a product or service.

> The time it's bad is when nobody knows and just goes along with the blowhard.

If I had a penny for every time I've seen that, I'd have a pretty big pile of coins.

I have found that 95% of the people will side with the person who has the most control of a situation. Many times that person is the Blowhard, but too many times that person or entity is the boss,wealthy parent, or teacher. When I was in school, I was surprised how few students would correct the teacher. I understood they were concerned about grades, but there's a point where I literally wanted to strangle a teacher, or boss. I came close, and my grades suffered. As to bosses, I would quit, or hurt them "the old faschioned way". Right now, my biggest gripe with people who "just go along with" is our current treatment of the Homeless. I don't understand how people can debate on what to do, or turn a blind eye when cops try to fix the problem with the "fix the crack in the window" theory.

In most common, trivial real life situations, you have an advantage if you keep spewing forth nonsense and adjust for mistakes as you go along and keep pushing forward semi-blindly - compared to being forever hesitant in search for perfect truth.

The "confident idiot" basically applies a Monte Carlo search over the range of possibilities, and may eventually fall onto a good-enough solution.

I suspect that's the explanation for the D-K effect. If that's the case, then the "idiot" actually uses a pretty sophisticated overall strategy that works well in a fluid world (so not so much an idiot actually).

Eponysterical :-)

I'm very fond of a book called The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind by Julian Jaynes, which proffers a difficult-to-falsify but still compelling conjecture of why this should be. As you'd expect from such an ambitious title it requires an awful lot of handwaving, and accordingly it is viewed as heretodoxy in academic circles.

> It astounds me how many people will just make shit up rather than profess their ignorance.

Evolution almost guarantees this. It's a valid strategy right up until modern times:

1. The world's not sophisticated enough to expose your fucktardedness. 2. You can still milk some status and social credit from it, if used in moderation. 3. Most of the time you being wrong doesn't matter (even today).

It's only in the age of Wikipedia (or large 20th century libraries) that the circumstances have changed.

The lies/bullshit aren't the worst of it though: with the correct mental habits those are exposed and discarded quickly. It's that people like it so much that it seems to be their primary intellectual tool. The people who do this cannot seem to help themselves, and they're so loud and many that even if you're disinclined to be this way they can overwhelm any correction mechanism.

> ike a little tv in their head, power up and go.

This is insightful. There does seem to be such a mental faculty. But whether it's responsible for the bullshit phenomenon isn't very clear to me.

> So the next time someone says to you they don't know something, watch out, this person is probably a genius!

The trouble is being a genius is a valuable status in many societies. So if one of the idiots learns that parroting "I don't know" in any of a few hundred variations, soon many are doing so (when convenient).

One gets the impression that everyone is dumb, and that we're all just bouncing around repeating minimally plausible bullshit.

Yeah it is fascinating how people refuse to acknoweledge ignorance. Personally I view ignorance in a positive connotation because it promotes growth and learning which are vital assets to prevent stagnation and allow innovation to emerge.

"As You Like It" by William Shakespeare

Act 5, Scene 1:

[...]The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool[...]

I try to keep that quote in mind at all times. I believe it holds a great deal of wisdom, especially for me. For I am loud and opinionated. But I still fail when I need it most, at times when I am surrounded by (people who IMHO are extreme) idiots.

That certainly borrows from Socrates: "I know one thing: that I know nothing."

It's an idea that recurs throughout history. We've got Socrates and Shakespeare already mentioned in the thread, to which I'll add:

W B Yeats: "The best lack all conviction, and the worst / Are full of passionate intensity."

Bertrand Russell: "The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt."

Charles Darwin: "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge."

the Tao Te Ching: "To know that you do not know is highest. To not know but think you know is flawed. ... The sages are without fault, because they recognize the fault as a fault".

(Semi-interestingly, I can't find anything very close to this idea in the biblical books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes -- the former sees certainty as something to aspire to, and the latter is just equally down on everyone, wise and foolish alike.)

Try Proverbs 28:26- "Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are safe." In other words, those who walk in wisdom perceive the shadow of God and humble themselves, "for the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God" (1 Cor 3:19)

Or Romans 1:22. "While claiming to be wise, they became fools." Rom 12:16 "Do not be wise in your own estimation"

Is 5:21 "Woe! Those who are wise in their own eyes, prudent in their own view!"

1 Cor 1:21 "For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation [crucifixion] to save those who have faith." Wisdom ain't all it's cracked up to be

All absolutely great quotes -- and I *still couldn't stop thinking about how much this ying/yang reminds me of the hilarious quotes from "The Sphinx" in the movie, "Mystery Men" (1999, IMDB here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0132347/quotes)

For example, "He who questions training... only trains himself at asking questions."

I enjoy Asimov's tongue-in-cheek version:

> Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.

>W B Yeats: "The best lack all conviction, and the worst / Are full of passionate intensity."

I always read this quote by Yeats as a lamentation about the status of the world, similar to your Russel quote that's a bit more explicit. But the Socrates quote is clearly not in this vein...

It never occurred to me before that Yeats might be more in line with Socrates than with Russell. You can read him as praising the best for their lack of conviction and condemning the worst for their passion. I like that reading much better. (Of course, I've never read the source, just heard it quoted.)

Read the source, it's rather famous.

Erich Fried wrote a poem called "Angst und Zweifel", it goes roughly like this:

    do not doubt the one
    who says he is afraid
    but be afraid of the one
    who says he knows no doubt

Is this your own translation?

Yes, I made it for the occasion :) It's a bit awkward though, "the one" would better be translated with "him"; I wanted to make it gender neutral and couldn't think of anything good. Wikiquote translates it as "Do not doubt him who tells you he is afraid, but be afraid of him who tells you he has no doubts."

I prefer yours. Nice work!

That was incredibly underconfident of Socrates.

Oh, my favorite Greek philosopher! :-)

This is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect[1], the cognitive bias that unskilled individuals overestimate their ability and skilled individuals underestimate it.

"The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias manifesting in two principal ways: unskilled individuals tend to suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate, while highly skilled individuals tend to rate their ability lower than is accurate. In unskilled individuals, this bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude. Skilled individuals tend to underestimate their relative competence, erroneously assuming that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others."

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

Read the name of the OP's author. Go read your Wikipedia article. See anything? :D

Written with a tremendous amount of confidence.

Another interesting slant on this is imposter syndrome.


I quoted Shakespeare because I admire him deeply and felt that my thoughts on the matter were relevant.

But the two statements are fundamentally different IMHO:

- Shakespeare writes of wisdom which comes in form of doubt. Only the wise men allow doubt into the conversation, hence their stance towards other parties is not aggressive and absolute, but rather flexible.

- The Dunning-Kruger effect, refers to personal biases of two categories.

However, I might be a little over-pedantic here, because comparing a study with a theatrical play can not be done in a straight way :-)

> However, I might be a little over-pedantic here, because comparing a study with a theatrical play can not be done in a straight way :-)

Don't worry, this is HackerNews, discussion among nerds of the highest form. Pedantry is what we do.

I think that while Shakespeare said it more poetically, he is essentially talking about the same thing. Perhaps Dunning-Kruger is more to the point and matter of fact, but it is the same thing. The expert speaks with doubt (because they know that there's so much more to know about a subject), and the fool speaks with certainty (because they do not know).

So maybe Shakespeare is describing half of Dunning-Kruger?

I swear this is HN's favourite bias to bring up on any topic relating to intelligence and aptitude.

Not inappropriate to bring up when the author of the original article is Dunning, though

Personally it brings me comfort to remember that maybe just maybe I'm not as stupid and mediocre as I feel most of the time.

I think the Dunning Kruger effect has been a meme/cultural/conceptual construct long enough (like the measurement of intelligence) that we need to test for a Reverse Dunning Kruger effect, where knowledge of the Dunning Kruger Effect correlates with bias in self evaluation.

Knowing about the Dunning Kruger effect makes me more inclined to ask other people how good I am at something instead of relying on my own opinion. Which I think would make my evaluation more accurate.

Do you really think Michael Jordan needs to ask anyone in order to test his basketball skills? I'm fairly sure he doesn't do that and no matter people (some people) will tell him about this or that players being better, he firmly believe that he could win them in court, in his prime. IMHO Dunning-Kruger effect doesn't work if you reverse the claim.

or it might make you more selective about who you ask for feedback?

would this be a meta-Dunning-Kruger effect? Chosing to ask only people who you know would give you positive feedback?

I usually accredit the evolution attribution problem to the phrase "survival of the fittest". It's a catchy line, it implies that the better you are the more likely you are to survive, which is kinda true, but leads to the mistaken agency issue. It has the additional benefit of aligning with the ethic of hard work (ie. do better to survive) that we also try to teach kids, which I think is one of the reasons it persists as a meme.

The problem is that "death of the weakest" is a much better way of describing it - although possibly not so PC to teach in the classroom. The reason why people think Cheetahs evolved to be fast is because they equate it with the ethic of hard work, rather than the real reason - slow cheetahs don't eat and therefore die before breeding, fast cheetahs eat and get to breed.

Without meaning to start yet another internet debate/flamewar about evolution, I often wonder whether the strong protestant work ethic in the US is also the reason why evolution is so poorly understood there. Because "death to the weakest" involves no agency, no self-improvement or hard work.

EDIT: Just to avoid to confusion (as there seems to be some!), I'm not talking about the mechanism of evolution, purely the actual phrase "survival" and what it means to people when it's mentioned, the implication of agency that goes along with the word.

No, the correct way to phrase it is "survival of the fit". It's very common for limiting factors (water, calories, vitamins, etc) to have a plateau. In the range from starvation to 'enough', more ability to find food is an advantage. In the range from 'enough' to 'excess', there's no payoff. So what evolution creates is a population of surviving individuals who are each 'enough' on all their success parameters, but who embody a diverse range of ways to be 'fit'. This diversity then allows the species to handle change that leaves part of the population 'unfit'.

Very rarely, is there an absolute competition where the 'fittest' survive. That would actually drag down evolution - it would create genetic bottlenecks.

Yeah, my issue wasn't with the mechanism of evolution, more with the phrasing. The word "survive" implies some sort of agency, the inverted phrasing does not. I could alter it to "decline of the weakest attributes as they are less successful and thus less likely to breed and pass their genetics on", but that's quite a mouthful for a tagline to teach schoolkids! ;)

PS: And yes I know there are plenty of situations where even "weak" attributes won't necessarily get weeded out, but then you'd be extending the tagline quite a bit!

Except, a stable population (not currently coping with a change from their evolved circumstances) doesn't really contain "weak" individuals beyond the normal lossage to infection, harmful mutation, violence and old age.

It may well contain groups that biologists project human cultural ideas on and call weak. But the continued presence of those groups shows them to be a useful part of the species diversity.

(I strongly recommend "The Genial Gene" and "Evolution's Rainbow", both by Joan Roughgarden, for further reading.)

I've stated it as 'survival of the fit enough' for a while now.

Evolution doesn't have anything to do with strength or weakness, it's about fitting the current environment. Sometimes smaller organisms are more likely to survive because it's easier for them to hide from predators. Sometimes the most important thing is coloration that allows an organism to blend in to the background. Some of the most successful organisms in history (ie, pigeons) aren't particularly strong or "not weak", they were just the best suited to survive in the world that they lived in.

Philosophers like to attach social messages to evolution, but one of the real lessons is "Adapt to your environment". It's not about working hard, or not being the weakest, it's about being the right organism for the moment. In the evolutionary environment of human society it's not being the smartest or working the hardest, it's being in the right place at the right time.

As all of the other discussion here sort of reveals if you read it right, part of the problem is that the phrase "Survival of the fittest" is tautological. It might as well be "Survival of the survivaliest"; those who have the most "surviving" capabilities survive. On its own, that's meaningless, and indeed, it is often treated as a slogan more than science.

You had to add in genes for this to make any sense, an idea that we so thoroughly take for granted now that we can miss it entirely. Unless the organism has some intrinsic characteristics that contribute to its survival, and there's some sort of variation in the resulting children as it passes on the intrinsic characteristics somehow, you don't have anything like evolution. Then you get a non-tautological theory of how things can trend towards increased "survivalness", as you can demonstrate how constantly producing organisms with a spread of "survivalness" and lopping off the bottom can produce changes over time.

"Death of the weakest" leads to a better understanding of evolution. However, fitness (or its antipode, weakness) is usually measured with average reproductive rate. Averages can be misleading.

Better yet, think of evolution as the loss of strategies that go extinct. Strategies with a low risk of extinction are favored. Importantly, strategies with a high average reproductive rate can sometimes be very risky. Therefore, sometimes the "fittest" strategies are evolutionarily unfavorable, and consequently the "weakest" strategies survive.


"survival of the fittest" only really applies in a population sense anyway, which is often part of the confusion I suspect.

There's also a matter of motivation. "Survival of the fittest" comes along with the connotation that it's better to aim for the top [let's say 10]% in order to continue to exist. "Death to the weakest" heeds a similar connotation meaning rise above the bottom [let's stick with 10]%. So, just don't slack as terribly as the very worst slackers in your group and you'll do just fine.

All in all, that's not necessarily false, just not a great motivator. I know quite a few people who get by on bare-minimum without completely giving up and they lead very happy lives. It took me a long time in my own life and perspective to appreciate theirs.

Yeah, that's exactly the point I was trying to make at the end. It's far more motivating to believe that hard work will get you to the top, rather than it being an arbitrary "right place, right time" kind of life - and for humans that's probably true, but it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with evolution. That's why I was wondering if people find the "Survival" way of phrasing evolution confusing and might find it easier to deal with the inverted phrase as it implies no agency.

The problem here is '10%' is a human measuring stick. The only measuring stick evolution has is human retrospect. You only get to see which 10% you were in after the outcome is known.

It is not just a spin? "survival of the fittest" is exactly the same as "death to the weakest".

"survival of the fittest" = "not survival of the not-fit"

And also "fit" it is not the same as "strong"

    - Population: XXXOOOOVVV
    - First 3 are the weakest. (X)
    - Last 3 are the fittest. (V)
    - Middle ones are normal. (O)
When you say "survival of the fittest" you mean that only the 3 VVV survives and the other 7 OOOOVVV die.

When you say "death to the weakest" you mean that the 3 XXX die, therefore the other 7 OOOOVVV survive.

When you say "not survival of the not-fit" (I suppose you say the fittest) you mean:

    - Let's take the non-fittest (XXXOOOO)
    - Not survive of them.
Therefore you mean the death of 7 XXXOOOO and the survival of 3 VVV. So you are right that "survival of the fittest" = "not survival of the not-fit".

But "survival of the fittest" (VVV survives) is not equal to "death to the weakest" (OOOOVVV) because VVV != OOOOVVV.

Yes it is spin, but not just spin. "Survive" often implies some sort of agency, that there is some sort of struggle that was overcome and the organism is still alive. We teach survival skills. Whereas if you drop some antibiotics on a bacteria culture, there is no struggle, the bacteria that aren't already resistant just die. That's why I think the inverted phrasing is clearer in meaning (although yes I meant "weakest fit / not fit").

There isnt a struggle?. Do the non-resistant bacteria "try" to survive and fail, then die? or it "just die"?

The inverted phrase will be a PR disaster for Darwin ;)

My point was that the resistant bacteria didn't suddenly evolve the resistance because the antibiotics were placed in the tray, they were already resistant to begin with. Therefore they didn't "struggle" to become anything, they already had the fit attributes for the situation. Hence why I say survival is a poor word choice as it implies struggle. Death of the non-fit on the other hand, has no such implication.

Obviously this is all very black and white edge cases and most of the time we're not talking about absolute death or survival, but decline or success of certain attributes within a given environment.

And yes, it probably is a terrible way of phrasing evolution from a PR standpoint ;)

"survival of the fittest" is closer to "not survival of the not fittest" than "not survival of the not-fit", which is not the same as "death to the weakest".

"An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that’s filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors, and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge. "

Yes, and an informed mind is the same, only all the junk is "lined" up to agree with whatever the prevailing wisdom is.

People don't operate on facts. They operate on feelings, flimsly allegories, metaphors, and half-baked truths. This isn't a bug; it's a feature. It allows us to walk into a room we've never visited before, use a chair, and order from a menu without having to spend time verifying a lot of details. The brain is emotional and always wildly guessing and generalizing about things, no matter who we are or what we do.

People wonder why prejudice and stereotyping hasn't gone away in society. Well heck, it's never going away until you replace people with robots. I was attacked by a clown as a kid, I hate and fear clowns. You saw your mom shrink from a tall person, you are afraid of tall people. That's how the brain works, and it's how we're able to function.

At best we learn to deliberately struggle with this. It's never going to go away -- at least while we're still human.

Very well written article. Very amusing commentary threads.

But let me suggest something that I have tried. In one of my most intense coding periods in my career, I kept a log of the bugs that I created and had to fix. My bug rate declined measurably. (This is one of the old notebooks that i dearly wish I kept--was left at that job when I moved on.)

There is a relevant quote that I can't locate from someone famous who said that he would keep a list of his mistakes in his wallet and refer to it from time to time. A boss of mine who was adventurous about experimenting with new technology said "I don't know very much about it, but I do know 50 ways that wont't work". This has led me to asking someone who claims to be an expert "Tell me three (or five) things that won't work" in their field of expertise.

The advice from the article For individuals, the trick is to be your own devil’s advocate: to think through how your favored conclusions might be misguided; to ask yourself how you might be wrong, or how things might turn out differently from what you expect seems spot on.

A coaching tip I always give to developers: you don't know enough about a topic if you can only think of one way to solve a problem. If you only know one way to do it, how do you know it's not the worst one?

Take the time to sit back and enumerate a few ways of solving the problem and figure out which one's best in this situation. Why are you rejecting those other solutions? Are you sure those reasons are sound? Are you sure they don't apply equally to the solution you've selected?

This is anecdotal, but as far as I have seen in the Marine Corps, there is a bit of knowledge that is passed down that confidence makes you right, and that you need to be absolutely confident if you make an observation that goes against what a higher up is doing.

Of course this is bad logic (and likely part of why Marines get a bad rep for often being stupid), but there is a bit of wisdom in there - confidence makes things more likely to happen your way, and people also like confidence more than uncertainty. For the Marine Corps, such a bad adage is useful since uncertainty is bad, and it often is better to choose an action, even if sub-optimal, than do nothing at all.

Projecting confidence is an invaluable skill to have when you're trying to get people to charge up a heavily defended hill or take a building by force.

Anything else, not so much. I've witnessed many Marines try and fail to do something complex with ultimate confidence that brute force would solve the problem. The dedication is admirable but the range of situations in which it's sufficient for success is small.

In many non-military cases, doing nothing is a completely viable option that should always be considered. I'd venture to say that the most successful person is good at recognizing what deserves a Marine-level amount of effort and what can slide.

> This is anecdotal, but as far as I have seen in the Marine Corps, there is a bit of knowledge that is passed down that confidence makes you right

Real life situations are usually a bit squishy. They're often not set in stone, like pure logic is. If that's the case, being confident actually creates your own reality, by molding the existing one into a different shape.

So yes, in real life confidence works pretty well.

I imagine confidence & morale can, in their line of work, tip the scales and make something impossible, eminently possible.

The small troupe of British soldiers who recently repelled a militant attack with only bayonets comes to mind. Outnumbered, outgunned, the subject of an ambush, it seems to me that a combination of resolve and confidence was the deciding factor.

Morale is incredibly important in any type of effort. Think about how productive you are working on something that excites you vs grinding for dollars.

In there military you don't have to right, you just have to be less wrong than your peers to be successful.

"epic housing bubble stoked by the machinations of financiers and the ignorance of consumers"

Isn't he being prey of his own effect?

So the "epic housing bubble"(consecuence) was caused by "the machinations of financiers(cause 1) and the ignorance of consumers (cause 2)"

If this is true, why 2008? Clearly cause 1 & 2 were present waaay before 2008. So maybe the bubble have other causes?

From the ground in 2008, it looked like the match was fuel prices. (Gasoline was around $4.50/gal in my recollection.) There were all these families barely squeaking by that could only tolerate a significant price hike in gas and electricity for so long until something had to give.

The FED artificially kept low interest rates since 2001 till 2008. All that money had to go somewhere. It went to housing. Cause and effect, plain and simple. The same currently nobody seems to understand that we have even lower interest rates today. From 2008 till 2014. And all this money goes to (primarily) US Treasuries. US Treasuries are currently the most expensive in its 300 year history. Mortgage APR fixed for 30 years at 4%. For 15 years at 3.5%. When the real inflation rate felt by consumers is at about 10%. Why nobody sees that? People don't like to think. They prefer imaginary fantasies where everything is just fine to brutal reality of the unproductive economy running from a bubble to bubble sponsored only by the USD being reserve currency of the world.

Once the US Treasuries bubble bursts, the same moment, the bubble in the US Dollar and America will burst too.

We're living in the final stages of the final bubble, mother of all bubbles in the mankind history. So we have house prices in bubble territory, car loans in bubble territory, Wall Street in bubble territory, VCs/startup scene in bubble territory. Enjoy the ride! But you don't want to be there for the bubble burst of the world reserve currency. I'm already on the other side of the pond.

Ok, this is interesting. From the article:

"For individuals, the trick is to be your own devil's advocate: to think through how your favored conclusions might be misguided; to ask yourself how you might be wrong, or how things might turn out differently from what you expect. It helps to try practicing what the psychologist Charles Lord calls 'considering the opposite.' To do this, I often imagine myself in a future in which I have turned out to be wrong in a decision, and then consider what the likeliest path was that led to my failure. And lastly: Seek advice. Other people may have their own misbeliefs, but a discussion can often be sufficient to rid a serious person of his or her most egregious misconceptions."

So, can you do it? Can you think through what could be wrong with your own argument? And what possible lapses or biases could had led you to such (putatively) unwarranted certainty?

Yes, certainly. Many things can go differently. For one the US President, Obama, might go there on TV and tell: "My fellow Americans. Starting tomorrow we are raising taxes by 10-25%. We cut social security. We cut military. We cut across the board. Why? Because the Chinese demand their money!"

Possible? Of course! Probable? Your call.

Inflating the monetary base is actually doing the same, but without the need to raise taxes ex explicite. Everything gets more expensive year to year: tuition, insurance, services, etc. That's your hidden tax - inflation. We are paying off the Chinese by returning them money that's less valuable that the money we borrowed from them.

Some things, like 600% debt to GDP ratio that currently the US has are just facts of life. Can I imagine reality without them? Sure! The media is full of them from CNBC to Bloomberg News. Why you insist on me providing you scenarios? Ask them if they can imagine bubble in Treasuries! They certainly couldn't see one in housing or the .com one even though they both were straight in their faces. They laughed off anyone talking about bubbles then. The same now they lough into faces of Peter Schiff, Marc Faber, Jim Rogers, Kyle Bass, and others when they talk about bubble in the US Treasuries. In other words, you are asking wrong person to do the reality check. I'm the reality check to the mainstream camp blind to the obvious. 600% debt to gdp.

Can FED raise the interest rates to stop all the bubbles in their tracks? Sure they can! They need to be cautious though. Because at interest rates at 7%, the US Government will be spending over 50% of the annual budget just to pay interest on the debt we have. Can we imagine the FED going to raise the rates to 20% as Volcker did in the early 1980s? Sure, but then well over 100% of the state income from taxes would need to be paid on the interest alone! This is how much we owe. Can I imagine reality where this is not true? Sure, but why would I ever do that? Why to imagine world where mistakes aren't happening when they are right in our faces?

I'm not saying we don't have options. I'm just saying that taking into the account the dirty politics, we can't have the President have speech like that, can we?

Another solution: war. In the state of war we don't repay. That's the rule ages old.

So, yes there are plenty of scenarios: from bankruptcy, theory hyperinflation, ending on WW3.

There is no positive outcome from debt to GDP ratio at 600%. Sorry.

One could argue that we will just have "lost decades" as Japanese did. That the process will take forever and we will slowly decline and the rest of the world will follow suite. Might be that it will take 30 years. The thing is that looking at Russia, China, ISIS, I don't think they will just let us decline.

Ask them if they can imagine bubble in Treasuries! They certainly couldn't see one in housing or the .com one even though they both were straight in their faces. They laughed off anyone talking about bubbles then

You can proudly proclaim that the bubbles were obvious now that the pops have come to pass, but talk is cheap, and if you're wrong, it's always "just around the corner" until one day, you saw it coming all along. If it takes 30 years for the bubble to pop, then god damn, check out this HN thread from 2014 where you predicted this exact outcome THREE DECADES in advance, but nobody listened!

I'm not dismissing the consequences of running up absurd levels of debt, I just think it's sort of funny that in a thread regarding the failings of human certitude, you felt it necessary to demonstrate your certainty in outcomes regarding, of all things, macroeconomics, perhaps the least reliable science from which to model precise predictions.

> Some things, like 600% debt to GDP ratio that currently the US has are just facts of life.

That's...not true. I don't know where you're getting your information, but the ratio is about 106%. They're both in the range of $17 trillion.

The data you have from the U.S. Gov is false as it down NOT include benefits like social security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc that are substantial part of the budget. Once you include these guarantees among other guarantees ( like the bank guarantees ) you are looking at 600%

A quick internet search shows that one person came up with that estimate and published it without any actual calculations. I'd be curious to see the calculations, if only to point out what happens when a non-economist tries to make such calculations.

And the whole point is moot, because Medicare and Medicaid obligations can be easily lowered by legislation. Which is why the actual debt number is the one that matters.

http://www.shadowstats.com -- try that. See who opened that site. And no, they are not charging close to $200 / year and have the type of Customers they do because the US Gov stats are trustworthy. See which insitutions follow thesee stats vs. official stats, you will be surprised.

And just logically thinking, really: don't you think that the debtor with debt in USD that prints USD at the same time, doesn't have an incentive to under-report inflation? The situation is akin to you being able (as a debtor) to set APR on your own mortgage.

And then, the mystery of people complaining about raising prices of food, gas, housing, everything, and then believing in the official propaganda of "no inflation" in the past 7 years. Are you kidding me? Is your insurance cost the same as 7 years ago? Is the grocery bill the same? Cars cost the same? Maybe equities propped by inflationary policy have the same price?

I don't care if Nobel Price in Economics Krugman tells me I have no inflation for 7 years when I have been shopping for 7 years, watching equities and bond markets, just to know better. Sure, Keynsians are paid "economists" to peddle the idea of no inflation, they are all paid by Government. What do you expect them to do? Report 5-10% inflation y/y ?

And inflation is often hidden: $50k BMW 5-series is now 4-cylinder. Used to be 6. The can of coke in Germany for 1 euro used to be 330ml. Now it is 250ml. Price stays the same. So on, so forth. Isn't that inflation?

Oh. I honestly didn't see the conspiracy theory coming. You got me.

We're living in the final stages of the final bubble, mother of all bubbles in the mankind history.

Wait to see space bubble. Space mining will need huge amounts of capital that will be invested in space ships and stations that for many years will give no positive returns.

Still they'll be obviously valuable for the future, so we will have Internet-kind bubble thousands fold.

> People don't like to think.

Well, that's a mostly empty statement, as it's unfalsifiable - even people who think, and see this happening, what can they do? Is there any way to profit from the mispricing of assets, when everything is overvalued? Well, you could short stuff, but that's a huge risk (since the central banks have an incentive to keep the bubble from bursting, so they can ramp the asset prices even higher), and only available to those with existing capital, not the "people". Move to a non-USD based economy? All economies depend on the USD, and if USD crashes, the whole world goes down with it. What are the "people" supposed to do other than to weather the upcoming storm?

Hypothetical scenario: US Treasuries go south, the bubble bursts. The next day Chinese announce they start selling their Treasuries on the open market. So instead of keeping your money with the most indebted Government on the face of the planet, you keep it with the biggest creditor in the world. Doesn't sound as a bad deal, huh? And as an extra bonus just to make sure everyone drops US Treasuries ASAP to buy the Chinese paper: tie the currency to gold. Guarantee that yuan is as good as gold. Why not? Yuan reserve currency of the world, so the same mistakes can be made all over again ;-)

This what Keynsians call in this case problem for Chinese I call a huge win. Keynsians will tell you: oh, but now Chinese exports will get prohibitively expensive! And I say: BS! The yuan currency will go up in value up to 6 times. Why to export anywhere when you just got 1 billion new consumers worth 6 times more than before?! Next step: rest of the world starts producing again, including US. China stops being factory of the world as we can't afford their stuff anymore. We need to relearn how to build and assemble it again. Voila, here you have balance back in the system.

Hm.. I don't know why you completely changed your reply (I won't quote the original here),but this has nothing to do with my question/concern - how can commoners, workers without a lot of capital, "prepare" for a situation like this (i.e. so that their lives don't break to pieces along with the rest of the economy).

Have useful skills. In the worst case scenario it will come to trading services or products. I.e. you are a good web developer and can build a website for a carpenter who will fix your roof in exchange. Some other might know how to fix cars or mechanics. Learn skills that will become valuable in such a scenario.

The best investment is your own skillset. Actually, the "workers" as you call them might be in better position in this scenario as they usually have better and broader knowledge of fixing every day stuff than let's say accountants or software engineers might have.

> US Treasuries go south, the bubble bursts. The next day Chinese announce they start selling their Treasuries on the open market.

Selling treasuries seems to be more for sovereigns that are looking to raise money rather than park it.

Buyers of US treasuries appear to be in the "park" camp.

the point is that once they see that the FED wants to keep inflating they might realize that they have parked their assets in pretty risky asset.

Except, isn't China working hard to keep the valuation of their currency as low as they possibly can?

Only while they're still hoarding gold. Once they start noticing they've bought most of the gold they can get in the open market without causing prices to soar then they will change gears.

Do they have "Doomsday Preppers" on the other side of the pond?

They do. In mainstream. Things like possibility of US defaulting on its debt or going towards hyper inflationary root are mainstream over here.

This sounds a lot like Chinese astroturfing. As you read his comments further down it becomes more apparent.

Going to be lonely over there, all the rich Chinese are buying property in the US.

Glad to see someone here that understands what is going on.

Did you really move out of the US because of the coming crisis? I'm really curious about this. I understand there will be riots and it will be unstable for a while but how much chaos are you expecting?

The smug, self-certain, self-congratulatory attitude seems ironic in the context of the posted article.

Reading 0 to 1 by Peter Thiel at the moment. I think we have had too much of uncertainty in the West from economy thinking to social thinking to medicine.

Peter claims in his book that no CEO looks beyond 3 months timeframe running their Company anymore. Why? Because market knows better anyway. Why to plan, when market will determine what the market is going to be? Uncertainty.

Medical: we can't control genes right? They determine everything, so why to care, why to plan?

Social: cultural marxism. Pessimistic culture -- everything is wrong because we are capitalist society. As long as it exists we can't be certain of anything.

If you have debt to gdp ratio of 600%, what do you expect? Flourishing economy? Things will go down south. You are like a six year old pissed of that two and two is four every time. Some things are certain. Like 600% debt to gdp aren't pretty. Not positive. Not uncertain. Fucking shit. OK?

It might as well all end not too bad. It might be that the rest of the world will finish in much worse shape than the US. I keep my options open. Can live in the US, but also can live in EU. Would be nice to be able to stay in HK for a while too.

> some familiarity with concepts that are entirely made up, such as the plates of parallax, ultra-lipid, and cholarine. In one study, roughly 90 percent claimed some knowledge of at least one of the nine fictitious concepts

Is it possible that this is at least partly down to the phrase "some knowledge"? Knowing what parallax or lipids are might be seen as having some knowledge of the concept.

Honestly, even knowing they were made up my brain's first instinct was "yeah, those sound familiar." If they were just asking about "some knowledge" I can see how people might say, "hmm, yeah, that sounds like something I've heard before."

And even more so with people's names, at least for me. For every name I know solidly there are probably two that I vaguely sort of know.

For instance, I probably know more about Irish traditional music than 99.9% of the American population. But if you came up with a real-sounding random name for an Irish musician and talked about him like he was real and of course I should know who he was, the odds that I would confuse that with someone I knew a bit about are substantial.

Or (speaking of Irish music) remembering tunes. There are tunes I own, tunes I think I know, tunes that are familiar, and tunes I flat out don't know. In my experience, I have the most trouble playing are some of the tunes I think I know -- more even than playing the tunes that I would just describe as familiar! Most of those I thought I knew I could probably sort out later given time, but in the heat of the moment what comes out can be nonsense.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, when I get in trouble is on the fuzzy boundary between knowing and not knowing. I don't mind saying "I don't know" when I know I don't know. But sometimes I don't know I don't know, and that's when the trouble starts.

"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."

This means YOU, person who thinks you see through it all.

You don't.

This applies to you too.

I know intellectually it must apply to me as well...

But it's an interesting illusion. I think that philosophically the correct lesson here is that being (slightly?!?) aware of your own mind doesn't actually give you super powers... you can't change it. (Or, at least, you can't change it by shallow awareness... it would require true efforts.)

>whether his appearance as a judge on America’s Got Talent would damage his legacy. “No,” said one woman to this last question. “It will make him even more popular.”

Will. As in, this person was not bluffing. They were not talking about a previously aired nonexistent show. They were speculating on a possible future. It doesn't matter if the questioner is trying to lie.

(The 'lie' isn't even something that's disprovable, as a plausible future event.)

Disclaimer: only talking about the quote in the article, if there was more context it shouldn't have been cut

'would' is ambiguous because the author is describing something in the past. For example, you would write 'would' regardless of whether the original question was "Ma'am, do you think Clinton's appearance yesterday on America's Got Talent will damage his legacy?" or if the question had actually been "Miss, do you think Clinton accepting his recent invitation to appear on AGT would damage his legacy?" But either way, the question is false...

Still not bluffing, because they are only speculating on the self-contained scenario, not bringing in fake details.

It is still bluffing because the scenario is not being presented as a hypothetical.

If you don't pretend you've heard of it before, it's an abstract scenario that might as well be hypothetical. You're answering based on the question and only the question.

I'm pretty sure that for the Kimmel segments, they ask the interviewees different questions and later edit in a different question that makes the original answer seem funny.

> I'm pretty sure that for the Kimmel segments, they ask the interviewees different questions

So, without evidence, you're confident of this?

I don't know about that, what I am pretty sure of is that for every funny answer, they have at least ten other boring "That person doesn't even exist" or "I don't know" replies.

I agree. Canadians love watching "the dumb Americans" on shows like this but you could get the exact same results going out onto Canadian streets. Many Canadians see themselves as intellectually superior to Americans because of our greater knowledge of their country, 80%+ of which knowledge I expect is from watching TV and movies.

In the curved-tube image, clearly the ball will exit with a clockwise spinning, because it'll be rolling on the external wall of the tube (based on the "Newtonian principle" of inertia). I'll bet if you try it as a experiment (inside the atmosphere) the ball will follow "C"... Am I a confident idiot?

That's a standard fallacy I often run into: over estimating second order effects. Yes, unless the ball is perfectly smooth or in a vacuum you will get slight curvature. But it would be so slight that it would look like B.

Try it with a ping-pong ball (a natural choice). The curvature coming out of the tube will not be slight.

None of the three choices in the diagram are curved, though.

I was actually thinking the same, shame there wasn't an answer in the article.

The "right" (too simplistic) answer in the article is "B".

"One group knew the right Newtonian principle: that the ball would continue in the direction it was going the instant it left the tube—Path B. Freed of the tube’s constraint, it would just go straight."

This is why science works well - it can tell us what the actual answer is, not just the one that is 'obviously right'.

In holland, a DJ called Giel Beelen has/had a part of his show called "Gaat ie mee of zegt ie nee.": "Will he join or will he say no." He asked a national politician about terrorist Jael Jablabla (http://nos.nl/op3/artikel/359078-pvdakamerlid-leerdam-stopt-...), about a non-existing band and about the coma of Sharon... The politician bluffed his way through, claiming he knew more about Jablabla than the DJ... and ended his career shortly afterwards.

We had a similar thing in the UK with a famous satirist called Chris Morris who convinced a wide array of celebrities, including politicians, to say all sorts of idiotic things in a series of spoof documentaries about things like drugs and, most controversially, pedophilia. For example, he got one of the UK's most famous DJs to say that pedophiles have more genes in common with crabs than other human beings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEolSjlcqng .. in this case, the facts were fed to the celebs rather than them making them up though.

I'm probably too late with this comment ... but if the diameter of the tube is significantly larger than the diameter of the ball, and the initial velocity of the ball is large enough, then the trajectory of the ball as it leaves the "curved tube" won't necessarily correlate well with the straightforward textbook answer you'd expect to see. Perhaps the original context for the question made this a bit more clear, but as presented in the article, the "real world" might intervene.

One extreme is confident idiot. The other is the ever doubting fool. I keep thinking there is a happier middle ground - I know some things and I can't know some others. I will do my best with what I know.

From personal experience #1 obviously leads to certain failures (unfortunate one if you are even a little wise and honest - you saw this coming and still decided to be a cocky idiot). #2 you lose out on motivation, don't get the credit you deserve and get more stressed than necessary.

The happier middle ground works for me - actually look at everything, find out what you know, what you need to know and equally importantly what you are just not going to know. Then work a plan on the strengths of what you know.

That's work though - heh! The extremes are just easier to acquire :)

I'm not confident!

I wonder where those of us who tend to self depreciating humor, who also in turn confess to not knowing much while being told we get things done, fall. I know some of what I am totally clueless about but revel in being told when I am factually wrong in something I thought otherwise. However there are areas where I just refuse to understand and worse I think I know what some of those are and still won't correct it.

I don't really mind people not realizing they are idiots, if they could at least stop trying to be in power and stop ruling over others. Most of our leaders/rulers are complete idiots without realizing it, that's the worse problem on this planet; if you try to convince them of their ignorance, they react with power, insolvable..

If anyone is curious about the Kimmel clip, it's on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frjaQ17yAww

The article makes a lot more sense after watching it IMO.

I often reply "I don't know" when asked about things I don't know. It's invariably met with an explicit or implicit questioning of my worth. I can see why people learn never to admit ignorance.

"Master, what is knowledge?"

"When you know a thing, to know that you know it, and when you do not know a thing, to know that you do not know it -- this is knowledge."

I don't remember where I read that, but I like it.

Analects of Confucius, Book II, Chapter XVII.


It sounds like it's best to be doubtful and unsure about my knowledge. So as long as I can make sure I'm unsure, I'm good. But can I be confident that I'm unsure?

It's turtles all the way down.

Anecdotal evidence from a fun show, plus the mandatory reference to Dunning-Kruger.

"Unfortunately, Kruger and Dunning never actually provided any support for this type of just-world view; their studies categorically didn’t show that incompetent people are more confident or arrogant than competent people."


> plus the mandatory reference to Dunning-Kruger.

Well, the article was written by David Dunning, the one the effect is half-named for, so it is almost literally mandatory that it is mentioned.

This is a very literal LOL moment.

And this is why software schedules are always off. Any schedule for that matter.

If you're into this type of psychology, check out "Thinking Fast and Slow" by D. Kahnemann.


I would have liked this article more if they had left out the word "All" in the title

> "Often, our theories are good enough to get us through the day, or at least to an age when we can procreate."

This is a fantastic line. I guess getting to the age where we can procreate is all that's needed by our genes !

"idiot" is well defined medical term, author probably meant "ignorant".

The REAL problem is that confident incompetence in males is attractive to females.

This article is very worth a thorough top-to-bottom read. I especially like a paragraph from farther down in the article where the author brings up an issue that often comes up here on Hacker News: "According to Pauline Kim, a professor at Washington University Law School, people tend to make inferences about the law based on what they know about more informal social norms. This frequently leads them to misunderstand their rights—and in areas like employment law, to wildly overestimate them. In 1997, Kim presented roughly 300 residents of Buffalo, New York, with a series of morally abhorrent workplace scenarios—for example, an employee is fired for reporting that a co-worker has been stealing from the company—that were nonetheless legal under the state’s 'at-will' employment regime. Eighty to 90 percent of the Buffalonians incorrectly identified each of these distasteful scenarios as illegal, revealing how little they understood about how much freedom employers actually enjoy to fire employees." I have seen this misconception here on Hacker News many times. (To be sure, here on Hacker News we have participants from many countries, not all of which have the same laws about employment, but I have seen plenty of Americans proclaim "facts" about rights of employees here in the United States that simply are not facts.) Basically, in our thoughtful discussions here, we all have to take care to check our facts. That's why I'm especially glad to upvote comments that ask earlier commenters to explain where they got their information, or to suggest further reading on a topic. I'll link a book here about employment law (mostly related to hiring procedures) as an example of the information I like to see in comments. I need to check my understanding of all issues, all the time, according to the article kindly submitted here, and I appreciate it when other HN participants help me find more information.


Not at all limited to law - accepting facts/stories/statements that fit one's worldview or even just seem interesting or important, and passing them on without ever checking or even doubting their correctness is a mistake that I see very frequently (and occasionally in myself despite conscious efforts to avoid it).

I see this with developers:

The young gun who assumes he understands architectural concepts without reading up on them, and re-invents the wheel (often producing a wheel that's tough to turn).

Then there's the cocky senior who doesn't need the latest and greatest because he already "knows" they do the same thing as his solution from 15 years ago (and when he's fired he can't find work because he's a dinosaur).

I know, I've been guilty of both :D

Edit : Come to think of it, the worst offenders are buzzword spewing managers and sales guys. "Oh the Cloud? Our product can mesh your business objectives with transparent synergies through the Cloud! Trust me, I'm an expert! Ah-hah-hah-haa"

Do dinosaur managers just talk slower?

No, they also eat leaves that are further up the tree due to their long necks.

Godzilla like dorsal spikes become a characteristic feature of these unfortunate individuals.

I'm a perfect example. My wife was telling me that her sister's workplace required women to wear skirts. I told her that was absurd and could not possibly be legal. I was wrong. I believe in nutshell that all that is required is a consistently applied dress code (pun intended I guess) and not violating religious beliefs.

I was stunned.

Bear in mind the rules cover all workplaces. Of course workplaces can enforce dress rules, even ones as specific as that, because workplaces are also allowed to enforce the wearing of uniforms.

It doesn't make it a good idea for a specific place, but, well, the purpose of the law is not to provide "good idea" guidelines for every scenario, or to prevent people from making bad decisions. It's only supposed to prevent them from making illegal ones, and that's not the same in any way.

But on the basis of gender? Can they make Hispanics wear green?

TL;DR go with your gut--it's probably correct.

The article makes a few generalizations about evolution that don't really hold up. The idea that evolution does not have agency needs to be re-examined in the light of the fact that animals themselves have far more agency than we realized.

To use the author's example, cheetahs may well have all decided as a group to run faster, in the sort of 'social learning' way that we're just now starting to really get a grip on. I mean, adaptations don't just happen, beings have to use their abilities, and then the cells will respond by getting thicker, stronger, more responsive. Think about lifting weights. If agency isn't responsible for evolutionary advantages, then what is? Random differences? Really?

Evolution is way more complex than we realize. Every year, we come across crazy things that happen in our own bodies that just totally blow our minds. Right now I think our broader understanding of how evolution works is hampered by the fact that we just don't know yet how genomes hold on to experiences and then pass them along to our offspring. So we assume that every life form is a blank slate, limited to just the same genetic code all their fellow life forms share.

But just because we share the same template in one, specific way doesn't mean there can't be a ton of ways that fertilized zygotes can be different from each other too. And that those differences could result from the things our parents did in their lives.

"...we don't know how genomes hold on to experiences and then pass them along to our offspring. "

Err they don't. That's Lamarckism theory, and I wasn't aware there was even a shred of evidence towards it.

Sometimes when you don't know how something happens, its because it isn't actually happening

Actually, there has been some interesting demonstrating that epigenetic influences can affect gene expression in the offspring. Which isn't quite Lamarckism, but does imply some level of passing along experiences to the offspring.

Which isn't to say that the post to which you were replying didn't misunderstand what was meant by the word "agency".

I used to laugh at people who believed in an agency model and thought that humans were the "most evolved" (as opposed to fast breeding special like cockroaches, or for that matter cousins of ours like chimpanzees). I ascribed it to the hierarchical victorian world in which Darwin published (and the famous picture from that era of ape -> man). But of course it's ancient.

> Err they don't. That's Lamarckism theory, and I wasn't aware there was even a shred of evidence towards it.

There is quite a bit from the last few years. Gene expression in particular is a field we continue to learn a lot about [0] and several studies have suggested Lamarckism might have some merit [1].

Saying there isn't a "shred of evidence" is just scientifically untrue. There is some legitimate evidence that limited information could be passed from mother to child prenatally.

Your post is the classic Dunning–Kruger effect. Few in evolutionary biology would be as "sure" as you are, and you get less and less sure the more you learn.

[0] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK43787/ [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamarckism#Epigenetic_inherita...

Macro-scale evolution does not go through epigenetics, but mostly "knob tweaks".

Because, why? Why exactly can't large scale evolutionary change by powered by single mother-child genetic signals? That makes just as much or as little sense as claiming that evolution is powered primarily through a single random mutation.

I had something I'd wanted to say but it got lost in the above post. I'm just now remembering what that was so I'll try again to explain it.

You don't actually need any information or experience to pass through to the next generation for behavior today to affect long-term evolution. Even if the only thing that's going on is that a population is using social learning to bring individuals closer to their genetic potential in one way, that way will be selected for in future generations. The genome itself could acquire adaptations during life, and those adaptations will then pass to their offspring. One would expect these 'mutations' to be really small, but add up quickly over successive generations.

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