The More You Know - Humility & Intelligence

May 18, 2020

If you start a sentence with, “I could be wrong, but…” you should probably proceed with a question instead of a declaration.

Most everyone knows a lot less about how the world works than they think they do. The irony of intellectual humility is that the smartest people I know recognize they don't know what they don't know while those who don't know anything are the most confident in their ignorance.

People who know things don't deal in absolutes; they practice nuance over certainty.

I'm not the first to notice that knowledge doesn't foster conviction, it fosters humility. The more you know, the more you realize how little you know.

The wise question their own ideas, especially as they gain conviction in them. The stronger the conviction, the deeper ideas become entrenched in our minds, the easier it becomes to ignore alternatives. Questioning your own ideas is not emblematic of self-doubt, but of your ability to prioritize learning what's true over being "right". Uncertainty, in contrast to the rigidity of certainty, leaves room for exploration.

Most everything that was once believed to be right, has been demonstrated to be wrong. Think about how many things have been proven incorrect to posterity.

"As the area of knowledge grows so too does the perimeter of our ignorance"

There was this cognitive bias we studied in behavioral economics - the Dunning Kruger effect - that makes much more sense to me now. On average, people tend to think they are better than average - "illusory superiority." Those least competent tend to be the most overconfident in their own abilities too. Ignorance really is bliss; lack of knowledge yields uninformed opinions of the highest conviction. Understanding what you don't know balances informed opinions with the awareness that the assumptions those opinions are based on may be flawed or limited - it leaves you room to change your mind - to learn what is true.

To make progress in understanding, we must remain modest and allow that we do not know. Nothing is certain or proved beyond all doubt. You investigate for curiosity, because it is unknown, not because you know the answer." - Richard Feynman

Young children ask 300 questions a day. Young children have no hubris; they don’t claim to know the answers. They have curiosity and a willingness to learn.

Ask more questions.