Liberty is being free from the things we don't like in order to be slaves of the things we do like.--Ernest Benn

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How Anosognosiac Is My Sailing?

Regular readers know that I have had three recent exposures to one-design racing. I haven't had any of that stuff since I retired 11 years ago and relocated out of Newport Beach. Racing in handicapped fleets in the interlude, I had forgotten how intense one-design can be.

Now, back in my current handicapped fleet, the Good Guys were correcting out okay. But my personal performance was spotty enough that I had to question my true abilities as a competitive sailor.

My self-examination has recalled an article I read not too long ago, The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is

This story goes back more than a decade ago. Some guy named McArthur Wheeler, age unknown, set out to rob a couple of banks in Pittsburgh. He did so, in broad day light, making no apparent effort to disguise himself. Wheeler, at At 5 feet 6 inches and about 270 pounds, was the only one who was surprised at his prompt recognition and capture.

The surveillance tapes were key to his arrest. There he is with a gun, standing in front of a teller demanding money. Yet, when arrested, Wheeler was completely disbelieving. “But I wore the juice,” he muttered. Apparently, he was under the deeply misguided impression that rubbing one’s face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to video cameras.

Police pieced together the story of Wheeler's short career preparation as a bank robber. Wheeler had actually performed a variety of tests before entering the banks. Wheeler told officers that he had discovered that by squirting himself with lemon juice, he could make himself invisible. Wheeler said that he proved this by taking a Polaroid picture of himself, drenched in lemon juice, and he didn't appear in the image. Arresting officers stated that Wheeler's Polaroid photographic experiment convinced him that rubbing one’s face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to video cameras. When he went into those banks Wheeler was armed with supreme self-confidence as well as his pistol.

Years after McArthur Wheeler was sentenced, David Dunning, a Cornell professor of social psychology, read of this case and had an Epiphany:

If Wheeler was too stupid to be a bank robber, perhaps he was also too stupid to know that he was too stupid to be a bank robber - that is, his stupidity protected him from an awareness of his own stupidity.
Professor Dunning and his graduate student assistant, Justin Kruger implemented a research project which produced some novel findings in a 1999 paper, Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties of Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessments.

Dunning and Kruger argued in their paper that,

When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. Instead, like Mr. Wheeler, they are left with the erroneous impression they are doing just fine.
This became known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect which explains how our incompetence can be so extreme that it masks our ability to recognize our incompetence. Professor Dunning explains that because his research speciality is in decision-making, he was always asking questions about,
How well do people make the decisions they have to make in life? And I became very interested in judgments about the self, simply because, well, people tend to say things, whether it be in everyday life or in the lab, that just couldn’t possibly be true. And I became fascinated with that. Not just that people said these positive things about themselves, but they really, really believed them. Which led to my observation: if you’re really incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent.

Thinking too much about the Dunning-Kruger Effect with respect to my sailing is probably not a good thing. I do much better as a skipper or helmsman when I am full of self-confidence, and when I'm confident that the crew aboard believes that I know what I am having the boat do and why. I don't care if Voltaire warns,
A state of doubt is unpleasant,
but a state of certainty is ridiculous.
I'm always in a quest for perfect certitude, even if it takes spilling a little beer on myself to get there.


  1. Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.

    Ah crap Doc, this opens a huge can of worms affecting everything from indiviuals to whole freaking societies. About the only thing positive I can say is that we all suffer to one degree or another. Then again some are just stupid all the time but that moves into politics.

  2. Are you saying Dunning-Kruger Effect explains our political leadership? Are you saying the Pentagon is Anosognosiac? Is that why we are in Afghanistan?

  3. How about applying the Dunning-Kruger Effect to blogging? How far can we go with that?

  4. Now, speaking of opening a can of worms, this is a fairly good example of a hijacked thread!

  5. Baydog! You know who you look like? Amazing resemblance!