9 Dec 2013

In search of stupidity

I enjoy learning because I was not told that I was as good as my grades in my early years (Montessori school); I knew it was okay to be wrong.

It seems that many people would benefit from that environment, as this one page essay [pdf] points out:
Productive stupidity means being ignorant by choice. Focusing on important questions puts us in the awkward position of being ignorant. One of the beautiful things about science is that it allows us to bumble along, getting it wrong time after time, and feel perfectly fine as long as we learn something each time. No doubt, this can be difficult for students who are accustomed to getting the answers right. No doubt, reasonable levels of confidence and emotional resilience help, but I think scientific education might do more to ease what is a very big transition: from learning what other people once discovered to making your own discoveries. The more comfortable we become with being stupid, the deeper we will wade into the unknown and the more likely we are to make big discoveries.
Note that the author distinguishes between relative stupidity (laziness) and absolute stupidity (inquiry). Don't mix them up!

H/T to RM

Addendum: Read "the great forgetting" on how computerized assistance can make us weaker and "in praise of the polymath" (See my comment for links)

1 comment:

David Z said...



"A large part of it (polymaths) would naturally be concerned with creativity — crossing unrelated things to invent something new. But polymathics would not just be another name for innovation. It would, I believe, help build better judgment in all areas. There is often something rather obvious about people with narrow interests — they are bores, and bores always lack a sense of humour. They just don’t see that it’s absurd to devote your life to a tiny area of study and have no other outside interests. I suspect that the converse is true: by being more polymathic, you develop a better sense of proportion and balance — which gives you a better sense of humour. And that can’t be a bad thing."

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