Wine-blogger Neal said it well. Twenty years ago, a wine caused him to realize that the deeper we dive into a subject, the more we appreciate how little we know, and how much we have to learn. This epiphanic realization was shared millennia ago by Socrates (another oenophile, by the way). In Plato’s Apology, Socrates explains to the jury that he once had a talk with a politician who considered himself one of the wise. During the conversation, Socrates noticed that the man was not wise at all. Well, he said to himself, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is – for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know.
Of course, Socrates was indulging in his usual irony. He also argued that because he was the only man aware of his utter ignorance, he was thereby the wisest of men. Socrates actually did know a thing or two about the beautiful and good, but he also realized how much he had to learn.
In these latter days, psychologists have been hard at work proving that the “Socratic paradox” represents a basic cognitive bias experienced in different ways by both the wise and the unwise. They diagnosed both the problem suffered by Socrates’ politician, and the excessive (but slightly suspicious) modesty displayed by the philosopher himself. Consider:
The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.
Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.
Thus, skilled and competent people tend to underestimate their abilities (probably because they have an idea of how complex a given subject is), while the unskilled and incompetent tend to overestimate theirs. Dunning and Kruger won an Ig Nobel Prize for their work (the prizes are awarded to research that “makes people laugh, and then think”). The pair noted that lots of other folks had already figured this out, including Confucius, Bertrand Russell and Charles Darwin.
Somehow they managed to omit Socrates from the list…
But when it comes to expertise in pleasures, wouldn’t it be sad to think that we have reached the end, and there’s nothing more to be learned? Thankfully, I’ll never be in a position to say I know everything about wine. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
An interesting take on the DK effect:
- The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Oh The Irony.. (wherewegatherfortheeverafter.wordpress.com)