conscious ignorance

I am currently reading “The Geography of Genius” by Eric Weiner (

Expect a few posts as I process it, but here is the passage that really jumped out at me today.

That’s because the skills we need to solve a problem are the very skills we need to realize we can’t solve it. It’s the intellectual equivalent of anosognosia, and this phenomenon, now known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, explains a lot. It explains why most people consider themselves above-average drivers, a statistical impossibility. (Somebody has to be below average.) It also explains, I think, why more of us aren’t geniuses. The first step in any breakthrough is realizing that a breakthrough is necessary, realizing that your knowledge is imperfect. Those who possess this “thoroughly conscious ignorance,” as the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell put it, are more likely to achieve creative breakthroughs than those who are convinced they have it all figured out.

This means that the current societal push to appear “in the know”, to quickly nod, fake it and Google when no one is looking is crushing our ability to really make breakthroughs. It is when we are willing to fully accept, acknowledge and embrace what the limits of our knowledge are that the areas that most need work or elucidation are made clear.


I think this is one of the things I love about SHAK Makerspace. I am continuously surrounded by people who know more than me, or different things than me and it is completely accepted. There are so many points of creation brought together under one roof that every is expected to be less knowledgeable about something and i2s encouraged to ask questions, explore and learn. We all fully expect that the answer to most questions is ” I’m not sure, but let’s see if we can find out.”

My roots in scientific method were emphatically certain that failure was an incredible learning opportunity. We learned what something was not, which is important in discovering what it is.
However, in an atmosphere of publish or perish and competitive grants, negative results lose cultural value and science can become paralyzed in a way that makes it unable to leapfrog forward. I hold out great hope that the tinkerers, explorers and questioners will continue to nurture their conscious ignorance, allowing them to birth amazing ideas and things.

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