From self-confidence to the rediscovery of one's ignorance, a new balance has to be found. Yuval Noah HARARI in his book "Sapiens, une brève histoire de l'humanité" introduces the age of the scientific revolution (from 1500 onwards) in the following terms: "Modern science is based on a decisive choice: the readiness to admit ignorance. It postulates that we do not know everything. It accepts that what we think we know may well turn out to be false as new knowledge is acquired. Five hundred years after the scientific revolution, certain works in neuroscience and cognitive psychology remind us that this principle is still valid, they invite us to rediscover ignorance.
In many cases, we have a high opinion of our own. But this is always an expression of our perceptions, of the way we value certain criteria, of our past experiences, of the beliefs that have formed in the course of our lives. Neuroscience has proven brain flexibility, has analyzed the influence of environment on the evolution of the brain, and has shown that evaluation corresponds to assessments based on the subject's experience and the emotional state of the moment. This knowledge allows one to take a step back from one's own opinions and certainties. Without doubting everything, one should remain circumspect.
The paradox of self-confidence is that it can be experienced ambiguously. By caricaturing, it can lead to the belief that it justifies the relevance of one's evaluations under any circumstances. But this is not the case; having self-confidence is an ontological security; it is a feeling linked to the identity of the subject and the recognition of his or her talents and skills. This does not in any way imply that he can be right all the time, that he can know everything. Having self-confidence does not confer cognitive omnipotence.
Two examples of the consequences of overconfidence
According to a national welding survey reported by SIMONS and CHABRIS, 63% of Americans consider themselves to have above average intelligence. The figure rises to 71% for men and only 57% for women. Women, worthy of their reputation for not being confident enough, are more realistic than men. A 1981 study in Sweden found that 69% of students considered themselves to drive better than their peers' 50%s and 77% believed they were among the most cautious 50% drivers. Aside from the fact that there is something comical about this statement, it is significant in the way we like to compare ourselves to others.
The experts, more modest than the philistines...
Various studies have demonstrated the existence of the "incompetent-and-unknowns" effect. This effect consists in assessing the relevance of their abilities by people during a game or a questionnaire. The least competent people overestimate themselves much more than competent people. If you want to verify this fact, it's not difficult, ask people who know nothing about a problem for their opinion, as long as there is an emotional link with the theme you are proposing you will have a nice demonstration. You can also choose to observe yourself when you give your opinion on a subject that touches you a little, but on which you have little diversified sources of information.
Do you know how to question your memories?
Episodic memory is selective. When recalling a memory, each person has the impression of remembering what he or she experienced. However, the brain only keeps traces of the memory. The memory is "reconstructed" during recall. It is therefore approximate. We even know today that it can be completely false. Elisabeth LOFTUS demonstrated this. Some people remember events that they have not experienced. During testimony in court, the veracity of what witnesses say is increasingly being questioned. Each new evocation of a memory can lead to its transformation, other information, directly related or contextually similar, can influence the subject's memory. We live with an impression of mnemonic realism, we now have proof of the fictional aspect of episodic memory. This knowledge invites caution and modesty. It is possible to trust oneself while knowing that a margin of error must be taken into account.
Surprisingly, after the unpleasant moment of this awareness that can hurt our ego, the discovery of our ignorance has many advantages. A stimulation of our curiosity, the pleasure of the wonder of knowledge, the desire to do things differently... All sorts of pleasures that give a youthful boost to the brain of the jaded. Having seen everything, knowing everything and constantly asserting that one is right is, all in all, quite tiring for oneself and for others. As a bonus, if you want to build new neurons throughout your life, it seems that learning is a condition for success!
Yuval Noah HARARI, Sapiens, une brève histoire de l'Humanité, Albin Michel 2015
Christopher CHABRIS & Daniel SIMONS, The invisible gorilla, THE APPLE 2015
Élisabeth LOFTUS, Katherine KETCHAM, the false memory syndrome, Exergue 1998 or on TED