The Dunning-Kruger effect is a close personal friend of mine.
I’m sure you seem to means, my favorite being that the first rule of Dunning-Kruger club is that you don’t know you’re in Dunning-Kruger club. Boiled down, without math or graphs or anything, it’s a cognitive bias that essentially says the skills you need to understand whether you are good at something or not are the same skills that you need to actually be good at that thing.
If you’re unaware of the effect, graphically it looks like a super steep line when you first learn something, peaking way above actually being good or knowledgeable about that something. So, early on, when you learn just a little bit, you think things are easy and that you’re really good at it. And then you learn a little bit more, and there’s almost as steep a drop-off into understanding just how ignorant of the subject you are. It drops into a bowl that, very slowly over time and learning, you come out of until, at essentially expert level, you figure out that you’re more or less doing okay.
There are also a variety of concepts of cyclical learning spread across the world, but I like the Japanese version the best, which I may have discussed before: Shuhari. Emulate, adapt, transcend.
I try to look at both of these things together, really. A lot of the time, I know just how not good I am at something. In terms of cyclical learning, I’m still in the emulation phase. Looking at what people are doing around me, seeing the things that work well and don’t, and adapting my practices as result. I read, study, learn.
On good days, when Mr.’s Dunning and Kruger are my friends, I actually feel like I’m on the upward curve of the bowl. I’m in the adapt or extend phase of learning, providing the right example to the people around me, and being good at whatever job it is I’m doing at the moment. There are even flashes of transcendence, moments, hours, even days sometimes when I feel like everything is just working right, when I’ve got a grip on things, when I’m making things work, when everything is going well and I’m making a difference. Those never last, of course.
Most days are a mixture of the three, with, over time, more and more in the middle zone, where I’m maybe on the upward curve, mostly in the adaptive phase. But then there are days, or even weeks, that kick my ass.
Every morning, I should stop and wonder what kind of the day today will be. On Monday’s maybe it’s what kind of week.
I guess I just have to wait and see, and do my best at whatever I turn my mind to.
Be well, everyone.by
by So I’m going to try a new experiment for at least the next 30 days.
Yes, it’s a weird time to be starting something like this, but weird is often fun.
Have you ever heard someone use the old cliché that if you learned something today then the day hasn’t been wasted? There are a lot of variations on this:
“A day spent without learning something is a day wasted.”—Anonymous
“Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back”—Chinese proverb
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”—Dr. Suess
“When you stop growing, you start dying.”—William S. Burroughs
Plus a gazillion more expressions between and around those thoughts.
Because one of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I’m often happiest when I’m learning something new, I like Einstein’s “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”
I do tend to have far too many interests, so many that I can’t possibly focus on most of them long enough to actually develop of depth of knowledge in the field. Politics, Astronomy, Mythology, Gaming, Languages, Animal Behaviour… if I don’t stop there, I can probably keep the list going for a couple of pages or more before having to think about it.
As a writer, I don’t think this is a bad thing. Thinking about fiction, the more odd little things you know and/or understand, the greater your experience and the more you can put together to make fun and interesting characters and stories.
But research and learning should be a part of everyone’s life, if only because there are more cool things to know than anyone can every find out. Yes, the Earth is just awesome, so think about how much more awesome the whole universe is.
And I will never, ever see enough, know enough, or understand enough.
If it’s only a couple of sentences long, I’ll do it a second time.
Yes, Wikipedia has plenty of issues and yes, there’s a lot on there that isn’t terribly well researched or sourced. But there’s a lot that is, and when people find things they’re passionate about, they often have the drive to keep them far more up to date than those old paper encyclopedia sets our parents used to buy and then keep for decades.
Think about this: there are something close to 5 million articles on Wikipedia. In English. Chances are pretty good that the “Random Article” link is going to take me to something I don’t already know, maybe even something it never even occurred to me to think about wanting to know.
The experiment began today, and the link gave me the following 3-sentence stub about Grégory Sarrasin:
“Grégory Sarrasin (born on March 17, 1979) is a male freestyle wrestler from Switzerland. He participated in Men’s freestyle 66 kg at 2008 Summer Olympics. He was eliminated from competition by Emin Azizov in the 1/16 of final.”
Interesting but not enough. Click again.
Vernoux-en-Gâtine is a commune in the Deux-Sèvres department in western France.
Even shorter. Come on. Give me something with meat. Click.
Ah, here we go.
Kazuma Ieiri, a Japanese Entrepreneur who, in addition to taking his first big company public, has also been an internet activist, ran for governor of the Tokyo Prefecture, raising money by crowdfunding, built his platform by crowdsourcing, and livestreamed his campaign headquarters. He finished in 5th place out of 16 candidates.
Pretty cool. I wonder what I’ll learn tomorrow.
Be well, everyone.by
by So I keep asking myself what my purpose is in writing, or creating anything.
I’ve gradually understood that I’m unwilling to take the time away from the truly important things in my life to do. And what I mean by truly important is family. I’ve reached the point recently where I don’t write on weekends unless I’m working nights. If my family is home and available, I need to be available to them. It’s far, far easier for me to interrupt some task or chore around the house than it is to stop in the middle of the scene. So it’s better that I don’t even start the scene.
Of course, the problem with that strategy is weekends are when I should be getting my editing done. Most of my new words happen in the car, dictating into my phone. New words typically aren’t saleable, or sometimes even readable. I think between first and final draft not many sentences remain completely intact. So I’m going to have to work that out because just pounding out the words doesn’t get me any closer to publishing things.
But I started this post wondering why I create, what my purpose is in writing, why it’s necessary to my mental and physical well-being. Because it is. My mood is better, I’m happier when I’m in the process of writing or making something. Not just in the act of creation itself, but in and around it. The world seems brighter, more colorful, easier to grasp and interact with when I’m creating.
But I also get those feelings when I’m learning something new. Whether it’s improving my lackluster French, slowly building up my non-existent Japanese, gradually filling in the gaps of the math and physics I used to know once upon a time, or even just cruising interesting sites and articles on the Internet, I get a sense of mental well-being out of learning.
So I’m happier when I’m learning, and I’m happier when I’m creating. Mental health adds to physical health. When you feel good in your head, you can convince your body to become better, stronger, faster.
But why do I have to create?
There are lots of easy, pat answers for that. Lots of silly ones too.
There aren’t any voices in my head, but I do have a tremendous imagination. The more I exercise it, the more expands. That’s not always a good thing, but the good far outweighs the extra guilt or fear I’m forced into on occasion.
I don’t feel the need to kidnap people and force them to act out my imaginary stories, but if someday someone wants to make a short film or movie or audio drama head of something written… that would be awesome. Maybe I should do it myself.
I’m not concerned about a legacy or leaving something of myself behind, something concrete. That’s not up to me to decide. Be the best person you can be, be the best person you can to people around you, and your legacy is in the memories you leave with them. Anything else is a bonus. But not for you, not for me. For them.
I don’t have to write. I can walk away from writing it any time. I’m not addicted, and I won’t fall apart I stop. I spent the majority of my 20s, and the bulk of my 30s not writing. I didn’t guide, and I didn’t go crazy.
So why then? What purpose is in it?
I ask myself this a lot, and I always come up with the same answer. I don’t know.
I right, or record, or create, because I can, because I enjoy it, because I love it. Not because I have to, or need to, or want to, but just because it’s fun.
If it ever stops being fun, then I’ll stop.
Whether or not it’s short, life is finite. There is a limited amount of time available to each of us. That’s the realization everyone needs. Time is limited. Don’t waste it on things you don’t enjoy.
But be careful how you interpret that. I have three children, and each of them seems to spend some amount of their time thinking up new ways to piss me off. It’s not intentional, it’s a kid thing, and the parent half the equation, the half I need to balance out, is to use those things to learn, to teach, to grow.
I hate being angry, particularly if it’s at someone or something I love. The trick is to use that anger to grow and become better than I am.
I think you need to do that with anything, any experience. You can’t choose what the universe puts in your path, but you can choose how you react to it, and you can choose your own path from each reaction. We each build the universe around us, and what we choose to do, what we choose makes that universe what it is.
I choose to create. I choose to learn. I choose to love.
What do you choose?
Be well, everyone.by