Living Through Dunning-Kruger

I had the good fortune to be diagnosed with a heart “flutter” this winter, and successfully treated. Found the bug, fixed the bug.

But part of the treatment was a beta-blocker, which I was warned would sap my strength. What I was not expecting was it would turn me into a living example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.


The Dunning-Kruger effect is described in their 1999 study, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”.  A person of limited intelligence lacks the intelligence to see that they’re stupid, and instead assumes everyone who disagrees with them is stupid instead.

The English-speaking world has some popular examples of this, usually political leaders who seem to the average  person to be barking mad (;-))

Surprise, you can’t detect it if you’re suffering from it

I could certainly see the physical effects of a beta-blocker: I normally walk up the hill to the church at York Mills at a brisk pace, without any difficulty.

The first symptom I noticed was that I was out of breath every few yards, and would have to stop and catch up after every flight of steps.Screenshot_2020-04-27_21-12-51.png

Each climb of half a story ran me out of air. (There were eight)

More subtly, I had trouble keeping up with discussions at work. I could usually understand, but had real trouble scribing (live-blogging) meetings. Fortunately if I was scribing I didn’t have to speak, because I found it doubly hard to respond to a rapid discussion. So I didn’t.

But all I really noticed was the physical effects. I couldn’t really see I was slowing down mentally, just that other people  were harder to understand and couldn’t follow me on the few occasions when I commented.

But I did notice I drank more wine. Way more wine.

And then I came off the stupid pills

After about a month, I was re-tested, and the treatment had clearly worked.  I had normal blood pressure, heart rate and heart rhythm, so off the pills I came.

The doctor said they would be out of my system in three or four days, and he was right, After about four days, I felt much better.

At the same time, I felt much  worse. I could remember the difficulty I had had. I could remember failing to hear well, talk well and write well.

My employers hadn’t had Dave Collier-Brown working for them, they had Dave Dunning-Kruger. I couldn’t tell how stupid I had been until after the medicine had worn off.

I used to have trouble understanding Rob Ford

But that was before I became him, and his brother Doug, and Mr Johnson of the UK and Mr Trump of the US.

When your brains is being eaten by a zombie, be it chemical or biological, you can’t tell it, just that life is getting harder and harder. Until your brain is all gone and you die.

Or, if you’re lucky, until your doctor takes you off the medicine that’s simulating the zombie apocalypse, and lets you live again.

I feel sorry for my former colleagues in the world of the barking mad.  They don’t know it, but they’re starring in The Living Dead.





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