Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The Trouble with Confidence

Daniel Kahneman on the prevalence and the problem of overconfidence. The issue is obvious when celebrities support social and political narratives from a position of profound ignorance yet do so with the most ineffable confidence. Somehow they know they are not idiots in spite of all the evidence. That’s confidence.

How about HS2, the next big government IT project, the next housing policy initiative, defence spending, green energy or the latest education policy? 

Yet in many cases confidence is not necessarily misplaced because those responsible will be long gone by the time the brown stuff hits the fan. If it ever does. 


Sam Vega said...

There's an interesting bit where Kahneman points out that we are, in general, more sensitive to avoiding future losses than accruing future gains. This might relate to why we like some kinds of optimists, and dislike others. The examples you give are about taking daft risks to reach some as-yet-unrealised goals. In such cases, over-confidence is very likely to be a liability. Blair is, as almost always in these matters, one of the best examples.

The other type of confidence is when experts are fending off disaster. We need airline pilots, emergency services, and doctors to have a good deal of this type of confidence. Against Blair, Churchill is the best historical example. To adapt Kahneman's point: we don't require confidence in our financial advisor, but if the stock market crashes and my nest-egg is threatened, I don't want a quitter.

Confidence is an Aritotelian virtue, which is only so by being part of a network of other controlling virtues such as prudence, rationality, self-control, etc.

Sackerson said...

My brother often refers to this:

James Higham said...

Wrote something similar this morning - convinced they're competent, as the Narrative tells them so and they'd like it to be so ... but the evidence says otherwise. Multiply by hundreds of thousands, even millions and there is a society on the way down.

A K Haart said...

Sam - I agree, it is the misplaced confidence of poseurs we don't want. Yet their untrustworthy nature is often obvious to outsiders as it was with Blair.

Sackers - as ever the trick is to pick out which is which. This is what we don't do well in a collective sense and the media certainly don't do it on our behalf.

James - I'll pop across for a read.