The Dunning-Kruger effect, psychological sets, and the bottom twelve percent.


Some of the things I’ve been contemplating recently…

What is the Dunning-Kruger effect? What are psychological sets? And, who exactly are the bottom twelve percent?


Simply put, the Dunning-Kruger effect is when someone has a lot of confidence and over estimates their limited knowledge about a subject… whereas, a knowledgeable person would tend to underestimate their own knowledge because they realize just how much they do not know.

The polar opposite of the Dunning-Kruger effect is the ‘imposter syndrome’. This term was coined in 1978 to describe high achieving individuals who felt that their successes were a matter of luck or fraud. These individuals feel as if their successes are undeserved.

Psychological Sets

When discussing ‘sets’, it is important to take into consideration the many types of sets a person may undertake. A set is a group of expectations that can be shaped by the experiences of a person, which in turn, makes that person more sensitive to specific kinds of information, which can lead to what is known as ‘cognitive entrenchment’.

To avoid cognitive entrenchment, it can useful to consider, and to think about things from people who have a differing points of view. Not only will they tell you things you may not already know, they may also give you a new perspective on a subject matter. People who are fixed thinkers have the tendency to only see solutions that have worked in the past. This can best be described as having a ‘mental set’.

A perceptual set (perceptual expectancy), is a predisposition to perceive things in a certain way. An individual’s perceptual set is influenced by their life experiences, beliefs, motivations, education, culture, and core values. They can, in turn, impact how the individual navigates new experiences and problems, and can predispose the individual to interpret situations and new information in a biased way, based upon that individual’s perception.

And a mental set is the framework in which a person approaches or thinks about a problem. The tendency is to use the same method or solution process that worked with solving previous problems, while purposely or subconsciously, ignoring alternative solutions. This is essentially a very real cognitive block that impedes their ability to correctly solve the problem at hand.

How do we keep an open mind and not fall into perceptual and/or mental sets? One way we can try to overcome sets is to abstract the problem. Simplify the problem down to its essential elements. Do not pass judgment on ideas early on in the problem solving process. Listen to alternative perspectives and possible solutions.

The bottom twelve percent

This one is a particularly uncomfortable subject for me, but I do think it must be addressed. Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, roughly stated that someone with an IQ of 83 or lower, would be barred from joining the U.S. armed forces. Supposedly, with an IQ of 83 or below, there were no occupations within the U.S. armed forces that would be worthwhile to train that potential soldier to do. In other words, that person was not cost-effective to induct.

I’ve done a little research to determine the validity of this assertion. The best I could find does correlate, to some extent, his basic statement. But I do not think that’s the important take-away from his point. The real point in the statement is about the IQ score of 83, which translates to about 12.8% of the population. Twelve point eight percent out of a population of 331,000,00 people in the United States (2020 estimate), equates to 25.86 million people. Think about that for a moment… nearly 26 million people are not intelligent enough to be of much use to our armed forces… in any capacity. This is alarming for several reasons. 1) our armed services are an excellent way to propel service members up the socio-economic ladder, from lower to middle class and middle to upper class, 2) modern capitalism postulates that, with hard work and diligence, any person can raise himself/herself up out of poverty, 3) With each subsequent generation, Western society becomes more sophisticated and technologically advanced. Realizing that nearly 13% of our population hasn’t the mental ability to be economically useful, even as cannon fodder, for our armed services… what hope do they have functioning in modern society? How does society deal with that problem?


A Golden Opportunity?

Background information:

Iran seeks to create a regional hegemony in the Middle East, and is traced back to the Iranian Revolution of 1979. They’re being opposed by Saudi Arabia. Their campaign for influence is known as The Middle East Cold War. This cold war is waged on multiple levels… geopolitical, economic, and sectarian influence. The United States backs Saudi Arabia and the Saudi’s allies, while Russia and China supports Iran and its allies. The problem that occurs in a regional hegemony is that it tends to limit the development of peer competitors in that region.

The current rash of conflicts between the two, started with the Arab Spring of 2011. Iran and Saudi Arabia have faced off in several regional conflicts to include the Bahraini uprising (2011-2014), the Syrian Civil War (2011 – today), and the Yemeni Civil War (2015 – today).

The Iran-Israel Cold War gradually emerged from the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution (1979). Iran has declared that Iran’s ultimate aim is the dissolution of the state of Israel. Iran has been involved in conflicts pitting Syria, Lebanon, and the terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah, against Israel.

Iranian aggressions since 2019:

12 May –  four commercial oil tankers were damaged in the Gulf of Oman.

17 June – the United States deployed another 1,000 troops to the Middle East after another two ships were attacked in the Gulf of Oman.

20 June – Iran shoots down U.S. drone (RQ-4 Global Hawk).

18 July – An Iranian drone closed to within 1,000 yards of the U.S.S. Boxer, who then electronically jammed the drone, causing it to crash.

27 December – rocket attack on the K1 Air Base (Kaywan) in Iraq. One American contractor killed, and several American and Iraqi military injured.

31 December – Iranian backed military groups storm U.S. embassy in Iraq.

7 January 2020 – Iran launches 15 missiles into Iraq at U.S. military targets, in retaliation to Gen. Qassem Soleimani’s killing.

Side notes:

It is worth noting that in a meeting with Netanyahu (June 2016), Vladimir Putin described Israel and Russia as “unconditional allies” in “efforts to counter international terrorism”

In July of 2018, President Trump and Vladimir Putin agreed to cooperate in ensuring Israel’s security.


With the recent demise of Iranian Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and the very limited and ultimately ineffective retaliatory strikes back from Iran, President Trump has the opportunity to finally do what no previous president has done… put a stop to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran recently declared that they will no longer abide by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear deal framework).

With the recent escalation in tensions between the United States and Iran, Trump has more than sufficient reasons to make a preemptive strike at Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And it seems that Putin has little interest in standing in the way should Trump attack Iran. I guess we shall see how this ultimately plays out in the coming months.


Something… out of nothing?

How can something be created from nothingness? How is that a possibility? Furthermore, how can it be proven?

If we were to place a box under vacuum, theoretically, we would have a box of nothingness. But is it really empty? The answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Enter quantum fluctuation. A particle can be created in a vacuum, and disappear, provided that it happens very quickly.

In quantum physics, a quantum fluctuation is the temporary change in the amount of energy in a point in space, also known as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. The uncertainty principle states that for a pair of conjugate variables such as position/momentum or energy/time, it is impossible to have a precisely determined value of each member of the pair at the same time.

Quantum physics and Special Theory of Relativity were further explained via Dirac’s famous equation.

Dirac equation(original)

This equation describes particles and anti-particles. These particles are created in pairs, which can borrow energy from a vacuum before reuniting and cancelling each other out, thus returning the borrowed energy. These ‘virtual particles’ can appear and disappear trillions of times in a blink of an eye. One proof that this does happen, is by observing electrons of an atom in a vacuum. The electrons want to move on a flat plane around an atom. If the electrons bobble in their orbit around an atom, it is because of particles and anti-particles, interfering and affecting the electrons’ orbits.

Now, this all begs the question, ‘Why does any of this matter?’ Well, we know that the universe is expanding at an accelerated rate, but what is the driving force? One theory suggested that dark energy was the reason. A new theory puts forth the idea that, with the creation and destruction of these virtual particles, the universe oscillates between expansion and contraction. During these oscillations, the net effect is that the universe expands very slowly, but at an ever accelerating rate.


Have we become a society of non-thinkers? Or, collectively, have we always been shallow in our thinking and reasoning processes? With the advent of social media, has this phenomenon just been more evident?

I dare say, we’ve all seen a sensational, attention grabbing headline online, or in the news. But upon reading the news article, we discover that the story behind the headlines, sometimes has little to do with the original impression the headline had given. The headline was nothing more than a ‘hook’, to get the audience to read the article. The problem in that, is a substantial portion of the general public, won’t bother to read the article. But, they will regurgitate the misleading headline as if it were gospel. Maybe they do this because it somehow fits into their political agendas? Into their limited world views? In other words, it fits into their confirmation bias.

One would think, with the world wide web at our disposal, people would take the time to at least do a Google search and gather additional information about a subject matter. Sadly, that usually isn’t the case. 



Passion for books

(Uncle Remus, by Joel Chandler Harris 1921)


One of the joys of my life is my passion for books. It was something that kind of happened over time. As digital media became more prevalent, people turned away from the printed word. As a consequence, books were being disposed in great quantities. I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill paperbacks being tossed aside, but high quality classics 100+ years old. They were the type and quality books that would be the foundation of family libraries, first editions and ‘banned’ books (see above picture) that the politically correct police deemed unworthy to be read in our ever evolving, self-righteous society.

Among the many tomes in my collection, is a 1919 copy of The Merry Adventures of Robinhood by Howard Pyle, a 1st edition (1863) example of Tales of a Wayside Inn by Longfellow, and 5 volume set of Les Miserables (1887) by Victor Hugo.

As time goes by, classic hardbacks are becoming more scarce. It is my hope that these books will one day come back into vogue.

Our backyard, our Universe

The heavens have fascinated mankind since the dawn of time… well, at least for the last 240,000 years after man evolved enough to climb down from the trees. But I digress. 

This past century has unquestionably added to our knowledge of our solar system and the cosmos. What have we learned? I’ve compiled a few things that I find interesting. 


A forming planet has to reach about 500 miles across in order to have enough gravity to crush itself into a sphere. Four and a half billion years ago, roughly 100 baby planets were circling our Sun. In time, they slammed into one another, resulting in the formation of our current four rocky planets of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.

All four of our gaseous planets have rings. Jupiter has thousands of ringlets, many only a few miles wide. Gas planets also have magnetic fields. The auroras at their poles are proof of this. So, how does a gas planet, without an iron core, create a magnetic field?

Scientists have tried to recreate the core of Jupiter in order to study why it has a magnetic field. In the lab, scientists used an array of 192 laser beams focused on a sample of hydrogen gas, to simulate the pressures of Jupiter. As the pressure upon the sample reached over a million times the pressure on Earth, the hydrogen becomes a liquid. But, upon reaching tens of millions the amount of pressure, similar to that of Jupiter’s core… the resulting pressure changes the structure of the hydrogen atoms into a metallic form. Scientists think that this is what is happening within Jupiter’s core. In January of 2017, a scientist at Harvard University successfully created metallic hydrogen. 

The moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are at least 50% water. Nearly 4 billion years ago, asteroids delivered the water we now have on Earth. Seventy-one percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water. Still, water only makes up 0.05 percent of Earth’s mass. We enjoy just the right amount of water. Less, and we would be a dry planet with the land masses soaking up the water. More water, and the Earth would be a water world. 

The average galaxy may contain 100 billion stars. Until a hundred years ago, scientists believed the universe contained only the Milky Way galaxy. Scientists of the day called it our ‘island universe’. In 1924, Edwin Hubble discovered other galaxies outside our own. In that year, our knowledge of our universe went from just knowing about the Milky Way galaxy, to realizing that there were billions of galaxies out there.

Galaxies are massive. On Earth, we measure distance in miles, kilometers, or leagues. In space, we measure using astronomical units (1), parsecs (2), and light years. A light year is just under 6 trillion miles. Earth is 25,000 light years from the center of our Milky Way galaxy, and our galaxy is over 100,000 light years across. Andromeda, our nearest galactic neighbor, is over 200,000 light years across. Our universe is estimated to be 93 billion light years across.

  1. Astronomical Unit = Approximately 1.5 million kilometers
  2. Parsec = 3.26 light-years (30 trillion km or 19 trillion miles)

The Big Bang occurred about 13.7 billion years ago.

IC-1011 is the biggest galaxy yet found. It is 60 times larger than the Milky Way and extends six-million light years across.

Studying the center of our own galaxy, scientists discovered that the stars revolving around the center, were moving at speeds of several million miles an hour. The only force powerful enough to sling stars around at those speeds had to be a super massive black hole.

Even with super massive black holes at the center of all galaxies, it doesn’t exert enough gravity to keep the galaxies together. So, what keeps galaxies together? Dark matter. Dark matter makes up roughly six times as much matter as regular matter that exists in the universe. We know dark matter exists because of what it does to light emanating throughout the universe. Dark matter bends light in a process called gravitational lensing. It does this by magnifying the brightness of the light but also distorting the image. We cannot see or directly detect dark matter, but we know it exists. Without it, galaxies would fall apart. Dark matter is the glue holding together the whole structure of our universe.

So why is dark matter important? Scientists believe that dark matter slowly created strands of itself across the universe. Dark matter are the building blocks for our universe. Upon these weblike strands, are built the galaxies. Of all matter comprising the universe, dark matter makes up 23%. Regular matter accounts for only 4%.

As you’ve probably noticed, both dark matter and regular matter together, makes up 27% of the universe. What comprises the rest? Dark energy… it makes up roughly 68%.

Using type 1 supernova to measure distances, scientists found that galaxies weren’t slowing down due to gravity after the Big Bang, but rather they were accelerating. How could this be? The answer, dark energy.

Dark matter checked dark energy until about 5 billion years ago. Dark energy started winning the tug of war with dark matter. From that point on, the growth of the universe started speeding up. Dark energy was, in essence, stretching space.

Learning to fit in…

Fitting in seems to happen so easily for most people. Me, not so much. As an introvert, I don’t express my emotions with my face. My face tends to look the same if I’m happy or sad. It’s not uncommon for people to ask me if I’m mad. Most just avoid interacting with me because they assume I’m angry. On the plus side, not having to deal with people does have its merits… but, on the down side, it also means missing out on a lot of opportunities… social, as well as in business.

Facial cues are a definite problem area for me. When speaking with someone, I try to analyze their face as a way to gage their reaction to whatever it is I’m saying. In doing so, I’m inclined to stare at them… oftentimes without breaking eye contact. Yeah, I know that makes people feel uncomfortable, as I’ve often been told. It’s not intentional. Add that to my typically expressionless face, I come across as glaring, or staring a hole through the person. It can be intimidating, I agree.

But, what am I to do? I feel completely out-of-place when a try to force myself to smile. It feels awkward, weird, and it probably looks completely disingenuous. Yet, that is what is desired when communicating with others. Smiling is a social cue that you’re receptive to what another is saying, and that you’re taking an interest in their ideas… their thoughts… and their opinions. It is a positive type of feedback that validates others.

When I was a younger man, time and again, I would miss subtle flirtatious gestures and looks from women. My friends would point out later that a lady was hitting on me. Unless they flat out said that they were interested, I just didn’t pick up on it. Being a very straight-forward person, I thought others would be the same. What can I say? Missed opportunities.

I have, over time, tried to be more approachable. Maybe knock off some of the ‘rough edges’ people see of my outward appearance. I still carry a ‘resting bitch face’. But I’ve learned to embrace that part of myself with a bit of humor. I recently created a tee shirt with my face showing my many moods. Not surprisingly, it’s all the same face. At least folks get a good laugh when they see me wearing the shirt.











Matching capabilities to oversight

I’ve been in the machining business for many years. During that time, I’ve worn many ‘hats’ in the industry, from being a machine operator to owning a CNC machine shop. It has been my experience, that many times, shop supervisors have very limited knowledge of machine shop practices and procedures.

This can be detrimental to the productivity of a shop, if that supervisor insists on implementing ideas and/or procedures, which run contrary to common machine shop practices. This is because many common shop practices have been developed over time, and are fundamental to running a shop in a very precise way.

Shop practices can range from how machining processes are accomplished, to how work flows through the area. These practices can also be used to delegate responsibilities to key machinists… responsibilities that may encompass who and when tools are ordered, whose job it is to maintain the machine tools, and the best way to machine a job. For this reason, the most qualified machinist, is usually the shop lead. The shop lead’s primary purpose is to interface with the supervisor.

Because the lead and the supervisor are closely tied to one another, it is imperative that they share a common view and understanding on how the shop is set up, staffed, and run. Supervisors don’t typically have much machining knowledge, but the shop lead does. In theory, one complements the other, to make a functioning whole.

In a perfect world, both the supervisor’s and shop lead’s overall abilities overlap. Where one’s skills may be lacking, the other compensates. The reality is that many times, because the supervisor hasn’t the depth of knowledge the lead possesses, instances arise in which they end up working against each other. This breakdown impacts the working relationships of the personnel on the floor and the overall productivity of the shop.

So, how do we match supervisors to shop leads? I think the best supervisors are those who have been machinists on the floor, but that’s not the world we live in. As I’ve said before, they should complement each other. Understanding that, in most cases, the supervisor has very limited machine shop experiences, we should seek out a lead that fulfills the deficits of the supervisor.

Three keys to matching a supervisor to a lead are Scope, Depth, and Knowledge. These are defined below.

Scope: the area of responsibility of the individual

Depth: the amount of influence one has over their work environment

Knowledge: level of mastery in the area of your responsibility

When we assign values to these three areas, for both the supervisor and the lead, we should see an overlap that fills the voids of one with the skills and knowledge of the other.

Here’s an example of a typical Supervisor’s radial chart…

A supervisor has a lot of Scope (7.0) but can be restricted by higher up management, thus limiting their Scope below the maximum value of ten. Their Depth (6.0) does have a meaningful impact on how the shop is run. As we can see, their limited Knowledge of the machine shop translates to a two. This level of Knowledge makes it that much more important to select a qualified Lead. The Lead needs to be able to backfill the supervisor’s gap in Knowledge.

Below is an example of that Lead’s radial chart…

Admittedly, the chart seems overly optimistic in contrast to the Supervisor’s. But, keep in mind… the Lead is usually the most seasoned machinist with a vast amount of experience in the industry. While a Supervisor may have a more broad work experience, which may include non-manufacturing jobs, a Lead is more prone to only have very specific work experiences dealing with manufacturing exclusively.

Those two previous charts are best case scenarios. What I’ve found in my personal journey in the trade, looks more like this for a Lead…

The Scope for this hypothetical Lead is a four. The Depth is a miserable two. And the Knowledge is also a two. WHY??? Well, as is often the case, “it’s not what you know, but who you know’. I’ve found many Supervisors want to micro-manage their work environments. In doing so, they place mediocre people into Lead positions. These Leads are easily cowed and lack the Knowledge or Scope to ‘push back’ against a Supervisor who is negating common machine shop practices. The end results are a poorly run shop floor and a general lack of respect for the Supervisor and incompetent Leads. Job apathy becomes the norm amongst the other, more qualified machinists.



Finding common ground

In the world of everyday interactions, it’s commonplace to have misunderstandings in communication. Lacking the social and facial cues that could be gleaned from face-to-face dialogue, emails and texts can be misconstrued depending upon the recipient’s frame of mind while reading the correspondence. The written word can easily be taken out of context.

People are complex and each one of us has a unique way of processing written and verbal communications. When we read or listen to written and verbal communications, we tend to process that information through our internal perspective filters. Perspective filters are how we interpret our world according to our views on religion, political ideals, world views, etc. That perspective filter can also be affected by our emotions. Reading a correspondence while we’re in a positive mood does not always have the same meanings if we’re in a negative mood. The content is the same but the context becomes skewed.

How do we limit communication breakdowns?

I believe we can become more effective in our communications if we start from a common ground. We’ll never eliminate all the variables that contribute to poor communications but we can try to minimize them. Using the correct mode of communication is very important. While it isn’t required in most situations, follow up verbal conversations with an email to reiterate what was discussed. This is especially true in business environments.

Written communications

I’ve found in my personal and professional life, that it helps if you keep texts and emails brief. Use clear language and simplify the content. Focus on words that promote unity instead of division. Avoid information overload. Try to read received content in a neutral emotional state. If you’re not quite sure about what is being communicated, ask for clarification. Don’t assume. When sending emails, review what you’ve written for grammatical errors and words that could be taken out of context.

Verbal communications

Let’s face it. Most of us say things without putting much thought into the words we use or how it may be received. This can cause hurt feelings and negative reactions which limit the effectiveness of further communications. People shut down emotionally when they’re offended and it becomes much harder to then communicate.

Verbal communication, done face-to-face, can give your intended audience subtle cues about your intentions when sharing information. The words you use, the tone of your voice, the cadence of your speech, can all be received either negatively or positively. It’s important to understand perceptual and language differences that could cause miscommunication. When speaking, actively ‘listen’ to the verbal and non-verbal cues of your audience. Do not to assume your words are understood by others.

I’ve found that when you initiate a conversation in which you’re seeking to sway the other party, it’s helpful to engage them on friendly ground. How do you achieve this? Ask them about their day. Compliment something about them. Promote an atmosphere of friendship. People are much more receptive when they feel a sense of appreciation or gratitude from another. Adversely, if you are confrontational when speaking to someone, they’re likely to emotionally ‘shut down’ and not be at all receptive to anything you have to say… no matter how correct your points may be. In the attempt to sway someone, you’ve lost before you began.




Mucking about

Quite often, I find myself bored to tears. My everyday life is filled with monotony. Things that hold my interest for any length of time, are hard to come by, so I tend to create things that occupy my time. Those things could be some sort of word game, designed to engage others and study their reactions… using language that can be easily confused, to see if the other person knows or catches the usage. Purposely mispronouncing words while watching the eyes of the one to which I’m speaking… It can be fun, I must admit.

Or, I would take whatever I had in my environment and ‘do the math’. ‘Doing the math’, might involve trigging out distance to objects from my immediate location, or the steps people would take between certain known points within the room and figuring out the length of their strides, and maybe… the quantity of the many shapes around me, the squares, hexagons, etc., that populate my surroundings. Anything, anything to break up my days into bearable segments.

At one small company many years ago, a couple of us would play word games with one of the owners. We’d choose a ‘word of the day’ and use it in our conversations with the select owner. The word chosen could be something purposely mispronounced, or so obscure that to hear it once would be unusual, but to hear it several times in one day, would be highly suspect. It would go something like this…

Example 1

Owner: “What does the production report look like this morning?”

Reply: “Well, we’re ejactly on track to meet our goals and should incur no penalties by coming in ahead of our deadline.” Ejactly being used in place of the word ‘exactly’ and the word ‘penal’ in the word ‘penalties’, stressed heavily.

Example 2

Owner: “How much material do we need to order to produce the job quantity required?”

Reply: “I think we can order 10 feet of material. That will give us enough to do the job and leave a tittynope in case we need it.” A tittynope is a small amount of leftover, in this case material. It’s also a word no one expects to hear several times a day.

It’s the little distractions that make my day more interesting and helps to pass the time. And, in a round-about way, I learn about the people I involve with my word games. How they react, respond, etc., gives me insight into their educational level and attention to details.