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Duende39: In Admiration of Stupid

Duende39: In Admiration of Stupid

I'm a big fan of stupid. Big big big fan.

Someone can always find the epitome of stupid with the annual Darwin Awards. Besides getting a good laugh at those who have successfully removed themselves from the gene pool, stupid actually serves an important role in our everyday lives.

It keeps us honest. We can learn from stupid.

Take McArthur Wheeler. He wasn't entirely stupid. He knew he couldn't believe everything he read. This was the mid-nineties, so the internet was just getting started with the various rabbit-holes that will become the backbone of what it is today.

He'd read that lemon juice would have the same effect on camera as it did on handwriting. Not being stupid, he tested the theory first. He probably took the world's first selfie using a polaroid after having drenched his face in lemon juice. The white photo ejected from the camera. He swished it around for a minute, as he'd seen done in the movies.

And sure enough, his face was a pale, unrecognizable version of its normal self.

Confident he was onto a good thing, he left to rob two banks. While the polaroid fully developed, Wheeler walked mask-less into the banks brandishing his pistol. He was so sure of himself he smiled at the cameras.

That afternoon, the police arrested him for said bank robberies. When shown the footage from both banks, Wheeler declared the footage fake because he had smothered his face in lemon juice.

This story led two psychologists to come up with a theory that the less you know, the more confident you are in what you know.

Wheeler's Wikipedia page redirects to the DK effect

For those of us who aren't stupid, we know we don't know everything. In fact, the more we know, the less we know we know. It's a real curse.

As I build out my analogue note-taking system (zettelkasten), it is forcing me to rethink how I store the notes. I'm a big fan of (not only stupid) but of frameworks for my thinking.

The beauty of the zettelkasten system is that it can be a heterarchy, meaning notes can connect to other notes across any hierarchy.

Wikipedia has been a fantastic resource for rethinking this structure. The outline of academic disciplines shows just one way to re-conceptualise the landscape of human knowledge.

Drill down, and you can quickly realise how little you know, or how much there is to know.

I discovered that there is an academic field called 'the history of ideas' with names such as Arthur O Lovejoy, Rene Willek, Leo Sprizter and Michel Foucault involved. Lovejoy's idea was that all ideas can be reduced to 'unit-idea' and these were 'building blocks' of human thinking. These 'unit-ideas' could combine with other 'unit-ideas' to form new patterns of meaning.

This is essentially the purpose of creating 'atomic' notes (either digitally or on note cards). It builds on the strength of the human mind, namely to find new connections between pre-existing ideas.

Each time an idea (be it a unit-idea or atomic thought), we will always see it in a new light when placed next to another note. It is like you will never cross the same river twice.

This week I returned to Lake Tyrrell, a salt-crusted depression in the Mallee district. This is a photo from when I was last there at the height of summer:

And this is the photo from the depths of winter:

The same jetty, in a different context, changes dramatically with the addition of water.

With each new piece of knowledge we gain, it will always change how we think of everything we had previously known.

And this recombining is at the heart of the heterarchy. But the life-force must surely be the admiration of stupid.

Knowing that we don't know everything means we won't walk around with lemon juice on our face thinking we are invisible.