[GRLUG] Orders of Ignorance

Ron Lauzon rlauzon at gmail.com
Fri May 12 06:16:07 EDT 2006

Adam bultman wrote:
> Goodness gracious, Ron, please tell me you aren't like this in person,  
> that you're just being argumentative.  I hope you realize that if the 
> rest of the Open Source people were like you, Open Source wouldn't 
> exist.  For that matter, simple chivalry wouldn't exist.
I don't think you quite got my message.  So I'll try to explain it better.

There was an article in the Communications of the ACM in Jan. 2001 
called "The Laws of Software Process" that illustrates what I'm talking 
about.  The article covers the Orders of Ignorance:
0th Order Ignorance (0OI) -- Lack of Ignorance. I have 0OI when I 
(provably) know something.
1st Order Ignorance (1OI) -- Lack of Knowledge. I have 1OI when I don't 
know something, but I know what questions to ask.
2nd Order ignorance (2OI) -- Lack of Awareness. I have 2OI when I don't 
know that I don't know something and I don't know what question to ask.
3rd Order Ignorance (3OI) -- Lack of Process. I have 3OI when I don't 
know a suitably efficient way to find out I don't know that I don't know 
4th Order Ignorance (4OI) -- Metaignorance. I have 4OI when I don't know 
about the Five Orders of Ignorance.

The people you are talking about have 2nd Order Ignorance.  They will 
benefit from the answer, because what they are asking is not "please do 
it for me", but rather "please fill in that one bit of information that 
I don't have."  Once they have that bit of knowledge, they know what 
question to ask and their ignorance goes down.

A good example would be on the MythTV site.  Someone posted a message 
that was essentially "I can't get my TV card working.  It's a Hauppauge 
250."  So I posted a simple message that went along the lines of "Did 
you load the firmware?  Were the permissions on the firmware files correct?"

Now, in this case, the person only had 2nd Order Ignorance.  He was 
ignorant of the firmware part of the Hauppauge card install.  Once he 
knew about that, he knew what question he needed to ask of Google, and 
an hour later, his DVR was working (as far the TV card went).

Now, if the person had responded with a "I checked Google, but I didn't 
understand the answers" or "what's firmware?" then this person has 3rd 
Order Ignorance.  Giving this person the answer simply won't do anything 
because he won't understand it and will ask more basic questions, which 
he won't understand, and so on.  So what stared as a "I can't get my TV 
card working" question ends up being a "teach me how a PC works" 
question and can't be answered with a simple answer.

This person bit off more than he can chew and needs to step back from 
the project he's working on and get better educated before he continues.

But here's the problem: with very few exceptions, people with 3rd Order 
Ignorance THINK that they are far more intelligent than they actually 
are.  (See Journal of Personality and Social Psychology article 
"Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own 
Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments" by Justin Kruger and 
David Dunning, Department of Psychology Cornell University.)  So when 
you tell him that he needs to get better educated before he continues, 
he gets mad, calls you "elitist", etc.

At work, I am the local "mentor" - the person other developers go to 
with technical questions and to learn things.  Over the years, I have 
found that just giving a person "the answer" doesn't really help that 
person.  In the short term, that person will use "the answer" to get by 
the current problem, but he's learned nothing from it and when the 
problem presents itself again, he will come back to me to get "the 
answer" again - a situation that isn't good for anyone.

I've found that it's better to give these people "information" and a 
direction rather than "the answer".  It takes them a little longer to 
arrive at "the answer", but because they got there under their own brain 
power, they learn something in the process - which is good for everyone.

There are two types of people who don't know something:  Ignorant people 
and stupid people.  Ignorance can be cured, however, stupidity is terminal.

In my opinion, anyone who only wants "the answer" and avoids learning 
anything new is stupid.

THOSE are the people that I'm talking about.

Ron Lauzon - rlauzon at acm dot org
   Homepage: http://7lauzon.home.comcast.net/
   Weblog: http://ronsapartment.blogspot.com/

   DNRC: Lord of All Things That Are Fattening

   "To be sure, conservative radio talk show hosts have a built-in
   audience unavailable to liberals: People driving cars to some
   sort of job." - Ann Coulter

Microsoft Free since July 06, 2001
Running Mandriva Linux 2005LE

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