Visit the

Who is this ?

Jacques Lacan apparently initiated the concept of 'the subject presumed to know', which is indeed a double-edged hallmark of our psychology: useful, but potentially dangerously misleading.

To put it short, if someone has the title, then we presume that they know a thing or two about the issue. If we have a medical problem, we presume an M.D. has the answer. If we have an issue with our car, we presume a mechanic will solve it. If our computer crashes, ask the coder. These people have credibilty in our eyes.

Famous actors who come into focus on the screen instantly have credibility to portray a certain role that they perhaps should not have because each role is supposed to be unique - as demonstrated by variations in voice (but without any other drastic variations such as face and body alterations, and no, make up and prosthetics rarely count).

The same applies to 'learned' people. Instead of celebrity, these learned people have degrees that demonstrate their ability and willingness to jump through institutional hoops, and therefore have access to credibility that might undermine the basis for opinion in others who come across their ideas.

We assume such institutional hoops translates to a combination of clear thinking and wide reading on a given topic. But this is not necessarily the case. (Please see page 109 of Sam Harris' 'The Moral Landscape' ebook for a description of my favorite example of this phenomenon)

In short, people with credibility can lead us astray because we assume things. Things like PHD's and 'years of experience' create a halo of 'positive' bias around a person. Usually rightly so. An MD probably will give you a much more useful answer than a witch doctor, but this is because there is an extremely high correlation between the nature of the question and the experience such a person has had.

There is also the sad joke about a the sea slug, which upon finding a suitable place to settle down, proceeds to eat its own brain because the brain is no long necessary. The joke here is that it's aptly applied to many professors who attain tenure. Certainly unfair to many professors, but to many others, the all-too-human tendency is sadly relevant: having secured a lifetime position, they cease to grow.

Things get strange when we fail to realize that credibility oozes across diciplines because credibility exists as a feeling of certainty. Why would an actor be called before congress to talk intelligently about some given topic that was part of a movie they were in? Should not someone who has spent more time on the issue report as opposed to an actor who dabbled in the subject for a short term movie project? This is a good example of how credbility, i.e. celebrity, oozes past it's earned place.

Why does Leonardo DiCaprio speak before the U.N. about climate change even though he is not a climate scientist?

Well for one, life is multi-disciplined, and we must use what credibility is avaiable in order to have the affect we wish to achieve, even if that credibility does not align perfectly with our achievable wishes. But this can go terribly wrong.

Politicians are perhaps the best example of 'subjects presumed to know' who then lead whole swathes of people into terrible situations such as war and genocide.

In a world that is hopefully moving towards future versions that enable greater wellbeing, should not ideas be assessed separate from the face, mouth and history of the person?

A genuinely good idea should not suffer the superficial associations linked to its origin.

If it came about that Hitler had designed the perfect way to sharpen a pencil that supercedes all current methods, we would be stupid not to cast aside association and put a better idea to good use.

(oy, that got dark) But the message is one and the same. Good people have bad ideas too, and we are best served as a species to make a habit of divorcing ideas from their origins to see if the idea is useful when isolated from the reputational taint of its origin. If the idea is useful and it's decimination and profliferatioin can be aided by the identity of origin, then all the better. However, in the case of Tinkered Thinking, this point is not simply irrelevant but counter to the code of the experiement: which is to figure out which ideas are simply useful.

Point being: if the idea is valuable: use it. Doesn't matter where or from whom the idea originates.