Why Confidence Should Decrease as Knowledge Increases

My last post discussed the critical relationship between knowledge and confidence.  One point I failed to mention is that at regular intervals in the learning process confidence should actually decrease as knowledge increases.  At first it might seem logical that an increase in knowledge consistently leads to an increase in confidence, but this is not always the case.

The more a person learns, the more they discover holes in their own personal knowledgebase.  A steady increase in knowledge on a particular subject will actually create fluctuations in a person’s level of confidence pertaining to the same subject matter. As a person increases their knowledge they open new doors leading to information that was formerly unknown.  When a new door is first open a person’s confidence actually decreases slightly due to the sudden realization of what they don’t know.  Their confidence will then slowly increase as all the new information is addressed and accounted for.  Eventually another new door will open and the cycle will carry on.

If your level of confidence in what you know never ever decreases, you may not be learning enough.


  1. says

    I’m glad you decided to clarify that confidence does often decrease as knowledge increases. It’s a very true statement especially as related to computer security. The more you learn about security, the more vulnerable you feel all the time.

  2. says

    Very good point, Matt. I’m knee deep in computer security issues on a daily basis, and you are most certainly correct. Sometimes I feel like I know nothing at all even though I know more than I knew the day before.

  3. John says

    Your diagram is a bit misleading, because you don’t represent the fact that an increase in knowledge might cause a radical decrease in confidence when you realize that you’re completely wrong.

    A better rule of thumb is “Don’t read something you know you’ll agree with” when it comes to a controversial topic. Otherwise you get people who have read four books in favor of laissez-faire economics and none against; etc.

    If you’re already in favor of laissez-faire economics, there’s no reason to read even *one single book* you know you’ll agree with. The best course of action is to read the two or three most prominent books that you know you’ll disagree with. If they shake your confidence significantly, then you’re allowed to read books from the side you started on. If they inspire your confidence even further, then you’re doing it wrong.

  4. says

    It was, I think, Horace Greeley who suggested that a young man should have his gods challenged on the presumption that such a challenge would either show his error or shore up his strength.

    Many of my friends think I am very bright regarding computers. They don’t understand that I am looking dangers dead in the eye that aren’t even on their radar, things such as RFIDs in drivers licenses and credit cards.

    I USE computers more than they do. But I trust them less.

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