Leo Rusaitis: How Information Fosters Curiosity and Technology Bridges Gaps

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.” — Bertrand Russell

It is reasonable to assume that the emergence of technology would lend itself to increasing expertise in our society. The easier it is to access information, the more informed and educated society becomes, right? While tech has the power to do this, we haven’t realized its full potential so far. Typical uses of technology create an environment where easily digestible but incomplete information is shared at an overwhelming rate, on a massive scale, with few people motivated to dig deeper.

This phenomenon is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. People with minimal understanding overestimate their skills, ability, and knowledge of a subject. Meanwhile, the few who are significantly educated in the field understand that they know there’s so much they don’t know. The result is that the under-educated are overly confident, while the true experts get stuck in conscious incompetence. Conscious incompetence is the crook of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Understanding, where one knows that they don’t know. Einstein points to this phenomenon, saying, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” Many other great minds have shared this sentiment.

It’s the same cognitive bias that motivated Bertrand Russell to write “The Triumph of Stupidity” in 1933, where he describes the advent of Nazi Germany as a small, overly confident group of individuals who degraded a nation and influenced the world because of the lack of action from the highly competent opposition. In his essay, Russell turns to the United States as the saving grace for Germany. Now, almost 100 years later, we have the tools and capabilities to overcome this dilemma. However, we have yet to apply them effectively.

Experts are fascinated by how much they don’t know. But, zealots use the virtual pulpit to scale complex issues, like hundred-years old wars or the efficacy versus dangers of an mRNA vaccine that has taken scientists decades to decode the technology, to a 60-second grab for attention and discipleship. But that’s just where we are at now. It’s not where we have to stay.

The world also has people like Leo Rusaitis, a Physics Ph.D. candidate at UCLA. Leo sees access to information as an inspiration for curiosity. And curiosity as the gateway to humility. And humility is necessary to ignite unity. See, if you think you know everything, why take other people’s perspectives? It’s like filling up on the appetizer with a 5-course meal waiting for you. Whether you are interested in politics, philosophy, science, really anything, we have to use these entry points of information as a catalyst to learn more. They’re appetizers of information, not the entire meal.

Leo’s time at UCLA is dedicated to exploring what he doesn’t know, which is most of the cosmos. We only understand about 5% of what’s out there. So, with his mission to let information inspire curiosity, Leo teaches a class called “Unsolved Mysteries of the Universe.” While you might think this examines sci-fi fantasies, the class focuses more on commonly trusted but equally mysterious concepts, like gravity. We see it every day. But, we don’t know why it works or to what scale.

Leo is invested in influencing how people think about complex subjects and transforming our learning methods with technology. In the ’90s, there was an educational TV series for kids called The Magic School Bus. In the series, an eccentric grade school teacher, Miss Frizzle, takes her class on field trips that allow them to experience science, history, and more. The magic school bus could shrink to the size of a red blood cell so the class could explore the human body; in other episodes, it would take them to space to experience another planet.

With virtual reality, we are fully capable of making Miss Frizzle’s field trips come to life. Such interactions could make education a comprehensive and memorable experience instead of simple memorization. Perhaps people would be more invested in new perspectives if they could be experienced instead of theorized. The job of a scientist is to take all the information that’s out there and map it out to understand if, how, and where it all fits. Technology gives us the ability to do that in a very literal way.

In this podcast episode with Leo, we explore all of this and more. We discuss how technology helped Leo go from gamer in Lithuania to physicist in Los Angeles, how curiosity can inspire humility and in turn, create unity, the importance of perspective, and how technology can be used to improve everything from sustainability to education reform, accessibility, and more. Please listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and check out the show notes and links.

Elijah Szasz