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Post No.: 0186variety


Furrywisepuppy says:


Fluffystealthkitten and I personally believe that it’s great to be fascinated by a wide variety of different things! Even if you have a well-defined field of expertise – understanding other subjects may help you to uncover new perspectives not generally taken in your field, and vice-versa from your field to others. Old things will be seen in new furry ways, plus it’ll allow you to think more critically regarding a wider range of subjects, rather than needing to passively accept what other people say in these other fields since you don’t have any deeper knowledge to refute them. (Albeit having said that, many people still manage to express quite strong objecting views regarding subjects or issues they have no real understanding about(!))


Lots of people passively and uncritically accept the information they receive either because of laziness (critical system two is naturally lazy), because their peer crowd says so (peer effects and the safety in numbers), the tendency to trust (the truth bias), it already conforms to and reinforces one’s existing worldviews (confirmation bias), it’s something one wants to believe is true or it seems intuitively right or believable at face value (cognitive ease) and/or because they lack any deeper knowledge to criticise it – for example, passively accepting the ‘fun fact’ that ‘duck quacks don’t echo’. However, if one better understood the nature of sound waves and questioned why ‘quill’ or ‘black’ have echoes then it would make one wonder whether there’s any logic or truth to why a duck’s quack doesn’t echo… and according to true fact a duck’s quack does echo! But we might not question ‘fun facts’ we read via the media because we think quoting them to others makes us sound clever and/or we don’t personally have a basis to question technical information that’s beyond our own area of expertise.


New perspectives can make all the difference. For example, you may already be aware of all of the necessary individual bits of information that should lead to a particular conclusion but you don’t know how they all fit together or could fit together (e.g. some people may understand and accept the laws of physics from their science classes yet have never thought about its implications on ‘free’ choice unless they also try a philosophy class too). People can think that something is fast, massive or whatever – until they find something faster, more massive or more whatever (e.g. Formula 1 cars can seem fast, until one learns about jet fighters, and jet fighters can seem fast, until one learns about rockets, and rockets can seem fast, until one learns about celestial objects). The mind opens with variety!


So it’s just a matter of the variety and depth of one’s knowledge and perspectives. Knowledge becomes greater than the mere sum of its parts. And knowledge also begets the easier comprehension of even more knowledge – both creativity and understanding increase in an exponential fashion the more one knows because of the way one can bring together knowledge from one field and crosscheck it with knowledge in another field, or apply knowledge from one area to cross-fertilise another area in a novel way. This cross-referencing and cross-pollination of diverse knowledge makes one’s knowledge even more powerful and robust. We can check whether something makes sense (e.g. the age of the Earth as suggested by the Bible compared to more empirical evidence of its age as gathered via geology, or the assumption in neoclassical economics that humans are rational actors compared to the empirical evidence of human behaviour in psychology). Being able to relate one field with another, previously considered separate, field can create unique or deeper insights or ideas (e.g. how certain leaves seem to repel water in nature and creating artificial waterproof fabrics or other materials, or mathematical game theory applied to the problem of Internet or network routing).


This exponential pattern is reflected in the way human cultures have technologically advanced so quickly in the most recent millennium compared to the previous millennium or any before that. (Homo sapiens have been around for hundreds of thousands of years and have barely always lived like modern people do, and it gets harder to predict the next century now, never mind the next millennium.) So knowledge tends to beget more knowledge, and variety is a part of that.


However, you then cannot un-know what you then know, yet you may regret it if you don’t explore further what you’ve uncovered – the quest for answers to big questions tends to only raise more and more questions to explore. But I personally think that’s part of the fun! Woof!


We can counter a narrow perspective by simply getting a diverse bunch of experts together to discuss issues and come to an agreement – diversity will provide variety so diverse populations and workplaces are extremely valuable. However, what frequently happens in the real world is that e.g. those who focus only on religion will stick to their own sources and views, and those who focus only on science will stick to their own, hence no one really comes to truly listen to and understand each other. But one person who tries to hold competing views inside their own single head must come to an agreement, a compromise or at least an ‘I accept I don’t know the objective answer, if there even is one’ conclusion for a particular question because one must find a way to agree with oneself(!) At least if one is not entrenched about anything and is the type who won’t or can’t rest unless coherent and consistent sense can be made from all the diverse things that one has learnt.


So it’s very useful to have a multidisciplinary education and point of view whatever core discipline one primarily focuses on because one can then check claims across multiple disciplines oneself to see if everything stacks up coherently and consistently, or doesn’t and therefore calls into question individual claims or even entire theories or worldviews (e.g. the argument for the theory of evolution may seem like solely a biology question, but studying geology or astronomy too will allow one to crosscheck if the age of the Earth is sufficient to have likely allowed enough time for evolution to occur to give us the variety of life we see today and in the fossil records; and since these all do accord with each other, the piece of information that seems at odds and most doubtful is that the Earth is only ~6,000 years old). It’s a great feeling learning something and finding that it fits neatly with something else seemingly unrelated that one has learnt before – the pieces corroborate with each other even though one has not stuck to one echo chamber or source of information.


It’s conversely worrisome when something learnt doesn’t quite fit with something else that one has learnt before – meaning that at least one of these pieces is dubious and we’ve got to re-soften our views until further information can be gathered. So that’s another thing – we can learn something and think ‘that’s it’ and our views are solidified on the matter, but if only we had continued to learn more, possibly from a variety of different approaches, institutions or sources, we might pick up something that calls into question the beliefs we had settled on.


A multidisciplinary perspective helps one to make fuller and more robust arguments about a complex issue or topic, helps one to have more credibility when scrutinising other people’s arguments, makes cognitive dissonance (see Post No.: 0166) harder to shrug off or dismiss, and makes arbitrarily reasoning away seemingly minor contrary or illogical points harder to accept. We can more credibly come to our own conclusions if we’ve formally studied a subject in question oneself. But of course this does mean needing to put in the hard work and time to formally learn a variety of subjects oneself rather than relying on others to do so on our behalf and accepting their conclusions (including any of mine!)


The more you know from a wide range or variety of subjects, the more difficult it is to settle on a worldview that allows all the things you understand to fit neatly enough together in a simple and steadfast, coherent and consistent manner. Hence the more you know from a wide range or variety of subjects, the more veracity you can attribute to your beliefs if at least a majority of that data from all those different sources supports your beliefs – for it will have needed to pass a far sterner test of satisfying all the greater and wider variety of different things you’ve learnt so far.


Or if everything doesn’t quite fit neatly together then you can wisely acknowledge the subject’s complexity rather than arrogantly hold a strong black-or-white view one way or another, which is often a symptom of knowing a little but not enough about something.


This means conversely, the less you know, the easier it’ll be for everything you believe in to fit neatly together because there’ll be fewer pieces to need to fit together (it’s analogous to completing a 6-piece jigsaw puzzle compared to a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle). But although this ease will translate to you feeling very confident in your worldviews, your beliefs may be outmoded or false because of the limitations of what you know, such as what you don’t know you don’t know. It’s like it’s easier to be confident in knowing what the best car brand in the world is if all you know about cars is a Ferrari and a Zastava, but it’s harder to be so unequivocal when you know about every car in the world ever. Or it’s easier to form a stereotype about which gender is better if all you’ve ever met are a few dozen males and females where you were raised, but not if you could meet all of them in the world. Ignorance may be bliss but it isn’t good if we really want to find the best possible truths or opinions. This is why views tend to become more nuanced and less simplistic or black-or-white the more you truly understand the world, and vice-versa – overconfidence or arrogance is generally more prevalent the less one knows.


Now being more educated won’t guarantee you’ll be listened to more than people who are less educated but are loud and opinionated, but at least you’ll less likely be the fool!


Although time is a limiting factor, there’s nothing to say that we cannot be a ‘jack of several trades, master of all of them’. Indeed there’s nothing to say that people can’t be a ‘jack of no trades, master of therefore none(!)’ In other words, there’s nothing to say that everyone will get to know, or can only ever get to know, one subject deeply in their lifetime.


Woof! And for me, curiosity with variety is naturally the spice of life!


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