Post No.: 0388
The more you know, the more humble you actually become because the more you will know how much the entire human species in total yet understands so far, never mind any single person or puppy. There are many questions still left unanswered, and often the more we discover, the more questions come up than are answered! Even stuff that most people think humans fully understand by now, like water, still poses many questions (e.g. a definitive answer for how hot water can sometimes freeze faster than starting with cold water?) Thus, frequently, when we think we fully understand something, it’s a clue that we don’t – we’re not even aware of all of the questions we could ever ask!
We can also get things wrong. Even Albert Einstein got things wrong, but was smart enough to graciously admit his ‘biggest blunder’ when someone pointed out his mistake to him (his fixed assumption that the universe was static and unchanging). According to modern experiments, we can also be reasonably confident that his stance on quantum entanglement was wrong too. The 2006 New Horizons space mission to Pluto and its moons reopened many questions that many astronomers thought had been previously answered, such as whether complex geological activity can be present on such small and cold celestial bodies, and whether life could perhaps naturally evolve well outside of the ‘Goldilocks zone’?
Many of the greatest minds understood when they didn’t quite understand something too. So if a person says that he/she doesn’t know the answer to a question then it doesn’t necessarily mean he/she has not studied the subject or lacks intellect – it may mean that the actual current best answer for that particular question is indeed, “I don’t know.” For example, Charles Darwin didn’t know about genes or DNA during his time because they hadn’t been discovered yet, so him pondering about the mechanism for how traits are passed on from parent to child and perhaps thinking ‘I don’t know’ didn’t mean he was clueless on the subject compared to his contemporaries who attributed an ‘intelligent watchmaker’ for everything. Therefore, giving a confident assertion, prediction or answer of surety doesn’t necessarily mean that one is more knowledgeable on a subject; and not giving an opinion, prediction or answer doesn’t necessarily mean that one isn’t knowledgeable on a subject. It could indicate the complete opposite.
So admitting to when one is wrong or admitting to not knowing something is frequently a display of wisdom rather than stupidity. Giving the impression, for the sake of one’s faith, ego or social reputation, as if one is right despite the evidence or as if one understands something that one does not, may fool those who know even less, but one will look like the fool to those who know so much more, and one’s credibility will decrease in the eyes of these more learned people of today or in the future. We should therefore all always stay humble.
Few people are also smart or brave enough to say, “I wasn’t actually there so I cannot say” to save their own two cents regarding making any guess or conjecture about something they weren’t there to witness or gather enough reliable information on (e.g. how an accident transpired or a fight between two sides escalated). Our assumptions will likely only reveal our own biases because they would be our own assumptions. It’s okay to give our opinions or guesses when we understand that they are just our opinions or guesses, but withholding one until more concrete evidence can be verified would be the more sagacious option to take under these circumstances.
Regardless – don’t be the fool, and don’t be fooled by believing that the loudest, most opinionated person who talks over other people or everyone who disagrees with them, or who thinks they know it all or know enough and has much to speculate, or who sees the world as relatively simple and black-or-white, is necessarily the wisest – they could be the most naïve and deluded of them all.
It’ll typically be those who know ‘just enough to sound clever to others’ who’ll be the most opinionated, stubborn and vocal – but they don’t know how little they know because they don’t know what they don’t know that some others might. They may think they know enough but they only know enough to be dangerously opinionated.
Learning ‘just enough to sound clever to others’ might even be their entire purpose of reading just a few news or magazine articles on a subject rather than formally studying a relevant course and passing exams on that subject. Some ‘facts’ presented in mass and social media sources that lots of people selectively pick up on and believe in are not facts at all (e.g. negative-calorie foods). Advice that can be gleaned through popular sources sometimes aren’t the best to take either (e.g. putting a soaking phone in uncooked rice to dry it). Yet those who parrot such things can be incredibly cocksure against those who know better and disagree.
Many news consumers get their news from just a few personally selected news outlets or sources – some sources are of a higher quality than others but I don’t think there are ever truly impartial sources (they tend to favour their own country at least because that’s where their main audience is). Sources that are targeted at the general masses are frequently dumbed-down and/or oversimplified too, and too many people only read the headlines or at most quickly scan through the articles, never mind click on and read all of an article and the information related to a story, including maybe external links if any, to get the fuller picture. This may be time-consuming but there’s no shortcut to education without the risk of being misled with a one-sided or partial analysis. Many pick, view and read news articles with a confirmation bias too – skipping information that disconfirms their existing beliefs and gravitating towards information that reinforces them. Some don’t even rely on proper journalistic sources at all but just whatever is forwarded to them via social media and so only get their news from their own personal filter bubbles and echo chambers, or from paid-for/sponsored content that has specifically been targeted at people like them.
Believing (or wanting to believe) in the absoluteness of one’s existing or desired conclusions, then using confirmation bias to further look for and read only sources of information that support one’s conclusions is not the way to be well-informed (e.g. already dismissing a headline before reading its article because you don’t think it’s true or you don’t want it to be true). Most people also follow the herd, or at least their own ingroup – leading to a situation where the misinformed can lead the misinformed on social media or during bar-side or workplace gossip.
We might not be knowledgeable enough to recognise the gaps in our knowledge, and so we might fail to listen to alternative views that’ll fill them in. But this means we’ll consequently learn too little.
Never be embarrassed to ask questions if you don’t understand something. All good teachers recognise that the most inquisitive pupils are generally bright so those in the know don’t see it as embarrassing at all. Woof!
Try asking the quiet ones a bit more too, because they are the types who are usually listening to others and thus they’re learning more than others. They’re the ones who’ll less likely think they know it all thus they’re more likely to be the ones always seeking to learn more and in turn they will end up learning and knowing more compared to those who like the sounds of their own voices!
In some fluffy fields, the prevailing theories seem to continually shift because of newly-found evidence that calls into question an existing accepted theory. Some people may therefore think that ‘well if the overall weight of evidence seems to constantly change then I’ll just stick with what I prefer to believe because one day there could be evidence to prove me right’ – but one could be waiting forever and therefore be forever wrong, for the overall weight of evidence doesn’t always shift or shift back at all. So update views as often as required according to the overall preponderance of current evidence. Your conflicting hypothesis might later be proven correct with future evidence but don’t anticipate it unless you’re willing to carry out the experiments and research to prove yourself right. It’s like Einstein’s ‘blunder’ may not actually turn out to be in principle a blunder now, but he couldn’t support that conclusion with the evidence that was known at the time. It’d otherwise be like all present evidence points to one suspect in a murder case but one keeps on believing that someone else did it – that’s not a fair or sensible verdict to ever take.
However, many people think that to change views, even once, will reveal a lack of credibility, expertise and authority. But not doing so would reveal an even greater lack of credibility, expertise and authority in the long-term. Or again if you have good reason to believe that the prevailing accepted theory is wrong then put to the test your own theory via the scientific process.
No one likes to feel like they’ve been supporting the wrong side – to feel like they were a fool to be duped by the wrong side – so most people try their damnedest to hang onto the belief that they’ve not been wrong or a fool. Stubbornness and sometimes even aggression will be employed. The best solution is to never be too invested in any belief and to accept that all conclusions are potentially merely provisional. That’s how good scientists, journalists and truth-seekers approach the world because it’s not about taking sides but simply about searching for the truth.
So even though we should care about and want to be right, and fight for what we think is right based on the evidence and logic, we should not worry about being wrong, because it shouldn’t be taken as a reflection of our characters that we must defend at all costs but taken as a chance to learn and grow. Everyone should take on the attitude of being in a constant and continual state of learning. When learning, we’re going to make some mistakes along the way and it’s not about denying we’ve made them but about trying to get things right in the end.
Woof. Fluffystealthkitten and I are still young (even though this blog is a couple of years old now) and are still learning; and we don’t yet feel ready to jump into heated debates on social media as if we’re absolutely right in what we believe in and those who disagree with us are absolutely wrong. We understand that many who have studied far less than us are far more vocal and certain about themselves on social media but that maybe highlights how such platforms are, in lots of, although not all, cases, not ideal places to get educated. In general, people use the popular social media platforms to express how they’re right and how others are wrong rather than to truly listen and learn. Fluffystealthkitten and I only currently use Twitter to ask for comments and feedback (not that that’s our only avenue for feedback regarding our views and knowledge e.g. we’re still studying courses and listening to teachers and other students). And we are very interested in hearing your comments and feedback and that’s why we’ll keep on asking – so please use the Twitter comment button below to share your wisdom. If we’re wrong about something then we’re wrong – no ego, no sweat, no financial or political agenda tied to any particular stance. Enlighten us and if there’s evidence or logic to it then we’ll just update or refine our beliefs and we’ll all move on…