Post No.: 0490
It’s smarter to assume that one isn’t one of the smartest in the world. This should compel one to learn more and never become complacent or arrogant…
We don’t know what we don’t know until we’re exposed to it, thus we may ironically believe that we know ‘most’ of what we think there is relevant to ever know – but how can we know that we know ‘most’ of something unless we know how big the total sum of everything is? We cannot determine if we hold 60%, 25% or just 1% of something unless we know how big 100% is. And no one will ever know if they’ve explored close to 100% of a subject like physics, psychology, medicine, etc., thus the best attitude is to keep on learning.
At tiddlywinks, player A has won 142 times and player B has won 51 times. Who’s the better player if you comprehend just that information? You might highly confidently say player A. But a little bit of knowledge can mislead us because with some further research, you may discover that player A has won 142/316 attempts and player B has won 51/51 attempts.
You’ve taken a bite from a cake but you don’t know how large this cake is in total – so how can you identify whether you’ve bitten ‘a little’ or ‘a lot’ of it? Another analogy is thinking you’ve vacuumed all the rooms in a house and therefore consider yourself ‘a clean and tidy person’… until you open some more doors and realise that there are many more rooms to clean. And even after you’ve cleaned all of those, you could discover even more that need cleaning, and so on and on. But unlike a house, where you could just step outside to see the full extent of the building (although the underground levels could still be hidden from such overview), you cannot just step outside to see what ‘the total sum of all knowledge in the universe’ looks like.
Humankind may only comprehend 0.2% of everything that could ever be known for all we know? In a material way, we at least currently realise that we don’t quite understand what >95% of the universe consists of, and have called these components ‘dark energy’ and ‘dark matter’. When we peer deep into space, we’re observing ancient history – but what’s happening now in those distant regions? So it’s not just about oneself as an individual but about what humankind as a whole realises it hasn’t yet discovered (and perhaps may never get to because not every question is empirically testable or falsifiable), as well as doesn’t realise it hasn’t yet discovered.
This is why, no matter how much one currently knows, one must bear in mind that there could be potentially an entire universe (or possibly multiverse?) of knowledge one is yet aware about, and may never catch within one’s lifetime – hence humility is always the wiser quality to hold, and learning throughout one’s lifetime (not just up to age 16, 21 or whatever) is the apposite attitude.
So always bear in mind that, no matter how much you think you understand and no matter how clear and confident you think your conclusions are, you might be missing crucial information and arguments that perhaps other people understand that you don’t, or perhaps even the entire human race doesn’t yet grasp.
When one recognises that one doesn’t know much about a subject (e.g. after briefly browsing through the contents of a course and discovering topics, questions and angles one hasn’t even contemplated before) then one will admit this.
But when one learns only a little to be dangerous yet thinks one has learnt a lot (e.g. because one watched a video about the subject and the speaker appeared very persuasive) then one might become misguided yet overconfident.
Meanwhile, if one studies that subject extensively then one will understand that things are far more complicated and less black-or-white than they first appeared (e.g. there are still questions in the field that all of current science to date has yet to answer) so one will again admit to the gaps in one’s knowledge.
We don’t know what we don’t know we don’t know. Perversely, the consequence of this is that some people think they therefore know enough, or even it all. This is because only after you find out how little you knew (with the benefit of hindsight after learning something you weren’t aware you weren’t aware of before) can you realise how much you didn’t realise you didn’t realise i.e. one cannot easily foretell how much one doesn’t currently grasp. It’s like many teenagers don’t know any differently than the lust they think is love itself – they don’t yet know what they don’t know, and all they currently know is all they think there is. (Perhaps some people never learn as they repeatedly enter into relationships for the wrong reasons!)
Put slightly differently, the less we understand something and the less we understand that we only understand a little bit about it, the more we’ll think we understand all there is to understand about that thing, hence we’ll end up naïvely thinking that complex issues are plainly black-or-white or easy to solve or do. This is like the initial enthusiasm about starting a new business, then learning bit-by-bit about what’s really involved once you get stuck in that you probably didn’t consider before, such as the public liability insurance, copyright clearances, payroll tax calculations, asset depreciation schedules, annual self-assessments, property security, website, operating licences… when you just want to make and sell furry dog collars(!) Woof.
Therefore, only those who know something but not enough to recognise that they don’t know enough will end up being the arrogantly cocksure. Unfortunately, laypeople tend to trust in overconfident people over those who express more nuanced and considered arguments (e.g. politicians who see the world as black-or-white hence, in ‘natural selection’ terms, these are the types of politicians who typically rise to power). Expressing a deep and passionate belief in one’s own views should never be a substitute for relying on logic and/or evidence either.
Overconfidence in the completeness of one’s knowledge can result in strong judgements against people who appear to know differently. Sometimes these strong, vocally-opinionated judgements are where the danger is.
We may apprehend a little of something but not enough to apprehend that it’s only a little of that something, hence we can assume that this little is a lot – especially because the less we comprehend something, the more coherent a worldview seems, and coherency increases our confidence. We’re less likely to find any conflicting information the less information we have (e.g. you learn that someone is kind and considerate so you’re pretty confident that they’re perfect, but the more you hang around them, you learn that they’re not perfect because, well, no one is either completely good nor bad once you really get to know them; or you may first learn to always get the pan hot before cooking, but after you learn more, you can understand that it depends on what you’re cooking). Gaining more knowledge therefore tends to nuance our views.
When we understand nothing about something, we reserve our opinions about it. But once we grasp just a little bit, we start to hold opinions and may become patronising, thinking that our arguments are faultlessly coherent and those who disagree with us are stupid. But if we get to learn a lot more, we start to understand the nuances and complexities of the issues. Also, if we sufficiently learn about people, we’ll understand why people are the way they are and why they believe what they believe, and so we’ll realise that the best way to get somebody on side with a view is not via patronisation, aggression or adversarial approaches but via empathy, listening and collaboration. After all, how many times have you been persuaded by someone who thinks they’re absolutely smarter than you and you’re dumb for disagreeing with them?(!)
It’s consequently only ever sensible to be and stay humble about how much you think you know, no matter how much you do. People who think they fathom most things don’t fathom at least one thing – they don’t know how much they don’t know. It’s therefore better to always assume that we barely apprehend it all and to listen far more than we speak because every piece of information could be new and valuable. Welcome other people’s views for contemplation. Don’t talk over others just to get your own points across. People who frequently talk over others logically aren’t listening to others as much as they could hence they’re actually learning the least. We don’t learn anything new when we speak about what we already know and believe. Having the last word doesn’t make us the smartest or the winner, but it could make us the most arrogant and naïve.
The quiet, studious and contemplative will more likely be the best informed – so listen to the quiet ones too. The normally shy, non-popularity-seeking types will be more worth listening to when they do speak. Don’t ignore the loud (if we could!) but listen to others too. We should listen to the life-long students because they listen the most themselves – they listen and therefore learn the most. Our own experiences can only ever amount to one life – our own – but we can learn from billions of other lives and their experiences too by listening to them.
Too many people however talk, self-promote and advocate as if they’re know-it-alls, rather than listen, seek advice and inquire. Along with the loud, those who’ll never admit when they’re wrong are the worst. Their assumed position of greater intellect is self-delusional. Even Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing got some things wrong – so if you think you’re always right then you’re not in good company! Obviously this doesn’t therefore mean these people got everything they thought wrong, and if they were still alive today, they most likely will still be refining their thoughts according to the latest findings because that’s what truly intelligent minds do.
Post No.: 0388 was about caring about being wrong so that we’re motivated to get things right, but not worrying about being wrong because when we worry about being wrong we tend to deny that we’re wrong when we’re wrong, in order to protect our egos. In scientific circles, if you’re incorrect then it’s how you respond to it that’ll reflect on your reputation, rather than the fact you were incorrect. (In political or other contexts it might be different but that speaks about those domains!)
So no one truly wise is boastful or condescending because the more one learns, the more one learns how much there is still to learn. It’ll take much more than one lifetime to learn all we could but we should try our best. If what we expressed proves to be incorrect after the day we die then at least everyone would’ve known that we would’ve been the type to update our views had we still been alive.
Therefore be and forever remain intellectually humble because of the simple logic of never being able to know how much we don’t know. No one knows – and logically will never know – what ‘100% of all knowledge is’. New knowledge is constantly being collectively acquired and we cannot ever epistemologically know with 100% confidence that we’ve discovered all there is to ever learn about everything, or even anything. Without intellectual humility, we also won’t feel as compelled to listen to others or continue our education because we’ll think we already know enough, thus we’ll end up learning and knowing less than those who humbly want to listen to everyone and to everything they can.
Woof! I want to listen to you so please use the Twitter comment button below to tell me what you think?