Monday, July 1, 2013

You're Certainly Wrong

I talked with a girl taking her first philosophy course today. She'd just left a lecture on Hume's "Problem of Induction." Paraphrased and somewhat abused: just because something has happened does not prove it will again happen. When I first understood that it ruined me for quite some time. For her, no big deal.

Why? I can only think of one reason -- she is a much more secure person than I was (am?).

Induction destroys certainty and leads to probability. I wasn't allowed to be certain about religious conviction, ethical assumptions, and so on all the way down to whether the sun was going to rise on any given morning. And as an intellectually arrogant person - one who used certainty as his epistemological blankey - this kept me up.

Eventually I realized that uncertainty was certainly a more realistic ideal to live up to than certainty. (Huh?)

Why fear entering a conversation or field of study to which you're unfamiliar when everything everyone believes and talks about is fundamentally >100%? As a novice you'll absolutely spend more time confused and wrong than those more familiar, but, advance far enough and it's all educated speculation anyways. Gravity will reign supreme on Earth until it doesn't. Maybe the universe will, as Woody Allen fears, eventually expand so far that it tears us apart, breaking the gravitational situation of the Earth into tiny little pieces. Intellectual advances are made only by people willing to be wrong sometimes (and therefore, people who probably were wrong a bunch of times before). So chill.

A friend asked recently: Why should I publish anything when my thoughts will probably change on the subject? Because growth in the face of new data is how scientific/rational thought works. Own mind-changes and mistakes, and own moving forward. I think our aversion to be called out as wrong is rooted in an unrealistic Cartesian understanding of knowledge (one the requires absolutely certainty). That does not appear to be the way the world works.

It's comforting to me that I'm always possibly wrong. It takes away the feeling that I'm always supposed to be right. Now I'm only compelled to be right a higher percentage time than you are. Which I figure is as close to a certain occurrence as we can get in this world. Idiots.