Let’s stop pretending we know everything

We often fail to notice things that we are not expecting. Dr Lisa Randall, Physicist

Note: additional links to newly published material may be added after you have read this.

Can we please stop pretending we have the answers or are on a knowledge home run where the main issues are settled with only scraps to be tidied up?

The reality is –

  1. We hardly know anything
  2. What we think we know changes constantly, often in astounding ways
  3. The best method we have for discovering facts, scientific method, is limited
  4. Science is not reality, but provides models of reality
  5. Science is robust not unequivocal, it can produce wrong answers that are useful and seemingly right answers that are wrong
  6. What is real varies between systems, people and within ourselves
  7. We cannot even conceive of what is yet to be asked, making imagination as important as science for progress.

To claim to know for certain, in particular about issues that do not yield to testing, is unscientific and given history, likely unwise.

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You can’t withstand your environment you’re a part of it

I am I plus my circumstances. Jose Ortega y Gasset

While it’s true that the way we perceive and interpret events impacts how we experience them, it’s only part of the story.

Too much emphasis has been placed on our ability to withstand the environment as if it were somehow separate from us.

Instead, we are a continuation of our environment, visible and invisible forces within it profoundly impact how we behave.

The self

Of course, how people see and construe things differs.

We know that perception is influenced by expectations and unconscious biases. Prejudices we may not be aware of profoundly impact what we pay attention to and recall.

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We are as we think & how we’re treated +

We are as we think

We’re told we are as we think.

Perception can have a dramatic impact on wellbeing but the reality is far more complex.

We are as we are treated

Mostly we believe we are as we are treated.

When we’re treated well, we presume that who we are and what we do is okay and can withstand a bit of ebb and flow.

But when we’re treated badly we worry that we caused it, deserve it or even worse – are fundamentally bad.

This is particularly true for those who are mistreated young and do not understand that adults are flawed.

Abusers know this intuitively and depend on it.

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Pure rationality is a myth we should not aspire to

I think it would be very foolish not to take the irrational seriously. Jeanette Winterson

 

Be rational, people say as if –

  1. It’s (fully) possible
  2. The counterpart is unhealthy.

In reality –

  1. We all behave on a continuum from rational to irrational
  2. Those who put irrationality down are just as susceptible to it as those they criticise
  3. Knowing we are irrational will not stop us being irrational
  4. Rationality is not good or bad, nor is irrationality.

None of this absolves us from responsibility for our decisions or suggests we can’t improve awareness or emotional IQ. But it does challenge the idea that rationality is an endpoint or that rational thinking leads to rational or desirable behaviour.

Why the focus on rationality?

There are many reasons we elevate rationality, including – (more…)

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