diamond geezer

 Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Facts are easy. Giraffes have long necks. Eleven is a prime number. The Sun is a star.

But when faced with an opinion or assertion, I wonder where you fit along this scale.

C
E
R
T
A
I
N
T
Y
         D
O
U
B
T

If the answer is 'it depends', you're probably somewhere in the middle. I'm up the grey end.

Some people live very certain lives. They know what they like, they know what they believe, and they have very fixed views on right or wrong. Other people are less sure.

If you're trying to work out what to have for dinner or how to run the country, being a decisive person is a useful trait. But living in a black and white world can also have significant downsides, for example when judging others or making a decision with wider implications.

We draw conclusions about the world around us all the time. We react to items in the news, draw inferences from social media, interpret what others say and make assumptions about human behaviour. For some of us our reaction will be "I know what's going on here", while for others it's "I'm not so sure".

If you see someone reading a particular newspaper, for example, you may subconsciously jump to all sorts of conclusions about how they live and what they believe. "Typical Daily Mail reader," you might think, without stopping to consider that no such narrow archetype exists.

The accused looks guilty. Everyone knows the BBC is biased. My football team deserves to win. It's obvious how to vote. Everyone at TfL is incompetent. Some people know exactly what they think, in all kinds of situations, even when evidence is thin on the ground.

Certainty often results from not considering the wider picture. That amazing video someone retweeted into your timeline might be fake. Fixating on the colour of your passport is no guarantee of long-term economic success. Your newspaper might be convinced the storm of the century is coming, but did you think to check elsewhere?

Certainty also arises from shaky understanding of cause and effect. "Most coronavirus victims are Chinese" does not translate into "they look Chinese, they're probably infected". If the Chancellor is seen drinking one particular brand of tea, that's no reason to fervently boycott it.

Certainty sometimes derives from a narrow worldview. One source on the internet proves nothing. The Bible might not actually be true. You presume you know why that organisation made a 'bad' decision, but you don't really know why they did it because you weren't there at the time.

Certainty is seductively simple. The real world is messy and complex.

Scientists are trained to rely on hard evidence rather than a hunch. Mathematicians know the difference between proof and a flawed argument. Historians look for primary sources rather than secondary accounts, and even then take opinions with a pinch of salt. Our education system tries to make us question, hypothesise, even doubt, but still churns out citizens who rarely stop and think.

I prefer not to pre-judge, or at least I try to make a conscious effort not to. I don't always get it right, but I aim to remember that my first impulse might not always be correct. I can't just believe something, I like evidence. I'm aware that more than one factor might have been involved. I prefer 'might' to 'will', and 'could' to 'must'. I'm hardwired to see the world in shades of grey, not black and white.

I know I could be wrong. My trusted sources might not be entirely correct, and my assumptions might be embarrassingly inaccurate. But I am at least trying to consider all sides, even if my ambiguity doesn't always come across. It's good to have an element of circumspection about you, a recognition that what you think you've seen might not always be true.

Too much certainty can be dangerous. A mindset based on hunches and gut feelings is likely to be fundamentally flawed. A society founded on fixed opinions cannot react to changing circumstances. A world fed by lies presented as truth will end up stoking intolerance and dissent. The certain, I believe, are far more likely to be angry than the doubtful.

The world splits into people who think "definitely", people who think "probably" and people who think "maybe".

Be more maybe.


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream