Destiny Byrd, Calvin Engime, Rachel McDonell Mojica, and Jordan Smart discuss the role of humility in effective reasoning.
Download Episode 1: Humility (30 minutes)
Our club has started a radio show! The Owning Our Ignorance Show debuts on Tuesday at 9:00 a.m. on WDBK. Tune in to 91.5 FM if you live near Blackwood, New Jersey.
The first episode is on humility. Club members Destiny Byrd, Cal Engime, Rachel McDonnell Mojica, and Jordan Smart discuss the role that humility plays in effective reasoning.
We’ll post the episode here after it airs on the radio, along with links to subscribe to a podcast version of the show.
BEN: “I’m promoting a culture of skepticism. That’s what I’m doing. Hey, just take a look at what you believe and what you think about stuff, and stab it in the throat. And if it lives, we’re good.”
AARON: “Stabbing it in the throat… you had me until then.”
BEN: “I’m kind of an all-or-nothing guy.”
AARON: “Yeah! ‘Go big or go home. No fear.’ I think you can always be wrong. Always. You never ever know. Like I act like I know all the time, but if you have a good solid point, I will listen to you and I might change my mind because of it. I think more people need to do that. More people need to realize that, even though you may be totally committed to this idea or ideology, and you might have so much invested in it, you can always be wrong. You don’t know 100% anything…”
I think there’s an important connection between intellectual honesty and humility. A simple goal of the classes I teach is to get us all to recognize what counts as good evidence and what counts as bad evidence for a claim. In general, I see students get better at this throughout the semester. But this doesn’t guarantee that we’ll care about the difference once we figure it out.
Getting us to care is my real goal. We should care about good evidence. We should care about evidence and arguments because they get us closer to the truth. When we judge an argument to be overall good, THE POWER OF LOGIC COMPELS US to believe the conclusion. If we are presented with decent evidence for some claim, but still stubbornly disagree with this claim for no strong reason, we are just being irrational. Worse, we’re effectively saying that the truth doesn’t matter to us.
This means we should be open-minded. We should be willing to challenge ourselves, and let new evidence change our current beliefs. We should be open to the possibility that we’ve currently gotten something wrong. This is how comedian Todd Glass puts it:
Here are the first two paragraphs of an interesting article on this:
Last week, I jokingly asked a health club acquaintance whether he would change his mind about his choice for president if presented with sufficient facts that contradicted his present beliefs. He responded with utter confidence. “Absolutely not,” he said. “No new facts will change my mind because I know that these facts are correct.”
I was floored. In his brief rebuttal, he blindly demonstrated overconfidence in his own ideas and the inability to consider how new facts might alter a presently cherished opinion. Worse, he seemed unaware of how irrational his response might appear to others. It’s clear, I thought, that carefully constructed arguments and presentation of irrefutable evidence will not change this man’s mind.
Ironically, having extreme confidence in oneself is often a sign of ignorance. In many cases, such stubborn certainty is unwarranted.
“How experts learn, they really learn by looking at their mistakes. And this can be an unpleasant way to live, because who wants to get home after a long day’s work and think about all the stuff you messed up that day. And yet that tends to be a very effective way to learn. As Beckett said: ‘Fail. Fail better. Fail. Fail better.’ It’s that process of realizing that we all make mistakes. We all fail.
“I talk about it in terms of a variety of domains. I talk about it in terms of a backgammon player. After every match, even matches he wins, he goes back and looks at all the moves he did badly.
“I talk about a soap opera director who, after a day of shooting–a 16-hour day–he goes home and puts in the raw tape from that day and forces himself to make a list of thirty things he did wrong. Thirty mistakes so minor that no one else would notice them.
“Tom Brady: when Tom Brady watches game tape for hours every week, he’s not looking for the passes he did well. He’s looking for the passes he missed, for the open men he didn’t find.
“We need to think about how we think about learning and see mistakes as the inevitable component of learning. You can’t learn at a very fundamental level unless you get stuff wrong. And so not to fear our mistakes. Not to loathe them. Not to be so scared of making them. But to realize that we have to, in a sense, celebrate them. That they are an inevitable component of learning and you can’t learn without them.”