A middle-aged man dreaming of the day when he can stop begging for scraps and write for a living.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I Was Wrong

A lot of people who know me don't think of me as a particularly humble man. That would be because I'm not. I am in fact quite arrogant, or at least confident in the correctness of my assumptions. I'm aware that I turn off some people because of my air of arrogance. Other people are attracted to me because of my air of confidence. There's just no way to please everyone.

In fact, I'm wrong about things all the time. I don't project this awareness because that's not how I was raised, but please take my word for it that I am aware of it. I am not right about things more often than the average individual. I'm no polymath like Sherlock Holmes who can speak authoritatively on a wide variety of topics. I have areas of interest in science, literature and politics but I am at best an enthusiastic layman in those areas. My understanding is general at best rather than specific. I grasp the basic concept of quantum mechanics but not well enough to teach a course in it.

On occasion I get accused of being close-minded because I'm fond of arguing passionately about whatever I think is true. I don't just say what I think is true, I usually try to dig up sources to support why I think it's true. For the average discussion this can appear quite daunting. Add to that several decades of experience in constructing and supporting arguments in favor of what I believe and people can walk away with the impression that I'm a know-it-all who can't be told anything. I'd like to take this opportunity to explain why that isn't true.

I do possess sufficient self-awareness to realize I'm not always right about everything. There are things I've thought about and researched sufficiently to feel comfortable about, and I often write about them. I use feedback (when I can get it) to test and refine my arguments. It's an ongoing process and at this point many of my arguments are very polished, especially when it comes to topics that come up in popular discussion. For example when someone attempts to justify their belief in their god because I can't prove their god isn't real, I have a pithy reply to demonstrate how their logic fails. I came up with that pithy reply after years of trying to explain the burden of proof at length and gradually refining my explanation into a simple, penetrating response. Most of the time, however, I include subtle caveats into my statements. "It seems to me." "As I understand it." "The evidence suggests." These are mental bookmarks intended to remind me that I am ultimately agnostic when it comes to absolute statements.

When I'm wrong and I know it I try to explicitly state it as such. "No, I was wrong." "I stand corrected." I then try to point to the source demonstrating how I know I was wrong and what the correct answer is. I'm human and I sometimes try to rationalize how the new information still allows me to be correct (seriously, who wants to be wrong?) but I try to be brutally honest with myself when I know I need to correct my assumptions.

In the end, changing my mind is dreadfully easy: all you have to do is show me the evidence.

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