Getting inquisition right

26 04 2010

For those have not seen the Symphony of Science videos yet, I highly recommend you go watch all of them. There are five so far and a new one is added every few months.

In the most recent one, “The Poetry of Reality,” I have found that a few of the scientists in the video think that is “great not knowing”. I understand that all of the phrases and audio clips are taken completely out of context. Even so, I feel that these statements are poorly worded. Surely, Richard Feynman was not advocating ignorance as an alternative to absolute certainty and knowledge. Neither of these are logically tenable positions to try to maintain. Also, both tend to be associated with organized religion.

Absolute certainty means holding a very specific position on a topic and not wavering from it, even in the face of new evidence. An opinion can seem perfectly reasonable at one time, but then will appear more and more absurd to others as time goes on.

Absolute certainty breeds a terrible type of ignorance, willful ignorance. When one is willfully ignorant of reality, they will do everything in their power to avoid newer, uncomfortable evidence. In extreme cases, they will become immune to reason and become a risk to themselves and others.

In order to become inquisitive, one must first admit ignorance where no publicly verifiable evidence exists. Ignorance is not the equivalent of stupidity and it is easy to solve the problem of ignorance. Even if you do not have access to the internet or a library, you can still become a rational, thinking human being.

Also realize that whatever you hold to be true is not invulnerable to new evidence. Be ready to accept that new evidence and incorporate it into your over-arching world view.

Then again, that’s just me. I could be wrong.

Update: If you would like some additional reading, consider Bob Carroll’s “Becoming a Critical Thinker.” It’s a good introductory book to logic and reason applied in the real world.

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