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Musings > Wednesday, 22 September 2010 18:47:48 EST

Why I Promote Intellectual Uncertainty

Keywords: epistemology, uncertainty

I often get emails and comments from people telling me that they don't think my alias suits me.  They feel like I'm undervaluing my contributions by calling myself a dumbass, and they tell me that the quality of my blog deserves a more appropriate name.

I appreciate the confidence in my abilities, and I am very happy to receive such high praise.  I always respond by telling them why I chose this name for my blog.  I've mentioned it before, but I think it bears repeating for anybody who hasn't read all my articles.

There's a quote from a book that I've just read that sums up my feelings about this perfectly.  This is from "Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)" by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson:

The unbending need to be right inevitably produces self-righteousness.  When confidence and convictions are unleavened by humility, by an acceptance of fallibility; people can easily cross the line from healthy self assurance to arrogance.

I call myself a dumbass because I don't want to fall into the trap of thinking that I know more than I do.  I don't want to fall into the trap of believing that I'm immune from the cognitive biases that affect everybody else.  People who think that they're immune are the easiest ones to fool.

Of course, I do feel the desire to pat myself on the back for what I see as my clearheaded analysis of dubious claims.  I have pride in my work.  What I wanted to balance that out was a constant reminder that I'm fallible.  That I'm just a dumbass like everybody else and I shouldn't take myself too seriously.

I may be the one on the soapbox here, but I don't expect anybody to take anything I have to say for granted.  I could very well be wrong, and it's even likely that I am wrong about something I've written here.  Even with all it's editors and fact checkers, the Encyclopedia Britannica still makes mistakes in every edition.

So in addition to reminding myself that I could be wrong, I want to encourage other people to feel comfortable challenging  me when they think I'm wrong.  I'm just some dumbass with a blog, please don't just take my word for anything!

If I got my facts wrong, I definitely want to know about it.


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