Intellectual Honesty

You may be able to get by without math, but you won’t be able to get by without integrity.

Everybody lies.  This is a pretty well established fact.    The bad news is that we don’t realize most of the times we lie.   We constantly edit the narrative of our lives to better fit… ourselves.   Whether we know it or not, a great deal of our own memories and sense of self is constructed in order to make ourselves feel better.   People justify their own actions and emotions at any given time, and as time goes on we also revise our own memories (or even just the stories we tell) to paint ourselves in a better light.

As far as I can tell, this is just a natural part of the human psyche.   If you think about it, you’ve probably witnessed others doing it.   If you think about it hard, you can spot where you’ve done it yourself.  Humans are social animals, and this isn’t just an individualized phenomenon.   From groups as small as a junior high school clique, to bigger places like megachurches, and even nations do these things.   They filter information and color experiences through their own collective bias, sometimes with horrible results.   (On a global scale I can think of AIDS denialism, as one example)

This is why it is so important to be able to have the cognitive and intellectual tools to evaluate new claims.   Or old ones.

There are countless tools to this:  you can use a therapist to help you through patches of cognitive dissonance, and this can be good.   Or you can educate yourself, and use some of your own tools.   The point is that you can’t always trust everything you think.    I like to think that as a teacher I can help to give my students some of these tools.   Critical thinking is hard skill to master, and not one that is always comfortable to use.   How often do you honestly think about the quality of your own thought?

There are some pretty good signs that you may be deceiving yourself:   absolutes concerning people are a good one. Reliance on one viewpoint without examining counterarguments is another.   And of course, if you honestly feel that your sense of identity or way of life is threatened by more information, then something is wrong. It isn’t easy changing your view of things, but it does mean that you have a clearer picture of the world.

One thing that I admire about the sciences, is that when they are wrong, they revise their worldview to incorporate better information. They aren’t always quick, but they are good about self-examination.

So… I’ve been wrong about stuff before.   I will again.

… just not today.


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