Not long ago I blogged about an article pointing out how difficult it is to tell when you yourself are wrong. But the article was in fact not that great, so fortunately I have now found this much better one. It's pretty long, but worth it.
But something curious started happening as we began to look at the people who did extremely badly on our little quiz. By now, you may be able to predict it: These people expressed more, not less, confidence in their performance. In fact, people who got none of the items right often expressed confidence that matched that of the top performers.
This is something that I'm interested in, because more than once this life I have been badly shaken in something I took as basic in life, something which was important to my basic approach and direction in life. And when it's happened more than one, some very scary questions appear:
- How do you tell what is true?
- Who can you believe?
- Are those who sound most certain, also the most knowledgable?
- How do you question those of your beliefs which have been ingrained since childhood?
- How do you get reliable information about things you can't observe yourself, like life after death, the age of the Earth, the reality of the universe, what is outside the universe, our purpose in life... (gasp, gasp, gasp) etcetera etcetera.
One of the big problems is that to climb down from a false certainty, one has to go through a period of uncertainty, which can be very uncomfortable, even painful, so that makes all of us pretty much cling to the things we think we know.