Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Surety Versus Doubt

Every day on Facebook I see something that amazes me. I see people expressing opinions with seemingly total conviction about such things as religion, politics, gun control and so on. I can’t wrap my head around it. These issues are complicated. There are no simple, black and white answers. The only thing that seems clear to me is that we cannot be absolutely sure on any of these topics.

I also know from my studies in psychology that “surety” is based on emotion rather than intellect. Some folks will “feel” the truth in their position and will proceed from there with total confidence in their actions. Honestly, I have always considered such people dangerous. I have also had to check my own responses in such cases because my immediate “feeling” is to reject what these people say with a snort of derision at their naivety.  I tell myself that I have to keep in mind that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

I am convinced that there are certain places where we don’t need to engage our intellect at more than a surface level. For example, I am a fan of the New Orleans Saints. I did not evaluate my fanship rationally; I didn’t even attempt to do so. I’m most prominently a fan because I live near them, and if I lived in Green Bay I’d probably be a fan of the Packers.  When a penalty is called on my beloved Saints, I often scream at the refs and talk about favoritism. And I know I’m being subjective and I don’t care. Because, in the grand scheme of things, no one should really care. Football just isn’t that important. We can afford to be irrational about it.

But politics, religion, science, and many of the other topics I see constantly being discussed on facebook are important. No, they are “critical.” There needs to be less “feeling” of what is true and more “seeking” for it. And that requires thought, not emotion. It requires the withholding of snap judgments. It requires that we question our own beliefs and not just our opponent’s. In fact, questioning our own beliefs is more important, because another thing you learn from psychology is how easy it is to reject evidence that does not already agree with your viewpoint.

 I am constantly questioning my own beliefs. I work through pro and con arguments for just about everything in my head, or often in print. I try to sift through evidence and examples and, usually, I arrive at a compromise position because I’ll see that both sides of the debate have some merit worth considering. It is seldom that the evidence supports an extreme position, although that has happened. Ultimately, I tend to come out the other end of this process with a level of intellectual satisfaction and a level of emotional dissatisfaction. And I think that’s a reflection of the real complexity of the world we live in.

I’ll sum up this rant by saying two things to those who are so “sure” of their rightness. First, if you haven’t actively investigated your position by considering the evidence as objectively as possible, you are being intellectually dishonest with yourself and everyone around you. Second, if you don’t have doubts, then you’re not doing it right.

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28 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Never go by feeling and never take another man's word for it - do your research.
On a personal note, I've read and studied my Bible and I don't just feel Jesus was real, I know He was.

Cloudia said...

AMEN to the AMEN!!!!!!!!!
" The less you know, the more you THINK you know"
Ray Stevens

ALOHA from Honolulu
ComfortSpiral
=^..^= <3

Lisa said...

I believe what I believe is right, but at the same time I constantly remember my ignorant time which could be just a minute ago

Ty Johnston said...

I'm sorry, Charles, but I cannot as of yet form an opinion of your post because I have not heard from both sides on the issue. Once I have heard from both sides, specifically the side I always agree with, then I will get back to you with my opinion.

laughingwolf said...

that's the "problem" with librans... always seeking "balance"... where we could ignore a lot as just so much hot air, and leave it at that, or at least try to ;)

Sarah Hina said...

Luckily, I live in doubt. :)

Beautifully said, Charles. Wish we had some politicians like you.

Erik Donald France said...

What do you mean? "Exterminate all the brutes!"

Nah, Charles, of course there is much wisdom in your post.

Angie said...

Agreed -- I think confirmation bias is pretty much hardwired into the human brain. And that various anti-questioning, anti-learning factions throughout history have taken advantage of that.

Angie

Brian Miller said...

i think we should question and test our beliefs....people dont really like to...and def dont like those that will challenge them on their beliefs...and have a hard time accepting that they may be wrong..its hard to really hold a rational conversation in these realms at times too...ha...

Charles Gramlich said...

Alex, I've done enough reading to definitely believe Jesus was an historical figure. The key is to do that reading and thinking, or so I would argue.

Lisa, yes indeed. It's good to keep learning.

Ty, see, wisdom! My post has had the desired effect.

Laughingwolf, in that I definitely fit the libra profile.

Sarah, thanks. Although being a politician would be a curse in and of itself.

Erik, you sound like Lana, now. :)

Angie, and there are forces sure trying to take advantage of it today.

Brian, I was always a bit like this, but graduate school really taught me a lot about the need to question, question, question.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, I agree with your summing up. You put that very well. Over the years I have learnt not to discuss politics and religion, especially religion which is a sensitive issue in my parts. The other thing I have noticed in recent times is that people no longer have informed debates or discussions on key issues while everyone has an opinion and judgement on everything. The problem is there is no one to listen.

Sidney said...

That's good insight on "surety." I would've said it was based on emotion, but it's interesting to know the professional's info on that. It's interesting to me how quickly those in the extremes will jump in with comment on social media on even the blandest of issues, always ready to stand up for the cause.

Charles Gramlich said...

Prashant,you are so right. It's all just rants now, but rants based solely on people stating their case as loudly as possible while denigrating anyone who disagrees.

Sidney, and they clearly don't put any thought into it, only emotion. It's a bit scary for sure.

Richard said...

Makes me think of a lyric by the Eagles (and similar ones by Blue Oyster Cult and others)

"I know there ain't no heaven and I pray there ain't no hell"

I like to think my opinions are informed, that's about the best I can do. I do know what I like, respect, want. The opposites of those I generally view negatively and am reluctant to support or approve if such affects me in a meaningful way. If it doesn't, why bother with it?

Good essay, Charles!

Charles Gramlich said...

Richard, thanks. I just get so exhausted some times reading the posts by folks who never seem to doubt or have questions about anything, no matter how esoteric.

Rachel V. Olivier said...

This is one of the reasons I like you, Charles. And that's emotional and gut, not intellectual, though there is some intellectual stuff there. And it's also why you are a teacher and a writer. You need that kind of intellectual exercise to do both those jobs well.

Riot Kitty said...

Thank you - such good points here. We had a school shooting in this metro area last week and it's just nauseating to see everyone rush to the same conclusions to push their own agendas.

If so many things were truly black and white, we'd solve them, easily. Grey is so tricky.

Charles Gramlich said...

Rachel, thanks. Liking and love are one of the places where we do need our emotions very much.

Riot kitty, absolutely.

Ron Scheer said...

I have noticed how willing people are to post what are obviously hoaxes. I have taken to finding hoax tracking sites and leaving links to them by way of reply and a brief word: "Hey, what you posted is crap."

David Cranmer said...

I avoid getting political on my social networking platforms.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

GREAT post. I saw a quote once that said "Don't believe everything you think"...very thought-provoking for sure.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ron, a lot of that going on for sure. If someone says its true they seem to think it must be true.

David, that is very wise. I try to but on occassion I say something I probably shouldn't.

Optimistic, absolutely. I love that quote.

G. B. Miller said...

I seem to find the conversational threads of the topics that you've mentioned where I'm the only one who isn't the member of the choir, and as such, I often find myself very alone/under attach.

It has gotten to the point where I have eliminated a few people from my newsfeed simply because they were unable/unwilling to consider any other point of view.

Father Nature's Corner

Charles Gramlich said...

G. B. I've hidden feeds from some folks who post 'nothing' but political screeds. Certainly it's a part of life but if you only post about things you hate or that make you angry then I'm probably not gonna follow most of it.

ivan said...

I worry a bit about classroom clarity.
I'm more with Montaigne, that it is difficult to square the circle while perched atop you wife. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Ivan, clarity of any kind is hard to come by. Your comment may be an example. :)

Richard Prosch said...

Great post, Charles. Especially like your science-psychology POV which explains so well how otherwise rational, reasonable people can go off the deep end on social media. I often catch myself in mid-comment back --and just delete. There's no arguing with crazy.

Charles Gramlich said...

Richard, I guess if there was arguing with crazy it wouldn't be crazy. :)