Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Just to get something straight, I think everybody is wrong. I don't say this lightly. I've given the matter considerable thought over a number of years, but I find this conclusion inescapable. This view has been confirmed for me by the collection of micro-essays in the book What Have You Changed Your Mind About. Basically, the book is a collection of very short essays by a bunch of incredibly smart people, all talking about ideas they held at one time, but later abandoned for various reasons.

What Have You Changed Your Mind About is an excellent book. Well, no it's not. Ok, it is.

The point is that nobody really has a handle on reality. No political parties. No religious institutions. No philosophers. Nobody! We see only a tiny sliver of the electromagnetic spectrum. We hear a narrow range of sound wave frequencies. We're stuck looking at the universe from a tiny planet in one corner, where things that are too tiny or too big are all but invisible. We can use instruments to look at things that are tiny, or very far away. But these only expand our range a little bit. To draw conclusions about reality is like peering through the keyhole of a big mansion, and trying to deduce the color of the toilet paper in the master bathroom.

And the instruments have their own inherent flaws. Basically, they convert things we can't perceive into things we can. Telescopes, microscopes, amplifiers, etc. all make distant or tiny or quiet things appear closer or bigger or louder. Our mental model of the universe is based on just a few very primitive ideas we learn early on. So by magnifying or amplifying things, we make them comparable to familiar objects. The moon through a telescope looks like a ball out in space. Microorganisms are little squishy things. But the scale of these things is part of their reality. Putting them on our scale creates a distortion.

Anyway, I didn't mean to start down that road. I'll come back to that another time.

The other thing about everyone being wrong is that usually, when our beliefs are challenged, our first reaction is to cling to them more strongly, and to defend them. Belief systems are very comforting, because they allow us to ignore the vast unanswered questions and simply deal with the mundane business of getting through the day.

My point was that nobody knows how to fix health care. Nobody knows how to prevent terrorism. Nobody knows how to structure an economy that balances liberty with justice, so people are free to pursue their goals, but nobody gets treated unfairly. Nobody knows how to govern.

So if I occasionally rail against one political party or view or set of beliefs, that's just what's bugging me at the moment. I could undoubtedly find something just as ludicrous about the opposite view.

Oh, and when I say everyone is wrong, I'm including myself.

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