Tell me something I don’t know

chatfield

Dr Tom Chatfield, author and tech philosopher

It’s impossible to argue with someone who is convinced they already know the answer. If they are determined to believe something, they will always find evidence to support their point of view – and will always find reasons to ignore anyone who disagrees.

If, for example, you have decided that every swan in the world must be white, finding what looks like a black swan won’t put you off. After all, there are a million white swans to back you up! Who cares about one black bird? If, however, you are committed to understanding the way things actually are, one black swan may be a more important discovery than ten million white ones – because it demands that you adapt and improve your definition of what swans are in the first place.

Today, you can find endless confirmation of almost any claim or worldview online. However objectionable, irrational or divorced from reality it may be, you’re never more than a search term away from like minds and hysterical consensus. Yet you’re also never more than a click away from difference, challenge, and opportunities to test your own and others’ claims – so long as you’re willing to listen.

The scientific method is committed to the belief that we learn more from falsifying one incorrect idea than we do from endlessly confirming things we hope are true. More than ever, we need this mindset, not just in science but in public life: a willingness to put ideas to the test, to change our minds when the facts change, and to pursue insight over tribal allegiances. Without this, we cannot hope to face our ever-more-complex and interconnected future with anything like honesty – or hope.

You can’t pick and choose your truths. But you can, alongside others, test what is claimed to be true – and push back the frontiers of ignorance together.

Dr Tom Chatfield is a British author, broadcaster and tech philosopher. to explore more of his work, visit http://tomchatfield.net/

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