A Problem about Belief

An experience (I hope) everyone has had: you have a strong opinion about a subject. Then you learn more about the subject and realize your initial opinion was hilariously immature. It was the opinion someone who was uninformed. The new knowledge you’ve acquired gives you hints as to how you might have to revise the original opinion. But, more importantly, it has humbled you. You now realize you’re unqualified in this area. Whatever new information you now have, you’ve been given something that supersedes it: the fact of your own limitations. You can take your new knowledge and form a new opinion, sure. But you can also project based on past experience. What would happen if you learned even more about the subject? Isn’t it likely that you’d realize that your new, revised opinion was also silly? It was, after all, still the opinion of someone who was relatively uninformed, even if less uninformed than before.

This has happened to me with philosophy. I used to have fairly strong philosophical convictions. The more philosophy I learn, the weaker those convictions become. Not because I’ve necessarily found convincing counterarguments. More so because, the more I learn, the more obvious it is to me how little I actually know. And I don’t even mean knowledge of facts or of particular arguments. It’s broader than that. The more I learn, the more I realize there are entireĀ ways of analyzing issues that I don’t have access to because I haven’t learned enough.

One takeaway from this is: unless you’re a top expert in a field, you should assume that your opinions are wrong (or, if correct, for the most part accidentally so).…

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Train of Thought #87

I love following trains of thought.

I was staring at a fireplace listening to music. I had the following progression of thoughts:

  1. The bass line in this song is really awesome.
  2. It’s a very active bass line. I don’t know much about music and almost nothing about good bass playing. Any active bass line is going to sound good to me.
  3. Does that mean that, since I don’t know much about music, none of my opinions about music matter?
  4. I have strong opinions about music. Favorite albums, artists, songs, instrumentalists. To someone who knows a lot about music, those opinions must seem superficial and misguided.
  5. This is true even if we agree that taste is subjective. Even among matters of subjective taste, some taste is refined and some misses all the nuances of the form. Some is based on understanding the medium and some is based on irrelevant associations.
  6. Does this mean that all of our opinions about subjects in which we are not experts are misguided?
  7. Actually, even if we’re experts, we can always assume that there’s another expert who knows the subject more, or we can imagine one in the future who will. That person’s opinion is based on more and better evidence than mine. Shouldn’t I just automatically adopt his position?
  8. Does this mean we shouldn’t believe any of our beliefs? Should we assume all our beliefs are wrong? Should we just believe what the most knowledgeable expert beliefs?

My train of thought took me to radical skepticism, as they often do.…

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