Friday, 31 August 2012

Intelligence vs Skepticism

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

When I started Orygyn on YouTube, I was 18, and I had a tiny fraction of the understanding of religious and political issues that I do today, despite it only being slightly over 4 years later. I was very open to all sorts of different perspectives and, rather than viewing them with preconceptions that would lead me to instantly discard them, I was fair to them all, with the possible exception of theism. There wasn't any evidence for a god, and I wasn't hopeful anyone could show me any, but I was still very much open to that possibility. For the most part, that hasn't changed, but I want to share with you something I've noticed about myself which I think goes some way to explaining the dogma that many among our community on YouTube have demonstrated, along with the unresolvable stalemates I mentioned in my last video.

I'm a very curious person. I love to learn, and I am especially driven to understand how things work. To give you some idea of this, I spend a lot of time on Wikipedia, MIT OpenCourseware, and howstuffworks. Having recently gotten into the show "The Big Bang Theory", my curiosity drove me to try to understand, at least on some basic level, the equations that appear on the whiteboards in the apartment in each episode. I already know a lot of the concepts such as string theory, M theory, and, after great difficulty, I more or less understand the basics of how subatomic particles move. As a Maths student, the equations make mathematical sense to me, but without a knowledge of what each letter or symbol means in that particular context, I can't understand what the equation is saying. As a result of this ignorance, I'm almost fanatically driven to gain such understanding.

The most important thing, however, is the underlying mindset which drives this curiosity. I know I'm not in any way special, or exceptionally talented, but when I look at great achievements and visionaries, people who are exceptionally talented beyond all question, I don't say to myself "I'll never be able to do that", instead I think that, given enough time and effort, I could achieve something like that. Now I'm not under any delusions as to the incredible irrationality of this mindset, but this is the 1 irrational view I'd never want to lose, because without it, I'd lose the curiosity that makes me continually strive to learn more and understand everything better. Where this is relevant to the main point of this post is in the trade-off of this mindset, one which appears to only be getting worse by the day: increasingly, I don't want to be wrong. I didn't really care in the past, and I saw it as a good thing when I realised I had the weaker position, because it's a win-win scenario: the winner stays right, the loser re-evaluates their position based on the new information and is smarter and wiser for it. I don't intend to forget that any time soon, but being the loser is a stark reminder that there are still people who know things and understand concepts that I don't and, in some cases, never will. With the drive to understand more comes this need to already be that paragon of intelligence and understanding, and I guess, as long as I have that drive, a part of me will never want to accept that I'm not already there and never will be. This annoying trade-off has manifested in me wanting to hold onto untenable perspectives longer than I used to, when my defence of them has run dry. I've felt this dogma at work all of this year especially, and, if I'm serious about wanting to continue talking about skepticism, reason and logic, it's important to notice this growing affront to my self-use of those terms.

More importantly, I wonder if what I've just described is the engine behind the persistence with which many self-proclaimed atheists and skeptics cling to obviously ridiculous positions such as "all Muslims are terrorists/terrorist sympathisers" or "all feminists are man-hating lesbians"; such basic errors in logic that it doesn't even demonstrate an understanding of nuance at all, and these arguments are made by people whose knowledge in some fields is near-encyclopaedic. My theory is that they share, to some extent, my problem. These people either think they're smarter than everyone else, because they're an expert in 1 or 2 fields, or, like me, know they're not, but desperately want to be, and the resulting desire not to be wrong creates a dogma which even the most adept self-critics find it difficult to overcome.

If this sounds familiar to you, based on interactions you've had on YouTube, but more importantly, if this is describing you, the first step is identifying that dogma. Once you know it's there, never let yourself forget it. I'm not prepared to let go of the belief that I have what it takes to be a polymath, but, because I know that that belief has a trade-off, which affects how I view arguments other people make, and how open-minded I can be, I can force my awareness of that dogma to surface when I'm in an argument or analysing a claim. If you truly want to be smarter, this dogma is an obstacle to that. By preventing it from affecting your ego, you can cut your losses and adopt more accurate viewpoints faster than if you let the dogma continue to stand between you and that ultimate goal of perfect understanding.

I know these blog posts don't get many (sometimes even no) views, but if you think this idea can benefit you or someone you know, let them know its here. If my request put you off from doing that because you think it's me whoring myself out to get views, but you still think it can benefit someone, feel free to steal the content of this post for your own video or just to use in your own discussion with the person. What I care about first and foremost is that good ideas thrive and benefit other people.


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