The Single Most Important Lesson For Any Human:

When you are faced with a question or puzzle or quandary, the single most important lessen that you can have learned in life is this:

When you are not certain of the answer or solution, say ‘I don’t know’ the answer/solution.

The second most important lesson is that the result of the first should be quickly followed with one of the following:

  • But we can look it up
  • I have a friend who does this stuff, lets call them
  • but we can do some experiments
  • Lets try to work out how this does work
  • ask “does it come with instructions?”
  • I can figure this out, here, hold my beer
  • Wait, maybe my wife knows…. honey …..

Seriously, if you don’t know do not pretend you do and if you don’t know, go fucking find out! What’s wrong with you?

Yeah, sure. If the question is ‘how do you do brain surgery’ some of those answers might not be available to you… so in such cases when your lips move, the noise they make should sound incredibly like ‘I do not know how they do that’.

God did it is an incredibly obtuse thing to say. We all too often let people off the hook for their real crime because we’re busy fighting the god did it fires. The real crime here is that some human insisted that they know something that they do not. That is what should get smacked down. Bash on the stupid, in the order that it occurs. First bash on the human that made that mistake of not being able to say I do not know, THEN and only then bash on the argument they used. At that point you should have license to bash on their choice of footwear for the day or anything else. Be my guest.

UPDATE

Reader Holly wrote:

Well said. A willingness to embrace the mystery…is a plus as well.

phase two should be the ability to accept mistakes and failures and not need atoning blood to wash them away…learning to become comfortablle with our very humaness. :)

I could not agree more. Thanks Holly

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  1. You sound like you need to beat someone.

    • Not sure that would help… it’s a nice thought though

      • Spankings always help.

        • There is hope for us yet! Yes, it does help… 😉

          • 🙂

  2. This is what gives religions their power: The incapacity of science to solve some issues we still do not know about so far, the arrogance of religions that claim they know everything, and the ignorance or level of ignorance of people and their credulousity index, and their will to find out new undiscovered things.

    There are many people who claim to know scienceamd reason using the scientific method but still fail reasoning and atrribute almost everything especially the unknown to their imaginary friend or magical book

    • It moves me, emotionally at times, to just look at the wonder of the night sky and take mental inventory of my life, then look at my dog and say out loud as I pet him… “I don’t know”. I don’t know what is out there. I know something is and I have some really good ideas about what a lot of it is, but I don’t know everything. He looks at me, I look at him, and I’m okay with the world. I’m okay with not knowing somethings even if I want to know them.
      There are many things which we might call common ground, but ‘I don’t know’ and the ability to say it is the one ‘common ground’ that truly unites us all… or should.

      • True. But religious people would also attribute the “I don’t know” as the best answer for every lazy person, without distinguishing it from the real “I don’t know and I don’t care”

        You don’t know how many times I slept on the roof under the night sky wondering what is out there and how small and insignificant we are to the universe but at the same time we are part of it. It gave me goosebumps in mid summer!

        • The sense of transcendence is not only for the believer. In fact it is a natural experience… wrongly blamed on gods. It is not lazy to say that ‘I don’t know’ … rather it is honest. Play that back against the scenario you described.

  3. Oh yes, saying I don’t know shouldn’t be too hard. Why people insist on proffering explanations to things they know zilch about bothers me too.

    • The human desire to speak the truth is stronger than the desire to know it. A social creature indeed.

      • Absolutely. I think I can account for this with the internal simulation of reality theory of mind. I hate doing this, but check other comments here that I’ve written.

      • Of late I have been asking why is the human species concerned about truth, and what is truth.

        • Ahhh, I have an answer for that. This internal simulation is on its own random, we seek to improve it, to make it accurate. This initially (in lower mammals) manages to be just enough to survive. In humans we have mammal brain v2.0 and there is more to it. We think beyond survival and thus truth has new meaning beyond simply surviving. We humans found enough food to have time to think. We contemplate many things.. among them what is truth. We do not, in truth, need truth to survive. In this simple effort we are evolving beyond what got us here… make sense?

          • To some extent yes, the fact that we have evolved a bigger brain which allows us to contemplate many things.
            Still, if we are agreed that what knowledge we have acquired thus far is just provisional or to say it differently is the best explanation given the knowledge we have, why do we want truth and what is this truth and do you think we will ever get to it?

            • Truth and the desire to possess it is not an aesthetic goal. It is the demand of a brain that seeks to understand the world in order to survive. That we can contemplate the world does not absolve us of figuring out the truth of how it works. Initially for food and survival, now for truth itself. This _is_ evolution in action.

        • It can get a little ridiculous, can’t it? I think what started out as skeptic’s quest has become a distraction for god lovers.

    • The theory of mind that I’ve been working on seems to demand that we fill in the blanks in the simulation and allows us to believe that we know the answer once we’ve filled them in, no matter what we’ve filled it in with. Once we’ve used god or something else, we have to work hard to replace that with something else because it’s woven into the rules of our simulation. I.E. if god doesn’t answer prayers we have to have an answer for all the times when it seems god did answer prayer. That requires statistical math and understanding that shit happens. Sometimes you’re the pigeon and sometimes you’re the statue but that does not sit well with people that want order in the world.

      The basic function of our simulation is to figure out what makes things happen. When it’s cloudy it often rains and so forth. This is handy when figuring out how and what to eat.

      Magic/god is an acceptable answer for our simulation… right up until it is not. The point at which it is not seems to take many inconsistencies and that requires that we are actively attempting to reconcile the simulation rules with what we find in the external world. Sitting in class won’t cause this to happen. It can help but won’t cause it to happen.

      I think the real problem is figuring out what will cause that chain reaction to start.

  4. Well said. A willingness to embrace the mystery…is a plus as well.

    phase two should be the ability to accept mistakes and failures and not need atoning blood to wash them away…learning to become comfortablle with our very humaness. 🙂

    • I’ve updated the post with your comment. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  5. Dumb people don’t understand that smart people are humble in regards to their limitations.

    • True. How true

  6. Crocs, amirite?

    My physics degree taught me two great things: first, how little I know, and second, how easy it is to find more out.

    • Valuable lessons that I wish everyone could learn. It’s probably hard to learn them when you spend most of your time worried about your next meal.

    • imbrocata
    • April 7th, 2013

    I really love this – great post. My take on this is that the default position of something you don’t know and are unable to test or verify, one way or the other is absolutely NOT to accept it as true. If you cannot test or find evidence supporting a given point, one does not or, at least, should not automatically say, “Well, we’re at an impasse on this question so it must be true”. Indeed, so far as practical living goes, the answer must remain at least undecided (“I don’t know”) but in practice; the answer is false.
    This is the beauty of skepticism and doubt in that it will never lead you in committing to things for lack of evidence. You will not commit, while remaining open to new evidence, until such a time that that the evidence leads you to make a verifiable conclusion.

    • Thanks for commenting. It means a lot to me that so many have stopped by to let me know they agree. This is what I strive for each day – be honest with myself and others. It’s easy to ignore or put off but there is only now and if I do not know right now, then I don’t know is the appropriate answer.

      Thank you

    • Perfectly Paralyzed Pet
    • April 8th, 2013

    Interesting your post has more rational thinking and honesty involved than in any of the religion based blogs I have seen.
    Thanks for the comments that led me to your blog, and others, and snapped me out of the funk I got in while processing my thoughts via blog. Much appreciated.
    As I thanks, I posted an image and the click through link is to your blog. Figured you wouldn’t mind.

    • I’m glad you like it. Thanks for commenting and for the click through

    • th3devil5advocat3
    • April 9th, 2013

    Hi, you remember me! Since you said you were looking for contrary opinions, I thought I would oblige. I have two main issues with this frame of mind:

    First, I know that you know that a belief in deities is often formed as an explanation for things that one does not understand. With this in mind, people (at least those who are willing and able to confess that they do not know the mind/will of God) who claim that “God did it” are effectively saying that they do not know – the issue is that they are not saying so in a manner that is consistent with your view of the universe and your standards of communication. Why is it that it is always “the other” person who must convert to “your” manner of communication? Coming from a belief that “you” are the more intelligent, honest person, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think it is your responsibility to attempt to communicate with people in a language they understand. If you are working from an honest desire to educate these people and help them move away from “the big lie”, rather than from a desire to simply abuse anyone who doesn’t think and communicate the way you do, you may find it more effective to wean them away from it, rather than to immediately resort to “bashing” them.

    Second: In a practical sense, people are not likely to take what you have to say to heart if you abuse them. We know that reward is more effective than punishment, and that it is easier to get someone to commit to something big after they’ve committed to something small. We know this via scientific psychological experiments. In terms of debate, attacking the person rather than the idea is called an argumentum ad hominem, and as a proponent of reasoned discussion, you may want to avoid this fallacy. In a more self-serving sense, attacking the person rather than the argument, more often than not just makes the attacker look immature. And attacking someone’s choice of footwear is so high-school.

    Third: there is an implication here that not admitting you don’t know is a theist thing. I have often seen atheists do the same thing. Often enough, I see atheists, when confronted with facts contrary to their stated opinion, rather than concede that they were working from a flawed or incomplete understanding, will say “well, what I meant was…” In politics this is often called flip-flopping. Probably just as frequently I have seen theists say, “you know, that makes perfect sense. I stand corrected.”

    Fourth: If the admission of not knowing is not followed immediately by an attempt to correct that lack of knowledge- it may be unfair to assume that there is something “wrong” with that person. They may simply be uninterested. For example, if you asked me how scoring in football worked, I would say I didn’t know, and I would not immediately look for the answer, because I simply don’t care how scoring in football works. I don’t play it, I don’t watch it, knowing it isn’t likely to help me, and there are other more interesting things I could fill my limited time and brain space with.

    And finally: I noticed in a later post that you quoted Carl Sagan, and that he is a favorite of atheists. Interestingly, he is also quoted as having said “An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence. Because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do now to be sure that no such God exists. To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.” And also “The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God.” Very occasionally I hear that an atheist is simply someone who doesn’t believe in God, rather than someone who believes that there is no God. However, etymologically, the word “atheism” translates as a “state/condition of no gods.” Which is why I argue that any “atheist” who does not firmly believe in a “state or condition of no gods” is actually an agnostic, not the other way around. Working from this understanding of the meaning of “atheism,” I have to agree that atheists are claiming knowledge they do not have.

    • Hello tda, glad you stopped by and thanks for commenting. I’m kind of confused by your numbering system. You have two main issues but mention five? 😉

      ==the issue is that they are not saying so in a manner that is consistent with your view of the universe and your standards of communication.==
      Except they are telling me what their god wants, what his goals are, his reasoning and so on. As soon as the theist steps outside the bounds of their holy text any ‘idea’ they may have of what their god wants is clearly all in their heads. Revelation is extremely difficult to prove and looks exactly like it’s being made up.

      When my manner of communication is not convoluted and fettered with unreasonable claims. To get to the bottom of the claims it is necessary that we speak in a manner that does not promote the very same unprovable claims. If the believer wishes to communicate their claim of a god’s existence then it would behoove them to play along and communicate in reasonable ways. I am not possessed of an honest desire to educate the world. I do think it is one of the more effective ways of getting people to see why their claims are unreasonable. I have never defined the word bashing and often use it in metaphorical ways. I think you’ve misunderstood me somewhere.

      Well, I don’t think you’ll find anyone that thinks I’ve abused them, so the advice is taken well but unnecessary at this point as far as I can tell.

      The footwear comment – sarcasm/humor. Don’t take everything absolutely seriously.

      ==Third: there is an implication here that not admitting you don’t know is a theist thing.==
      No, but being a theist generally means that you absolutely KNOW how the universe got here and why. To say you don’t know is to not believe in the very religion you profess.

      ==Fourth: If the admission of not knowing is not followed immediately by an attempt to correct that lack of knowledge- …. there are other more interesting things I could fill my limited time and brain space with.==
      If your beliefs are that easily dismissed as unimportant or not worth your times, go ahead then, do not seek to correct the lack of knowledge. The thing is that most theist will tell you that their claims of a god are THE most important thing in life. Go figure.

      Sagan is a favorite of those who like science. Atheists like him because he soundly refuted any evidence yet offered up for the existence of gods. He was an agnostic, believing there was no proof either way. Since his time we have discovered many things. No god is necessary for the universe to look as it does. The Higgs boson gives matter its mass, and many more things. This is an interesting point you seem to be mangling. A claim with no evidence can be dismissed without evidence. The claims of a god’s existence are all without credible evidence. There is no reason to think that there might yet be a god. That is to say there is no reason to have doubt that there is not a god. As certain that you are that Thor does not exist, I am certain that YHWH does not exist. An atheist does not believe in gods because there is no evidence for gods. You have framed your point in the manner that all theists seem to do that either there is a god or there is not a god and never a chance that there might be other options. Stop with the god stuff. If you don’t have proof for such a claim then the question (if it properly be called such) is settled. There are no gods and no reason to begin thinking that there might be. There you have it, reason to not believe in gods and without evidence that there is no god-like being anywhere in the universe or outside of it … whatever that might be. An unsubstantiated claim of a god is not a foundation to frame the question that way. The proper framing is to ask whether someone that claims gods exist, without any credible evidence, are crazy or not. Hearing voices and seeing visions and believing in demons and spirits is the usual realm of crazy people, touched, deluded, and generally out of touch with reality. So rather than tell me that there is something wrong with me because I don’t believe you, you should be worrying that I will think you mad as a hatter for your less than honest claims.

        • th3devil5advocat3
        • April 10th, 2013

        Lol, you got me on the numbering. Failed to edit that.

        Regarding your first point, I wonder if people are actually telling you all of that, or if you are assuming as much. How often do you ask these people exactly what God means to them, and if they know what God wants? I mean, if they start going all Bible-Thumper, then hey, you have your answer. But chances are pretty good that people don’t do that, and may say something like “Well, God to me is the order of the universe, and no, I don’t know the mind of God.” Maybe the only theists you talk to (or that you know are theists) are Bible-Thumpers. You’d be surprised how many scientists believe in some kind of God. Consider that Einstein was a pantheist (God=Universe). Which brings me all the way around to your last point: you completely ignored the quote from Sagan regarding pantheism. Also, why not keep an eye out for gods? By prematurely omitting the possibility of their existence, you may be making yourself ignorant of an entire new realm of the universe. Who knows? I’m not saying that one needs to go looking for gods, or proof that gods exist, but that by limiting the possibilities right off the top, you’re not giving yourself the opportunity to see all that you can see.

        Also, I like how you appear to have ignored my example in the seeking answers section. You have a valid point in terms of theism, but your original post, in the beginning, seemed to be going for a more general point, hence my highly general example that had nothing to do with my beliefs and everything to do with my interests.

        Another thing- I am a huge fan of semantics, and a believer that people tend to underestimate the power of the words they choose. Although you may use the word “bashing” in a metaphorical sense, perhaps not all of your readers will understand this, and they may see your choice of words as giving them license to behave rudely, or even cruelly, toward people based solely on whether or not they believe in a God. Even if you do not see yourself as an authority, or as someone whose words people will take to heart, you seem very aware of (and proud of) how many followers you have. Theists are not the only people who interpret things literally and take the words of others as truth without much reflection. I’ve seen a great deal of atheists turn into yes-men. You might just keep that in mind when you tell people to “bash” others.

        And lastly, in regards to the shoes. I was responding to sarcasm with sarcasm. Don’t take everything so seriously. ;P

  7. Excellent.
    Admitting you don’t know.
    Now, why do i think men have more of a problem with this?
    Oh dear, i may have started something here…

    • Well, sexism is fun, but it’s all kinds of people that have trouble saying they don’t know 😉 Just ask someone for directions… and you’ll know why guys don’t bother.

  8. In my experience that is not why guys don’t ask for directions – in the UK it’s because of their British stiff upper lip that they couldn’t possibly been seen to be admitting they don’t know – carry on regardless, what ho!

    • I’d actually agree with that. When they aren’t sure they simply queue up… :0

  9. Loved your blog 🙂

    • Why thank you for your kind words. I hope that it continues to bring you enjoyment.

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