Knowing that you know nothing

“And in knowing that you know nothing, that makes you the smartest of all.” – Socrates

This quote came across my email, and I find myself amused at serendipity.  I’ve been working on my Critical Thinking I course for the ADF Generalist Study Program, and have been wrestling with some of the concepts in that course. A lot of the book that I’m reading, “How to Think About Weird Things”, talks how hard it is to truly prove something beyond any doubt.  The author proposed that when we say that something is true, we really mean that it’s proven true beyond reasonable doubt.  There is always the chance that there is something that we haven’t discovered that will change the way we look at things.

At one point in our history, scientists were sure that the world was flat and that the Sun revolved around the Earth.  Today, we believe that the world is spherical and the Earth revolves around the Sun. New information came to light and caused scientists to re-evaluate the truths that they believed.

It’s a hard concept to come to terms with for me, but it does help me to relate to other people who may not believe the same truths that I do.

There’s a big difference between belief and truth (as defined above).  If we believe something, it may not may not be true. I think this is one of the hardest things for people of any faith to comprehend. Just because I believe that faeries exist, doesn’t mean that they do.  However, so far, no one has proved that faeries DON’T exist, so we can’t say for sure if they do or they don’t.

In recognizing this, it allows me to consider the possibility that other people’s beliefs may be correct, even when they are opposed to my own. It also means that I don’t try to push my beliefs onto other people, although I’ll happily discuss them. I know that it’s what I believe, but that’s where the knowledge of the truth ends.  We all create our own universe, and we can’t completely, without a doubt, KNOW anything.

Knowing that you know nothing allows you to consider all the possibilities, and perhaps, just perhaps, discover something new.


Citation for the Logic Book referenced above: Schick, Theodore; Vaughn, Lewis. How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age. vols. 4th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2004.
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