The Only Way to Be Right, and the Only Way to Be Rational

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There’s something important I’ve learnt about how you get to have correct opinions, that is to say, to be right. And there is another thing I’ve learnt about avoiding irrationality that is so similar that it’ll sound redundant if I explain them separately, so I will speak of both here.

It should be evident to anyone that people often have incorrect opinions about all kinds of things. There are so many people with opposite views that no matter what the truth is, a lot of them have to be wrong. I can hardly tell you how to always be right, but I can tell you what the necessary first step is in avoiding being wrong.

It’s this: You need to seriously admit the possibility that you may be wrong. No-one is born knowing everything. No-one is so good that they never form an incorrect opinion. If you stick with every opinion you already have, you will be defending some incorrect views at the very least. And if you defend them like this, you will deny yourself the chance to correct them and actually be right. It is deeply irrational to defend your ego by pretending you are never wrong.  If you need something to appease your ego, pride yourself as someone who’s smart and humble enough to change their own opinions when necessary.

Of course, not every opinion is likely to be affected by every challenge. Sometimes there is even reason for someone to easily dismiss challenges of their opinions. As an extreme case, suppose a leading authority in physics is confronted by a layman who claims to overthrow all of modern physics using an argument that everyone in the field knows to have been thoroughly disproven five hundred years ago. Probably the layman will end up thinking the physicist is dogmatically close-minded and would accept the argument if they weren’t deceiving themselves, but honestly, that person is just wrong. But really, how many of your opinions are that well established? If you just think what people usually say or just read half an article in a tabloid or are remembering something vaguely from school from a subject you were not much good at or something, then you should admit you just don’t know the whole thing very well and you have no reason to have strong opinions about it.

So, the only way to be right is to admit that you may be wrong. It’s not sufficient, it won’t automatically make you right, but it’s a start, and it’s necessary.

Now, the second point about rationality. It’s quite evident that people are not always rational, at least when you are looking at other people. It’s more difficult to notice in oneself, though. And, as you may have guessed, the only way to become rational yourself is to seriously consider the possibility that you may be irrational.

And do you know what irrationality looks like from the inside? It’s completely different from how it looks from the outside. From the outside, you can sometimes easily recognise it, though you should note you can be wrong about that, too. But from the inside, it’s the opposite of obvious. If it’s you who are having the irrational impulses, they probably will seem to make perfect sense to you. If something extraneous to the situation like low blood sugar levels is making you cranky, for example, you may well just feel that you’re getting angry or irritated solely because of the way others are behaving, and that anyone would. You need to look at the situation from the outside, so to speak: if someone else was acting like this in these circumstances, then would you, putting aside all those apparently good reasons for your behaviour in your mind, consider it irrational? Of course, one should also learn about specific sources of human irrationality to be able to do this better, to recognise and counter them in oneself.

This is again far from being an automatic solution. Avoiding irrationality is hard even if you are explicitly trying. But, again, it’s a necessary condition. If you cannot attribute irrational impulses to yourself, you cannot counter them.



One thought on “The Only Way to Be Right, and the Only Way to Be Rational

  1. […] The Only Way to Be Right, and the Only Way to Be Rational. […]

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