Thought for the day from Feynman

I was just reminded of this and am about to add it to the HAT quote file:

“I can live with doubts and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong…I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, so far as I can tell. It doesn’t frighten me.”

Richard Feynman

I just don’t get people who would rather have a wrong answer than just admit to and embrace not knowing. Sometimes incontrovertible evidence simply doesn’t exist, which makes various claims exactly that: claims, not answers. Having a strong opinion is not the same as knowing.

The constant demand for answers (or else you’re hiding something), and the corollary for some that any change in those answers in response to new evidence is somehow a form of hypocrisy (or at the very least, inconsistency); these strike me as the most obvious demonstration of the dire lack of critical thinking skills on display in public discourse (and often the cynical appeal to that lack of critical thinking skills by persons with rhetorical skill and a partisan agenda).

Meh. Way too many parentheses. Rant over, and not inspired by any one incident in particular. I probably need to go and take a walk.

Categories: culture wars, education, ethics & philosophy, skepticism

Tags: ,

7 replies

  1. Al Gore will love you for this.

  2. I find that uncertainty, not being sure of the answers, knowing that there is so much more to be discovered, gives me real freedom.
    It’s a great quote, Tigtog.

  3. Hope the walk works, Tigs.

    I love Feynman. I found this Feynman cross stitch pattern on Etsy, and my dear mother is putting it on a cushion for me for Christmas!

  4. Ahh this is serendipitous – I just found the Feynman lectures online and have bookmarked them for a rainy evening, where I will relish learning physics like I should have done many years ago (my physics teachers were all crap).
    So agree entirely about being comfortable with uncertainty. Its exciting too when you have a scientific rationalist worldview because you can think of all the stuff science has yet to explain 🙂
    Doing research has given me a good idea of how much we still don’t know -and of the fuzzy basis of most cutting edge science… but its fin playing out on the edges of knowledge. Like Einstein said, we’re just children strolling on the beach who occasionally pick up a pretty shell or other interesting object, and the ocean lies before up, vast and mysterious (but inherently knowable).

  5. There is nothing more satisfying than swinging from one loudly defended opinion to another. Revising my current working model of the world is why I read blogs. I simply don’t get why anyone think they have the right model. Or even just one.
    Inconsistency is everywhere. The Rutherford model of the atom is still useful in some circumstances, even though I know quantum mechanical models are better in others. Presumably everyone has Ruherford models and QM models of all sorts of things for different occasions?’s last blog post..Supermarket lunch

  6. Oh I love Richard Feynman.
    And yes I’d rather not know that believe something that was wrong.

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