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What you know

What do you know and how do you know it?

You know a lot of things. Some of what you know is true, but some of it isn’t true. Do you know which is which?

It is important to know what you don’t know. To know when you’re fooling yourself. To know when you’ve been gullible. To know when you’re fooling others.

It’s bad enough that you can embarrass yourself by making claims about the world that aren’t true. What happens if someone’s life or even your paycheck depends on it?

Personally, I can’t know everything. There’s way too much to know. I divide what I know into several groups:

  1. what is true because I know the facts
  2. what is probably is true because I know comparable or analogous facts
  3. what might well be true because people I trust say it’s true
  4. what could be true but I don’t know any facts about
  5. what is not true

The first group is very small. When I express myself, I am very confident making statements about facts in this group.

The second and third groups are larger. When I express myself, I am careful to note that I am reasoning from analogy or that I am trusting someone else’s statement about facts I do now know.

The fourth group is immense, but the fifth is infinite. Most of what we read and hear is in these two groups. I do my best to avoid expressing myself about anything in these two groups.

How can we tell the difference between the groups? Facts.

Ask yourself this: if you were accused of a crime, how would you like the jury to decide your fate? Facts, or something else?


What do you know that is wrong?

That’s how many people’s policy positions are developed, on the basis of wrong knowledge.

Perceptions are not reality: what the world gets wrong

Ipsos Perils of Perception Survey 2016 – 40 countries

  • Most countries think their population is much more Muslim than it actually is – and that the Muslim population is increasing at an incredible rate
  • All countries think their population is less happy than they actually say they are
  • Most countries are more tolerant on homosexuality, abortion and pre-marital sex than they think they are
  • And nearly all countries think wealth is more evenly distributed than it actually is.



The Ipsos ‘Index of Ignorance’ Table

On the basis of their data, Ipsos ranked the 40 countries that they studied from #1, with citizens whose knowledge (of what Ipsos asked about) was least accurate to #40, with citizens whose knowledge was most accurate.

Julia Galef

Rank
1     India     Least accurate
2     China
5     US
7     Thailand
35   Australia
40   Netherlands    Most accurate

Why did I chose those countries? India, because it’s #1 and the others because we’re going to learn more about them during Factistan’s election campaign this spring.


What you don’t know

Julia Galef: Why you think you’re right — even if you’re wrong

Perspective is everything, especially when it comes to examining your beliefs. Are you a soldier, prone to defending your viewpoint at all costs — or a scout, spurred by curiosity? Julia Galef examines the motivations behind these two mindsets and how they shape the way we interpret information, interwoven with a compelling history lesson from 19th-century France. When your steadfast opinions are tested, Galef asks: “What do you most yearn for? Do you yearn to defend your own beliefs or do you yearn to see the world as clearly as you possibly can?

ProCon.org: Critical Thinking Explained

Critical thinking is something we do every day, without realizing it. Although we may think critically about simple tasks such as shopping for a tomato or deciding which movie to see, we don’t always apply critical thinking skills to important, controversial issues.

Statistics demonstrate that students who participate in critical thinking activities (discussions and debates) are more likely to become engaged citizens than students without critical thinking experience. This video explores ways in which we can use critical thinking to sift through the inaccurate, misleading and biased news and information we receive, thereby making more informed decisions on the issues that affect us most.

Hans and Ola Rosling: How not to be ignorant about the world

How much do you know about the world? Hans Rosling, with his famous charts of global population, health and income data (and an extra-extra-long pointer), demonstrates that you have a high statistical chance of being quite wrong about what you think you know. Play along with his audience quiz — then, from Hans’ son Ola, learn 4 ways to quickly get less ignorant.

This world and this College have plenty of room for beliefs. The soldier in you can defend them all you want, but not in this course. This course will reward you for being a scout, for seeing the world as clearly as possible based on facts. Trust yourself.

“Men occasionally stumble over the truth,
but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.”
Winston Churchill