Ode to Uncertainty

[From Rick Marken (950504.0940)J

Loel Judd (950503) --

The cry seems to be going up (on the net) for "skepticism" in the
schools... Are you suggesting a simple questioning attitude about all
information we see and hear?

I am suggesting that education at all levels emphasize the importance of
knowledge over belief. We should teach children, as soon as possible, the
difference between these two notions. We should teach kids that a _little_
quality knowledge (like the knowledge that f=ma) is more valuable than a ton
of personal belief. We should not be afraid to tell kids that most of what
passes for knowledge is really belief. Nobody knows, for example, the best
way to run an economy, a government, a family, a culture, etc.

Kids could be taught that there is nothing wrong with not knowing things;
in fact, they could be taught that, next to "I love you", "I don't know" is
the nicest thing one person can say to another. They could be taught that
it is not necessary to use belief as a substitute for knowledge. Belief
is something that is satisfying to the believer so different believers will
find different beliefs satisfying. I think people might be more accepting of
each other's beliefs if they had a better understanding of what belief is
for.

People seem to want to "know"; they want to have knowledge. Belief is a
problem when it is used to satisfy this want; it is knowledge through
imagination. When I was a kid I wanted my little brother to think I knew
everything so I had an answer to every one of his questions. Both he and I
believed the answers I gave. It has taken over 40 years to learn that the
real "knowledge" one gets from an education is the knowledge that we know
almost nothing. I think educators should teach kids to question everything
they think they know; kids should be taught to value uncertainty. I think it
was Jacob Bronowski who wisely noted that the great horrors of the world
are commited by people who are certain that they "know" what's going on.

I am arguing that education should be aimed at teaching kids to be
comfortable saying "I don't know -- but I'm trying to find out". Education
should also be aimed at teaching kids how to find out. That means teaching
them the most powerful approach to finding out that we know -- and one that
was only discovered 300 years ago: the scientific method. The two
centerpieces of this method are testing and modelling but the real heart of
it is the beautiful refrain: "I don't know -- but I'm trying to find out".

Best

Rick