Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Algebra – My Epiphany

I've had one real epiphany in my life (I loathe to use that word, but it's the most accurate I can think of) and it came during my first day of high school – in my first class. It was a basic algebra class and par the norm, we simply went over solving for a variable in the most basic fashion. I don't recall the problem offhand, of course, but something along the lines of X + 4 = 7, or something similarly simplistic. However, this small little bit of knowledge made me aware of something quite more... substantial than basic math. I saw, undoubtedly, that X was three. It was the answer, there was no qualms, no possible misinterpretations or historical inaccuracies. X was 3 and there was no possible way for it to be anything else. It... clicked something in me. Every answer, every belief and every thought should strive to be as accurate, as perfect and as unquestionable as the solution to this algebra problem.

In truth, it really made me aware of  true "logic", but given the woeful lack of education both in and before high school, I wasn't really aware of it at the time.

In mere moments, I started questioning with serious scrutiny every (or at least many) belief I had. Absurdities without real evidence were quickly dismissed, and I assure you I had some positive beliefs about some absurd things. From the Loch Ness Monster, to Big Foot, to Ghosts, to even more common silliness, all were put on the chopping block. I looked at math and looked at those beliefs and compared the strengths of those beliefs. It was silly, was the evidence and reasons I had for believing these things. I dismissed them. I saw that the evidence was sub-par and simply... dismissed my beliefs on those circumstances. Not clinging to inept conspiracies or having emotional attachments to unjustifiable beliefs, but letting them go. I, as a cliché goes, manned up and just accepted things I believed were dumb to believe in. This, I feel, is probably the most important moment in my life. I realized that it was better to be right than be sure you're right and still be wrong. It was better to be admittedly ignorant than believe things without evidence. These beliefs, create an end result... you actually are right and sure you're right because you care about being right – not about thinking you're right. You're ignorant of far less, since you refuse to have beliefs without evidence, so you go out of your way to collect data. I found, at least in my experience, a simple kid thinking that a belief should be more like solving for X made me, in many respects, a better person than most. Perhaps I put too much emphasis on this one point, this one moment, but the mind does such things. Either way, it's a point in time that I've found to be one that I tend to recall better than most, and for good reason, I would think.

And that's how it should be. Every idea with a relative evidence strength of 3 should either be believed or not believed. You don't pick and choose your beliefs based on what you want to believe... or shouldn't, anyway. Being a rational being means that every 3 is either believed or not believed. You can't choose evidence level 3 of Bigfoot and believe in Bigfoot, then see evidence level 3 of Loch Ness Monster and dismiss it. That sort of cognitive dissonance creates a person that, simply, is not rational. They become incoherent in their beliefs. It is something to strive against, personally and socially. In fact, I haven't given much thought to a real definition of irrationality, but to grab one off the top of my head:

An irrational person is one who accepts one belief, but rejects another, despite the evidence for both beliefs being equal.

That is my tentative definition of irrationality. That, is the one thing, that my epiphany really showed me, even if I couldn't articulate it at the time. All beliefs should adhere to the same standards, and those standards should be high. It's something, sadly, most people don't seem to put into practice.

No comments:

Post a Comment