As I’ve shared in the past, one of the reasons I started Another Think Coming was how often I found myself revisiting old ideas that were no longer accurate or reflective of new information.

You wake up one morning and the preponderance of the evidence has forced you to reconsider what you long held dear. You realize that you are plain wrong, so you’ve got another think coming about everything you once held dear or thought true.

To that end, I focus a lot in this blog on sharing quick ideas and going deeper into critical thinking, AI, etc. In this entry, I explore some of the things I read in Jonathan Rousch’s The Constitution of Knowledge, a book I heartily recommend.

An Aside: The other part of Another Think Coming blog is that I had grown bored with my writing at the intersection of education, technology, and leadership at Around the Corner. While you can still access the old content (and search it) at, I decided to step away from those ideas. I’d started that blog to wrestle with Web 2.0 ideas, social media, and all that. Now, I’m in a different place.

Dealing with Uncertainty

I loved this quote from Michel de Montaigne because it captures the general equivalence all human beings are set up with that makes it so hard to argue that my certainty is better than your’s, when chances are, it’s as flawed. In fact, it’s probably what frames the problem with “both sides” arguments:

“The uncertainty of our senses makes everything they produce uncertain.”

Read that again. We can’t simply rely on our senses.

Certainty versus Evidence

In his blog entry, David Truss affirms the epistemological crisis we are all facing. He says:

We are living through an epidemic of certainly at the expense of evidence. Selectively chosen facts are sprinkled on emboldened ideas that sit like concrete, embedded deep in the minds of people who are certain they are right.

Contrary evidence is tossed aside. If it doesn’t fit my truth or my world view then, it’s wrong, it’s misinterpreted, it’s fake news.

One of the real struggles people have is knowing how to resolve this issue. How do you know who or what to believe? How certain can you be of any perspective, including your own? David’s reflection reminds me of a Thinking Clearly podcast featuring Jonathan Rauch

He is the author of several books, but the most relevant is The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth.

Why Do Are We So Certain?

“The certainty epidemic is growing and it’s getting harder and harder to sift through the BS, and actually know what evidence to follow,” says David Truss. This isn’t a new problem, though. Throughout history, we have seen people struggle with their own cognitive biases, the power of the tribe, and more.

In his book, Rauch makes the following points:

  • Once a belief becomes important to the way we think about ourselves or important to the group we identify with, changing it becomes very costly (The Identity-Protective Cognition by Dan Kahan)
  • Hundreds of thousands of year of practice at believing whatever will keep us in good standing with our tribe, even if that requires denying, rationalizing, misperceiving, and ignoring the evidence in front of our nose…if a belief performs the function of defining a group and knitting it together, it plays the social role of a sacred or religious belief.
  • When facts challenge the belief the congregation will defend its faith by denying the facts.

How do you overcome human programming that make us willing to deny the facts when they go in the face of how we think about ourselves or the group we belong to?

My hope was, as David Truss expresses, that we would be able to live up to “…the idea that we continue to learn and reformulate our theories and make them better.”

But we know that’s not always going to happen. What we know, our ability to evaluate evidence is more than simple intellectual exercise.

As Rauch points out in his book, citing Cailin O’Connor and James Owen Weatherall, we must recognize that cognition is a group process:

“Our ability to successfully evaluate evidence and form true beliefs has as much to do with our social conditions as our individual psychology.”

Clearly, more is needed.

Revisiting Bacon

In The Constitution of Knowledge, Rauch does a spectacular job of summarizing history of how a constitution of knowledge was created.

One of the citations is Sir Francis Bacon:

Knowledge comes not from what truth seekers believe, but what they do: Make observations and perform experiments which eliminate wrong answers and point us toward right ones.

Using this method, we can overcome the inherent flaws of our senses and cognition (Idols of the Tribe), the limits of our individual experiences and parochial viewpoints (Idols of the Cave), and the errors of received dogmas and superstitions (Idols of the Theatre).

This is powerful stuff. To summarize:

Knowledge doesn’t come from what people think, but from what they do. They watch, try things out, and learn which answers don’t work and which ones do. This way, we can get past our natural mistakes and limits, and the wrong ideas we’ve been taught.

In his blog entry, David describes the issue of confirmation bias…that we look for facts that support our perspective, discarding the ones that don’t fit. Instead, we need to find ways to prove our hypothesis of how things work, wrong. What is the error in our thinking?

We need to be willing to be people who are willing, as Charles Sanders Peirce says (as cited in Rauch’s book), “…at all times to dump [their] whole cartload of beliefs the moment experience is against them.”

Given how much we invest into our beliefs as children, it is hard to do.

Knowledge and Truth Are Public

“Knowledge can be made only when it can be validated by others. Unless truth be recognized as public, as that of which any person would come to be convinced if he carried his inquiry,” is a tough excerpt from a quote by Rauch.

Without community, you can believe whatever you want. It’s not until you drag your truth into the commons that others can test it to see if it is true.

That is the process Bacon appears to have identified…making observations and then testing and experimenting.

Those who do will never be 100% certain of the truth, but the increasing evidence and scientific consensus (based on individual experiments by others) can shift you from a hypothesis to a widely accepted theory.

Another Think Coming

As David points out in a follow-up blog entry, dumping your beliefs in light of new evidence requires courage:

It always surprises me the that changing of one’s opinion is seen as weak. To me it’s a sign of strength.

Openly admitting that you’ve changed your mind based on new evidence is a superpower. Source: David Truss, Changing Our Opinions

We all have another think coming, don’t we?