We can never be 100% certain about anything, but sometimes the amount of uncertainty is so small that it is not worth considering. But, how do you get to that level of uncertainty, the level where we are confident about our knowledge?
In many cases, we can take our cues from science. By science, I do not mean what many people think when they hear the word “science.” I do not mean the body of facts accumulated by scientists over the centuries. I mean the method of science.
In his article, “Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?” Joel Achenbach writes,
In this bewildering world we have to decide what to believe and how to act on that. In principle that’s what science is for. “Science is not a body of facts,” says geophysicist Marcia McNutt, who once headed the U.S. Geological Survey and is now editor of Science, the prestigious journal. “Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.” But that method doesn’t come naturally to most of us. And so we run into trouble, again and again.
Understanding the way the world works often requires that we abandon ideas that common sense may tell us is true, but are at odds with the laws of nature. This is extremely difficult to do. We all are prone to make up our minds, and then twist any new facts to fit what we already believe.
Even for scientists, the scientific method is a hard discipline. Like the rest of us, they’re vulnerable to what they call confirmation bias—the tendency to look for and see only evidence that confirms what they already believe.
To make matters worse, science often reveals things we once thought were true to be true no longer.
“Science will find the truth,” [Francis] Collins says. “It may get it wrong the first time and maybe the second time, but ultimately it will find the truth.” That provisional quality of science is another thing a lot of people have trouble with.
What does this mean for a non-scientist trying to change the world? Be willing to abandon old beliefs. Be willing to change your mind when you acquire new information or when humanity’s understanding of something changes.
Or you can even go so far as abandoning all of your old beliefs and acquiring new ones only through thoughtful consideration. It’s incredibly difficult to do, as it requires ego suspension as well as critical thinking. But until you can identify your own biases and flaws in the ways you think, you will never be able to see the world as it actually is.