I’m a bit of a skeptic by nature. I don’t believe in the Loch Ness Monster, psychics or UFOs that travel from light-years away just to leave hidden mysteries in farmer’s cornfields. Though, I’d delight in a universe where any of those are proven true!
Now, there are a number of ways I could take this opening – but I’ll stick to sharing two competing arguments that wrestle in my mind.
It is folly to measure the True and False by our own capacity.Montaigne (ESSay #27)
I’ve been reading Montaigne’s essays (based mostly on their witty praise/lamentation in A Gentleman in Moscow) and this chapter hit my hard. I can’t possible rewrite his thoughts with any improvement, so I’ll share a bit more direct quotation:
The great Saint Augustine testifies that he saw a blind child restored to sight upon the relics of Saint Gervaise and Saint Protasius at Milan… and several other miracles at which he says he himself was present. Of what shall we accuse both him and two holy bishops, Aurelius and Maximinus, whom he calls upon as his witnesses? Shall it be of ignorance, simplicity, and credulity or of knavery and imposture? Is there any man in our time so impudent that he thinks himself comparable to them, either in virtue or piety, or in learning, judgement, and ability?
It is dangerous and presumptuous, besides the absurd temerity that it implies, to disdain what we do not comprehend. Montaigne, “essays”
That last sentence resonates well with change management and leadership, but it also helped temper some skepticism in my personal life. A mathematical outlook can remove the romance of life and some mysteries are best accepted, or at least not blithely rejected.
But, in case we pendulum too far, let’s remember that society isn’t logical and that blind acceptance is dangerous. Let’s combat Montaigne with another great recent read:
Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one. Charles Mackay in “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the madness of crowds”
This 1852 book is fun from an economic or marketing perspective… But it’s a little depressing from a human one. Mackay makes the point that folks are imitative and illogical – that facts won’t persuade us half as well as a crowd’s belief. You don’t have to look any further than your crazy uncle’s Facebook feed to see it in action.
So, we’ve got to balance it all! Build our opinions based on facts, but also accept our ignorance of the full workings of the universe. Maybe there is a giant ape running around the Cascade’s – who am I to judge? I haven’t invested enough energy to canvas the mountains and search for myself, so why should my disbelief be dis-proportionally stronger. I blindly accept atoms and the existence of black holes, but haven’t seen them myself.
I guess what I’m sharing isn’t about what we might believe in, but about challenging why we believe certain things and discount others. We won’t get far without accepting the knowledge and expertise of others, but we should at least think about it ourselves – and think about it often. In today’s environment, with political season coming up and more media consumption thrust upon us than ever, it’s so important to exercise critical thought and introspection. Even if I haven’t changed my own original beliefs, it’s certainly been worthwhile reflection.
Then again, maybe this is all just my brain searching for a philosophy that will help it cope with the blind faith required in being a Mariners’ fan…