tianjin-2185510_1920.jpg

Ideas are like buildings. They can be as strong and well-supported as a 50-story skyscraper, or they can be as flimsy as a house of cards. Ideas can be as strong, or as flexible, or effervescent as you want them to be. You are the architect of your own ideas. You can choose to defend an idea to the death, and you can choose to let an idea go into the wind. It's all up to you.

Ideas are best when they're flexible, and able to be dismantled.

Intellectual rigidity is the death of the scientific process. It is anathema to science itself. Where would we be without our mental agility and flexibility in science? Would we still have no clue of how electricity and magnetism work at a fundamental level? Would we have any conception at all of the quantum realm? Just how far back would this go - would we still imagine the Earth to be at the center of the universe, or that the four humors are responsible for our health and wellbeing?

You're doing nobody any good service, especially yourself, if you're not willing to dismantle your own ideas from time to time. Look inwards and examine a belief, or even an assumption to that belief. What are the underlying assumptions? How did you arrive at your conclusions? Has there been any new evidence or data made available since you originally made your conclusions?

I'm not going to lie and pretend that this is easy. Questioning your own beliefs is one of the hardest things a human can engage in. It's probably why it took us so long to invent the scientific method in the first place. It's just unnatural.

Self-skepticism can be a very powerful ally. Simply being willing to change beliefs, even if you don't end up ever changing them, allows you to understand yourself in a whole new way. It might strengthen and reinforce your already existing ideas. It might wash them away like the tide washes away a sand castle. Either way, you've grown in your understanding of yourself and the universe around you.

I also won't pretend that scientists are some paragons of virtue in this regard, that they are perfectly capable of adjusting and flexing their ideas on the fly. Far from it. Scientists are people too. They're capable of having long-term stubbornness and unwillingness to listen to valid criticisms or ignore new data. But the process of science and the methods ingrained in the discipline are designed to extend beyond human foibles. It's not always perfect, and it can be achingly slow at times, but it does work. What we believe now in the 21st century across all fields of science is widely different than what we believed centuries ago.

The institution of science requires, if not individual, then generational mental agility.

Ideas are like buildings. They're meant to be built, and occasionally dismantled, and occasionally completely torn down. It's up to you to decide what to do with your own ideas. You can pretend that they are strong all day long, but until you actually test them, you have no idea.


Comment