Do not Feel Absolutely Certain of Anything

In an age where we are told confidence is everything, and that we only need to believe in ourselves to succeed, to have the courage of our convictions, Bertrand Russell provides a useful counterpoint. So instead of confidence and arrogance, think about two less fashionable attributes: humility and self doubt.

So, rather than praise the obstinate, immovable politician we should eulogise the u-turn, champion the change of heart, applaud the apology.

After a flare up with another person, why not ask yourself if it was you, rather than the other one who was to blame. In turn, as professionals, we should always question our decisions, our approaches to actions. Perhaps the other person was right, we might be wrong. While the arrogance of certitude breeds inflexibility, a closed mindset and stasis; humility breeds flexibility, creativity, reflection, progress…

“I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.” —Bertrand Russell

Respect the question – at the end of a solution, you should always entertain the possibility of a mistake, misconception or inaccuracy.

The best mathematicians and scientists recognise that pride comes before a fall, and are always open to the possibility that they might be wrong. Imagine a world where all people acted with the humility of the scientist, willing to change their beliefs when presented with contradictory evidence.

Summing-up: While doubt often comes across as a sign of weakness, it is also an effective defense mechanism, and it’s an essential operating principle for science. Do not be absolutely certain of anything, remember, you might be wrong.

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