What did you learn too late in life?

In 2017, physicist and TV presenter Brian Cox made the following comment about politics:

Look across the political landscape of any country, identify the people with blustering certitude and don’t vote for them. [1]

In 2018, again talking about politics, he said:

We have to embrace doubt and uncertainty. We shouldn’t be afraid of it. That’s what research science is. It’s what running a country is, too. Democracy is a trial-and-error system, based on the recognition that it’s very difficult to run society.[2]

Cox was talking about thinking scientifically.

Cox believes we should not vote for politicians who are too sure of themselves, because this means they are not thinking scientifically.

But what does it mean to think scientifically?

At the heart of empirical science is skepticism. Scientific skepticism involves suspending judgment until we have reliable evidence.

But sometimes the evidence isn’t 100% clear. And sometimes our interpretation of the evidence is just a working model, until we have better evidence. As Cox says:

Science is not a collection of absolute truths. Scientists are delighted when we are wrong because it means we have learnt something.[3]

What we think is true is always an approximation of what is actually true. Sometimes it’s a very inaccurate approximation.

When we are not thinking scientifically, we are too confident in our beliefs and our expectations. Or we make premature judgments without reliable evidence.

Have you ever found yourself disappointed because you had high expectations of something? Or surprised when you had low expectations?

Have people ever judged you based on your appearance or your manner, and later apologized for being wrong?

Have you ever made an investment or a bet or a decision that you thought was a 100% certainty, but it turned out to be a bad decision and you lost money or lost an opportunity?

In my opinion, we develop a more flexible approach to life when we embrace scientific thinking. Thinking scientifically means exercising skepticism, not forming judgments prematurely, and remaining open to the possibility that we could be wrong.

I learned the importance of thinking scientifically too late in life. But better late than never!