Leaving Room for Doubt

Book cover
Image from Amazon.com

I was listening to a Richard Feynman audio book on the drive to Goodland, Kansas today, and this gem came over the speakers:

I would now like to turn to a third value that science has. It is a little more indirect, but not much. The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think. When a scientist doesn’t know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant. When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty darn sure of what the result is going to be, he is in some doubt. We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize the ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty–some most unsure, some nearly sure, none absolutely certain.

That description should help you distinguish between someone applying a scientific approach versus a political or totalitarian one.

Bonus: I enjoyed this earlier quote too:

I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy–and when he talks about a nonscientific matter, he will sound as naive as anyone untrained in the matter.

Think about it. It is far more applicable than just with scientists…


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