There’s a theory in quantum mechanics that says nothing is actually there until you observe it. It’s like the way they design video games. The game generates the environment as you move through it.
So, if you turn around to look at something, it’s there, but right now everything outside of your field of vision doesn’t actually exist. Crazy right? Some people point to this as evidence that we live in a simulation.
I think about things like this all the time. How sure are we of our actual reality? I’m not so sure I even understand the reality I live in, so why should I be so sure I’m right about my opinions and beliefs? Why should you be so sure?
And our biases and beliefs can cause a ton of problems. Learning to challenge them can open up a new world to us. You can do it, but you probably won’t. You should try anyway. It’s worth it.
Ray Dalio has a section in his book, Principles, about being open-minded. He says becoming open-minded starts with understanding how close-minded you are.
We like to fancy ourselves open-minded when we’re the exact opposite. You have a range of subjects you’re willing to keep an open mind about and there are others that shut your brain off automatically.
Even when you are genuinely trying to understand a perspective that’s different than your own, you have a hard time doing it. Your brain is coming up with rebuttals to the information as you’re taking it in. It’s in fight mode, not listen mode.
Being honest with yourself about that is a great start. After that, take the next step.
Charlie Munger says you don’t truly have a right to your opinion unless you can make a strong argument for the other side. You have to be able to present the opposing argument without twisting words, ad hominems, slander, and stripping it of all context.
Can you do it? Let’s take the most obvious example. Most people genuinely can’t see why people disagree with them politically. It’s not a matter of logic, it’s a matter of morality. It’s easy, convenient, and lazy to call someone who wants lower taxes a racist and someone who wants higher ones a communist.
Let’s say you do find certain views and affiliations truly objectionable. Why would you want to learn about them? For one, it removes hate from your heart. Two, you’d begin to learn that the world isn’t so black and white. It would make you better at relating to people and bringing them to your cause because you get them.
The point isn’t to be a fence-sitter. Have conviction. But people real with convictions can explain them without getting angry. Anything short is tribalist nonsense. Try it, right now, in good faith. You could even go so far as to research an opposing argument and write a convincing essay on it.
If anything, do it just to see how much you resist ideas you don’t already believe. Understand just how dug in you are. It’s important because staying dug into counterproductive ideologies can ruin your life.
It’s hard to admit you’ve been duped. No one likes to feel like they’ve been had. Everyone’s trying to sell you a dream, an ideology, an operating system for your life. Once you accept one and it steers you the wrong way, you won’t want to abandon it even if it messes your life up.
I see so many people with belief systems that are ruining their lives — an obsession with politics, trusting mainstream narratives, and falling into learned helplessness. And they refused to change their minds simply because they’d have to admit they were lied to and weren’t smart enough to see it.
It reminds me of this saying “If you argue for your limitations, you get to keep them.” There’s just nowhere to go from there. So many people are so certain they’re right about a worldview that leads them nowhere good.
There’s this certain type of cultural commentariat type that’s convinced they know how the world works and they’re almost always pessimists. To me, it just doesn’t make sense to be certain of a reality that makes my life shit. For those types, even though they probably won’t listen, I’d encourage them to open up their eyes to an alternative reality.
Pretty ironic for me to have any level of conviction with my own beliefs when I just told you to question all of yours. How do I know I’m right? How can I be so sure I know both sides of these arguments and choose the right one?
I can never be sure I’m right. But I’m very confident that I’ve become less wrong over the years.
I’m confident because I map my belief systems against the outcomes I get from them. I try to see whether or not my beliefs work in practice. When they do, I keep them. When they don’t, I ditch them.
In short, I’m not focused on having the right answer to feel like I’m right. I’m focused on finding the answers to help me get it right. You know you’re wrong when your worldview doesn’t map well with reality.
For example, those that believe that their overlords are coming to save them have to observe whether or not that’s ever happened. It hasn’t. Deep down in their minds, they know that, but confirmation bias dies hard.
I’ve learned to become less wrong by adopting belief systems that tend to predict outcomes pretty well. For example, I focus on how incentives drive behavior instead of believing people should behave a certain way. Overall, I try to focus on how things are instead of using the word should altogether.
I’m always running experiments in my mind. If I do [x], [y] will happen. If it doesn’t happen, I have to examine whether my belief was wrong or the conditions for the experiment were wrong or if bad luck just got in the way. But I never try to assume I know how the beliefs will pan out until I test them.
I’m not telling you to not have strong convictions. It’s okay to be optimistic or pessimistic depending on the circumstances. It’s okay to think certain things are objectionable. Your belief systems are not your own. We all choose from pre-determined narratives.
The trick is figuring out which ones are right for you.
Try to have some level of humility when it comes to whether or not you know what you’re talking about. If you’re so smart and sure about the way the world works you better be happy. The saying comes to mind, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?”
Think about all the beliefs you hold just because they give you a sense of belonging. Are you suffering from tribalism? If so, consider whether or not your tribe gives a damn about you at all? Are they really helping you? Are you really being helpful to the world with the beliefs you espouse or do you just like to feel self-righteous?
I’ve long given up on thinking I somehow know how these big complex topics should work. I’m not an economist, scientist, or any other type of genius. I want to live a good life. I don’t want to live in a way that makes me feel outraged all the time. I’m looking for answers that get me somewhere.
If I feel like I’m wrong, I’ll do my best to admit it. If I don’t know the answer to something, “I’ll just say I don’t know.”
Stop trying to be right. Start trying to get it right.
I’m reminded of this quote:
It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance. – Thomas Sowell
The more you try to be open-minded and disconfirm your own beliefs, the more you realize you don’t know as much as you thought it did. But it’s encouraging. You feel like you’re getting smarter. Not because you’re so right about everything. But you’re becoming a little less wrong every single day.
You come to realize you don’t need to know everything to live a good life. Honestly, most of living a good life comes from figuring out what to avoid. Avoid costly mistakes and avoid trying to understand topics that are too complex.
A handful of useful mental models go a long way.
Other than that, it’s freeing to no longer have to be that person who has to have an answer for everything and who has to be in every debate. Ever notice how the people who always need to be right and always have an answer for everything don’t seem happy at all?
Notice when you’re being that way and stop. Once you’ve done that, figure out what really works for you, what really will make your life better, instead of what you want to believe or wish were true.