Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Houses in the Sand

Most of us are confident of what we know and our ability to figure out what we don’t know. But it is astounding how much we act based on understandings that reside outside of our knowledge. It is astounding how much we live a lie, or at least a big bluff. It is astounding how we delude ourselves so elegantly.

I realized this as I re-read Michael Crichton’s “State of Fear”. The book is a masterful if tad excessive tale of intrigue that does not exactly debunk global warming, but debunks the motives and objectivity of many who endorse global warming. Crichton documents his book with footnotes so those wanting to dig into the facts have a fine bibliography, now a few years stale, but thought provoking nonetheless.

Crichton’s wealthy fictional philanthropist, George Morton, offers up this pearl of wisdom in a speech he makes to withdraw his funding for a global warming charity: “But as Montaigne said three hundred years ago, ‘Nothing is so firmly believed as that which is least known.’”

I asked myself, “is this true? What are some circumstances in which people act on what they BELIEVE rather than what they KNOW.

I’m sure it is not exhaustive, but it was easy to compile examples. Here is my checklist of ways we routinely act without knowledge:

· When we embrace a religious faith and trust that what the church tells us is true. Faith is perhaps the biggest pile of sand in the universe.

· When we assess risks to make decisions (should I become a farmer or a soldier; should I invest in stocks or bonds) but are not able to read the future well.

· That is related to when we guess about what to do, for instance, taking a pot shot as to which road actually leads to our destination.

· When we make an honest mistake, like thinking that a brother said to meet on Tuesday when he actually said Thursday, or we thought a quote was from Dolly Parton instead of Abe Lincoln. How much of our behavior is anchored on mistakes or an incorrect reading of things? Lots.

· When we are prejudiced and think other races are sub-par, or democrats have all the answers, or teens are sex mad, or old people are stupid.

· When we ascribe authority to others, like believing the Cosmopolitan Magazine list of10 ways to make your sweetie horny, or when President Barak Obama says joining the NATO coalition on Libya is a good thing, or when John McCain says Arizona needs high fences to keep the Mexicans out, or when a university professor pretends to know what he is talking about.

· When we deduce or infer, leaping from that which is known to a new belief whilst passing over a huge chasm to get there. Global warming is real because we are having some bad storms.

· When we engage in gossip, enjoying the richness to be found in other people’s failings, whether true or not.

· When we engage in superstition, which circles back to religious faith; thinking a broken mirror means seven years bad luck is rather like thinking eating pigs will send you to hell or using a condom is the same as killing some one.

When you consider how prominent these forms of behavior are in our daily lives, you realize we are not operating on a sound foundation most of the time. It is sandy, it is muddy. We are winging it. Often times we know this, but we are confident that we can deal with any negative fall-out. We do this by blaming someone or some thing, or making an excuse, or lying about what we said or intended.

Owning up is not a typical outcome of the fall-out from winging it.

As Michael Crichton puts it: “I believe people are well intentioned. But I have great respect for the corrosive influence of bias, systematic distortions of thought, the power of rationalization, the guises of self-interest, and the inevitability of unintended consequences.”

What a piece of work we are, eh? And ever so pompous about the deceits we live and the manipulations we advance.
Self-confidence is great, but we ought to carry a little humility about how much we simply do not know or understand.

Who knows. Maybe some day critics will discover that President Aquino is actually trying hard, learning on the job, and doing good things for the Philippines. Or maybe I will discover that he is really just an empty yellow shirt. Odds are that we are all off base on many of our assessments, but can't see it for the rigidity of our thinking and the knowledge that simply is not ours to hold.


  1. There is only one absolute Truth: That God loves us so much that he sacrificed his only son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to save us from our sins so that we may enter in heaven. Nothing else matters. This thing you call life, no matter how difficult or pleasurable you find it, is nothing but a drop of ocean compared to an eternity in heaven or hell. Make your choice. Infinite love or damnation awaits.

  2. Good Pastor, Imams tell me differently, and the Rabbi around the corner, so who am I, a poor child of the universe with a limited capacity to grasp the unknowable, supposed to listen to? What I do is trust that God can read my heart well, and I strive to do my best. . . as most children, unspoiled by spoiled parents, do. That is my choice.

  3. If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior then you are SAVED. That is all.

    I will pray for you.

    God Bless.