Aug 22, 2018

Cowen on having independent opinions

On The Knowledge Project (a) podcast, starting around 36:00 –

Cowen: There's a basic dilemma from what's called Bayesian statistical theory: why should you ever hold an independent opinion?

On almost any matter, maybe any matter, there's someone out there who knows more about it than you do.

So you should, in a sense, just find other people's opinions to copy. But then how do you judge who's the person who knows the most or understands it the best?

There's a paradox in that. Because if you don't know the right answer, it's hard to judge who is the best judge.

So one implication is that we should just be far less sure about a lot of our opinions.

But also... the wisdom of knowing how & when to defer is the key wisdom of 2018.

Parrish: What do you mean, the wisdom of knowing when to defer?

Cowen: Well, you can google to such a high percentage of the world's information. And again, this is pretty new.

So [knowing] how to judge the quality of something on the internet. It's sometimes said "the internet makes smart people smarter & stupid people stupider." ... which category do you want to be in?

Be epistemically modest, but also be a critical reader.

Just having a general knowledge of how to evaluate sources... one of the best things to be a generalist in is evaluating the quality of sources.

Parrish: How do you think about that? How can we improve our ability to judge?

Cowen: I think it's this triangulation with really good face-to-face people you trust, who know something. And then intense use of the internet to cross-check & investigate things. And just kind of bounce back & forth and do that as much as you can, as quickly as you can.

You get better. I don't think you [get to] know it all.


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