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Where Can I Start Confidently?

John: So I must act. Don’t let life pass me by. And you only want me to act on things where I have conclusive knowledge and major, rational confidence. Where I (fallibly but substantively) know what I’m talking about. Don't overreach, you say. But what if I’m uncertain about everything and so no actions are available to me meeting that standard?

curi: It’s pretty easy to find some options. Did you brainstorm about your options and resources? How many written documents do you have about the matter?

John: No documents. I don’t know how to do that, or whether I should. I’m no master of brainstorming.

curi: Well then, could you agree that brainstorming is a promising enough lead to investigate? Could you muster some certainty about that claim? And btw, for a contrast, could you also muster some certainty that a UFO cult is a poor lead to investigate?

John: I suppose so.

curi: Well there you go. You don’t have to judge now whether brainstorming is the tool you need or whether it’ll work. You just have to judge it’s a reasonable thing to look into. Then you have something to act on. When you can’t reach conclusions about major topics, you should be able to instead reach conclusions about supporting topics like to do a research project to learn more to enable the more major conclusions. That’s how you deal with uncertainty in general. You don’t magically know everything. You learn more. If you’re not sure what knowledge you need, you explore, survey, skim, look around, and maybe even do original research.

John: Makes sense.

curi: There are many other options. Would you agree that reading is valuable?

John: Yes.

curi: So you could act based on that. You could read more regularly and get more used to reading. Make it more of an easy habit instead of a difficult obstacle. Read anything at first, yes including non-intellectual fiction. That’d be a way to act and gradually start to get more into reading. And this could all be tentative, a way of exploring potentials, so if you look into it and decide reading isn’t for you or reading is worse than you thought, that’d be OK too, you’d have learned something. It’d help you narrow your focus to other options like brainstorming. It’d have been a reasonable thing to try and you’d have gotten some value from it.

John: With standards like that, life doesn’t sound so hard. I just try something reasonable to try, and if it doesn’t work out it was still a good try?

curi: Yes indeed. I never said my way of dealing with life was harder. In fact I said it makes everything much easier.

Elliot Temple on May 10, 2020


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