My false assumptions

To come up with this list, I’ve spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the things I did in the past. I am fully aware that this would be a long list if I were to note down every single one of them. So I selected a few of the most important, or rather, the most deeply hidden ones. I came to realize the invalidity of these assumptions at different points of life, and they certainly have had a great influence on me becoming who I am.

1. That absence of evidence = evidence of absence

This false assumption perhaps has had the most profound influence on my religious view during the time when I only had a superficial understanding of religion. My former superficial belief about the non-existence of God was almost entirely backed up by this false assumption. To some extent realizing the invalidity of this assumption is the first step into my search for religion and truth (which will be further discussed in future essays).

2. That the evidence for everything I believe in is valid

Again, this has had some influence on my religious views. Realizing the mistake, I had to go back and look at all the things I’ve learned about religion. This realization has also influenced my conversation style. I found that I spoke a lot less after realizing this. When I want to say something, I now filter the information in my head first, to make sure that everything I’ve got to say can be backed up with evidence. I have also found that it is a lot harder to convince people of things. I tend to use more mathematical models and statistics to make my point, because numbers don’t lie.

3. That old people are always wiser than me.

I used to think that old people are wiser than myself, and I respected almost everyone that was older. But recently I realized this is not always the case – Stupid people also get old.  I learned to judge others by their personality, not their age.

In most Chinese schools, students are not allowed to have a girlfriend or a boyfriend, with punishments as severe as being expelled. All my teachers and the school principal made this point very clear. When I was in high school year 9, I had a crush on a girl in class, and she liked me too. But since we both respected our teachers and principals, we never got into a real relationship. I talked with her recently and we laughed at ourselves for how stupid we were believing and obeying that rule the teachers made.

4. That I am outside the problem when I complain about a problem.

I used to complain about some of the conversations with my friends being nothing more than meaningless chit-chat. However, I was part of those conversations, and I had everything I needed to get out of them.

5. That I am free from responsibility if I do something bad under either the command of a higher authority, or the influence of the majority.

Other pedestrians crossing the road when the light is red does not make it legal for me to do the same.

I was once with a well-respected professor in a library. I stayed silent but he started talking to me loudly. I, thinking that since he started it, and since he is a well-known professor, there would be no problem with me loudly talking back to him.  We both got kicked out of the library.

6. That other people’s bad behavior is always linked to their personality, and my bad behavior is always linked to a special justified reason.

For example, in the past, if I saw someone smoking drugs I would naturally dislike them and try to stay away from them. Through the natural growth of life I’ve personally gotten to know a few drug users, and I have come to realize that it is stupid to assume that they are all jerks.

The funny thing is that it seems that I can always come up with a justification of the ‘wrong’ things that I do. If I drink excessively, or use swear words too much, or get into an unnecessary fight, I immediately justify it to myself, without ever giving the same benefit of the doubt to the others involved. In reality both sides will have justified reasons to do what they do.

Through the study of psychology I came across a theory called the ‘Fundamental Attribution Error’, which provides a very good explanation for this assumption. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_attribution_error

7. That anyone who volunteers and does kind things is wholly a kind-hearted person.

This is a false assumption which is best illustrated using my friend, a Harvard dropout, Brian Lee’s example from his blog  http://moderndescartes.com/.

In his blog, Brian Lee considers a situation in which a lawyer is considering spending the day helping the needy by volunteering at a soup kitchen. The “rational” analysis suggests that a lawyer should instead work that day, and donate his earning to the soup kitchen (value contributed: 10 hours * $100/hour), in lieu of volunteering directly at the soup kitchen for a day (value contributed: 10 hours * minimum wage). Most lawyers would only ever consider the latter option, because their motivation for volunteering is partially their personal desire to obtain a better image, and not purely to help the needy.

8. That everything is fine when my  ex-girlfriend told me that everything is fine.  😐

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7 thoughts on “My false assumptions

  1. Very insightful. Definitely worth thinking over again

  2. Indeed, using evidence to justify everything I do daily don’t seem to work well. It feels a lot right to follow your gut feeling and doing things that you think are right rather than to justify that they are right.

    Even if the lawyer does donate money from work, it does not necessarily mean he is a nice person.
    Even if the lawyer has no other intentions for personal gain, it does not necessarily mean he is a nice person. Why are people nice to each other? Everyone is selfish. For every good action we do we always want a return, even if the only return is self-satisfaction, as it is a return nonetheless. Because you’re gaining.

    • Good points Roy. Through the lawyer example I wanted to express that it is important to examine peoples’ motivation behind the things they do, rather than evaluate their actions based on the consequences. (eg, the consequence of a lawyer working in a soup kitchen is good, but that does not add moral values to his actions). I agree with you in that whatever we do as humans has the element of selfish desire in it. I think an action has moral worth if the main motivation is for the benefit of the majority, instead of the person himself.

      • I think to claim that there is NO moral worth in the lawyer volunteering at the soup kitchen is to cross a line I’m not comfortable crossing. The thing is, if more people were like the lawyer in this example, the world would quickly become a better place. I think that’s a pretty good indicator of whether the action is moral or not.

        I realise that is defining the morality of an action by its consequences and not its motivations, but for the most part I don’t see a problem with that. Certainly in criminal law, you are responsible for any consequences which are foreseen and are certain to happen because of your actions. Consider the situation in which a giant disabled man blocks the exit to a cave in which you are trapped. It would be absurd to say you are not a murderer when you decide to blow him up, regardless of the fact that your only motivation was to exit the cave. By the same principle, it would be absurd to say that volunteering at a soup kitchen lacks any moral value. Yes, for the most part, you only care about your own reputation. But you are equally responsible for the fact that a bunch of needy people just got fed, much like the man stuck in the cave is responsible for the dismembered pieces of the giant disabled man scattered across the entrance. The consequences of your actions, when they’re foreseen and certain to occur, are intrinsically tied to their morality.

        Like I said above, I think the fact that if more people were like the lawyer in your example, the world would probably improve is a good indicator that his actions are moral. I think this goes to what I believe is the purpose and nature of morality in the first place. While debatable, I see morality as a societally-constructed idea of what is right and what is wrong, specifically designed to disincentive behaviour that is bad for society as a whole, and perhaps more importantly, incentive behaviour that is good for society as a whole. For the most part, the legal system covers the former. Morality helps to cover the latter.

        The fact that a person does something mostly, or even solely, for the purpose of appearing to be moral, is, in my opinion, actually morality working exactly as intended. It provided incentive for someone to do something good, which he otherwise might not have done.

        tl;dr go volunteer at a soup kitchen

  3. Well written and a fantastic topic! This is exactly the kind of stuff I love to read! Keep it coming man and thank you for taking the time to make this post.

    • Thanks Devin! Not to stereotype anyone but I think generally GO players are more likely to be interested in these topics. In GO, we have to make assumptions which change as the game moves on, and it could be disastrous to not look back and examine them.

  4. Hi friends, its fantastic piece of writing regarding cultureand entirely explained,
    keep it up all the time.

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