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. 😐