This I Believe

George - Spokane, Washington
Entered on September 18, 2006

I’ve been influenced in recent decades by such bright intelligences as Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Stephen J. Gould and Joseph Campbell, and I can only say that at age 68, a retired machinist, I’ve never stopped trying to find a value system that makes sense of the world for me. I’ve considered many ideas and indulged many beliefs. What always eluded me, however, was the sense that any belief I held contained a guarantee of certainty. I could always see that each system I tried to believe in had no justification that was any better than any other system’s rationale. All my beliefs seemed relative, emotion-based and somewhat imaginary, like my belief in Santa Claus when I was a child. No one can describe this search for certainty any better than Steven Pinker in his “Foreword” to editor David Buss’s Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology which I would encourage everyone to read.

However, when I began reading in the sciences, especially the cognitive sciences, I found the certainty I craved in the methodology of science. My certainty is not in the specific facts which science reveals to me—they can change—but in the methodology of science which yields answers that have the certainty of sensory data behind them rather than the whispers of my fears. Each fact I currently hold is wonderfully tempered by the knowledge that new evidence might arise that can change my conclusion. Such open-mindedness is the attitude a jury must have as it listens to a case; the evidence comes in sequentially, and each new piece of evidence potentially might change a jury’s conclusion. If that open-minded attitude is good enough for jury duty, I tell myself, when a person’s life might hang in balance, it’s good enough for me. This open-minded willingness to change is the essential factor in science that I value most. I believe it’s a profound basis for world harmony, for who would fight to the death over a truth which one knows new evidence might alter tomorrow?

I’ve recently come to believe that the democratic mind itself is an essential outgrowth of the scientific open-mindedness of the amateur science so many of our founding fathers practiced and that freedom is a product of genetic changes that hold great promise for all humankind. Looking back, I glimpse a marvelous progression: I see at first humans so inherently enslaved by their adapted animal instincts (the pecking order) that they could not imagine how to escape the rule of godlike tyrants, and, after a time, humans whose minds were so open and free they could envisage a government in which no one is forced to bow down to anything—a constitutional republic, guided by man-made laws and not by kings, gods or even by tyrannous majorities. That freedom of an open mind and the scientific methodology it employs continue to evolve in the consciousness of this world, and I embrace them with all my own changing and passionate individual consciousness.