Sunday, November 08, 2009

Reliance on authority: pro and con

Everyone gets statements wrong from time to time. A professor might well be proven wrong by his student. And if a small child says that 1+1=2 and Einstein says it is not, then the small child is right. The truthfullness of a statement should never be judged by the authority of the proposer but only by the strength of the arguments supporting the statement.

However, if Jimmy has got his facts wrong several times and Jane has not, I will rather trust Jane on a future issue. And I rather trust the professor than the high school student to get his statements correct. Thus, a statement is more likely to be true if the proposer is viewed as an authority. Such a short-cut in thinking saves an enormous amount of thinking time but is not without risk.

The secret is to obessively disregard any authority when deciding on the truthfullness of a statement, but at the same time to develop an intuition on who you can trust to get their statement right, use their statements as working statements, and only later view the strength of the arguments supporting the statements.

Write down 10 aspects that makes someone an authority that you could trust.

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