Eric Goldin | Intellectual Honesty and Mistakes

SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
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We should revere science because most scientists have very high ethical standards and are not afraid to recognize and amend errors in their research. The scientific method is the best way to come to truth. It allows for models of knowledge regarding human life, nature and natural phenomena to be accurately modified when newly discovered facts and data overturn conventional thinking. 

Scientists don’t ignore evidence that contradicts their original beliefs, and they don’t try to foist archaic viewpoints. They embrace more information and are happy to come to a more comprehensive understanding of the universe. Even though scientists are among the most intelligent men and women in the world and are the top minds in their fields of study, they can keep their ego in check and don’t shy away from publicly admitting when their explorations contained blunders.

Scientists do exhaustive research, but they are always aware of the possibility that they could be wrong. They care about the truth so much that they don’t withhold from correcting themselves – even when it’s highly embarrassing. We can look up to all the brilliant scientists and admire the fact that they are the best truth-seekers the world has to offer. 

Unfortunately, tons of regular people – many of whom have no expertise or higher education in any particular field – feel the need to loudly express their opinions on various complex subjects, and they frequently come across as foolish. Publicly sharing an idea is not a bad thing, but there is a great danger if a person refuses to admit when they’ve made a mistake. I’m a huge free speech advocate, and I don’t want to discourage people from saying what they feel, but I wish everybody would adopt some basic ethics and acknowledge when they’ve been wrong. 

I strongly believe that nobody should be deplatformed for having controversial opinions. However, I also believe that sorting through ideas to distinguish the enlightened ones from the abysmal ones would be a lot easier if people weren’t so hard-pressed to defend ill-conceived points that they know are wrong. It’s not necessarily morally contemptible to have a senseless opinion and be unaware of your ignorance, but it is very bad when people refuse to acknowledge they were wrong after they’ve learned about the facts and evidence that thoroughly counter their claims.

Sadly, we live in a world where conceding a point and correcting yourself is seen as a sign of weakness. People feel they need to boisterously double down on erroneous talking points that have already been proven false. They’re afraid that if they retract any of their statements, it’ll cause other folks to see them as a dimwit, and they’ll lose the respect they’ve garnered from their peers.

In some ways, these fears are justified: People love ripping each other apart, and we often resort to a heinous mentality of waving off everything a person has said as nonsense if they’ve ever made a tiny mistake. We’re especially uncharitable when the person in question is a highly contentious political or social figure. An unhealthy situation arises in which people can’t budge or change their positions on any topic. It also stifles honest conversations – because if both parties are unwilling to change, even when there’s tons of evidence that favors one side or the other, it’s impossible to have a genuinely open dialogue. 

I hope we can soon reverse this mindset, and society will finally realize that acknowledging error is actually courageous and morally righteous. Intellectually honest people have good character, and they know that being truthful makes them an individual worthy of respect.

For me, admitting my mistakes, even though it has been difficult at times, has made me into a better person. For example, I used to have a very negative opinion about the Islamic religion, and I would frequently chastise people who defended it. Until a year ago, before researching the Islamic faith, I actually knew very little about Islam, and I only had a surface-level understanding of the geopolitical situation affecting Muslim-majority nations.

Last year, I wanted to see if my negative claims about Islam could stand up to scrutiny. I studied what the Qur’an and other Islamic holy literature taught. I listened to Islamic theologians and experts in the religion. I also studied the negative destabilizing effects that the Western world has had through violent interventions in the Middle East and other predominately Islamic regions. 

I learned that the violence and illiberal actions in Islamic societies are mostly because of unjustified interventionist wars and coups (often, sadly, spearheaded or escalated by leaders of the Western world), which have crumbled those societies and led to the rise of extremist groups. After studying the issue more in-depth, I realized that my views about Islam were wrong and potentially hazardous. I am so ashamed of my original beliefs that I now do my best to make amends and explain to people why I was wrong. 

I’ve also changed my views on people who I at one time despised. I used to have a very negative bias against two political commentators/social activists named Cenk Uygur and Kyle Kulinski. For a long time, I hated and resented them – and I wrote multiple harsh articles condemning them. But after watching more of their material and honestly analyzing what they were saying, I realized they were good people and that my original perception of them was not accurate. I still have some strong disagreements with Uygur and Kulinski, but I’ve come to respect and admire them and their accomplishments. They’ve helped change my views on various things, and I now enjoy listening to them whenever I get the chance.

Various other things about myself have changed over the years. For example, I had a very crass sense of humor when I was younger, and I didn’t care if I offended people with my jokes or humorous remarks. I’ve come to realize that words can be extremely hurtful and demeaning. I’m now much more mindful of the things I say. I realized that the subject matter I was joking about was hurtful to many different folks, and I’m now much more understanding and sympathetic to why people – especially historically disenfranchised and oppressed groups – could get livid over offensive jokes and stereotypes. I’m now a lot more sensitive and aware of how words can have a very damaging effect and upset many people.     

Recognizing when I’ve made mistakes and, more importantly, owning up to my errors has made me a more intellectually honest person. Acknowledging faults is not a sign of weakness – it’s one of the most courageous things a person can do. If everybody would be willing to put away the self-serving façade that they are always correct and would stop masquerading around as an infallible genius, then the truth about many intricate things about the world could more easily come to light. 

Eric Goldin is a Santa Clarita resident.       

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