Element of Truth

If you think that something is true you should try as hard as you can to disprove it, only then can you really get at the truth and not fool yourself.

Derek Muller

I always feel very sure of myself. My knowledge is broad, ranging from conventional wisdoms to fine art, extending into engineering and computer science. I can quote lyrics to almost every situation, or relate a scene to Monet’s paintings. At work, I explain network protocols to colleagues and build cloud infrastructure. I know c in E=mc^2 stands for the speed of light, not a random variable. I think I am cool and smart.

The rainy season started all over Japan. The downpour outside gave me a chance to catch up with many youtube videos from subscriptions I had not had the time to watch. One of them is from Veritasium, a channel dedicated to science teaching. Because I had a whole leisure afternoon and evening, I browsed the channel’s old videos as well. The more I watched, the more pitiful I felt towards myself.

Derek Muller, the creator of Veritasium, is super cool. He explains science at a high-school level, which is clear and concise but not too simple to lose attention. I had to recall much knowledge from high school to follow what he was explaining. Everything sounds familiar but shines like a new light. I was very fond of physics back in the days. Now he is talking about inertia, doing experiments on momentum, showing incredible visualization of standing waves and so on. I relived my physic-passionate student life and realized how much I forgot and misunderstood.

Among all Derek’s videos, one of them struck me best with the closing sentence that I quoted above. It upholds all this stubborn self-assurance I coated myself. I am very good at learning. I remember facts, or more precisely, conventional wisdoms that are taught. Little do I doubt their accuracy. Never have I tried to prove any of them myself. What I believe to be 100% correct may be only 80% right. Like the misconception about falling things, I presume the constant gravitational force on every object on earth, which turns out wrong. Heavier objects have more force acted on them to win their inertia, and then make them fall to the ground at the same time as lighter ones. I remembered after watching the video that what is constant over the world is the acceleration the Earth imparts on objects near its surface, not its force.

But I am not ashamed of my misconception. I feel happy I found this channel to correct my understanding. I feel happy that I recognize I am not 100% right. I regain this motivation to look into what I think I am good at, not to let it fool me. I am more eager to share my little portion of knowledge to let people try to disprove it. I am willing to take on arguments because they will lead me closer to “veritas”, the truth.

I will keep this in mind for the rest of my life: to go beyond confirming what I believe and be open to attempts of disproval.

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