How We Learn

He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds.

Jason Fried on Jeff Bezos

Tonight, Bill Nye and Ken Ham put on a bit of a show in Kentucky and on YouTube. Those who know me may know that I’m in no way religious, but I don’t shun those who are. I do, however, believe religion is a necessary piece to a functioning society, but that’s a piece for a whole ‘nother blog post.

The part that struck me most about the debate, however, was listening to Ken Ham discuss the difference between “observational science” and “historical science”. Recalling my grade school days (fuck, I’m old now that I’ve said that), I can only ever really remember being taught that some smart guy named Darwin did some studies on finches and this other guy named Mendel did some study on peas and in the end, it’s survival of the fittest… or something like that.

But this isn’t about me debating who was right and who was wrong. This isn’t about proving Nye’s or Ham’s opinions on evolution.

What really struck me was that Ham chose to accept a belief that may not have been the popular opinion, that may not have been what was taught to him in school, and chose rather to question a specific piece of science (radiometric dating) and question science’s reliance on this method. From here, he draws his own personal opinions on our creations based on his beliefs in Genesis (what he sees as historical science) and what he can readily prove in a lab or on paper (observational science).

While I may not stand for everything Ham stands for, I am all for learning by questioning what already exists. I am all for digging deeper into what we think we may know, with the sole purpose of learning more. And importantly, I am all for listening to what others say and drawing my own personal opinion from that.

Last year, I read a blurb from Jeff Bezos on a Signal vs. Noise post that really resonated with me.

He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds.

Jason Fried

People who seek to learn more, who seek to shape their own personal opinion, are those who succeed.

It’s really tough to find malleable opinions in the tech and start-up industry.

People are full of opinions and hold them to a high grade when it comes to discussing programming languages or frameworks or hell, even programming paradigms. In the last few months, I’ve spent my spare time learning ReactiveCocoa, not because I think it’s the best and only way to craft Objective-C bits and pieces, but because I wanted to learn.

I wanted to learn why Justin Spahr-Summers, a GitHubber I looked up to, spent a considerable amount of his time doing this. I wanted to learn what existed out there besides the same old OOP that my college professors raved about to my young, supple brain. I wanted to see if it would change my mind and the way I think. And it did.

Which brings me back to the whole reason that started this post. How do we enable ourselves to learn more? How can we help enable others to learn in these same ways? How can we help create productive conversations between ourselves, rather than the relentless shitstorm that follows every opinion posted on Hacker News? How can we promote drawing new opinions from a combination of observable and historical science?

Because I will damn well follow those who will change their opinion based on their own knowledge over the immovable stump any day.


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