The Top 10 Mistakes Humans Make — And a Response
Humans tend to make mistakes regularly. What is more important is how humans try to learn from, and then mitigate those mistakes in the future. Broadly, some of the greatest mistakes that we make can be categorized into three separate groups: (1) a lack of self-control, (2) a lack of epistemic humility, and (3) a need to shift our thinking process. I will attempt to provide an explanation of why each of these issues is a mistake, and how these issues can be solved.
A Lack of Self Control
1. The desire to give in to our baser instincts.
2. The inclination towards wanting simple answers.
3. A lack of a recognition that the “other” should be conversed with.
4. The propensity towards jumping to conclusions.
A lack of self-control is a very broad topic that can cover ideas related to, or not to epistemology. This group is organized not by how to solve these issues, but the nature of the issues themselves. However, each of the mistakes that I have listed can all be solved epistemically, albeit in slightly different ways. Mistakes one posits that when people are enraged, rightly or not, we can fall into a habit of letting go of reason and falling to our base instincts. Mistake three relates to this as well. Often, we have the inclination to view our partner or opposition as the “other” instead of viewing each other through the lens of common humanity and recognizing your opposite’s dignity. Both issues stem from a lack of self-control, as if we were able to control our emotions and instinct to a much greater degree, we would not make these mistakes to the same degree. I think Plato stated it well, that the lowest of the three levels of man, is our appetite and instinct. With that said, the response to both these mistakes is not to suppress emotion indiscriminately. The solution would be to do our best to try to understand the emotions we feel, and rationally determine whether they are justified or not. Emotion as a way of knowing is very important, but it must be partnered with reason. A human that is controlled by desire and base instinct loses the hallmark of humanity: the ability to use reason to make sense of themselves and the world. Even looking at this through a pragmatic view, if the goal of humanity is to create an advanced, moral nation-state, it would not be possible by indiscriminate “othering” of your opposites in your nation. The world has progressed the way it has, because we have grown to become tolerant of our compatriots and act reasonably towards them. The world would not be where it is without learning how to control ourselves from falling to our Baconian Idols of the Cave.
The second half of the self-control group consists of mistakes two and four. Our wish for easy answers and trying to get them by jumping to conclusions stems partly from laziness, and partly from availability bias. Addressing the latter first, a lot of the opinions we form are inherently biased with the recent information that we gain. This is because we often correlate immediate exposure to information and the volume with which the information is said, with an increasing probability that it is true. We need to understand that what is immediately apparent, may not be so. To use a practical example, given the immediate culture in the antebellum South, you would assume that the regular inhabitants would take apparent racial inferiority of the African Americans as self-evident, no matter how wrong or evil such a claim would be. We jump to conclusions because often because of the information around us. This ties into the other part of this mistake: laziness on our part. We want easy answers and then jump to conclusions because it is the easy way out. The way to mitigate this mistake is to cultivate a sceptical attitude about what we learn around us and realize that just because an answer is easy, does not mean it is right. We have a responsibility upon us, if not to others, then definitely to our own personal integrity, to attempt
A Lack of Epistemic Humility
5. The tendency to rationalize poor decisions.
6. The tendency to look outside, rather than looking within.
7. Not being open-minded and holistic in our thinking.
The second group of errors are the errors born out of a lack of epistemic humility. At its core, this issue can be reduced to the fact that we do not want to be wrong. To frame this issue, during times of instability, we want to have a constant. An opinion or worldview serves that purpose, even if it is wrong. These days, there is more a focus on being rhetorically correct, instead of being demonstratively correct. This leads to each of the mistakes that I have addressed in this section. We rationalize incorrect behaviour and reject being open-minded, often because we fear to be wrong. There is no simple fix to this. With that said, I think that the best way to reduce that fear is to holistically educate yourself in the different areas of knowledge. When you become open to new ideas, you inevitably reduce fear, and from there, you can start becoming epistemically humble. Now, mistake six is more unique, than the other mistakes in this section. What I mean by that mistake is that we tend to blame the structures around us, instead of looking within. I find that many of the gripes we have about life are not because of those around us, but because we are inherently flawed. This ‘becoming epistemically humble’ is knowing that much of the issues that we face in life are often because of our flawed selves and faulty reasoning, rather than those around us. This is not solved as much by education, as it is by cultivating a sense of personal responsibility to improve ourselves and the way we manage the responsibility of handling knowledge.
A Need to Shift Our Thinking Process.
8. Gullibility to false narratives and misinformation.
9. Falling prey to generalizations and stereotypes.
10. A failure to ground beliefs on a moral framework.
The final group of mistakes can be broadly characterized by a flawed thinking process. Addressing the first two mistakes, I think that this really comes down to the idea that we have so much information around us, and the fact that legacy media and social media these days have become more openly narrative-based, rather than attempting to be objective. Given that, it is rather easy to fall prey to false narratives and stereotypes. A big reason why social media and information sources have become akin to Baconian Idols of the Marketplace is that we buy into the narratives. Therefore, if we want to become less susceptible to stereotypes and false narratives, we need to start by refusing to buy into them. We should always have a healthy amount of scepticism to claims that we hear, as Descartes would have advocated. Questioning the truthfulness of a statement is not a bad thing, and instead, often leads to a more conclusive understanding of the truth. Another thing we ought to do is to always test the logic of an argument made to see if it is both valid and sound. And finally, if a claim propagating a narrative or stereotype is something we can actively test, then we should actively strive to test it. If it is a physical thing, then we can utilize the scientific method. If the claim is more abstract, then we ought to try and apply the truth tests.
The tenth mistake is more distinct, even if it falls under the same category as mistakes eight and nine. To me, I have always felt that to have a coherent framework of knowledge, you need a moral foundation that underlies it. Too often we do not think of the moral implications of our actions or knowledge claims and simply think of practicality and desire. We have conceptions of morality, like the immorality of lying, that we have built for centuries because they generally work. This is a place where I think that faith has a special place in this world. Faith when combined with reason, if used correctly, gives a moral foundation for one’s beliefs. If one has a solid morality, and if one can accurately connect that morality and faith to reality, whether it be through telos or religion, then they avoid making many harmful decisions to themselves and others.
A Final Note
Ultimately, even if I provide these fixes to common mistakes, I do not doubt that humans will mess up anyway. We are imperfect and flawed beings. However, we are also beings that try to do our best to improve ourselves and find our place in this world. The first step to implementing some of the fixes listed in this journal is to admit that humans are imperfect, and we make mistakes. Only then, can we start to travel the arduous journey of self-improvement.