2008 : WHAT HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR MIND ABOUT? WHY?

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Writer and Television Producer; Author, Remembering Our Childhood: How Memory Betrays Us
Writer and Television Producer; Author, The Riemann Hypothesis

I used to believe that there were experts and non-experts and that, on the whole, the judgment of experts is more accurate, more valid, and more correct than my own judgment. But over the years, thinking — and I should add, experience — has changed my mind. What experts have that I don't are knowledge and experience in some specialized area. What, as a class, they don't have any more than I do is the skills of judgment, rational thinking and wisdom. And I've come to believe that some highly ‘qualified' people have less of that than I do.

I now believe that the people I know who are wise are not necessarily knowledgeable; the people I know who are knowledgeable are not necessarily wise. Most of us confuse expertise with judgment. Even in politics, where the only qualities politicians have that the rest of us lack are knowledge of the procedures of parliament or congress, and of how government works, occasionally combined with specific knowledge of economics or foreign affairs, we tend to look to such people for wisdom and decision-making of a high order.

Many people enroll for MBA's to become more successful businessmen. An article in Fortune magazine a couple of years ago compared the academic qualifications of people in business and found the qualification that correlated most highly with success was a philosophy degree. When I ran a television production company and was approached for a job by budding directors or producers, I never employed anyone with a degree in media studies. But I did employ lots of intelligent people with good judgment who knew nothing about television to start with but could make good decisions. The results justified that approach.

Scientists — with a few eccentric exceptions — are, perhaps, the one group of experts who have never claimed for themselves wisdom outside the narrow confines of their specialties. Paradoxically, they are the one group who are blamed for the mistakes of others. Science and scientists are criticized for judgments about weapons, stem cells, global warming, nuclear power, when the decisions are made by people who are not scientists.

As a result of changing my mind about this, I now view the judgments of others, however distinguished or expert they are, as no more valid than my own. If someone who is a ‘specialist' in the field disagrees with me about a book idea, the solution to the Middle East problems, the non-existence of the paranormal or nuclear power, I am now entirely comfortable with the disagreement because I know I'm just as likely to be right as they are.