Unwarranted Confidence

Sunday July 19, 2020 — Brooklyn, New York

I’m frequently annoyed by unwarranted confidence — when people are overconfident in their ideas, it blinds them to things that might be wrong with their thinking. I trust the results of someone’s thought process more if they show that they’re willing to incorporate new information, rather than being closed off to new ideas.

I’m sure that my frustration with unwarranted confidence will be amusing to some people, because I often come off as very confident (perhaps overconfident) myself. But there are many types of confidence, and I think it’s worth noticing the tension between stating an opinion confidently, and being confident in the opinion that you state.

When you state an opinion confidently,Note that when I’m writing this, I’m thinking about the literal words that are being stated, not the tone that they’re being stated with, which is a whole separate can of worms. you’re hiding the fact that you’re unsure about what you’re stating by using words that don’t betray your uncertainty. But the act of doing so inherently makes you less confident in the statement you’re putting out, because by hiding your uncertainty, you’re removing your space to be wrong while having your statement still be correct.

I frequently make statements in the form of “I don’t see how X and Y can both be true, since they conflict because of Z,” rather than “X isn’t true, because Y shows that Z, which is conflicting.”

In general, asking questions rather than making statements can be a very useful tool both for getting a better understanding of a topic, as well as communicating your ideas about something. While asking questions as a form of communicating ideas is counterintuitive, it’s useful because it allows you to discover places where your understanding diverges from someone else’s, and build up a shared understanding together.