Often times, one comes across an event that seems to contradict a model of reality in your head. Say, through observing an improbable yet meaningful coincidence. Say one investigates the event and still can't come up with an adequate conclusion. He is genuinely uncertain as to whether the event observed came from known, natural, blind processes or through some other cause, perhaps supernatural. He then is forced to live with that uncertainty, assume that his model of reality is wrong, or assume that he is mistaken about this event.

Is it better to assume that you are mistaken in the case of uncertainty when it comes to an event that contradicts your prior perception/model of the world, or is it better to live with "I don't know". The beef I have with living with "I don't know" is that you can be certain of nothing except your experience. There is a chance that an invisible monster is living under your bed yet noone worries about that possibility. So why should one worry about anything in the case of this event?

How can one know if one is mistaken in the first place? You can never know if you are mistaken about anything until you lose the feeling of uncertainty or have an "aha" moment of understanding that helps you realize your mistake. But then you're not mistaken anymore.

How do you know if you're mistaken while you're still experiencing being mistaken?

  • 1
    Since there are not enough references, p = 1 - probability of not being mistaken
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 11:09
  • I was just going to say "1". It is a pretty easy calculation.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 11:14

1 Answer 1


This has a lot in common with your other question: How improbable does an event have to be before we can say it didn't happen by chance?

There is a long history in humans of seeing great significance to coincidences, and to infering intentions to aspects of the natural world, ie, superstition. It's worth considering the social impacts these behaviours have had. A great deal of placebo and nocebo responses. Witch panics and pogroms. A lot of labour on charms, and living in fear of unknown enemies.

A huge amount of mental labour is dispensed with, by taking up Naturalism and the tools of science. A fascinating figure on the threshold of this was Isaac Newton, often called the greatest scientist; who also deeply believed there were hidden messages encoded in the Bible, and in alchemy which is to say not only chemistry but in the spiritual principles involved (see Isaac Newton's occult studies). He wasted a lot of time on that, and forced later scientists to articulate more clearly what the problems involved were. The demarcation of science is a continuing problem, and Popper drew specific attention to how Freudian Psychoanalysis and Marxist Historical Materialism took up unfalsifiable ideas, that is made assumptions about the world that were not open to revision.

We can bring the question into our lives. There might be something in the dark, behind a door. And, if there is, it's data, that could indicate a more interesting world. So, venture into the dark, experiment. How much more fun is that than huddling on a little island of well-lit certainties, fearing the unknown but I curious about it?

"you can be certain of nothing except your experience"

First, intersubjectivity is a crucial precursor to conceptualising experience. Following the Private Language Argument, even the cogito implicitly assumes the socially-derived meaning of words, self, thinking, being. Our conceptualising abstracting intelligence is embedded in trusting that other minds are like our own.

Second, uncertainty is by degrees. All science is tentative, all it's truths are subject to revision. That doesn't make science useless, even if we find this realisation unsettling. Proofs, certainties, relate to relations between definitions. We can say, for a given model, we have a definite truth. But how accurate the model is, what we choose to neglect to make it tractable or accurate, we have to look to the world for. See How The Laws Of Physics Lie.

Don't say 'I know' or 'I don't know', say 'This is what I have evidence for', and stay humble, and open to the world continuing to reveal itself.

"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery -- even if mixed with fear -- that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man... I am satisfied with the mystery of life's eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence -- as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature." -Einstein, in his great essay The World As I See It

Naturalism is criticised as an assumption by the religious. And, it is one. One we have a lot of evidence for, and that hugely reduces the entities we must assume in our theories (in terms of Occam's razor). This is not a denial of wonder, but turning away from what we demand to find in the world, towards what we actually find in the world, and to it's actual wonders. How can superstition compete with knowing when two blackholes collide the assymetry (quadrapole moment) in the final seconds sends out 10s of percent of the total mass-energy in a great ringing of gravity waves..!

Black Hole collusion gravity waves Taken from NASA simulation.

How we use our attention, will shape what kinds of minds we build, how we situate ourselves in our cosmos. I think looking at the universe we find, rather than as we wish it to be, will be a source of infinitely more wonder.

"Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought."

-opening line of The Dhammapada

Hume's Problem of Induction points towards our lack of foundational certainty, as do Godel's Incompleteness Theorems. The problem with seeking foundations to our knowledge is summarised pithily in Munchausen's Trilemma. As I see it, the way to think about what our minds are doing, is that they are Strange Loops, beginning wherever they find themselves, constructing Tangled Hierarchies of self-reference and cross-checking methods and models, to construct a coherentist picture of the world which not only relates to seeing the world, but situates us in relation to how we want to be in it, to what kind of beings we want to be, in how we group and relate phenomena. I like this discussion of the method: Nāgārjuna, Nietzsche, and Rorty’s Strange Looping Trick.

How we pay attention to the world, is deeply related to how we will manifest in the world. Our guidance should be towards:

"These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness"

-from The Kalama Sutra

The nature of wisdom as related to the skill of solving dilemmas well, through acting from the integrated centre of our concerns to see through pursuasion that isn't concerned about truth, is discussed here: Wisdom and John Vervaeke's awakening from the meaning crises?


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