Inductive reasoning and making wrong assumptions

“I don’t know” is an intelligent answer to a question, but one many people fail to use. People are reluctant to admit what they think is ignorance. People are often bad at knowing that they don’t know. But ignorance is not having a blank mind to a question. Ignorance is having a mind full of untruths. So to gain in wisdom, we first need to actively identify and reject all of the incorrect hypotheses our mind is busy generating.

The mind coming up with a hypothesis, basically guessing, rather than waiting for the truth to reveal itself, is something that humans do all too often. Kathryn Shulz in her book “Being Wrong” suggests that there may be an evolutionary explanation that made this hypothesising advantageous in our species’ past. If you lived 100,000 years ago and you heard a rustling in the bushes nearby, you would have to hypothesise (i.e. guess) very quickly whether it was a predator stalking you or a potential meal to feed your family. The ability to rapidly theorize was an important feature in our survival of the fittest.

Jumping to conclusions is what we do in inductive reasoning, where the mind ‘guesses’ answers to things based on probability. Assuming that the Dr Smith that you made an appointment to see is a male is an example of this. More medical doctors are men than women, but that certainly doesn’t mean all are. This inductive reasoning is useful in life when answers are needed quickly, but you are basically put a bet on the most likely answer. However, it can make us look very foolish, like in the example of Dr Smith, when our predictable biases are exposed.

Inductive reasoning belongs in Shouldland as we make assumptions on how things are or should be based on limited evidence. This is how many people in Shouldland generate their rules and stereotypes – using inductive reasoning to make sweeping, and usually wrong, generalisations.

Shulz points out that going from “this muslim is a terrorist” to “all muslims are terrorists” is an example of where people’s inductive reasoning can go very wrong, and when done by a significant section of the community, leads to poor politics and other dangerous outcomes.

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