I have a lot of respect for Seth Godin, Nassim Taleb and Richard Feynman for one reason: they seem to detest best lists. Feynman accepted his Nobel prize but was reluctant at first – he spoke about how it is just a form of “epaulettes”: oftentimes overvalued markers of authority that give people certainty where there is none.
The New York Times bestseller list can be gamed, this seems to be widespread knowledge. Seth Godin even said it was a scam. Maybe that’s too much, but it seems to give authority to The New York Times as much as it does to the books. It is a kind of marketing operation – like the Oscars. I mean how did it take what seems like 1000 years to give Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar – and Johnny Depp still doesn’t have one, as of 2016!?
The worst thing about authority is how blindly people follow it. People are often told to not doubt themselves – but it seems to instrumental to doubt yourself on certain things. People have an aversion to questioning things and are naturally terribly uncomfortable with uncertainty. This is probably the reason why most people choose to be in employment rather than take a leap into the unknown by pursuing what they love. I think the blatant truth is that there is no certainty – and politicians have forever been selling the dream of certainty to gullible voters who seem to be gotten by it every single time.
Napoleon let the cat out of the bag when he said: “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of coloured ribbon.” This same logic is used by schools who condition people to be delighted with a star on their homework and subsequently by corporations who offer the dream of personal development and professional progress – because promotions can get too expensive. What a play on people’s yearning for validation. Could this apply to the reader?
It is terrifying that science has become a new religion. In the wake of disillusionment with organised religion, people choose to fulfil their need for certainty with science. The whole premise of science is to take nothing for granted, to always look for holes in an argument, to not shut down devil’s advocates – but to engage with them in an open-minded fashion in a communal effort to chisel away at data until we get to our best attempt at describing reality.
Even the distinguished gentlemen listed above aren’t the uncontested angels of great opinions. I quote people and tend to work off their opinions because they give me inspiration – not because I take them for granted. The celebrated Mr Feynman is more or less the guy behind the Manhattan project – which stills my blood. He had a turbulent relationship with alcohol. This doesn’t diminish Richard Feynman’s opinions and contribution to science and society in any way, shape of form. It is just a reminder that the halo effect wreaks havoc with our brain for the same reason – the need for certainty. This brings me back to the one quote that I really love: “I know one thing: that I know nothing.” I never thought that this was a paradox. I mean the words seem to imply it is one, but really, it makes perfect sense.
This gives rise to another interesting question. Seemingly, I am an ENTP. The stuff I preach is the stuff that the likes of Socrates and Feynman stand behind. They are, psychologists profess, also ENTPs. This is about to get a little meta… Why is it that I am so drawn to identify with their opinions? I guess I am drawn to the certainty that somebody sees the world in the same way that I do. Is this just the variety of certainty that I am hooked on? Being certain that certainty doesn’t exist is a form of hiding of a nihilistic variety and I don’t want to fall down that rabbit hole. I guess certainty does exist, but it is really conditional on a lot of things and there has to be a balance between practicality and over-simplification.
One thought on “The love of certainty: best lists and coloured ribbon”
I’m really pissed off about Johnny Depp. There seems to be one very obnoxious conspiracy against that guy. He should have a dump truck load of them as far as I’m concerned.
But, then, I never watch the Oscars, or the Emmy’s and maybe they know that, so they’re just punishing Depp for my behavior 🙂