What Charles Darwin Can Teach Us – Besides Natural Selection

Charles Darwin, the naturalist whose theories on evolution and the development of species had wide-ranging effects on scientific study that persist today, was not a genius. Darwin was, however, relentless about learning. He believed that to have any authority on a topic one needed to develop deep expertise on it, and expertise doesn’t happen overnight (or in a month, or in a year).

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The point is that Darwin is regarded as one of the ultimate examples of the importance of hard work and diligence in surpassing natural intelligence.

Darwin’s method was so all-encompassing that he even gave deep attention to information that countered or challenged his own theories. This approach forms the backbone of his golden rule as he expressed it in his autobiography.

Darwin knew that his own instinctual thinking could be a hindrance to finding the truth as much as it could help, and he established a way to ensure he wasn’t missing out on any information.

He didn’t filter out information that didn’t support his beliefs; he was utterly immune to confirmation bias. As you can imagine, it takes quite a bit of self-discipline to constantly double-check yourself.

Internet activist Eli Pariser noticed how online search algorithms encourage our human tendency to grab hold of everything that confirms the beliefs we already hold, while quietly discounting or ignoring information that doesn’t align with those beliefs. The results are disastrous: a complete erosion of civic discourse, intellectual isolation, narcissism and self-centeredness, and a lack of everyday empathy, as well as the real distortion that comes with believing that the little world we create for ourselves is the world.

We need to constantly be on guard for any stubbornness and rigidity in ourselves, or any narrow, unchallenged convictions that shut us out of gaining a deeper, wider, and more nuanced vision of the great big world around us. Are we willing to risk pursuing an unpopular avenue of thought, or suspend the judgment of others in favor of coming to our own conclusions.

It’s easier said than done. If we are to piece together ideas that are sound and worth something, we often have to do so one step at a time, with many corrections along the way, and with as much stamina as we can manage.

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