What does this sentence mean, and exactly what does it connote?
Personally, I believe it implies that confidence is detrimental to the truth,
as it hinders doubt. Knowledge compounds
and you can use newly learned ideas to dig deeper into the unknown, but you can
only do this with curiosity, and the root of curiosity is doubt. Doubt is an
emotion we experience that motivates one to inquire and compels a reassessment
of a given truth, allowing for improved revisions. You learn about the
alternatives, the controversies, and don’t know which answer is the right answer.
In other words, confidence makes it harder to doubt what we are told, which can
be detrimental to the acquisition of knowledge.
This essay will serve to focus on the link between knowledge, confidence
and the role that doubt plays. In particular, it’ll focus on the role of doubt
when it comes to acquiring knowledge with regards to the two areas of
knowledge, history and the natural sciences. For this essay, knowledge is
defined as the thorough understanding of a subject, which includes information,
descriptions, or facts acquired through experience or education. Doubt is
essentially an uncertainty or lack of conviction, while confidence is the state
of feeling certain about the truth of something.
History is defined as a branch of knowledge dealing with past occurrences,
especially in connection with the human race. Furthermore, history is
provisional to an extent. Historians can always interpret events about the past
from a different perspective. These varying interpretations are usually the
result of new data, or changes in ideology. For example, “The Dark Ages” is a
commonly used phrase to describe the lack of cultural advancement in Europe
around 500 AD to 1500 (Blumberg, 2016). However,
as new primary source documents have been studied and added to the plethora of
knowledge about the period and more archaeological evidence is uncovered, the
perception of the time known as the Dark Ages has evolved to the point where
many historians no longer believe that such a term is accurate. Many
contemporary scholars who study the era avoid the term altogether, as they deem
it misleading and inaccurate for any part of the Middle Ages.
Historical revisionism is a field of study in which a historian revises
traditional views of causes and effects, primary source documents and evidence.
A popular saying is, “history is written by the winners.” Therefore,
it is necessary that we examine history through a critical lens. Revisionist
historians doubt the proof given to them and, by extension, doubt the
conclusions drawn from them. This doubt is usually the source of a lack of
confidence in current theories. Henceforth, they delve deeper into the subject
by uncovering new evidence in the form of primary source documents. They
challenge old theories and can prove them to be historically false.
For example, until recently Christopher Columbus was celebrated as a
mythical hero by some people. For hundreds of years, children learned that he
was a great man and a great explorer. He was universally painted as someone who
was an enlightened hero. However, when examined through a more critical lens,
new evidence has been uncovered. He was undoubtedly somewhat responsible for
the spread of disease, the spread of weapons and inciting the genocide of
Native Americans. Thus, people currently view him in a completely different
light, some of his statues are being defaced, and people are beginning to let
go of the myths they learned in elementary school. This example demonstrates
how lacking confidence, and doubting the claims past historians presented, had
caused new evidence to be discovered, leading to more accurate conclusions.
Ultimately, this contributes to the progress of knowledge in the study of
On the other hand, doubt, instead of
lending to the advancement of knowledge, could distort and make untruthful
historical knowledge. Historical negation is an illegitimate distortion of the
historical record. An example of negation would be Soviet revisions to history.
In the 1900s, Joseph Stalin made revisions to history by changing the names of
the former capital city of Russia from St. Petersburg to Petrograd, and gave
the names Leningrad and Stalingrad to other cities. These actions were taken to
wipe off any memories of the Tsarist rule from Russian memory. Moreover, Stalin
also ordered changes in photographs and history textbooks, which distorted the
education many young children received in Soviet schools (Levy, 2017). In this case, doubt was the cause for
both the misrepresentation of history and denial of past events, which have led
to the deterioration of accurate knowledge. Thus, in these instances, doubt
can’t be attributed as the key to knowledge.
Nevertheless, it is undeniable that doubt plays a critical role when obtaining
historical truths. If historians are overly confident and cannot doubt the
information given to them, they’re tied down to established facts and notions,
which could, through newly discovered methods of obtaining evidence, be proven
to be false. Hence, history is provisional to an extent, as without doubt,
future generations might not be acquiring accurate information.
Natural science is a branch of science concerned with the understanding
of natural phenomena, based on empirical evidence from experimentation. Tools
such as peer review and reproducibility of findings are used to attempt to
guarantee the validity of scientific discoveries.
Similarly to history, science is a provisional area of knowledge and
doubt plays a crucial role in its progression. Scientific knowledge is often
the result of questioning and investigating the different phenomena around us.
This examination leads to data recording and analysis, which give way to new
theories. Theories held as scientific knowledge will continue to be considered
as valid until they are questioned and contested, challenged by developments,
experiments and further exploration into concepts that oppose the prior
one. As a result, new ideas arise which
provoke more questioning, and the cycle recurs.
Ever since our origin, humankind has been trying to uncover the truth
about our roots and the exterior world; have we truly evolved from apes or has
a divine being simply created us? These age-old questions have always been
present in the human’s mind, and this lack of confidence is often the
motivation for the emotion of doubt when it comes to the natural sciences. This
constant questioning has led to the production of some fundamental scientific theories,
but most importantly, it led to the Darwin theory of evolution. Darwin believed
that all living organisms evolved from much simpler single-celled organisms (Than, 2015). His doubt in the belief that God created
us from nothing made him seek after more satisfactory answers. He did not
believe in what he was told and sought after the truth after questioning this
topic, which resulted in the creation of his theory that many different people
all over the world have accepted.
However, for the argument to remain valid, certain assumptions must be
made. Most importantly, for doubt to work as a tool to revealing knowledge in
the natural sciences, scientists must continue to doubt until contented by trustworthy
scientific results, irrespective of whether they are in support of or contradict
said theory. Furthermore, experimental methods used to challenge previously
held conjectures must be made public and accepted by the scientific community
as a whole. Otherwise, any significant findings from the research cannot be
acknowledged and reproduced. Therefore, theories that attempt to dispute current
ones must be definite, and not subjects of debate that might turn out to be harmful
to the acquisition of knowledge.
Doubt is not the sole factor that leads to the development of new scientific
theories. However, doubt is irrefutably vital in confirming and, subsequently,
justifying hypotheses. Science is naturally skeptical. The goal of science is
to educate and prevent humanity from being in a state of ignorance, by means of
empirical evidence and experimenting, which is the result of constant
inquiries. The motivation for these constant inquiries is usually a lack of
confidence in current theories.
Some accurately point out that there is significant doubt in science
even after experiments are carried out. Doubt still exists in the domain of
science, such as when proving causality, which is the correlation between cause
and effect (If A happens, then B will occur), typically based on where a
majority of the evidence points. In other cases, scientists test theories that
can never be definitively proven because of the distance that exists in time or
space from the event about which we theorize (like the Big Bang Theory to
explain the origins of the universe). Consequently, scientists in the field may
invest pointless effort into developing theories for which we can never
definitively know the answers as a result of doubting old theories. Also, there
exist principles that are ironclad, immovable truths. Certain truths – for
example, the Earth’s orbit around the sun – cannot be legitimately disputed.
Thus, although doubt lends itself to the advancement of scientific knowledge,
it also has limitations, which hinder its ability and could potentially prove
detrimental to the attainment of knowledge.
In conclusion, due to the breadth of the two selected areas of
knowledge, the natural sciences and history, it’s nearly impossible to
accurately evaluate doubt and its ability to play a key role in the attainment
of knowledge. However, this essay serves to demonstrate, through detailed research
in these areas of knowledge, that doubt is an essential factor as a means of
acquiring knowledge. Not knowing, similarly to other cases of being
uncomfortable, is an excellent catalyst for individual growth. Willing to be
uncertain and inquisitive is the only possible way to learn, progress and
acquire truths about the world.