With eight younger brothers and sisters, I didn’t need to say “I don’t know” very often when I was growing up. I was in my middle age before my sisters started to tease me, suggesting that perhaps I didn’t always still know better than they did about any conceivable subject we might talk about.
Ah, I thought, I might be able to stand up in the classroom and deliver lectures like I’m more knowledgeable than anybody else in the room. But in social relations I needed to make a small adjustment.
Being a master at rationalizing, I began to notice how often people who are experts in their field were able to say “I don’t know,” and make it sound like a really really intelligent insight. First of all, I often didn’t even understand the question, let alone be in a position to acknowledge that I didn’t know the answer. But I also began to realize that if we can’t say “I don’t know,” I’m not going to learn anything more than I already know. So actually, the ability to say “I don’t know” is a very big step forward from ignorance.
I’m thinking about this today because I have just had a conversation with someone who doesn’t believe in evolution. “God didn’t make me from a monkey,” he stated firmly. “What about the science?” I asked. “Oh, I don’t know the science”, he replied. “I just know that evolution is just a theory.”
I didn’t dare ask about global warming.