The absence of proof | Seth’s Blog

Belief makes us human. Belief is our tool to dance with a possible future, confront our fears, and build community. Our personal taste and our preferences belong to us as well, helping us believe in ourselves.

For millennia, belief thrived in most parts of our lives. We didn’t need belief to know that fire was hot (it always is), but it certainly gave us hope and solace in the face of the unknown. And the unknown is where belief thrives

But resistance to knowing isn’t a useful habit. When Ignaz Semmelweis used statistics to prove that hand washing by doctors would save the lives of mothers giving birth, doctors who believed they knew better ignored it, causing countless deaths. When researchers showed that many ulcers are caused by bacteria, doctors who practiced with long-earned belief resisted the data for decades. And when experts in any field fight against research that might undermine their status, they’re doing their belief and those who trust them a disservice.

There’s more proof in the world than ever before, not less. It’s no longer, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” but instead, “I am confident enough to change my mind and informed enough to do the math and understand the concepts.” We have proof about mathematics, about black holes and about the efficacy of vaccines. We have statistical proof of what people click on and how humans respond in a double-blind test.

This doesn’t make belief less important. In fact, as proof shows up in one area, it simply gives us the opportunity to bring belief somewhere else, somewhere we can put it to good use. Personal taste, placebos and the way we dance with the unknown future are powerful ways to connect, to express ourselves and to find solace.

But the time we spend arguing about proof that we’re not prepared to accept is simply wasted. Belief needs proof the way a fish needs a bicycle.

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