The Dog was getting thirsty. Combining the necessary with the enjoyable, the Dog took a leisurely trot to the stream to visit the Fish. The Dog and the Fish were best of friends and enjoyed discussing philosophical perspectives on life, the universe and everything.
The Fish seeing the Dog coming, swam as close to the edge as possible. Immediately the Fish began a discussion of great relevance and importance. It involved scepticism.
Fish: I just read something about scepticism, what is your take on it?
Dog: I liked to think of myself as a sceptic. In the sense that questioning the norms of today leads to the truths of tomorrow. I don’t question everything just for the shits and giggles. The fine line between scepticism and conspiracy theory I guess.
Fish: But does that not mean you doubt everything?
Dog: I don’t doubt anything, I question everything. Doubt is a feeling related to trust. I trust what I know and I trust until it is proven that the trust was misplaced. In my opinion, questioning and being inquisitive is a healthy path to wisdom. Of course I can’t question everything, especially since a lot of the time I don’t have all the facts.
Fish: But aren’t some questions best not asked?
Dog: Is that not a form of self-censorship? Is not limiting our inquisitiveness a path to doom?
Fish: Isn’t less sometimes more?
Here there was a momentary break in the conversation. Can it be that less knowledge could sometimes be better? Would the discovery of a “gay gene” create more or less discrimination? Should we quit research into Artificial Intelligence to avoid a technological singularity?
Dog: Perhaps you are right when you say less is more. Have our fears of technological advancement grown out of our collective bad experiences? Was the invention of fire seen as a bad thing because it might cause harm in the future?
Fish: You mean our fears are based on hindsight? And should we therefore not see everything through the lens of fear? No one makes a bad decision, everyone makes the best possible decision for whatever reasons.
Fish: (continuing) It is only in hindsight do we see that we might have made the wrong decisions. There are many examples of technologies whose inventor never intended for their inventions to be used to exploit other beings. Gunpowder was invented by the Chinese and used, for a long time, only for fireworks. In fact, it wasn’t even the Chinese who made the leap to weapons. Another example, Alfred Nobel and dynamite.
Dog: It does seem that takes one to invent and another to exploit.
Fish: I guess we could see it that way. Ironically even scepticism has been exploited to mean something else. Scepticism in its philosophical meaning is related to inquisitive, discovery and openness. Being open for new ideas and not being afraid to question the norms of the day. In addition, a true sceptic is also able to accept their mistakes and lack of knowledge.
Dog: And that’s the sceptic I’m talking about.
Fish: However, and here comes the exploitation, the term sceptic in common usage is negative. Something that has been caused perhaps by the doubting Thomas story. If you doubt something then you are generally assumed to be a critic or, even worse, a conspiracy theorist.
Dog: Unknowledgeable cynic?
Fish: If we consider the current polarisation of the world through mass media and propaganda, sceptics will have an even harder time being heard.
Dog: And here is the irony: is it not sceptics that could bring back the colour into a black and white world? Their voices could provide a level of relativity and middle ground that is sadly lacking at the moment.
And with that both fell into a silence of contemplation. Until:
Dog: Do you think our discussion was more important than discussing whether the sun will rise tomorrow?
Fish: I’m not sure but I’m very comfortable with not knowing.