Why am I such a poor half-asser

by Gilbert Keith

The title of the post was originally going to be “Why I AM a poor half-asser” but guess what, I couldn’t half-ass enough reasons to support the titular claim. I mean, let’s be honest: I think I have plenty of “real knowledge” of things that I have encountered in classes, that I have encountered from my readings outside of classes, that I have encountered while talking to “experts,” etc. Yet, every time I make claim or try to summarize someone else’s beliefs/work, I find myself hesitating. I am not sure if I am accurately citing my facts, or if I am accurately representing someone’s position on a topic.

I find it amazing how some people are able to produce “facts” out of thin air. I mean, unless I trust someone’s authority of the subject, I’m always skeptical about these claims and I double-check to make sure people’s claims. For instance, I’ll happily accept a statement Dr. Matthes makes about Semaphorins, but no way am I going to accept a claim some random quizbowler makes about what the De-Haas van Alphven effect. This goes the other way too, though. I won’t hesititate to make some bold(ish) conclusions about how things people claim on Bloomberg TV are wrong, but I’m most likely going to pussyfoot on what exactly the Bell’s Theorem means. I’ve definitely encountered the latter topic much less frequently than the former, but I’ve taken a class on quantum mechanics, too! How then, can it come to pass that I have to spend half an hour researching about Bell’s theorem before being able to explain it?

I probably am afraid of the consequences of making an incorrect claim. Just today, I was looking up some topics for the GRE issues essay. One of the topics presented on the official website was:

“What most human beings really want to attain is not knowledge, but certainty. Gaining real knowledge requires taking risks and keeping the mind open—but most people prefer to be reassured rather than to learn the complex and often unsettling truth about anything.”

This topic is so juicy. Probably the most obvious thing I can think of for this topic is John Kenneth Galbraith’s definition of conventional wisdom. This passage summarizes exactly what this passage is talking about. I still didn’t feel comfortable citing Galbraith because I was afraid I would be misrepresenting his ideas. I’ve only read the Affluent Society once, so I’m not exactly familiar with every passage of the book.

Perhaps this is an indication that I should be more well read? Instead of spending more time on this blog or looking up youtube videos of noted Hindi song from Pukar called “Que Sera Sera,” should I be spending all my useful time reading up Galbraith and Keynes so that when I do cite them, I’m more confident about it?

Maybe I should.

Gautam

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