How To Adopt New Knowledge

  • Assess your dogmatic beliefs. It is any belief you hold unquestioningly.
  • Make room for genuine curiosity. Every time you have an automatic reaction against a new piece of information, allow space for honest exploration.
  • Critically accept or reject new findings. Taking into account that you may have biases, apply critical thinking to the new evidence.
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The Semmelweis Reflex

We often want to stick with our current beliefs even when new knowledge seems to contradict them. This is known as the Semmelweis reflex - a dangerous phenomenon that has caused many deaths throughout history.

The theory is named after Ignaz Semmelweis

  • In 1846, Ignaz Semmelweis had a breakthrough when he discovered that when doctors washed their hands before treating patients and delivering babies, it resulted in a drop in maternal deaths from puerperal fever to 1%.
  • Despite his discovery, his teachings were rejected, he was sacked from the Vienna General Hospital. He became severely depressed and wrote open letters to obstetricians calling them irresponsible murderers.
  • He was eventually lured into an asylum and died at aged 47. Twenty years later, Louis Pasteur carried forward his work. The germ theory of disease is now widely accepted.

The Semmelweis reflex is a knee-jerk tendency to reject new evidence. It's a form of confirmation bias where we deny objective evidence, even if it could bring transformative improvement.

We can train ourselves to avoid the Semmelweis Reflex by not holding too hard to our beliefs and keeping an open mind when faced with new data.

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RELATED IDEAS

Tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon

The tip-of-the-tongue, or lethologica, is a common phenomenon where memories seem to be momentarily inaccessible.

Bilingual people seem to experience more tip-of-the-tongue moments in their less dominant language. If you find yourself repeatedly struggling to recall a specific word, your memory may not be adequately stored.

Declinism

The belief that societies continue to decline is often linked with rosy retrospection - believing that the past was better and the future more negative.

Declinism can cloud your judgement and steer you toward bad decisions.

Why simplicity?

Simple thinking can lead to safer plans, better communication, and easier execution. The power of simplicity is apparent throughout history, where strategists and artists alike strived for simplicity. Let's look at a few examples!

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