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Learning styles, and the fallibility of grown ups - Sally's Journal
December 12th, 2005
10:40 am

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Learning styles, and the fallibility of grown ups

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From:simont
Date:December 12th, 2005 12:13 pm (UTC)
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Yes, but within the spectrum of not pretending to be certain when you're not, there's still a wide range of possible wordings with different degrees of certainty. You quoted above "Do you think the flow reverses at this point? I was wondering if that might be what happens", for example; now that, to me, doesn't say you've been thinking about it for hours and are reasonably convinced. That suggests that you've only just thought of the possibility and have no idea whether the details stand up to rigorous examination. If you said reasonably assertively "I think the flow must be reversing here, do you agree?", you'd come across completely differently and yet not be dishonest or bad. Certainty is quantitative, not qualitative; you shouldn't pretend to be 100% certain when you're only 90%, but neither should you accidentally appear to be only 10%.

I get a lot of stuff done at work by going up to someone and starting off with "Just check I'm not going completely mad here" and then expounding my current view of the world. It's clear from the start that I'm not pretending to be certain about the surprising conclusion I've reached, but at the same time that form of words makes it clear that I've been thinking about it for a while already and already tried unsuccessfully to find obvious idiocies in my viewpoint.
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From:the_alchemist
Date:December 12th, 2005 12:15 pm (UTC)
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Yes, exactly.

And just stating your theory in non-question form with no qualifiers doesn't necessarily indicate certainty. We have phrases like "I am certain..." for that.
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From:ixwin
Date:December 12th, 2005 12:32 pm (UTC)
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just stating your theory in non-question form with no qualifiers doesn't necessarily indicate certainty

I tend to assume that it does.
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From:the_alchemist
Date:December 12th, 2005 01:22 pm (UTC)
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Perhaps it depends on what you mean by 'certainty'. I tend towards the opinion that nothing is absolutely certain, or at least nothing that people seriously discuss is absolutely certain, so if we reserved speaking without qualifiers for absolutely certain things then we wouldn't do it at all. I therefore use it for things I believe, things I'm reasonably confident about, things I have a lot of evidence for and no evidence against. If I'm absolutely certain about something, I say so.
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From:samholloway
Date:December 12th, 2005 01:39 pm (UTC)
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Snap. There's a delicate balance: you want to do enough research on your own to check it isn't something stupid, but you need to know when to wander to your colleagues with the "am I stupid? this isn't working". You know you get it right when they reply "I have absolutely no idea". :-) (Happening very much here in the office today: we've just moved to a new compiler version and different people are becoming the first to hit each problem.)
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