YspeopleExplore tab

The power of the null hypothesis


Thumb aaaa

About Philosophically

I think, therefore I am.


I am a big subscriber to the null hypothesis, a scientific term suggesting there is no evidence available to you that enables you to know.

Ken Robinson, the one-time professor of education at Oxford University and frequent TED talker, recounts the story of a forum he chaired where one of the participants was the Dalai Lama. He tells of how an audience member asked the Dalai Lama a relatively simple question.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Picture: Shutterstock

After the question was asked, all eyes turned to His Holiness. After a long pause, the Dalai Lama moved forward in his seat, looked directly at the assembled crowd, took a deep breath and answered: "I don’t know!''

Read more Philosophically Yours: Debate is so much bigger than same-sex marriage

According to Robinson, this caused silence in the audience and then applause. Robinson himself viewed this as an important moment for himself and the audience - and anyone subsequently listening to a recording of the forum. This was an important moment because the Dalai Lama gave everyone the permission to not know things.

When most of us are asked a question, we feel a reluctance to admit we don't know. We want to know, or perhaps want to be seen to do so. We think that knowing makes us look smart and not knowing makes us look less so. We forget that pretending we know something makes us look downright stupid.

Parents, employers and teachers probably feel this pressure the most. They feel that not knowing damages their credibility as a guru, something they all want to be seen as. We are all like this, to varying degrees.

Knowing is good, but not knowing is also good if it is recognised. No one know everything, and no one likes anyone who thinks they do.  Knowing what you do and don't know is very smart indeed. There is nothing more dangerous than someone who doesn't know what they think they do. Consider US President Donald Trump, the man who appears to know little but claims to know almost everything.

I am a big subscriber to the null hypothesis, a science-related term suggesting that there is simply no evidence available to you that enables you to know.

I cannot believe in God, because there is no evidence of a God. At the same time, I am not a supporter of strident atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins - since I also see no evidence disproving a God. In the absence of evidence, I simply take the null hypothesis stance.

I am not a believer in astrology, karma, determinism or fate. But again, that is not to say I believe they are all bullshit. I simply have never seen any evidence that any of these notions have any substance in fact or truth.  I have adopted the null hypothesis – a view that there is no evidence to prove or disprove, and as such I have drawn no conclusion at all.

I believe it is folly to pretend we know something when we do not. We cannot know there is a God, because there is no evidence. We cannot know there is no God, because there is no evidence. We cannot know astrology, karma, determinism or fate are real because there is no evidence. Equally, we cannot say they are all bullshit, because there is no evidence of that, either.

In the absence of evidence, it is better to admit to knowing nothing at all.

In this regard, I think of all the fools who "knew" whether Lindy Chamberlain was guilty or not.  None of the people outside the courtrooms had the facts required to know anything – one way or the other.

The null hypothesis is all about accepting the status quo until there is evidence to prove otherwise – while all the time remaining open to that evidence, if and when it comes along. I do not believe in God in the absence of evidence, but I am open to it. I do not believe in astrology, karma, determinism or fate, in the absence of evidence, but i am open to evidence.

Anyone who claims to know any of these things is a fool.

To believe may be okay, but to claim knowledge in the absence of evidence is foolish. 

Banner 2
| Your rating
No ratings yet


Related stories

Why is the Church obsessed with sex? Picture: Shutterstock.

The plebiscite and the Christian obsession with sex

Why does this most natural of human pursuits cause so much division?

Australia Politics Marriage Equality LGBTI
Expand
10 months ago
(Headlines)
Let's do this! Picture: Shutterstock.

Calling out the Coalition For Marriage for what it is

 

The Coalition For Marriage's action against the gay community this week is no different to an old-fashioned religious witch hunt.

Australia Politics Marriage Equality LGBTI
Expand
10 months ago
(Headlines)
All power to a truthful ABC.

Why One Nation's push against the ABC is wrong

The ABC has a responsibility to report the facts, not a balanced view.

Australia Social Issues Politics
Expand
10 months ago
(Headlines)
What do you think of Australia day? Picture: ABC.

Australia Day: Is January 26 appropriate?

What are your thoughts on an appropriate date to celebrate Australia Day? Here are mine.

Social Issues Community Politics Australia
Expand
10 months ago
(Headlines)
Is prison an ineffective deterrent? Please share your thoughts with us.

Why do we jail offenders?

Retribution is not, and should not, be the primary purpose of imprisonment.

Social Issues Community
Expand
11 months ago
(Headlines)
United, we CAN make a difference to our world.

Together, the over-50s can change the world

 

I am an Australian over the age of 50. I believe together we must stand, or divided we will fall.

Social Issues Politics Australia Ageing
Expand
11 months ago
(Headlines)
Peter Finch in that rousing scene from Network.

I'm as mad as hell. Come yell with me!

It's time to stand up and tell our politicians that we are as mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

Movies Social Issues Community Politics
Expand
11 months ago
(Headlines)
How can PM Malcolm Turnbull truly understand the average Australian? Picture: iStock.

Does Malcolm Turnbull understand you?

How can anyone truly understand you until they have walked a mile in your shoes?

Australia Social Issues Politics
Expand
11 months ago
(Headlines)
Wooden, and full of half-truths and tall tales .

Political integrity? Pffft, you've got to be joking!

Don't you just hate politicians who think you are too thick to realise they are just telling you what you want to hear?

Australia Social Issues Politics
Expand
12 months ago
(Headlines)
The amount of unnecessary waste that comes from supermarket packaging is deplorable.

A pile of rubbish in my shopping

The packaging in your shopping pollutes the planet and adds little value to you, the consumer - so why not reject it?

Environment Money
Expand
12 months ago
(Headlines)

Have your say!

Your Great Australians

Trending stories
Top Indonesian chef Chandra Yudasswara will be cooking up a secret storm for Taste Great Southern.

Celebrity chef set for a Secret Affair in Great Southern

Take one of Indonesia's top...

(Epicure) 5 months ago
Robertson Falls in Kakadu National Park.

Top five myths about Darwin in the wet season

Have you thought about...

(Pastimes) Over 1 year ago
If you come up with any pearls, make sure you send them in! (Image: Shutterstock).

Else>>>ofound wisdom from the shower

In the third of this...

(Pastimes) 3 months ago
I'm dying of laughter!.

These fabulous puns have groan on me

Everybody loves a good pun,...

(Pastimes) 3 months ago
Off the chain.

Strap yourself in, hang on for the ride

Strap yourself in, hang on...

(Pastimes) 3 months ago
Weekly Poll
Photographic memories
Hizgg0vzzqvwc9xicknk
It's 35 years since the Ash Wednesday bushfires in South Australia and Victoria claimed 75 lives and more than 2500 buildings.