January 10, 2018 ~ 3 min read

A Healthy Level Of Doubt

A few weeks ago I was playing Avalon with friends and family. The basic premise of the game is that if you are randomly chosen as a "good" character, your goal is to figure out who is "evil". If you are randomly selected as "evil", you are trying to deceive other players into believing that you are actually good.

In essence, the "good" team is trying to figure out what is true, while the "evil" team attempts to obscure the truth.

In one particular game, based on patterns that I observed, I became entirely convinced that I knew who the evil players were. I made it my entire mission to convince everyone at the table that these people must, in fact, be apart of the evil team. I stopped listening to others almost entirely.

At this point in the story, it's probably no surprise that I was dead wrong, and caused the loss of the good team.

Similarly, progress in medical science was largely halted for a number of years because key doctors were so convinced that they were correct. As humans, we have a bias towards believing that we are more intelligent and knowledgeable than average. Sometimes, our lack of doubt can lead us to ignore the evidence that is right in front of us. As soon as the Avalon game ended, I couldn't help but replay it in my head and see the countless clues that indicated that my thesis was wrong. Yet because I was so sure I correct, I ignored all of these in the moment.

On the flip side of this is the importance of trust. The world is built off of trust and shared beliefs. When we use money, we are trusting the government. We have a shared belief that money is worth something when it has essentially no intrinsic value. This is a promise that the government has made to us and that we make to each other.

If you decide to completely doubt this promise and convert all of your money to seashells, you will likely not fair very well. Most people don't accept shells as a form of payment.

This is an extreme example, but the point is that trust is equally important as doubt. It's the balance between these two that is tricky. How do we question some areas while maintaining an appropriate level of confidence in others? How can we cultivate a healthy level of doubt to help us see what is true but not obvious?

Maxi Ferreira

Hi, I'm Taylor . I'm a software engineer/maker/amateur chef currently living in San Francisco. You can follow me on Twitter , see some of my work on GitHub , or read about my life on Substack .