Updated: Nov 25, 2022
Freeman Dyson quote and REBT
The late theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson once stated:
“The public distrusts the experts because they claimed to be infallible. The public knows that human beings are fallible. Only people blinded by ideology fall into the trap of believing in their own infallibility.”
I find it interesting that Dyson’s widely disseminated quote, in meme form, lacks context of the introductory sentence. As well, I think each of the three distinct sentences Dyson stated are worth exploring on their own.
Before I assess Dyson’s words, it may be worth noting that I’ll be using a Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) framework when considering the quote. Notably, I find this psychotherapeutic lens quite valuable to many areas of my life.
Rather than employing the ABC Model formula and relying on disputation of irrational beliefs, I’ll use a separate REBT technique. Namely, I’ll draw upon wisdom pertaining to unconditional acceptance.
To understand how I’ll frame my examination, it may be useful to know about self-disturbance. Quite often, people subscribe to the notion that situational occurrences impact what we think, feel, or how we behave.
From this perspective, one has no personal responsibility or accountability for emotional or behavioral dysfunction or disturbance—or put another way, feeling like shit when something happens. REBT rejects the notion that we are powerless or perpetual victims of circumstance.
Rather, REBT demonstrates what we believe about a person, place, thing, or event is the essence of how we bother ourselves. As Stoic philosopher Epictetus once stated, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
Additionally, Albert Ellis, creator of REBT, is noted as having stated, “There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.”
In a blog entry entitled Should, Must, and Ought, I expand upon these self-disturbing demands. Concerning the current blog entry I will focus on what I think is a virtually inarguable truth—that every human being I’ve ever known, currently know, and ever will know is imperfect.
While there are undoubtedly people who will argue with this premise, perhaps using spiritual or religious presuppositions, I remain unconvinced of the notion that humans aren’t fallible. Reasonably, REBT uses unconditional self-, other-, and life-acceptance to address fallibility.
Even as I may critique certain elements of the three photos used above, I accept the errors unconditionally. If I were to say, “I will support the information on the condition […],” the premise upon which my agreement depends equates to a condition.
No one, at any time ever in my life, could possibly meet all of my rigid conditions. After all, no one is perfect—the least of which includes me.
Therefore, I unconditionally accept the flaws in the photos above, just as I hope others will accept the numerous errors throughout my blog postings. In fact, I will provide in this post a mistake I’ve made that warrants acceptance.
Still, if a person concludes, “I don’t accept your mistakes, Deric,” I unconditionally accept this stance. My wellbeing isn’t predicated on a condition whereby my life has value only when others accept me.
These matters stated; it is with the REBT lens of unconditional acceptance that I consider Dyson’s quote, in accordance with a paradigm related to the spheres of control, influence, and concern.
“The public distrusts the experts because they claimed to be infallible.” – Unconditional life-acceptance (Sphere of concern)
The first matter that comes to mind is a blog post I wrote entitled Repost: Revisiting Protective Measures, and how the Orwellian term “the science” was used over the past three years to oppress an untold number of global citizens.
In large part, the actions of authorities—and not necessarily the impacts of COVID-19 itself—led to more unintended atrocious, or perhaps intended, consequences than I care to outline herein. This was done in large part by appealing to authority and emotion.
Blogger Curtis Yarvin coined the term “the cathedral” to describe centralized power of information. Some people, especially those using “sweet lemons” rationalization during lockdown, may offhandedly consider Yarvin’s term ridiculous.
Yarvin states, “The cathedral’ is just a short way to say ‘journalism plus academia’—in other words, the intellectual institutions at the center of modern society, just as the Church was the intellectual institution at the center of medieval society.”
Others have included politicians, government apparatuses, and even social media conglomerates in the definition of those who promote the manufacture and control of a public narrative. At this point, are you scratching your head and wondering if I’ve lost my mind?
I tend to agree with comedian Dave Chappelle when he stated, “The worst thing to call somebody is crazy. It’s dismissive. ‘I don’t understand this person, so they’re crazy.’ That’s bullshit.”
Regardless of what one chooses to call it, the cathedral relies on “credntialism,” “expertism,” and other gatekeeping mechanisms which aren’t inherently trustworthy. This is due to the fact that humans are fallible. Ergo, any collective of humans is subject to fallibility.
How many of you fell for the rhetoric about receiving a vaccine and how President Joe Bidensaid, “You’re not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations”? Did you blindly trust information from the cathedral about your shot?
How many of you were aware that a Pfizer official stated to the European Union parliament that the organization’s COVID-19 vaccine wasn’t tested for the purpose of stopping transmission of the virus before it was deployed for public use?
How many of you were aware that the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine— issued to Janssen Biotech Inc., a Janssen Pharmaceutical Company of Johnson & Johnson—was limited for authorized use by the United States (U.S.) Food and Drug Administration due to its side effects?
How many of you were informed that there were “higher rates of myocarditis and pericarditis with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine than with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine”? How disheartening! These questions aren’t about “vaccine denialism,” though informed consent.
Likewise, this isn’t an anti-vaccine rant. Rather, I’m stating an obvious point: The public distrusts the experts, because they’ve claimed to be infallible through use of logical fallacies and for shaming those of us who remained critical of their actions.
This effect has been studied, as one source states that “the legitimacy of science, expertise and medical authority are ever more questioned and rising distrust of expert culture” exists, perhaps due to the cathedral not stating what many of us already know—so-called “experts” aren’t infallible.
All the same, I’m not upset at those who oppressed others during the pandemic, those who gaslight the public regarding COVID-19 tyranny, or life as a whole with the pandemic. I accept the world’s fallibility and continue learning from the experience.
“The public knows that human beings are fallible.” – Unconditional self-acceptance (Sphere of control)
Who among us is perfect? While perhaps you know people who behave as though they make no mistakes—living life as though they are the saintly among us—in actuality, do you consider these people to be infallible?
In the interest of open, honest, and vulnerable discourse, I’ll conduct a shame attacking exercise herein that serves as a transparent example of my fallibility. First, the story needs context.
I’m not a particularly smart person. I don’t say this to manage your expectations, downplay my intelligence, or as a matter of self-flagellation. At best, I’m moderately intelligent.
Though my grades were barely acceptable enough to graduate high school, I somehow later went on to earn a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees. The process of higher education can be gamified and I was able to find a successful strategy.
Nonetheless, when I attended graduate school for the second time, I identified as a “masculine feminist”—“masculine,” because I wasn’t comfortable with the sex-distinct term “feminism.” Egalitarianism made more sense to me.
Even so, I advocated the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, which was a low bar to entry for feminist activism, and I wanted to be a “good ally” in support of women. I was a “true believer,” uncritical of the ideology.
As well, I was enamored with the rhetoric of el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. Having been formally educated in social justice praxis, I even considered myself a “social justice warrior” (SJW). [Insert cringe _____here_____.]
It was during the time while undergoing my social work education that I decided to display my faith for the cause in the form of a tattoo. What better way to prove one’s dedication?
I was referred to a local tattoo artist and together we designed a perfect piece for my body. Only, it wasn’t perfect. Human beings are fallible.
“No one is free when others are oppressed” has many meanings to people. Though, that’s not what my tattoo stated. My ink, displayed for the world to see, read, “No one is free when others are OPRESSED” [sic].
All the same, I took ownership for the mistake. It wasn’t the tattoo artist’s responsibility to double check the spelling of my design. Therefore, she wasn’t held accountable for the error. Thankfully, she did correct it at no charge.
I could state that I’m terribly embarrassed about the misspelling and the tattoo as a whole, though I’m not. I accept my fallibility and have learned from the experience.
“Only people blinded by ideology fall into the trap of believing in their own infallibility.” – Unconditional other-acceptance (Sphere of influence)
I’ve discussed my shortcomings with ideological rhetoric, as I once subscribed to the notion of SJW morality. I wanted to be on the “right side of history” and to be considered a “good person.”
Using an emic perspective—one in which a member of an in-group understands a matter in a way out-group members may not—I can identify with the actions of people who claim to care. As much as one can empathize with another person, I can consider differing perspectives.
In particular, I’ll discuss someone whom I’ll refer to as Robin (not the person’s actual name). During the so-called “summer of love” 2020, when neighborhoods and businesses burned in the name of social justice, Robin decided to lecture me about my alleged “white privilege.”
You see, Robin didn’t know I’m biracial—that my dad is black and my mom was white. Robin had no idea that I spent a number of years living with my dad and stepmom, a black woman. Ultimately, Robin also had no idea of how I was raised.
Robin simply saw a person with white skin (whatever that is) and assumed my race. I sat as Robin told me how oppressed blacks were, how the U.S. was based on systemic and structural racism, and how I’d never understand the fear black people experience daily.
Patiently, I listened to Robin, a white individual, explain how I needed to read from a list of authors, remain silent when black people spoke, educate other whites about alleged implicit bias and inescapable racism, and how not engaging in activism was akin to white supremacy.
I’d been in Robin’s activist shoes at one point. I recalled what it was like to truly subscribe to an ideology, unquestioning of its contradictions and illogical limitations.
It wasn’t as though Robin maintained the air of infallibility as much as Robin’s moral grandstanding came with the trappings of moral absolution, righteous indignation, and viewpoint supremacy. In this way, Robin was essentially functioning from an infallible position.
Through the practice of REBT, I use inference chains enough to deduce what Robin likely thought of me. Still, I further know enough to caution myself when engaging in a form of mind reading.
Rather than trying to interpret Robin’s message, sway this individual to my viewpoint, or challenge the information presented to me, I simply accepted Robin’s behavior as it was. As such, I recalled David Hume’s contribution to philosophy.
Hume proposed the Is-Ought problem arising when “one makes claims about what ought to be that are based solely on statements about what is.” It wasn’t important for me to inform Robin about what ought to be, because what was simply was.
As a result, I didn’t needlessly disturb myself with Robin’s unfounded claims of my supposed racial prejudice for existing as one who appears to be white. I accepted Robin’s fallibility and have learned from the experience.
Dyson maintained that “experts” are fallible, human beings are fallible, and those blinded by beliefs may convince themselves of their own infallibility. Herein, I’ve demonstrated anecdotal examples of fallibility pertaining to myself, others, and life in general.
Additionally, I’ve advocated use of unconditional self-, other-, and life-acceptance in conjunction with consideration of the spheres of control, influence, and concern. People are fallible and I maintain that we could all use rational compassion and unconditional acceptance of one another.
Perhaps you disagree. You very well may the one person referenced herein who has no flaws, needs no consideration regarding fallibility, and whose shit don’t stink. Maybe. For the rest of us, I encourage you to consider the points I’ve addressed in this entry.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how practice of unconditional acceptance may lead to decreased self-disturbance, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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