Pessimism With Confidence

In one of the best books I've read in a long time, Unbroken, I came across the following: "In the 1930s, track experts were beginning to toss around the idea of a four-minute mile. Most observers, including Cunningham, had long believed that it couldn't be done. In 1935, when Cunningham's record of 4:06.7 reigned, science weighed in. Studying data on human structural limits compiled by Finnish mathematicians, famed track coach Brutus Hamilton penned an article for Amateur Athlete magazine stating that a four-minute mile was impossible. The fastest a human could run a mile, he wrote, was 4:01.6."

I love the exactness of that last number. It seems to convey such confidence. But that kind of confidence is misplaced. One of the most common thought-mistakes causing pessimism (and bringing on the impairment of personal effectiveness and health that comes with it) is overcertainty.

Let's not follow Brutus Hamilton's example. Let's do our best to avoid stating pessimistic conclusions with more certainty than we really have.

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