Everything You Know In Your Heart Is Wrong

Everything you know in your heart is wrong. That’s what I tell myself before I develop an opinion about something, because if my “heart” is the only place I seem to “know” it, then my “knowing” is based on emotion, hope, or a hunch, and not evidence. When I fail to seek convincing evidence to verify, or at least support, my intuition about something, I put myself in danger of not just being proven wrong, but suffering a painful emotional defeat.

There is nothing wrong with having a hunch about something, or wanting something to be true, or even believing something to be true. The problem is when that unsubstantiated belief or intuition is presented as though it is true. In reality, it is impossible to “know” something “in your heart.” The word, “know,” means to have knowledge, which comes from the same Latin root words for cognition and recognize. Knowing and recognizing are both acts that require true perception of reality or things that actually exist or actually happened. We stretch the meaning of know often in everyday conversation, but to truthfully know something, one has to have witnessed it or experienced it in some real manner. So when we say we “know something in our heart,” we are really expressing our hope, our intuition, or our suspicion.

The phenomenon of belief is similar. What is belief? Belief is sometimes defined as an acceptance of truth (https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=belief+definition) in the absence of evidence or experience. Believing something, then, is in the same category as knowing something in your heart, which is to say, not knowing at all. Belief feels good, and it can be a profound and beautiful thing, but it is not the same as knowing. No matter how good the New England Patriots are, no matter how much and how passionately you “believe,” there is no way to know whether or not they will win this weekend. This has been proven to us in the past, painfully.

Believing is often perceived as a harmless, innocent act, and in every way, it should be. It only becomes problematic when we use belief in place of evidence, or when we pretend it is the same as knowing, and we make important decisions based on belief alone. Sometimes we have no choice; there is absolutely no way to know, and we have to take a risk with a hunch. But when we counter evidence and/or knowledge with belief, unless that evidence is flawed, we are countering progress, and thus preventing problem solving. As a math teacher, I have seen this many times. “Cross multiplying is how you multiply fractions. Therefore, half of one fourth is two.” Wrong. “Cross multiplying” is not how you multiply fractions. That was a mistaken assumption, an errant belief, and it prevented the problem from being solved.

Our complicated world seems to present to us more challenging problems to solve as it gets more complicated over time. For example, there are identified bacterial diseases that have been determined to resist all types of antibiotic treatments known to humans. If we don’t find a way to address this, many people could get sick and die. Another example is that 2014, 2015 and 2016 were each years that consecutively broke global temperature records, and the warmer our planet gets, the more ice melts and the oceans expand and rise. There is evidence that suggests dramatic global temperature increases, if they keep happening as they have been happening, could result in conditions we are not prepared to thrive in. A final example is the United States of America, while possessing a great deal more space, wealth, and food per person than anywhere else on the planet, cannot seem to compete with a great many countries that have less space, wealth and food per person when it comes to reading, writing and arithmetic abilities. We humans use our reading, writing and arithmetic skills to solve problems, so this is not a good thing.

The above are all examples of problems we need to solve here on Earth and in our own country, and they cannot be solved without evidence and factual information. It is ok to believe! Believe in God, believe in the New England Patriots, believe in yourself. But we should remember when we make important decisions that impact other people, our environment, or our future, simply believing in a solution is not good enough. Believing in a solution or a strategy because “you know it in your heart” is not good enough. Assume you are mistaken; look for evidence to prove your convictions wrong, and then find evidence to support your convictions.

Generally, we are better at solving problems when we work together in groups to solve them. When collaborating, it is best to share our perspectives in a language all parties understand. Someone else’s personal beliefs are unique, are difficult to understand, and are impossible to witness. When evidence is present, there is no mistaking it, and everyone sees. That is where progress begins.

James Tatum Gale

About James Tatum Gale

I am a math strategist in RSU 5 (Freeport, Pownal and Durham, Maine), and have been teaching for ten years. These days I help oversee the math curriculum in my district and I coach and support teachers (mostly K-6) in their math instruction. My interests in education extend far beyond math, though.. I have been a passionate writer and musician since I was a young child. I have a Master's degree in Teaching from USM, and a certificate in math leadership from UMF. My undergraduate degree is in Philosophy with a concentration in Comparative Religion from the University of Maine (1994). I live with my wife and dog in Bowdoinham.