Naysayers and Intellectual Laziness (Feat. Neil deGrasse Tyson)

I was taking one of those online Masterclasses with (renowned astrophysicist) Neil deGrasse Tyson the other day, when he hit me with one of the most though-provoking quotes I’ve heard in a while:

“So imagine someone comes up to you with some crystals, and they tell you that there’s sort of a crystal energy embedded within them, and if you rub them together, this energy field will release, and it will enter your body and cure you of your ailments. All right, I have several things to say about that. One, it is equally as intellectually lazy for you to say, great, give them to me, how much, here’s my money, I’ll use them tonight, as it is to say, this can’t possibly be true, get out of here, you’re a charlatan. Both of those are equally intellectually lazy.

Neil deGrasse Tyson


If I were to attempt to paraphrase:

It is equally as intellectually lazy to outright reject something as untrue – without investigating it – as it is to blindly accept it as gospel.

Now I think most of us – those of us who consider ourselves to be even somewhat critical thinkers – tend to not make the latter mistake. (At least, for the most part.)

Most of the people I know, at least, tend to be pretty skeptical, critical thinkers. We don’t just blindly accept things to be true without evidence. Which is great.

But it’s easy to fall into the other extreme of “intellectual laziness,” under the guise of intelligent skepticism.

That is to say, someone might come up to us – perhaps not with crystals, but with some promising idea – and say “hey, I’ve tried this out, and it works really well.”

And the knee-jerk response might be “no, that can’t possibly be true – after all: I’m an intelligent skeptic.”

The question Neil and I would pose in that situation is – are you being an intelligent skeptic? Or are you being intellectually lazy?

I’ve fallen prey to this many times. I dismiss new ideas that sound like they won’t work:

“You journal nonsense stream of consciousness for four pages every day? Ridiculous, that can’t possibly help you.”

“You trick yourself into feeling like you already have achieved something you want, and you say it helps you get it? Nonsense. Go buy some crystals.”

But you know what, before I outright dismiss something as categorically untrue, I’ve started forcing myself to immediately ask “well….have i TRIED it?”

Have I at least looked into it at all?

Or am I just saving face, protecting my identity as an “intelligent skeptic,” by dismissing it outright?

Because according to Neil deGrasse Tyson, that’s just as intellectually lazy.

So if you find yourself dismissing something outright, without even looking into it at all – or best yet, testing it out on yourself, to SHOW that it either works or doesn’t – give pause for a moment.

And if you have something that works, and any naysayers respond with “B.S. – that can’t possibly work” (without having researched it, or tested it…) just remember:

Rejecting a new and promising idea as categorically untrue – without so much as looking into it – is equally as intellectually lazy as blindly accepting it on faith.

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It’s me, Dolan

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Published by Dolan

Relentless self-optimizer, biohacker, traveler, reader.

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