“[…] a large proportion of our positive activities depend on spontaneous optimism rather than mathematical expectation […] a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction […]” John Maynard Keynes.
We live in a very intricate and continuously surprising world. We constantly seek answers to our questions, we often discover new things, and when we do so, our old views of the world and of us seem naive and silly. We often look at other animals and we find them to be simple in their behaviour and their reasoning, and we may even pity them for that. In our mind, we are superior because we are less naive. But, when we realise major discoveries or undergo a major revision in our thinking, we feel the same way towards ourselves; we see our past selves with almost the same aura of naivety with which we perceive more seemingly simple creatures.
Naivety is a definite weakness of cognition most of the times. We reject a romantic view that praises natural naivety in the name of some bedevilling of knowledge and progress. But does naivety lead to bad or sub-optimal behaviour one hundred per cent of the times? Ironically (and unfortunately) we have to say no… We all operate with some form of naivety at some level and in what concerns some subject matters. It can be in our political, social, or religious views; it can be in our human relationships to each other; for the specialists, it can be in thinking their area of speciality superior to others; for business executives or investors, it can be in their economic reasoning or in liking to see indefinite trends where there is none. Curiously, it is some of this spontaneous naivety that makes us do things we otherwise would not have done; and while, most of the times, little positive comes out from these spontaneous actions, knowledge and progress can ensue in few cases unintentionally. Didn’t we discover the New World through such a dynamic?
When it comes to the subject of naivety, we can think of two great dangers (at least): (1) not knowing or refusing to admit that each of us has some propensity to be naive in some particular area; and (2) letting ourselves be manipulated by others who know how to exploit particular naiveties we have.
Aren’t we all a bit as was said about the famous Don Quixote de la Mancha:
“But is it not a strange thing to see how readily this unhappy gentleman believes all these figments and lies, simply because they are in the style and manner of the absurdities of his books? […] apart from the silly things which this worthy gentleman says in connection with his craze, when other subjects are dealt with, he can discuss them in a perfectly rational manner, showing that his mind is quite clear and composed; so that, provided his chivalry is not touched upon, no one would take him to be anything but a man of thoroughly sound understanding.” Cervantes, Don Quixote