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Niels Bohr, the Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum theory, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922, proposed once that the goal of science is not universal truth.
Rather, he argued, the modest but relentless goal of science is “the gradual removal of prejudices.”
Copernicus’s discovery that the earth revolves around the sun gradually removed the prejudice that earth was the centre of the universe.
Darwin’s theory of evolution gradually removed the prejudice that we humans were a special creation, separate from the rest of the species.
Newton’s discovery of gravity gradually removed the prejudice that objects were attracted to the earth because it was in their nature to do so.
Louis Pasteur’s discovery of the germ theory gradually removed the prejudice that infections and certain diseases were God’s wrath on humankind.
Daniel Kahneman’s research into human behaviour gradually removed the prejudice that humans are rational animals.
Now, even when you move beyond science, and to life in general, being a lifelong learner also serves a similar purpose – that of the gradual removal of prejudices we carry in our minds and the lenses with which we see and judge situations and people around us.
I have lived with and suffered through several prejudices over the years, which were dispelled one after the other as I walked on my journey of lifelong learning.
Every time I started believing I know how the world was, the world showed me more and more ways in which I was wrong.
I learned that I was wrong about what things are.
I learned that I was wrong about how things work.
I learned that I was wrong about who people are.
I started my investing career believing –
- what Gordon Gekko said in the movie Wall Street, “I don’t throw darts at a board. I bet on sure things.”
- that greed was indeed good,
- that stocks were blips on the ticker,
- that the only thing that could help me succeed as an investor was my skill in stock picking, and
- that making money from stocks required me to just be rational in my analysis.
These prejudices were gradually removed as I read and learned from Graham, Buffett, Munger, Fisher, Taleb, etc. –
- that there are no certainties in investing, only uncertainties,
- that greed is not good for an investor, and so are fear and envy,
- that stocks were representative of businesses and that to do well, I must think and act like a business owner,
- that investing is largely a game of luck, and that skill shines through only in the long run, and
- that making money from stocks required much more than rational analysis and a great control on my emotions and behaviour.
After 20 years of being an investor and learner, I still have my prejudices and continue to look at the world with my own tinted glasses. And I am sure that will continue till I have my thinking faculties working intact (for it’s our prejudices that make us humans).
But as I continue my learning journey and keep unburdening myself with parts of my ego and blind spots, I also believe that I may see a greater light coming from the end of the tunnel of my ignorance.
I may get less prejudiced, I believe.
My life and thinking may get better, I believe.
And if you are like me, I believe the same for you too.
Just keep learning.