Question Authority (Take 2)

My previous post about questioning authority got some feedback which got me thinking about writing another entry about the subject.

The main point in questioning authority is this: If you believe somebody *just* because his authority, *never* questioning what he says, then you might not be thinking yourself.

If the Pope says there is a Heaven, and you believe him just because he is an authority figure – then you might not be thinking in your own mind. I’m not saying that the Pope is wrong or right – I’m saying that you should be making your own judgement.

We people tend to believe things that seem obvious for us, and because the marketing vehicles behind these ‘obvious’ issues are so huge. For example, when asked about the most dangerous threats in the world, one could easily mention terrorism or bird flu influence. If you compare the propability and the impact of these risks then rationally these shouldn’t be our biggest worries. Terrorism bombs and attacks are of course serious issue, but in terms of propability it’s much more likely to get hurt in a car accident – and it can hurt you equally badly. Still, people go very safely every morning on their cars and drive to jobs. And they don’t mention cars as the biggest threat. They mention terrorism.

Same with the bird flu influence. Again of course it’s a serious issue as it has already killed several people in different countries, but in terms of ‘biggest threat’ it’s far from it. Hospital bacteria infections for example are much greater threat today, but nobody seems to be interested about them. It’s politics.

Now, that’s why I try to remind (sometimes) people to question authority. The newspapers and governments are (quite often) lead by highly educated people, yet that doesn’t mean you should automatically believe what they tell you. It’s worth noting, that also it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t belive them just because they are who they are. I’m telling to listen what’s being said, not who said it.

If you listen and belive only those who you like, then you might also receive not just their good hints but also their bad hints. Just because they are friends of yours. Also – if you don’t listen to those who you don’t like, then you are ignoring the good hints that comes from their mouths. I believe in listening to everybody, and giving people the right to express their opinions. Then, put your filter on and decide what to believe and what not to believe.

Would I be willing to accept the advice of an accountant on wiring your house instead of an electrician, placing an instruction from the accountant on the same level as an instruction from the electrician.

First I want to point out that there’s no need to get paranoid about everything that’s being said and questioning everything all the time. No, the point is not to challenge authorities in every situation. The point is to (1) question your own beliefs and (2) to think what’s being said, not who said it – in situations that needs it. If you are having a dinner with your family, there’s no need to get into argument and ruin the evening just by the need to question ‘authority’ and just for the sake of ‘being right’. I’m saying that if you are choosing a 3D engine for your game you can critically analyze how suitable it really is for you, even if it’s recommended by your friend. Don’t pick the ‘best’ 3D engine just because somebody says so. Pick the 3D engine for the sake of your needs.

I would also like to point out, that if an accoutant with no wiring experience suggest something about wiring I wouldn’t take his advice. If an electrician (that really has done the job previously) suggest wiring the house in some way I would believe it – as mentioned: there’s no need to question everything all the time, just question something sometimes within reason. If a successful game developer would tell me to start doing casual games as they pay well I could consider his advice, but eventually think the reason why I’m doing games – and whether casual games are something I want to do or not.

To summarize:
(1) Think what’s being said, not who said it
(2) Don’t question everything all the time (dinners, wiring…)
(3) Question some issues, sometimes – within reason (picking engine, team members…)

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Wasn’t Aristotel the one who said “one has to doubt in order to be able to learn”? :)

  2. @Duncan: That’s also the power of Wikipedia – everybody can contribute. A recent article at Finnish science magazine mentioned that Wikipedia’s reliability matched near Encyclopedia of Britannica (in terms of errors or something)

    @Jack: you must mean that Steve’s posts were so like this… not the other way around ;) I’m not going to hunt ghosts or become a zen priest (at least not anytime soon ;)… it’s game making that got me interested in many areas besides programming (business, marketing, success, project work etc.) and I have too many game ideas to produce.

    @Gil: And shame that it goes beyond that… even us do the same. You, me, guys who commented here and everybody else does the same. Wars are started ‘to protect the country’ and we believe that. We also believe that only Nazis did horrible things to jews, but “our soldiers don’t do like that”.

    @Aymes: (1) eh..

  3. Personally I think this is one of your best posts so far Jusso.

    (1) Think what’s being said, not who said it – should be plastered across every game creation forum in the world :P

  4. heh…

    I spent months trying to convince people to think *why* they do what authorative figure tells them and i think it runs much deeper than rational thinking.

    Some were taught from childhood to listen to authorative figures such as teaches and parants – and do what they were told without asking too much questions. Its a screw-up of the education system that deprive curious mind from asking “why”. “Its the law, its in the book, so stop interrupting the class”. and it goes all the way to the university.

    So instead of learning how to “know”, we are taught to memorize what authorative figures are saying.

    I support what you’re saying and I appreciate those who encourage people to ask “why” instead of coplying like mindless NPC’s.

  5. Man! this post was so Steve Pavlinaish, it’s scary! I hope you don’t give up game development to start hunting ghosts or try to become a zen master like the after mentioned Steve, not that I don’t like him, but your blog is just fine as it is, keep up the great work! ;)

  6. Would I be willing to accept the advice of an accountant on wiring your house instead of an electrician, placing an instruction from the accountant on the same level as an instruction from the electrician.

    This is also what is fundamanetally broken about Wikipedia. Everyone, no matter their expereince or knowledge, is given the same ability to create, edit, and delete articles. All people are given an even footing. Even if they don’t know word one about the subject. It makes what is supposed to be authoritative into something that is pollitical and unreliable in all situations. Much like today’s news.

    More people should question the authority that information comes from. It would do a world of good.

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