When did you first begin to doubt adults?

When you’re a very young child you assume that grown-ups know everything – this is reasonable because, compared to you, they do. Then at some point this belief cracks, and adolescence is a bit of an overcompensation. Ultimately most people converge on a sane adult attitude, which includes awareness that you can only know a miniscule fraction of the sum of what people know, but also skepticism that any particular person knows what they are talking about, even if that person is in a position of authority and you yourself don’t know much about the subject.

It’s that last bit that, for example, saves me from believing everything my President tells me about Science.

So when did you first begin to seriously doubt that adults could be relied upon to know what they were talking about? My earliest memory of doubting not just adults but what adults were teaching me in school went like this…

I was in the third grade or so, and completing some kind of fill-in-the-blank workbook. The subject that was being explained was “Irrational Thinking”, and the explanation included two drawings: 1) a man blowing on a bowl of hot soup to cool it down, and 2) the same man, after having just come inside on a cold winter’s day, blowing on his hands to warm them up. Below the drawing was this sentence: “Believing that your breath can both cool something down and warm something up is an example of _irrational_thinking_.” Picture a confused nine-year-old with the first furrow in his brow, thinking “but, but, but….”

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