Departments

Guesswork

It is as difficult to say what guesswork is as to say what the mind is, for guessing is not the action of any faculty of the mind; it is the action of the whole mind. There are no exercises or studies to train guesswork; the quality of the guess is the quality of the guesser. There are no abstract objects for guesswork to practice on – indeed, in any formal test, the answers on which the mind is most used are the ones that are guessed at. Only in your guesses do you transcend the test, having in mind not only the subject matter but also the context of the test, weighing the character and reconstructing the thoughts of its makers, estimating your limits, knowing yourself and knowing the way of the world.

A good guess is sibling to a good idea. Both trade risk for reward, certainty for power. To guess is often the only way to know something that others do not. A bad guess is always wrong; but that one guess is some sense better than another also good does not mean it is more likely to be true. Reality is recalcitrant and perverse. Reality has punished for laziness, and punished for effort; punished for absurdity, and punished for plausibility; punished for optimism, and punished for pessimism – and, of course, it has rewarded each. There are no rules for guessing: we cannot guess with less than all our strength.