Reading for Truth

The quality of your person is equal to the quality of the information in your brain. This means that if you hope to grow up and make the most of your life you need to consciously and systematically undertake a lifelong quest to gain and refine the quality of knowledge in your brain. There’s bit more to growing up than just that, but what I’ve just said is true enough to warrant focusing on for a few pages.

In a Utopian society the path of knowledge would be well paved and streamlined. Every level of education would be free for anyone of any age, and every curriculum would be painstakingly edited for objectivity and clarity. Unfortunately, humanity has opted to devote more of its resources to killing each other than raising each other.

The good news is that you live in the information age. Technology allows the average person access to more information than kings in ancient times had. Unfortunately, freedom of information has come with a cost. When production and distribution of information was largely controlled by wealthy publishing houses, information was more expensive while also being more limited. On the upside, the big publishing houses did a pretty good job of filtering information for quality. Now, anyone can publish any crap they pull out of their ass and put it on the virtual shelves of online bookstores right next to the most professionally crafted literature humanity has ever produced. As soon as the internet was invented journalists started warning us that equal access to information distribution would (and has) resulted in a fog of white noise that makes it exceedingly difficult to find the quality information that’s necessary to achieve enlightenment, and I’m sad to say that the situation is even worse than that.

The problem isn’t just that there’s too much information written by amateurs who can’t write coherently and don’t do a professional job of fact checking their data. There are news outlets with biased agendas bending the truth and misleading their consumers for their own benefit. Even the consumers themselves are guilty of mangling the truth by littering social news sites with their inane editorial comments.

This situation isn’t fair, but life isn’t fair. So let’s not waste our time talking about what’s fair. Even if you could determine what’s fair, the point would be moot anyway because you’re not in a position to enforce your perception of fairness. You’re just a little fish stuck in a murky fish bowl.

All you need to worry about is that your education, and thus your growth, and thus your quality of life is your responsibility. So it’s your responsibility to sift through the white noise and the misinformation to arrive at truth on your own. You can point fingers all day long at the unprofessional purveyors of information for not doing a good job of paving the way to truth for you, the reality of the situation is that you are the biggest obstacle standing between you and the truth.

As a child your brain soaked up all the knowledge available to you in your environment like a sponge, but your ability to use formal reasoning didn’t develop until after you’d already established your perception of reality. In other words, during childhood you just assumed that what you learned was true, but a lot of it wasn’t, and all of it was filtered through your subjective culture. This means you were doomed to grow up with a warped perception of reality. We all were, and to make matters worse, there may not be one true perception of reality. So not only were we born so lost we didn’t even know we’re lost, we’re probably doomed to be lost by degrees our entire lives no matter how many of our misconceptions we slay.

This is made all the more dire by the fact that we don’t know what we don’t know. So the tendency is to assume that what we know is all we need to know (or close enough). You’ll find conceited people who are totally convinced of their intellectual mastery from every walk of life from the most inbred redneck to the most ordinary office secretary to the most tenured professor…and they’re all wrong. Here’s a joke you should remember for the rest of your life: Question: How do you know if you’re dumb? Answer: You think you’re smart.

Every individual in the world will be guilty of being conceited about being smart at some time/s in their lives, which is bad enough, but when everyone in a society does the same thing, that behavior becomes a part of their culture. This is why every culture in the world tends to assume it’s the best culture in the world. Xenophobia, ethnocentrism and patriotism aren’t mistakes that only the worst humans make. They’re an inevitable product of the human brain. So no matter where you were born, I can guarantee you that your culture tends to celebrate its obsolete past and demonize beliefs and behaviors outside of your ancestors’ experience. Since culture tends to blindly label anything outside of its past experiences as bad, that means popular culture tends to demonize progress because progressive thought is inherently deviant thought.

Ironically, the fact that humans are born with their minds set to auto-reject isn’t a flaw in the design of the brain. Our brains are super computers that receive, process, store and recall an astronomical amount of information every moment of our lives. Our brains have to manage all this information while also operating a body that grows, generates its own energy, processes waste, heals itself and reproduces. This necessitates that the brain process information as efficiently as possible, which it does partly by saddling the subconscious mind with the burden of making as many decisions as possible. It does this by assuming that whatever it has done in the past to survive will ensure its survival in the future. This means we’re all born on autopilot. We learn schemas and repeat the same patterns of thoughts and behaviors the rest of our lives while tending to automatically rejecting any new and unfamiliar information and then reverse engineering reasons why afterward.

You can see the human autopilot function at work on any social news sites or internet forum. Go to a site like www.reddit.com or www.digg.com and click on the “Comments” button under any news article. The more comment threads you read the more you’ll see the auto-pilot/auto-reject phenomenon. The more forward-looking or creative the article is, the more of a backlash you’ll see.

Undoubtedly you’ve seen this behavior in real life. Have you ever met a person who contradicts everything anyone says? They’re probably smug and eloquent, but they don’t really stand for anything other than standing against anything anyone says to them. That’s because their mind isn’t tuned into searching for truth. Their mind is tuned into auto-rejecting everything and confirming their biases. Sadly, they’ll win every argument they ever have, but that won’t bring them any close to truth. It’ll just reinforce their belief that they can never be wrong. For all the effort they put into proving they’re right, they’re really building a wall around them that keeps truth out.

When you’re looking for it, it’s easy to browse through comment threads and see people genuinely celebrating their superior genius by finding the most pointless flaws in the text in question and tearing apart anyone who challenges their irrelevant position. It’s easy to see grammar Nazis do this. It’s harder to catch ourselves doing it, especially when we don’t type out our arguments in a comment thread to look back over and get feedback from others on. More often we just read or hear something and quietly bury whatever nuggets of truth we could have learned under smug, short-sighted, self-serving complaints.

I’m not saying this to sound smug by putting down stupid people. I’m saying this to warn you that everyone, myself included, has an instinctive drive to do this, and no matter how vigilantly we watch ourselves for this destructive behavior, we all slip, and the consequences are twofold. First, by tearing down other people indiscriminately just so we can win an argument we actually reinforce our opponents’ incorrect perceptions since the only thing we’ll have taught our opponent is that people who think differently than them are assholes.

Not only do we stop other people from perceiving truth, we stop ourselves as well. Here’s a perfect example. I published blog about how borders are inhumane. A self-proclaimed Christian responded in a comment saying that opening borders is like taking the hinges off the door to your house; you’re just inviting the scum of the earth to come in. I told this pseudo-Christian that Jesus would have taken the door off the hinges to his house and let anyone into his house. My opponent replied that Jesus didn’t have a house. That’s when I deleted the whole conversation because it was obvious he wasn’t interested in arriving at truth. He just wanted to win an argument.

Technically, you could say he did win because he was right. Jesus, in fact, did not have a house of his own after he started his ministry, but in winning that pointless, irrelevant, distracting argument my opponent missed any truth he could have gained from the argument. And sure, that was my fault for not articulating my point better, but that just goes back to what I said in the beginning of this essay. Life isn’t fair. The world isn’t going to gift wrap truth for you and give it to you with a spoon full of sugar. The water is murky, but your education is your responsibility. It’s up to you to read for truth.

On a societal level it’s important for every author or speaker to present factual information in a clear and understandable manner for the benefit of the masses. On an individual level though, anything you read you’re probably only ever going to read once. That means you only have one chance to learn something from the things you read. If you waste those opportunity nit-picking grammatical errors and technical flaws then you miss the opportunity to learn the more important lessons in the text. Sometimes you could read 100 pages of bullshit with only 10 lines of useful, enriching information. You win the reading game by finding those 10 lines that will make you a better person, not by finding 1000 reasons you’re smarter than the author.

Even if you read 90 pages of bullshit, you can still learn something by figuring out what the author didn’t say or should have said. One of the most productive intellectual exercises you may ever perform is to read “The Satanic Bible” and “Mein Kampf” for the express purpose of finding one useful piece of information in each of them. Afterwards, look at everything else you read with the same stoic, purposeful objectivity as you did when you read those two books. When you read anything, always ask yourself what useful truth you can tweeze from the text for the purpose of enriching yourself, and anytime you feel compelled to argue with an author of a blog, book or even another person’s comment on a chat forum, ask yourself what you really have to gain by tearing them down, and ask yourself if you’re really doing it in the honest pursuit of mutually beneficial truth or if you’re just auto-rejecting for the purpose to subconsciously proving your intellectual superiority to yourself.

However you felt about this post, you’ll probably feel the same way about these:

Biker Philosophy

Ethics

Thinking

Atheism and Agnosticism


One response to “Reading for Truth

  • wise sloth

    P.S. If you respond to this blog or any others with arguments that I feel are meaningless, irrelevant and/or made for the sole purpose of arguing just to be right about something I’m going to delete them without responding to them just like I did with the example of the guy who thought he made a useful point by informing me Jesus didn’t have a door. I won’t deny that that makes me a hypocrite on some level, but I don’t have the time, inclination or obligation to engage in pointless debates. And the whole point of this essay was to explain that there’s nothing to be gained by debating authors anyway. By engaging in pointless debates I would only be enabling you to miss the truths that you could have and should have found in my writing on your own even if the only truths there are to be found are the ones I should have said better or didn’t say at all. So if I delete your comments without responding to them, that’s your answer. Take it as constructive criticism and try to find something useful in it. If you think that makes me a jerk, you’re still missing the point.

    If you’re having a hard time understanding what I will accept as a useful argument, try reading this blog: https://wisesloth.wordpress.com/2009/10/30/scientific-arguments/

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