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2020-12-20

How can we "know" what is going on?

Well, first-hand experience is probably the most reliable method - anything we can see, touch, hear, taste or smell is a good candidate for a high degree of certainty. If we hear someone say something and watch their lips move then we have two sources of information and the one (hopefully) corroborates the other - it doesn't get much more certain than that. However, it still doesn't vouch for the veracity of what was said, only that the person said it.

Second-hand experience is what we usually have to work with - we can see something in a newspaper, watch a report on TV, and so on, but these could all be easily faked. So we have to rely on other factors to corroborate the original, and here we come up against the problems and opportunities of trust.

If we trust the source of the report then we are likely to believe it. If we don't trust the source then we will be sceptical unless we can see corroborative reports elsewhere that confirm or support the original message. Propagandists have known this well enough for many years:

"if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth" - Joseph Goebbels

Thus he who controls the media may control the public narrative!

Of course you may not need a second source, you may (depending on the subject-matter) be able to verify the content independently. For instance, if you were in attendance at the reported event (or know someone who was) then you may get a good cross-check. Or If the content depends primarily upon logic and you can prove or agree the logic presented, you may decide that is credible or otherwise off your own bat.

Logic has been a good friend to me except when I sometimes expect others to respect it to the same extent as I do! It is true that many are swayed by an emotional message despite the underlying logic being possibly dubious - a fact exploited with ruthless efficacy by advertisers and public relations practitioners.

Another approach is to choose to place our trust in sources that we regard as authoritarian, in the sense that they are acknowledged experts in their field, or acknowledged sources of reliable information. This is to enter a minefield, because i would suggest that very few such are actually wholly independent disinterested parties - follow the money, and consider any other vested interests that such sources may have.

Whilst here is much more to this thread, a further point that we should address is that there is often (nearly always?!) insufficient information for us to be certain about the truth of the matter, and in this case it might be wise to resist the temptation to come down on one side or the other - it is perfectly OK (and I suggest usually much better) to retain a degree of scepticism and park the problem in the "unresolved" file until more evidence becomes available.

I leave you now in the hands of others:

  • "we actually don’t know what’s going on – ever"  - Sense-making – Part 1

    "
    To the extent we are arrogant, we presume the validity of our certainties, ignoring contrary information and dismissing other views. To the extent we are humble, we presume that what we think we know is conditional, that it is only one of many possible ways to view things.

  • "two different but very complementary strategies for dealing with it"  - Sense-making – Part 2

    "I believe it is worth our time to take seriously the implications and guidance of one or both of these pieces. I see them both as game-changers in the world of sense-making"

 

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Whoever said that our world is not challenging? Enjoy!