Knowledge in the Age of Deception: Building Immunity

We can know, but how do we know? This is the study of epistemology.

How we know is a philosophical question explored in many book-filled rooms over centuries. 

As Cory Doctorow said, We’re not living through a crisis about what is true; we’re living through a crisis about how we know whether something is true.

On one side of the argument, we have evidence-based science backed by peer review. However, given science has been infected with the profit incentive, and there are multiple awards and career opportunities for cutting-edge innovation – the incentives have been corrupted. Peer review might be a collection of your work buddies who will all profit from the new science.

Do we trust the peer review panel? Do we trust the data they are drawing upon? What have they left out, wilfully? What have they obfuscated?

Conversely, we have people who are so sceptical of all evidence-based science that they throw it out entirely and ask us to trust our intuition. Intuition is informed by our experiences, our culture, beliefs and upbringing. Intuition, therefore, is an expression of what we know and believe prior to the ‘new’ fact being introduced. This is bias, and it is a virus we ALL have.

Between evidence-based and intuition, we have all the ephemeral, weightless, immeasurable elements that defy evidence-based science. Is a photon a wave or a particle? Well, it depends on who is looking. 

Indigenous cultures know through direct experience, carrying a body of knowledge transmitted over time, cultivated through a deep connection with the law of the land. 

Layers upon layers of complexity are added because people from different worldviews will interpret the same piece of content differently. Who is right? 

Or do most of us hold a partial truth? And if this is so, what do we do with our rigid fixed position?

How do we consider the contradictions in perspective from different worldviews? Are we open to understanding them? 

Do we have the willingness to step into another worldview so we can understand the other? This does not imply agreement. Indeed, it is one of the most challenging tasks, to be able to hold your centre as we explore the centre and ground of another worldview, mainly when we are up against the most powerful weaponised propaganda machines ever created. Those nasty algorithms are incentivised to do one thing exceptionally well. Snare us in its trap.

I have learned the hard way that most people will not accept other facts when they present their own facts. Fact from one worldview does not equal facts from another. You cannot fight ‘fact’ with ‘fact’. To even attempt to do so is a fool’s game.

Most of us want to trust the facts. But who gets to decide what are the facts? When I went to school, what I was taught about the history of Australia left out the majority of the facts that we were barbarous colonisers who killed our indigenous people indiscriminately. We attempted, and still do, to wipe out 65000 years of wisdom, language, and culture.

One of the most important personal development programs we could undertake, if we want a world with a future, is to explore with eager curiosity how we know we know.

How do you know? 

Is it true? 

This must be a constant sequence of questions about every media bite we are exposed to.

We need to cultivate, with impeccable commitment, our immune defence to deception. 

Recognising as we do that there is a difference between distrust, cynicism, scepticism and healthy curiosity. 

  • Distrust – to doubt, have no confidence in. Technically, mistrust is the better word. Distrust invites the possibility of trust. 
  • Cynical – disposed to disbelieve or doubt the sincerity or value of social usages or personal character or motives and to express it by sarcasm and sneers, disparaging of the motives of others, captious, peevish. Literally dog-like. To be a cynic is to be sneering towards most things. There is little possibility of learning and knowing with a hardened cynic.
  • Scepticism – a member of an ancient Greek school that doubted the possibility of real knowledge,” from French sceptique and directly from Latin scepticus “the sect of the Skeptics. Greek skeptikos (plural Skeptikoi “the Skeptics, followers of Pyrrho”), noun use of adjective meaning “inquiring, reflective. To be a healthy sceptic is to inquire and be reflective. 
  • Curiosity – inquiring to know. From cura, to care. The source of curiosity is from a well of care and interest.

This past week, I have been bombarded with what I consider to be unhinged knowing, with tragic circumstances. 

Unless we are genuinely willing to challenge our knowing, the stories we hold as true, the sources of our knowing, and hold the real possibility that our knowing is not true, even if there is a partial truth, then we demonstrate the fixed, rigid mindset that is an immovable block. 

Fundamentalism – birthed by Protestant Christians in America in the early 1920s, expressed the view that the Bible should be interpreted as it was written. The virgin birth, resurrection. Everything. True. 

The inability to challenge our sacred beliefs is an expression of fundamentalism. The costume and text differ.

The actions and consequences of our fundamentalism vary – from shrouding women and excluding them from society and education, to assigning a group of people to a lower caste because of their birth, to the more subtle accusations of crime, discrimination and judgement upon another by people who may have chosen to accept vaccination, or have a pigment divergent from some ideal, or those who do not fit our societal norms of gender. 

The antidote is an open mind, a willingness to be wrong, curiosity, constant autopoietic self-challenge, commitment to knowing how you know, refusal to get caught in the reflexive drama of the news feed and propaganda, and a refusal to impose expertise uncorrelated with direct, lived over-time experience.

I write these words with urgency. Humanity has already crossed the threshold of viable life in some areas. 

We must, with wholehearted commitment, be vigilant to how we know we know.

Everything, everything is up for examination. If we do not do this, the trap of drama cycles and fundamentalism will ensure that as instability increases, the Jim Jones of the world will convince too many to drink the cool aid. 

If you are up for this, here is a place to start.

Over the next week, list everything you hold as an absolute truth. Leave nothing out. 

Then, apply the four steps of Byron Katie’s The Work.

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

I would love to hear how you go. I will be doing this with you. Indeed, I will be challenging one sacred cow every day.