Note: I addressed the following essay to the general population of the No Agenda Forums, a community that I cherish despite frequent frustration. It is peopled by many conspiracy theorists and champions of various “alternative” things, such as alternative explanations, alternative medicine, etc. In short, people I cannot really reach on a level of reason. What I say may not do any good, but if even one in a thousand of those readers can see the light, then I am proud to have played a small part in the emergence of a rational mind.
It’s funny to me that no one here agrees on what “the truth” is, even in broad strokes. But, (most) everyone agrees that authorities or experts must be lying to them about that truth…er, whatever it might be. And if an authority occasionally says something you accept as truthful, then it must be to distract from something more secret and sinister. The circular reasoning and contradiction are so palpable I can scarcely believe you don’t trip over them.
Ponder for a minute what this says about your thought process and your own bias. You begin with an infallible conclusion, only trusting whatever evidence you see that supports it. Evidence to the contrary is dismissed as untrustworthy by the very fact that it contradicts what you believe. You decide wholly based on your own internal compass, even embracing the idea of cognitive bias as a sort of meta-physical truth detector.
This is, essentially, a definition of religious devotion to an unassailable faith. You act as though you have arrived at your belief system through a a rational process, but even a novice critical thinker such as myself can trivially destroy your claims.
When you choose not to be cognizant and critical of your own bias, you disown reason itself, and make it impossible to discern the plausibility, likelihood, or truth about anything (except perhaps stumbling upon it as a complete accident).
When you cry “wake up”, what do you mean by it? You do not accept what you are told, but instead you accept what you have invented. To be “awake” as you are, is to be trapped in a fever dream of conspiracy and unreason, with no light to guide you; only the ever-deepening rabbit hole of your own delusion.
There is a much higher level of awareness than the one you defend and so cherish. You already possess the tools to attain it: intelligence and doubt. Turn these faculties upon yourself. Doubt not only “authority”; learn the ways your own mind has evolved to be a poor reasoning machine. Learn what logical fallacies and cognitive bias are.
The grand collective endeavor of science and reason tell us that the most simple, parsimonious, and mundane explanations are usually (but not always) correct. This is not a dogma, but rather a good default position from which to begin. The more complicated a claim is, the more skeptical you should be; the more work the claimant needs to do in order to show it’s valid. As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. People untrained in science may not find it obvious why this should be the case– If you have not had the benefit of truly understanding the methods of science, please find the time to read The Demon-Haunted World.
You can escape the wall of religion in which you have trapped your own mind. From the inside, it’s an insidious, invisible wall that only tells you you’re right. From the outside it’s an unassailable fortress of irrationality. Learn how to be wrong. Revel in your mistakes as you discover them. Each time you find an error, you win the opportunity to correct it.
I subject myself to the same standard that I ask of you. Also, the same criticisms. We are all imperfect in our reason, in some ways irreparably so. But we can be clever enough to design systems that give reliable results in spite of our bias (science), and modest enough to understand and work around our own limitations (awareness of fallacy and bias). And as we continue down the road of reason, we find flaws in these systems and refine them as well. Nothing is sacred, everything is subject to scrutiny.
I can argue against unsupported claims, and try to provide directions for understanding why they are likely wrong. But there’s no way I know of to plant the seed of desire to reason. If, like me, you managed to reach adulthood without learning these things, then I hope you too will choose to born again into reason, science, and skepticism.