We have created more human-made information in the last five years than in all of human history before them. Daniel J. Levitin
This blog is the result of my beginning to read Daniel J. Levitin’s new book, A Field Guide To Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age. Reading the dictionary definitions of the four words in the title will be helpful.
Plausible: seemingly or apparently valid, likely, or acceptable. Giving a deceptive impression of truth. Probable: likely to happen or to be true. Likely but uncertain.Possible: capable of happening, existing, or being true without without contradictive facts, laws, or circumstances. Proven: having been demonstrated or verified without doubt.
A lot of the human-made information today is not proven. And probably wasn’t in the past. But today there is so much uncensored human-made information (in websites, videos, books, and social media) that it is hard or maybe impossible to determine the difference between plausible, probable, possible or proven information. I think Levitin explains the problem today clearly:
The unique problem we face today is that misinformation has proliferated; it is devilishly entwined on the Internet with real information, making the two difficult to separate. And misinformation is promiscuous — it consorts with people of all social and educational classes, and turns up in places you don’t expect it to. It propagates as one person passes it on to another and another, as Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and other social media grab hold of it and spread it around the world; the misinformation can take hold and become well known, and suddenly a whole lot of people are believing things that aren’t so.
Although a lot of people have always believed things that aren’t so, it seems clear there is so much more opportunity to do so today. Today this means everyone needs to question what they believe to be true. Is this questioning possible? The suggestion seems plausible but not probable. The well-known quotation by Mark Twain explains: It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, It’s what you know for sure that ain’t so. Although today, apparently what you know for sure that ain’t so is now an “alternative fact”.
Knowing something for sure may be the major issue. A partial, beginning strategy may be when you know something for sure, you should ask, “I wonder if this is true?” Wonder is a feeling of doubt. Knowing something for sure (certainty) doesn’t make it true. Proven does. Doubt and uncertainty are not common feelings by most believers, certainty is. Arriving at the proven in our beliefs means traveling through the doubt.
Maybe we should join Bette Midler. I never know how much of what I say is true. And we should add: “I never know how much of what I hear and read is true.”