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I don’t think I need to tell anyone that we live in a complex world. We’re all well aware of that. And to make our way through it we have to simplify it, by creating columns of knowledge that support the weight of our reality and allow us to have functional control over our environment. This construct act as a mental ‘comfort zone’ that we associate with feelings of safety, control, and belonging.
That is a great thing as long as our columns are sturdy enough. If they are too high and thin, fed only by the views of a small group of like-minded people, they will only be valid under very specific conditions. And if the structure is built with flimsy materials… well, I’m sure you get the idea.
Self-criticism is, probably due to the psychological need to step on sturdy ground, the hardest kind of skepticism. It involves having to continuously test the strength of each column and, despite the fact that finding any structural damage allows us to repair it and secure our knowledge, that makes us realise that maybe the ground we base our lives on might not be that reliable after all. However, if we manage to overcome our fears and repair the brittle columns to adapt them to new information, the way we see the world becomes more mature, and the grounds of our knowledge more trustworthy.
Funny enough, the highest levels of confidence (arrogance) often coincide with low levels of actual knowledge. That is probably due to the same lack of information: By leaving aside relevant data we have less to deal with and it’s easy to find point-blank conclusions to any subject (you don’t need to dig too deep to find examples to this effect, just a peek through the window of internet and you’ll be overwhelmed by them).
As we are faced with other sources of information that challenge our views, it becomes tougher to reach clear answers. We start becoming more aware, not only of what we know but also of what we ignore. At this point many cling helplessly to the ‘known column’, but if we manage to leave room in our minds to well-reasoned and rational perspectives, maybe we’d need to eat humble pie but would be an overall rewarding experience… as long as the exchange is done in a respectful manner.
However, as we said at the beginning, the amount of information is unfathomable, so we all need filters that reduce it dramatically: we look for information that affects us, interests us, agrees with our views or tantalises us somehow. Sadly, we don’t seem to be as good at applying a quality filter, maybe because it’s not as well defined, or maybe because it involves more effort.
A first step to restructure our foundation is to be aware of our most common filters and biases; by doing so, we prevent possible manipulations. Once this step is done, we have to be careful with what we let in, paying attention to the quality: check the sources and the way the data has been analysed, and compare different articles (bear in mind that a lie can be repeated thousands of times, so see if different approaches reach the same conclusion). By doing so, your piece of information would be placed in a gradient of reliability, because very rarely human knowledge gets black and white answers. I understand that this implies a lot of effort and we can’t go through the whole process every single time, but there’s where our humility becomes important.
We live in a world where arrogance, self-centrism, and that weird form of disdain for knowledge that is comparing opinions with facts are given free reign; and where any argument that points out the flaws of the high and thin columns built by self-fed groups are taken as attacks to their integrity. And as we shouldn’t claim something that we don’t offer ourselves, it could be a good idea to start using our bricks to build up, and not as a throwing weapon.