Sanity depends to a large degree on correct information. We cannot arrive at logical conclusions and therefore sane decisions, if our information is incorrect.
This article lays out some important principles for the evaluation of the truth-content of the data we are encouraged by one and all to believe. We shall also look at the mechanisms we are using and others we could be using but generally are not, to evaluate information and to use that information for making decisions or merely for forming an opinion.
Most of us are not aware that there is a battle raging in what seems to us the normal goings-on of living. From the moment we wake up until the time we lay down after a day's work and leisure, we are subjected to propaganda from various sides. Indeed, most information available to us is in one way or another slanted to make us believe what the provider of that information thinks we should believe.
Ultimately, the fight seems to be over whether we shall become (or continue to be) a docile work force, slaving for the benefit of a few, or whether we shall be able to grow spiritually and make our own decisions, to take charge of our own lives.
No need to say, the author tends to believe we should choose the second option. But make no mistake, there are plenty of 'authorities' who will tell you in all earnest that controls are necessary, that too much freedom would be damaging to our own well-being.
Controls, so we are told, are for the good of each one of us, and is it not a small price to pay to give up some of our freedom (such as being continuously searched in airports, having our movements tracked by a "big brother" central data bank, having our communications analysed for possible subversive content) if we want to be protected from terrorism? But what is terrorism to begin with? It is a clever strategy supported by the most powerful of 'government' intelligence forces, put into action for the purpose of making us accept a continuous erosion of freedom at the hands of 'protective' police and anti-terrorist forces.
As always, the end is supposed to justify the means. But wait a minute, that argument is false because there really is no end. There are only means. Let me explain this a bit more clearly.
When someone says (or implies) that the end justifies the means, that presupposes that the end be something we know and have agreed upon. Now if our world is full of propaganda, which I think is quite easy to demonstrate, and if we often do not know what to think of the present time, how could we then possibly be agreeing as to an end which is a future state of affairs? We have no way to know. We cannot even predict the weather for more than a few days in advance, much less are we able to predict a future state of human affairs. Logically therefore, there can be no end which could justify any means.
The means however, often have a direct and very negative effect on our lives and there is really nothing that could justify any means which diminish our individual right of choice or any other rights or freedoms. But let us get back, after this digression, to the theme of our discussion, which is data or information.
Information is the ammunition used in the battle that is raging underneath the surface, the projectiles that endanger our sanity. Therefore it is important that we grasp what that substance is and how to treat (evaluate) it, in order to keep our sanity and our ability to make decisions.
In order to better understand what we are about to discuss, we need to get through a few basic definitions of terms:
- Information - this is a description, more or less factual, of past or present events or of existence. Data is a synonym. Information is intended to form, in the recipient's mind, a picture or an idea of what happened or what exists or existed in the past. Information is different from knowledge (see below) and it may reach various degrees of perfection in it's description of reality.
- Reality - that which actually exists or existed in the past, and that which is actually happening or has happened. Another way to define reality is to say it is that to which different people agree.
- Truth - is a perfect description of reality. Absolutes are unattainable in this world of physical existence. Truth is no exception to this rule. Therefore, absolute truth can be approached depending on the quality and factualness of the description of reality, but no description can ever be absolutely false or absolutely true.
- Knowledge - is based on information and/or insight. Knowledge is the product of the evaluation of information and depends on the individual's capability of reasoning and insight. It is the best conclusion which the mind of the individual is capable of reaching, based on the available information. Knowledge is individual certainty but is subject to revision as more or different information becomes available. Just as there is no such thing as absolute truth, there is no final knowledge within the confines of physical existence.
- Disinformation - is information with deliberately introduced imperfections, such as omissions of bits of data, falsehoods, too much emphasis on some unimportant aspect or not enough emphasis on some important part of the information. Generally, disinformation is provided with the intention of forming, in the mind of the recipient, a false perception of reality, leading to decisions or opinions that are favourable to the hidden plans of it's supplier. This should not be confused with misinformation, which is the mere passing on of false information without intention to deceive.
- Logic - is needed in order to correctly evaluate information. It is the faculty which allows us to transform information into knowledge. Logic is basically comparative. Past experience and knowledge is compared to current information in order to reach conclusions or to form opinions. Just as absolute truth and absolute knowledge are unattainable, logic is not a matter of 'black and white'. The true/false logic of computer fame is not flexible enough to allow for efficient evaluation of data. Logic must allow for gradients, it must be 'fuzzy', indistinct, to start evaluating more efficiently.
The mechanism of mind
The mind is a sort of computer, a 'logic machine', owned by each person and constantly engaged in a search for knowledge. The data banks of this computer contain every piece of information that has come to our notice, as well as every experience we have had during this (and former) lifetimes. Storage capacity is way above that of currently available computer memory. The stored information and experience is used at various levels of consciousness to facilitate the making of decisions.
When the mind works well, it will have readily available for our inspection and evaluation all acquired information, sorted by relative importance, sorted by subject, tagged for it's reliability or lack of it and combined with cross-references to other similar bits of information. Ideally, the mind should at any moment reach the best conclusions that can be reached, given the available information. There are however several kinds of obstacles that can get into the way of correct evaluation.
The first one of these obstacles is distorted perception. Pain is a sort of distraction to the mind, emotions may cloud perception, disinformation may be mistakenly acted upon, believing it to be valid information.
Another obstacle is memory loss or distortion. Drugs, both the official medical kind (tranquillisers and other psychoactive substances) and the illegal drugs sold on the streets (especially LSD and other hallucinogenic goodies) wreak havoc with the memory of a person. But memory can also be 'blanked out' by past pain and unconsciousness such as in accidents, surgical operations and experiences containing violence.
A further block to the operation of the mind is overwhelm. This may occur because of too forceful an associate (family member, boss, teacher, etc.) or it may come about through passive acceptance of data from a source (such as television), which does not give the individual time to think about what was received.
And finally another block: illogic or inability to evaluate, generally acquired by education. Such an inability comes about through false 'knowledge' received through education, which acts as a bug in the person's mental software, causing wrong evaluation of data and in consequence wrong decisions. Fixed ideas would be in this category.
Knowledge, by the way, can not be taught in schools or universities. All that may be taught with profit is the ability to acquire information and evaluate it, using sound reasoning. Generally, our schools do not put emphasis on developing these skills but insist on instilling masses of data into the minds of the unfortunate student. In many cases fixed (and often false) 'knowledge' is hammered in, resulting in an impaired ability to think for oneself.
Operation of the mind
Having examined some of the possible obstacles to the mind's correct function, let's try and see how the mind does work when it is not led astray by false or missing data or by an illogical mode of operation.
It seems that man has not so far been able to establish the mechanism of the mind's operation to any degree of satisfactory approximation, although certainly not for lack of trying. "Artificial Intelligence" has been around for years and it is an attempt to copy human thinking, but it has a long way to go before being able to duplicate the workings of our mind.
The mind does not think in terms of 'true' and 'false'. It weighs the evidence and assigns a rating of probability to any given piece of information.
The human mind's thinking may be likened to a web of possibilities and probabilities made up of all the various elements that work together to form our knowledge and our opinions. These elements, each and everyone of them, have assigned to them what we might call a certainty rating that may go all the way from 'very improbable' to 'possible', 'probable' and 'almost certain', with a great number of intermediate steps. This is a gradient scale of probabilities, with 50/50 in the middle (undecided) and degrees of probability up to 'almost certain', as well as degrees of possibility down to 'almost certainly not'. The elements that form that network are, in order of importance from lowest to highest:
Enlightenment is defined in this context as a spiritual experience of the individual, which can lead to a high degree of certainty.
- Second hand information. This includes data obtained from records (books and other written works, films, videos, sound recordings), in short, any information based on the observations or the recordings of others.
- Conventional knowledge ('certainties' of others that may be introduced with education or schooling). These are the 'natural laws' and the 'scientific truths' we are taught in the first twenty-some years of our lives.
- First hand information (observations or experiences directly made by the person). Films, videos or sound recordings do not qualify as 'first hand', because they are too easily falsified.
- Individual knowledge (certainties that have been arrived at by the individual through evaluation of information and conventional knowledge, or through enlightenment).
None of the parts of this mental 'web of knowledge' are absolutes. Knowledge and information are subject to continuous re-evaluation in the light of new observations. The mind could be described as a three dimensional spider web, with data of various kinds and various degrees of certainty at the crossin points. It is as if hanging in mid-air, fastened provisionally here and there to some relatively stable points of knowledge, each part interconnected with all the others.
In addition to the subdivision given above into relative importances, information and knowledge are sorted in the mind into various themes or areas of pertinence. The data are heavily cross-referenced and cross-checked within each area of pertinence and somewhat less heavily between one theme and another.
The commanding consciousness, the will of the person her/himself is able to override and to (temporarily) 'force' probability ratings so as to play through possible alternative ways of looking at things. This is where insight, inspiration and ideas come into play. The creative and intuitive powers of consciousness allow for a very efficient mode of continuous re-evaluation, which is the basis of invention and creative work. See in this context also De Bono's concept of 'lateral thinking', a way of getting 'out of the rut' with your thoughts.
Superior logic and genius are a result of several factors: Access to information, ability to evaluate information, absence of hampering educational preconceptions and other blocks to mental function, capacity of elaboration, and drive (necessity) to continuously re-evaluate, as well as the natural intuitive capabilities of the individual consciousness, the person him/herself.
In general, we can say that today's education is not conductive to making a genius out of anyone. The reason for this is, that often pre-conceptions, which have also been identified above as 'conventional knowledge', are considered more important than the individual student's knowledge. Questioning such educationally induced pre-conceptions is actively discouraged in schools and universities, as is doubting the information given by teachers. This creates a block on a student's mental abilities. Education is generally missing techniques that would enable the student to evaluate information.
The formation of knowledge
Knowledge is really a very personal thing. As said above, it cannot be instilled from the outside, through information, education, or otherwise. Even what we have identified as 'conventional knowledge' is not really knowledge for the individual, until taken apart, evaluated and re-assembled in the individual's own terms. Conventional knowledge may have been genuine knowledge for someone else, but for our student, it becomes information that has to be evaluated in order to be transformed into real knowledge.
Genuine knowledge is based on an evaluation, by the individual, of the data of experience, which leads to various gradations of certainty. Paradoxically, it seems that the highest degree of certainty is obtained from a 'religious' or 'spiritual' experience, an experience of things that do not pertain to physical existence. Next in order are first hand observations of physical world occurrences and lowest on the scale of values are experiences related to us by others, either directly or through some sort of record.
Experience (data, information) must be evaluated against other, similar previous experiences and against what we have already acquired as knowledge.
How to evaluate information
Historically, man has lived (and developed his mental faculties) in a relatively 'honest' environment. When there was war, you knew there was war, and when peace reigned, that was quite obvious also. Messages travelled at a very slow pace and so disinformation, if there was any, travelled very slowly as well and reached comparatively few people.
It was possible to evaluate the truth of any message with two simple tests: First, comparing a piece of information with other information already known, looking for incompatibilities and second, looking for other pieces of information that would confirm the first one. This is how our minds have been accustomed to function and the method was successful enough.
Today, we must look for a better way to evaluate information, because data are routinely being manipulated and misinformation is quite prevalent. Information is being made to suit the most diverse interests, it is being tailored to sway our thinking one way or another. The advent of the socalled 'information society' makes the development of a new weapon of mental self-defence a prime necessity.
The mind evaluates the truth of information by comparison. It keeps bits of information 'in suspension', so to say, until another bit of comparable information comes along which either confirms or contradicts the first bit. This is what we could call evaluation by 'multiple source'. If we hear the same thing from various different sources, that increases it's believability value.
As explained above, this was workable in the past, but it has become an achilles heel in today's environment. Propaganda parallels exactly the mind's way of evaluation, and it exploits a basic weakness of our thinking. Some story may end up becoming 'common knowledge', just because it is being repeated by so many different sources. But objectively, two or more false reports do not make a fact. They make it more difficult to know the truth.
Evaluation by illogic
(Evaluation by illogic was first proposed by L.Ron Hubbard in 1970 in his classic "Data Series" policy letters).
What are we to do, how can we find out what is really correct and what has been slanted? How can we discard the numerous 'multiple source' falsehoods posing as fact? We must make use of the points that make something illogical, in order to evaluate the truth-content of data.
This is not something that comes easily, make no mistake. It takes some training to find the illogics in information but once you do, you will never see the world with the same eyes.
Some of the salient points of illogic are:
- Conflicting reports: John says one thing and Mary says another. What does that mean? One or both are not telling the truth. We cannot just choose which one of them to believe. We must treat both reports as worthless, until we are able to find out for ourselves, to confirm or discard the information.
- Omissions: A newspaper reports that a poor country just received 30 million dollars in "development aid" and shows the extreme poverty reigning in the capital city of that country, accusing the local government of mismanagement of international aid. The report omits that the country is paying 7O million dollars a year of interest on foreign loans and that the "aid" will go straight to the creditor banks paying that interest, instead of being spent on bettering the economic conditions of the local population. Omissions are very hard to spot, and they may completely change the meaning of some piece of information.
- Falsehoods: Politician says "inflation is down" when in fact the statistics are 'adjusted' to make the government look good. It takes practice to catch falsehoods. Normally the figures are 'corrected' later, when no one remembers the first claim any more.
- Wrong emphasis: Long article in the newspaper. A mind blowing detail is reported in the last paragraph, which people normally do not get to, unless they are very disciplined in their reading and very interested in the whole story.
- Out of sequence: "We spent 3 million dollars on a new construction project. - It was found that the project was not feasible." It seems that public administrations often do things out of sequence. In the meantime, 3 million dollars have gone lining someone's pockets.
There are of course an infinity of variations and combinations of these points of illogic. Others may exist. What is important for us is, to start using these illogics in our evaluation of information.
Every time we see one of these points of illogic - and there is really no scarcity of them in the information we are given each day - we must look at it consciously and try to follow it down. Do not just shake your head and go on your way. Investigate. One thing leads to another.
Pretty soon you will see through the veneer of what passes for information these days and will be able to make up your own mind as to the intentions of the providers of that information. You will also understand many of the things that go on around you and that just don't quite seem to make sense.
As I said in the beginning of this article, the stakes of the game are high. If you enjoy being a slave, just absorb all the information that is being offered, without critical analysis. Take your holidays once a year, to get away from it all, then come back and buckle down for another year . . .
If you value your freedom, start paying attention to the illogics in information. Start doubting everything unless you can yourself confirm it with personal observation and form your own personal knowledge. You will find that life takes on a completely new outlook. Good luck.
Idea: January 1998 - Salvador de Bahia
Finished writing: March 1998 - Rome
For further reading:
See also "Truth Suppression Techniques" by H. Michael Sweeney