Finding Truth

A quick guide to finding truth and making magical thinking/conspiracy thinking mistakes. We humans are pattern recognising machines, but that pattern we see can be an error far too easily.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

A warning sign that you might be on the wrong track is that only you and a select few fringe thinkers see this idea and the evidence. You can all see the Emperor’s New Clothes, and the ordinary people can’t… but actually, there are no clothes and there is no special thing.

While generally true – that the general knowledge of experts is right, it can be that an idea is new enough that it hasn’t caught on. Experts in a field that is hunting for explanations to unexplained phenomena are going to come up with a series of hypotheses to explain this, and until good evidence comes in to put the question to rest, some of the ideas are going to seem quite fringe and odd. A good example of this is the various string theories in physics.

  • Take home point: if your idea is so fringe, and you aren’t an expert in the field, it is far more likely that you are wrong. Even if you are an expert, it is important to note that most of the new concepts to explain the phenomena are wrong, so the odds are you are too.

The Null Hypothesis

This is a statistics concept where you start with the assumption that there is no difference between populations until you can prove that there are. We are going to coopt that concept and state that the world is boring and dull. If anything says otherwise, it needs to prove it. So we assume there is no magic, no conspiracy, no gods, no heaven and no hell. When we see some evidence of that, then we can start to shift our dull and boring starting position.

  • Take home point: Assume it is boring first without evidence, then every new complexity requires actual evidence

Begging the Question

What kind of poop do centaurs have- equine, or human? One might start to look at the mechanics of the poop – do centaurs eat more grasses or more human food? But this is a major error. You missed the first question because you assumed it to be true before moving on – do centaurs exist? Going back to the Null Hypothesis, assume the world is boring and dull. Begging the Question is a tool that can be misused to con you into assuming the truth of the question and bypasses good reasoning.

  • Take home point: Be careful of your assumptions

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

If someone makes a claim past the null hypothesis, consider how far it is from dull and boring. The further it is, the stronger their evidence has to be. It is important to have a good grasp of the scientific principles of evidence – not because science is never wrong, but because it has worked out some excellent methods for ruling out bad evidence.

Another important aspect of this is that a great body of evidence for a theory requires extraordinary evidence to overrule the theory. For example, claims of antigravity devices exist all over the internet, but can easily be dismissed because they have provided no actual proof of their claims, which should be quite easy to provide.

  • Take home point: The stranger the idea, or claim; then the more it is required to be proven

Occam’s Razor

Put into modern English, “The simplest and most complete answer is generally the right one”. If you need a very complex series of events to explain a thing, and you compare that to a very simple series of events, then the odds are the one with extra complexity is wrong. However if the explanation is simple and incomplete, then it loses to the more complex but complete answer. So “God wills it” misses lots of details of explanation, so it fails compared to a complex explanation of evolution. The story that the twin towers were sabotaged by local government for insurance gains weeks before the 911 disaster, and thus explains some of the frames in footage is very complex compared to the simple explanation that this is what buildings that have an aeroplane collide with them do. In this case, both are complete answers, so the simplest complete answer wins.

  • Take home point: If the idea is incomplete or overly complex to get there, suspect it.

Emotive Messages

Beware of when someone delivers a message or idea to you that is highly emotive. We humans catch emotions quite easily – it is a way that communities survive against a common threat. When we are told an emotional story, or the person telling the story is emotional, it is easy to get emotional too. That is fair and human. But it should also wave a warning flag. There are very few times that instant action is required, so take a moment and calm down. Now examine the message/story for factual qualities. When we are emotional, we don’t use logic very well and just assume things to be true, rather than questioning. Those who wish to manipulate us want us to not question, only feel. So rebel against this.

  • Take home point: If it is an emotive message, take a moment to calm down and start asking questions

The Perfect Crime Scene

Someone who wishes to manipulate our thoughts and feelings will often present a perfect chain of ideas that fit just a bit too well. In police dramas this concept is known as the perfect crime scene. A scene that is set up to make us look at it and assume we know who the perpetrator was – which is exactly what the real perpetrator wanted us to mistake. A good way to unravel this is to note the emotive language, the lack of answering actual questions about the thing, and the black and white thinking. The story is just too perfect. Implement the null  hypothesis, and use the rest of the tools above to work through the logic.

  • Take home point: Beware the web of deception that is just a bit too neat

Literary Analysis Question – Who and Why

Ask yourself, why was this written/created and who benefits. When we start to look at why was this written, we start to question the motivation of the author. In this case, why I wrote this was to arm you against being conned. When we ask who benefits from this, we again look at the motivation of the author. In this case, if you are less easily conned, then society gains, and thus I gain. I’m practicing an idea of enlightened self interest – for me to live better, I need my society to be better. When I look at the stories about China creating the COVID-19 virus, I have to ask – why was this written, and who does it benefit? The answers to this make me suspect the authenticity of the message, especially as it is trying to emote strong emotions in me.

  • Take home point: Question the source, question the message

Lies and Half Truths

If someone has to lie to make their point, then they don’t have a point. Check for inconsistencies or factual errors in their story. Keep in mind that every good lie contains some truth, but every good truth contains no lies.

  • Take home point: Lies reveal manipulation
From the movie “They Live”

COVID-19 Isolation Special

Food

  • As you are more sedentary, your requirement to eat food is lower -> it is important to prioritise nutrition over calories (sugar, carbohydrates and protein) as the requirement for nutrition is the same – which doesn’t mean cut the calories out, just decrease them.
  • Eating extra savory snacks are generally because of boredom – go and do something instead of eating.
  • Eating extra fat, sugar or salt snacks are generally comfort eating – switch to an interesting, distracting and affirming activity.

Exercise

  • Being stuck at home is not an excuse to do less physical activity, just a requirement to do more intelligent activity.
    • Jogging on the spot, lifting weights (2 L of liquid in each hand), push ups, chin ups, lunges, step ups and so on. There are plenty of youtube exercises at home things to watch for ideas, or pick up a new physical hobby such as twirling.
  • Exercise is an important activity for both physical fitness and for our minds. 
    • Our brain is part of our body, and when our body becomes unfit, so does our brain. So keep it working!
  • Also go outside and get some vitamin D from being in the sun (as your skin allows). Vitamin D is vital for both energy levels and for healthy bones.

Social

  • Just because we are physically isolating doesn’t mean we can’t be social. Talk to your neighbours across the fence, call people on the phone, use social media to communicate. 
  • Do you know someone who has the same board game as you? Use video calls to play the game together
  • Humans are social creatures. Without human contact we start to stray in our minds and we become odder. It is important to keep in some kind of contact with people to help us stay us. This is also true of introverts.

Being a better you

  • Check in on people who are vulnerable and at risk, do they need support? Helping others helps us be better people, but only so long as you have the reasonable capacity to do so.
  • What habit have you been trying to stop that you now have time to work on? Now is a great time to work on preventing that. Remember the 5 D’s – delay, distract, drink water, disrupt and deliberate action.
  • What habit do you wish you had, that you now have time to work on? If you deliberately do some of it now, sleep on it and do it again tomorrow, it becomes easier. Set up a repeatable process to get that habit ingrained.
  • What is that thing that you always wished you knew how to do – can you learn that? There are online courses, or perhaps another isolated friend can teach you?
  • Learn how to chill, to meditate, to regulate your mood

Mental health

  • The world is topsy turvey right now, so our sense of self is confounded in two major ways
    • Many people use what they do as a way to define themselves, and this has changed significantly, either ceasing or in a different location with lots of different stress. 
    • Many people feel a sense of placement by looking outside of themselves at fixed ideas to triangulate good, bad, right and wrong. We know things are right, because that is what the world tells us. Right now everything is in transition, including many of these fundamental ideas. So we feel very lost.
  • This is the time to work on those concepts of self and separate them from being propped up from outside. What kind of person do you want to be? How will you achieve that? Who you are starts from within and only uses outside things as guidance.
  • Anxiety is going to increase for many people, even if you’ve never had anxiety before. Anxiety is the idea that there is some threat to you or those you love/value that you can’t really identify or act against. Many people are feeling this right now. Some people who previously experienced anxiety are feeling quite comfortable right now, because now they know what the threat is. Others are finding this situation compounding the background anxiety.
    • Follow the scientific medical advice, be careful not to get too defensive in your practice. We aren’t after a black or white “be paranoid” vs “nothing is a risk”. We are after the safe mid ground of “be careful”, “wash your hands frequently”, “avoid touching your face” and stay home when you can.
    • Practice grounding techniques and mood moderation techniques
    • Try to keep getting up at a set time, the same time where possible each day.
    • Do exercise to give your body a feeling of doing something.
    • Watch less of the news and only pay attention to vital update summaries. Each local government state has one. Be careful of negative social media.
  • Depression is going to increase.
    • This can come in the feelings of lack of motivation, that is, you just don’t want to do anything. This is okay and normal for a few days, but when you get a bit of motivation, take advantage of it and go and do things. Make it a habit to do what you can when you can.
    • Part of depression is loneliness and isolation. Reach out to people – we only have to be physically distant, not emotionally distant.
    • Some of this is going to be about physical isolation too.
      • Expand your definition of safe family to include a household who agrees to participate in this beyond the household you find yourself in. Go and visit them and get that physical interaction.
      • They must stay isolated from others except your household. What we want to avoid is a chain of people spanning more than two households. Or consider moving in with the household that is more physically affectionate than the household you are currently stuck with.
  • Sleep
    • Some people are going to want to sleep lots. This is part of cabin fever. It is your body going into a semi hibernation while you have nothing to do, to preserve food and sanity, you’ll sleep through the forced isolation. A few days of this is ok, but then it is important to push yourself to be active. Go and exercise your brain and your body.
    • Some people are going to struggle to sleep. This is related to anxiety above, go check out that section. Avoid stimulants after 2 pm. Don’t eat too late either.
  • Routine
    • Most of us are used to external scheduling, often work or school. We are not used to internal scheduling, where you define what your day is going to look like and then stick to it.
    • Avoid the “I can always do it tomorrow” and end up doing nothing. Set a thing to do in the AM and a thing to do in the PM and ensure you do those, or substitute a suitable other thing to do.

Surviving in your household

  • Many people are not used to spending 24/7 time together. There is a common idea that families that go on extended holiday together often fall apart – and it is because of this.
    • Allow for separate time, where you have an area such as a bedroom where you can be alone
    • Have some allotted group activity time. Meals are particularly good for this.
    • Communication
      • This must be honest but not brutal
      • Open without fear of judgement
      • Supportive to work towards a goal of safety
      • You can have a formal or informal meeting type
        • Formal includes agenda items and agreements
        • Informal is allowing and prompting people to raise what went well and what didn’t, and then all affirming what went well, and all working out if something needs to change for the things that didn’t
      • Use the principle of charity – that everyone wants to work towards a good outcome that is best for all people.
        • Avoid taking things personally
        • Remember to work on the version that everyone wins, rather than the one where someone loses; or the best outcome for the most
        • Remember that sometimes sacrificing a thing is worth it, but it needs to be balanced

Domestic Violence

  • If you started in, or now find yourself in a situation of violence, you can get out. In fact this is a really good time to take that step.
    • Quietly gather what you need. Keep it minimal.
    • Consider the person you can go to
      • This is often the person that has been trying to convince you to leave, not the people who are trying to convince you to stay
      • Ideally make it further away than a suburb
      • If you need to bring children with you, the destination needs to be suitable for that
      • Quietly contact that person if you can and warn them that you are coming, and check that it is okay to do so. If they aren’t suitable, then go to the next person.
      • For women, if you have no suitable person to go to, contact Domestic Violence helplines and go to a women’s shelter. I’m sorry males, this doesn’t exist for you.
    • Once you have left
      • Change all of your passwords as quickly as you can
      • If you are on government income, register with them your separation and new details ASAP
      • You may need to isolate within isolation for 14 days to be safe for your new household
      • Don’t tell your ex where you have gone, just that you have. Consider who you tell where you are, the fewer people who know, the fewer people who can tell your ex.
      • Let your GP know ASAP and get a referral for DV counselling. You can get it via Telehealth in Australia.
      • Don’t go back to the ex. Ever.
Coronavirus artist impression
Coronavrus – COVID-19