At an early age, we are taught to tell the truth, no matter how hard it may be. As a parent, I’m busy helping my kids understand the clear difference between right and wrong.
However, as we get older, the differences between right and wrong become much more nuanced. We all see the world through a lens colored by our unique life experiences, past and present, and conduct ourselves and make decisions accordingly.
For some, absolute truth becomes even more subjective as there are very few things that are clearly right or wrong. The majority of everything else falls somewhere in shades of gray in between.
Many people are averse to shades of grey. They need simple decisions like up or down, left or right, right or wrong. They like slogans and easy solutions. No painful thinking required. Cognitive dissonance is often avoided.
If a fact is asserted loud enough, often enough, then it must be true. Educational systems often perpetuate this problem by rote learning with little to no critical thought process allowed. We’re also not taught how to process the world through the lens of our experiences.
In their book, The Invisible Gorilla, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons write:
Again and again, we think we experience and understand the world as it is, but our thoughts are beset by every day illusions. We write traffic laws and build criminal cases on the assumption that people will notice when something unusual happens right in front of them….falsely believing that vivid memories are seared into our minds with perfect fidelity.
Each of us experiences the world uniquely as our own particular interpretation of the events and stimuli encountered which are influenced by our physical brain function, past memories and experiences, and present conditions.
Technology has given us a lot of information in the form of photos, videos, logs, and other electronic records. You don’t need to rely on trust and reputation if you have a surveillance camera record of someone caught in the act. Unfortunately, technological sources can be doctored, generated, altered, or falsified.
You still need to rely on trust and reputation to tell you that the objective information that you have been provided is truthful, credible, and relevant. You also need to remember that in addition to faking the evidence you consume, someone can also hide the information that they don’t want you to see.
The problem is not just evidence, which can be manufactured, but also framing which can be used to persuade people to overlook inconvenient truths.
Good critical thinking should never be abandoned because we defer to the source, quantity, or framing of the arguments put forth.