Thinking About Thinking: How to know what’s worth knowing?

Knowledge is power. But it’s power that you need knowledge in order to use – being able to evaluate information sources without bias and being able to select sources to obtain further information from are both learned skills.

That’s a really hard skill to learn – it’s time-consuming and chancy, but ultimately, it’s really important. Being able to trust what you know, and being able to learn more things effectively, is vital to be able to do things and get what you want out of life, no matter what that may be (after all, we make all our decisions based on what we know, and if you don’t know what’s going on, well, your decisions could easily be wrong).

So I thought to write down a quick starter’s guide about ‘knowing knowledge’, as it were, something that wouldn’t require too much time and energy but can still get fairly good results.

Anyway:

First, acknowledge the problem: There’s a lot of information out there and you can’t be sure what’s true and what isn’t.

Now, you could investigate and analyze each and every bit of information you get, like some sort of scientist (frankly, not even scientists do that). But let’s be honest, here: Nobody has that sort of time to spend just on going over information. So the trick is to save time and energy while still being able to trust what you know.

Ultimately, it’s all about trust. All information comes from somewhere, and you need to be able to get information from places you can trust. That makes your decisions about who and what you place your trust in, who and what you believe, vital to understanding the world around you.

Because you’re trusting information based on where you get it, you need to remember that all information comes from somewhere. If you have a good friend who relates to you something they heard from someone you don’t trust, should you trust the information just because your friend is saying it?

This ties into something else you should remember: no matter how much you trust someone, they may not be right. This is of importance since you will encounter information that contradicts information you already have, and sometimes this will merit closer inspection.

This inspection is important, since it helps to give strong support behind your decisions to trust or not trust someone or something for information. So ultimately, even though you try to avoid needing to do it all the time, sometimes you have to really research something.

How you research something is important. I recommend something like the scientific method (it can’t be the same, ultimately, since you’re probably already starting with a ‘hypothesis’):

  • Start with the information you have.
  • Forget where the information came from – while you’re testing information, your trust of its’ source doesn’t matter.
  • Ask yourself, “Is this information disagreeing with information from other sources, or from information that I’m creating?” All information comes from somewhere, after all, and you’re just about the most trustworthy source you have of it.
  • See if you can set up a test for the information – something that can allow you to see for yourself if something is true or false. Mind that sometimes tests are only conclusive in one way, and that sometimes multiple tests, each testing the information in a different way, are best.
  • And remember these two things: An argument might mean someone is wrong, but it doesn’t always mean anyone is right. There’s nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know”, judging that you lack the information to say if something is true or false.

If you find that something you learned was wrong, don’t just stop trusting that information source outright. For instance, the information you gained might have been second-hand, and your source conveyed to you the information out of trust for their source. When you find our something you heard was wrong, look into why it was wrong, and how that information made it to you.

When you do find something wrong with information you got directly from a source, it might be a good idea to look into other information from that source as well. Remember, it’s all about evaluating how much trust your information sources deserve.

Now, something to keep in mind: Try to have multiple different sources of information. And remember, all information comes from somewhere – having two sources of information that both come from the same place does not count!

The reason you need multiple sources of information is because you can only tell what information needs to be double-checked when it disagrees with something else. So you might have to go looking for information that disagrees with what you know.

And a last bit of actual, practical advice: Don’t make decisions based on information you only got from one source, unless you really trust it.

That’s it. I’d consider that a ‘beta’ version, there’s no doubt extensive improvement capability in readability and probably the method itself. I just wanted to get down what I thought up at the time.

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