We are living in a time where we have the most amount of information we have ever known. Obviously that could be said for any time period as the amount of knowledge tends to only increase. Which means we are the smartest we have ever been but that doesn't mean that we are always correct. I like to occasionally go back and watch the "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" bit where Mac is trying to convince the gang that evolution isn't true. (https://youtu.be/uRNO1LFQBWI) His argument is that a few of the greatest minds from previous centuries were demonstrated to be "bitches" because some of their theories were proven wrong. They were absolute geniuses by every means and our world would not be the same had they not been around but our world's smartest people, and science, are LIARS... Sometimes. Even with the amount of information we have, we are still so often wrong. We know so very little about how the universe operates and it would be so incredibly flawed to assume we have it all figured out. My goal is obviously not to say that evolution is wrong but just to try to show that we always need to look deeper and think about how our society gathers and spreads information.
One of the main ways in which we gather information is through scientific observation and/or studies depending on the topic. These are all fine and dandy and are probably the best ways to figure out what is objectively true about our universe. BUT just because something is stated in a peer reviewed journal doesn't mean it is automatically correct. There are always so many other factors in play. You have to look at who funded the research, is the study valid and reliable. Meaning does it actually apply to the situation they are trying to apply it to. One of the big problems that I see with people interpreting studies, especially in healthcare/fitness, is taking one point of data and saying it does one thing in one area, leaving out the effects it would cause on the body as a whole. To use the example in my Instagram post from June about blocking sunlight, studies have determined that UV light is dangerous which could cause cancer so we should cover up from the sun or wear sunglasses and sunscreen. Completely leaving out that UV light from the sun, when it makes contact with our eyes and skin, produces Vitamin D. Vitamin D alone is one of the most important hormones for improving mood & immune function and preventing cancer. That's the limitation of a lot of studies. They can only take a look at one part of a complicated system at a time and this needs to be taken into account when thinking about what is true. Another point to be wary of is that lots of what we know is just the current leading theory. They are often talked about as being factually true which, even though it is the most accurate idea we have, doesn't mean it is exactly the way it is. I feel we need to expect this to always be the case and constantly look for more pieces of the puzzle.
Because I am a math nerd, I like to use numbers to quantify almost everything. This means I feel the need to look into some statistics and do a little thought experiment. Most studies will have P value which usually uses a confidence interval of 95% meaning that there is a 5% chance that the findings are insignificant and completely due to chance. To me, that says that at least 5% of what we know to be true is "wrong" just by shear statistics. Wrong in this situation means that the information is either not true or not exactly how it was shown to be. Now to go a little deeper with estimated numbers (feel free to use your own) maybe we could speculate how much of what we know is "wrong". I would say about 10% of studies are probably skewed from being funded and influenced to give a specific result. I assume that number could be fairly conservative and be way higher depending on the field of research. An example would be a supplement company paying to research their own supplements and making the results seem more significant than they actually are which I'm sure happens all the time to increase sales of the product. There could be another 10% of studies that are not reliable or valid meaning the results aren't as accurate as they say they are (poor methodology and/or execution). Maybe another 10% of studies that are poorly applied from one topic to another (ex. Studies done in rats whose results are then applied instantly to humans). Then, for simplicity's sake, there could be 15% of studies skewed by any number of other factors as well. Obviously the numbers are entirely made up but you could have ended up with a number of in the ballpark of about 50%. So the way I look at it, 50% of what we claim to know isn't necessarily wrong but is at least, not exactly how it has been presented to us. That being said, I do not believe we are wasting our time gathering "wrong" information all the time. It is an unbelievably important part of the process to continue to reduce our ignorance. We just have to be aware of these holes in our methodology.
I would say there are 3 main sources of how we get information. The first would be through school or any type of educational system/event. Second would be through any sort of media. Lastly would be your own experiences and perceptions of the world. You could argue there is more of course but I just want to make some points on these more general topics as I see them.
School is obviously a fundamental part of learning and is absolutely essential in the process of teaching children about the world and to give them the best opportunity to become successful in life. The way we teach the information is, for good reason, watered down, simplified and chunked for easier understanding. We obviously can't just throw calculus at kindergarten students and expect them to be able to figure it out. We have to teach the basics of counting then addition and subtraction before moving onto the more complicated topics. My problem is that we seem to be taught the same or a similar way in university as well. For example, in my Human Physiology course, we were taught each individual system of the body part by part. This is great to grasp the basic concepts but each system doesn't work individually in reality. We are told that all the systems work together but never actually learn the specifics of how it's integrated. Another example of this would be the teaching of the electron configuration of an atom in high school. We were showed that it was nicely organized and each electron has it's pair, depending on the atom, but then told that is not how it was actually organized. The truth is that the electrons could be anywhere on their specific orbital shell within the function of the electron wave at any given time. Even this is the highly simplified version. All of education seems to be like this. We are taught general systemic concepts and never taught how to apply them to each other leaving us on our own to put the pieces together. Assuming we even do. Teaching partial truths when there is a much bigger picture to be looked at for the more practical and honest understanding. Everything you or I know, could just be the simplified and organized version, where there are many more complex processes going on, leaving our information obsolete in application.
The media does an excellent job giving unbiased, truthful information all the time. This is a well established fact that has been extensively researched and is absolutely irrefutable. If you want to learn the truth about anything, Fox News and Instagram memes are your place to go! Joking aside, clearly there isn't a market in the media for telling the truth as it is all about making headlines and having articles be as click-bait-y as possible. Companies get money from advertisements which rely on getting views or exposures to the site or advertisement. This is no recipe for finding the truth. So many more sources than just news headlines and buzzfeed articles are bending the truth for their own benefit. It's in absolutely every form of media whether we know about it or not as consumers or try to avoid it as creators. If you look at what social media is, you see that almost everything is shared in short form. Visual bites of information neglecting to share the whole story. You will see fake smiling photo's of people's family holidays seemingly having a great time unknowing of the stress of the week. Someone will post a seemingly controversial opinion on twitter in only 140 characters and it will get greatly misconstrued because no one can build a full argument in so few words. And on Instagram you will see athletes post all their PR's and never post about the everyday struggles of life. These are only a few of the examples that I'm sure you see on the daily. There is always something going on behind that scenes and information not being given. They only give you the information you want to see, topics that sound exciting or that create drama, more often than not for their own benefit. This is why I'm choosing to write longer articles for those interested in hopes of it eliminating some these unknowns by giving lots of background information into what I'm thinking.
The media wants to give people information in a manner that is easily understood by everybody. For example, if Neil deGrasse Tyson, renowned astrophysist were to go on a talk show and only have a 5 minute spot to talk about black holes, he isn't going to have enough time to fully explain the complexity of the topic to an audience with little to no background in black holes. Obviously deGrasse Tyson is incredibly intelligent and is excellent at explaining the topics of his expertise, but I'm sure he would have to modify and withhold information to adjust to the audience. They don't want highly complicated and long strum speeches because they don't have the time to get on the same level as deGrasse Tyson. Getting to that high a level of understanding takes years of passionate and deliberate education and application. The show wants to give simple, easily digestible concepts that can be applied with minimal understanding so the audience can leave feeling smarter, and not feeling dim-witted. Another example that I see all the time on my Instagram search feed is health posts that are visual and overly simplified. One side will have a big green check mark with a list of things supposedly good and the other side will have a big red X with a list of supposedly bad things. All brought together with a picture of a recognizable character from pop culture. It gives a broad overarching theme but does not get into the details of where it would be dependent on the situation. Because it will always depend on the situation! This type of simplified sharing creates a binary and linear way of thinking with a black and white type attitude towards information because you see are not even close to seeing the the full picture. Doing this is good, and doing the opposite is bad. You are either one of us or you are one of them. Sitting up straight is good and slouching is bad, you are either a conservative or a liberal, for or against guns, etc. You can't blame the audience for it. This is how our brain has evolved to function. To conserve energy, keep things simple, group observations into schema and never turn back. We are born to be tribal creatures and have it be us against them and have everything be black or white. Some content creators are taking advantage of this for likes/views etc. and others do it because it is comparatively well received. Finding and being open to the grey middle ground takes serious amounts of time, energy, and effort in order to achieve understanding. So if you want to see the full picture and find what is actually true, you have to put in the time, energy and effort to break your brain's binary coding.
You or I, as individuals, know so very little about the world as you may have figured out by now. It is a fairly cliché thing to say. You have a single view, narrow-minded perspective of how the world operates with little to no idea of anyone else's perspective let alone what is objectively true of the universe. I see it as a fairly arrogant assertion, in most situations, if someone were to say they have a topic completely figured out. Life is so complex and yet our relatively high intellect falls extraordinarily short of total comprehension. One person would never be able to understand the full picture of what is going on around them. There are so many different cultures, languages, traditions and ways to look at and interpret an event. How could one individual's perspective possibly be the whole truth? Humans are also inherently emotional creatures who will be unconsciously influenced by wanting to be seen as more than they are. For example, I bet we have all slightly exaggerated while telling a story to make it seem more exciting for an audience. I know I have. This happens everywhere. Just because someone is talking about scientific results doesn't mean that they are without some sort of bias or desire to be seem smarter. So maybe some of our deepest held beliefs are slightly skewed by either ours or someone else's enhancements or our lack of a full perspective and personal biases.
I just want to people to think about these things more often. The way I see it, the whole story is never told and never will be. I am incredibly resistant to believe anyone who is absolutely positive about something or says that the science is settled on a topic. We may be the smartest living animals on earth, but to the universe, we are just simpleminded, ignorant monkeys trying to understand what we observe through our tiny, restricted lens. Much like ourselves, every piece of information has a long rich back story of how it came into existence. We can see parts of the story but in no way will we see it all. It is our own individual responsibility to search for the whole truth because no one can do it for us. This is one of my passions in life and I want to help others who want to do the same. If you are with me, I challenge you to challenge the thoughts we consider normal. Constantly question the status quo, your own knowledge and your understanding of the world. Think about how the media skews information either unknowingly or on purpose and how it has influenced what you believe. See where things have been simplified in order to ensure understanding. Become aware of when things have been black-and-white-ed in order to get likes or create political/social influence. Continually ask yourself why until you get down to what seems like the root cause, then keep asking. Extend that questioning into what you've been told the science is settled on and is fundamentally true because you never know when you could, as Charlie said, "sound like a stupid science bitch."
I think that you will find that the harder you look, the more you realize nothing is ever as it seems. Sure, that sounds scary and intimidating but changing one's mind is actually quite exciting. It lights me up to know that I was wrong, learned something new and that could happen again at any time. I want to start sharing some of the paradigm shifting thoughts that I've had that changed the way I view the world and has slowly shaped me into who I am today. I hope to have and create more open discussions about what could actually be true and fight the binary thinking I see too much of today. So do you want the blue pill or the red pill?