Saturday, February 26, 2011

How Many Sides Does a Coin Have?

One of the issues we find ourselves floundering with in the age of information is that we have too much information. We are literally being swallowed up and distracted by an overwhelming amount of data. Our internal filters are flooded and our thoughts so bombarded we hardly have the time to establish what information is true, false, lies or non-truths. Just because we are drowning in a pool of knowledge does not mean we should stop learning or thinking. On the contrary we need to use our heads more than ever!

Several years ago I found myself reaching the breaking point. I had a mid-life crisis of the intellect. I realized that from a philosophical stand-point nothing was real and nothing was true. Needless to say depression ensued. I had to find solid ground or I felt I might go insane. After analyzing my thoughts and searching the world for patterns (and a bit of therapy) I deduced that it would be a fair thing to say that the world would still exist if I was no longer here. That I had to accept reality as it is and move on. That no matter what information I had been given and no matter who gave me the information facts must exist. Once I reached that point it became clear that I needed to do several things in order to survive intellectually:

·        Be completely and totally open-minded to any idea, thought, perception or piece of information.
·        Always have a healthy dose of cynicism in regards to everything I learn and encounter.
·        Never assume I know everything
·        Never assume any single source of information is infallible

Once I reached the point where I could center myself intellectually and look at the world with open but intelligent eyes, a lot of things simply began to make sense to me. At the same time many things I had taken for granted became foreign and intelligible. I had always been one who loved to read and to learn, but after opening my eyes I realized it was not enough and that much of what I had learned growing up was simply wrong.

During these times of self reflection I began using a system of research which would help me to learn new things without getting lost in a world of non-truths and lies. Whenever learning about a piece of information I would approach it as if it were a coin.

How many sides does a coin have? If you answered two then I think you need to dig out a coin and look it over. Coins actually have three surfaces or sides. You could call them top, bottom and middle; perhaps left, right and center; or just say, “Heads, tails and edge.” No matter how you look at it there really are three sides and not two.

Any piece of information is the same in its most deducible form. There is what you know, what someone else knows, and what may be true or common knowledge. In order to learn about that particular item you need to research all three sides. A lot of people will generally settle on one side or another and forget about the rest. For example you might be told a piece of information by someone in authority or someone you trust. That does not mean the information is a fact, it very well might be false or a lie or even a non-truth.

Whenever encountering a new piece of information think about it, chew on it in your mind for a little bit. Do not be afraid of asking questions and never rely on one single source for information. When you really begin to think about things and view them from different angles you will develop an ability to have confidence in what might readily be true or false. But keep in mind that you do not know everything. In fact, there is not a single person living or dead that knows everything.

Using the coin analogy when approaching sources will also help you in getting to the truth of the matter and reducing thinking errors. Let’s use a famous battle for example: The Battle of the Bulge. When it comes to what happened during that battle there are still at least three sources of information:

1) The winners of the battle have their version of events.
2) The losers of the battle have their version of the events.
3) The factual (true) events of the battle, i.e. what really happened.

It can be very difficult to get to the facts – just look at events such as Roswell or John F. Kennedy’s assassination. More theories seem to exist about these events than facts! No matter what information is in the public it remains that somewhere there are facts, we just have to find them; until we can find them though we will be stuck in clouds of misinformation.

As I try to understand a new piece of information or to review something I might already know I will use a variety of sources. Getting onto the Internet and visiting a dozen different sites does not constitute a variety of sources by the way. I have noted a tendency for example that something might get published on Wikipedia and then several alternate sites will copy that info and use it themselves. Although Wikipedia has very good information, it should never be used as a single source. Recently I was researching a specific topic and found five instances of “documentation” on the Internet supporting what I had learned. After reading each document though it was very clear that all of them were word for word copies of a Wikipedia entry. So please keep in mind that no matter how useful the Internet is, it should never be your only source.

Whenever looking at historical events try to find whatever original documentation might be available. If only one or two sources exist and they state essentially the same thing it is safe to say you are not getting all three sides of the coin. Finding contradictory information is the best way to get on the path of finding out the facts of an issue. And no matter what information you might find do not forget your strongest tool – your own brain. Think about what you are reading and learning. Apply your knowledge and experience to it. And always remember, no matter how much you learn on any given topic you will never know everything.

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