Truth and the Caveman Mind

If we’re going to reject the team mentality and the herd mentality to come to opinions and beliefs that make sense, we’re going to have to make sure we know how to find truth. This, it turns out, is not exactly easy for the caveman mind. Our emotions push us to buy into all sorts of ideas that make absolutely no sense.

The first step is realizing that certainty is a fantasy. Francis Bacon once said, “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” I’d say he’s mostly right. However, even when we think we’re certain, we must ALWAYS recognize that we may be wrong. That means that we have to be stingy with our beliefs. We have to be skeptical. Unless we have a good reason to believe something, we are best served if we consider the matter unresolved until such time as things change.

This leads us to the question of how we pursue truth if we can’t ever be certain. The easy answer is evidence. However, not necessarily positive evidence. The approach to take is to determine all of the possible explanations for an idea. For example, if we want to know if the minimum wage is helpful to society, we must consider two main hypotheses – either it is or it isn’t. Then we look at all of the evidence against each hypothesis. The idea that the minimum wage is good for society is refuted by consistent statistics that indicate that high minimum wages lead to high unemployment. Therefore, though some may make a little more, more are out of work. The idea that the minimum is not good for society, on the other hand, has very little to refute it. Therefore, though we recognize that we can’t be certain, we can feel comfortable choosing the latter hypothesis.

This is called Critical Rationalism, and it is the very basis of the scientific method. Scientists put forth hypotheses and then spend their time trying to disprove them. Those that stand up to experiments make their way into theories. Those that do not are rejected (and they usually lead to more hypotheses). This is how man’s knowledge moves forward. We must use the same approach when considering all issues. Even though most of us lack the capability to test all ideas we encounter, we can do a little research to figure out where we stand.

The key is to be willing to say we don’t know. If there isn’t enough evidence either way, it is better to withhold judgement. For example, many people are certain that Michael Jackson is a pedophile. While the evidence we encounter in the news seems to point to his guilt, those of us who have never met him really don’t know. We’re therefore best served if we withhold opinion on the matter.

What makes this hard is the caveman tendency to take sides based upon group affiliation. We saw this most starkly with the OJ trial. Blacks overwhelmingly believed he was innocent, and whites overwhelmingly believed he was guilty. The only way to approach something like this is in a critically rational way. We must have the courage to reject our emotional leanings and look objectively at the evidence. It’s the only way.


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