Sunday, December 11, 2005

Exploring the Real World

Most of us have questions about life.

Is there life after death?

If I wish really hard, will it come true?

Is it safe to eat ground beef?

Why do people get cancer?

and so on...

One question that used to weigh heavily on many people's minds was whether or not the Earth had an edge that you could fall off, if you travelled too far. Sailors were scared to sail too far from home, lest they fall of the edge of the world into an infinite abyss. And no matter how much people argued and argued about whether or not there was such an abyss, the issue could not be settled once and for all - until it was explored!

The way people learned about the shape of the world was by exploring it. Arguing about whether it should be flat or round made no difference to the actual shape of the Earth. In the end, the shape of the Earth was discovered when people sailed all the way around it (which would clearly be impossible if there was a giant cliff in all directions). This discovery, made through exploration, settled the issue once and for all (at least for sane people).

Of course, not all questions are as straightforward as whether the earth is flat or round.
But all questions are ultimately settled through

Whether or not the world is teeming with trillions of tiny invisible organisms, an idea that seemed laughable a few centuries ago (and still does to some people), was settled when a Dutch scientist invented the Microscope. With his microscope, he could see that there were millions of tiny life forms swimming around in a drop of water, that our bodies were made up of tiny cells and so on. An entire realm that had previously been unknowable became explorable. Over the last 3 centuries, microscopes have been refined so well that we can now see the tiny particles that make up all atoms that make up all molecules that make up all cells that make up every living thing...

Of course, we don't all need to look through a microscope to learn about bacteria and viruses and molecules and atoms and so on. It can really help our understanding, but it isn't necessary. We can learn about these things from books, photographs, educational videos, knowledgeable teachers... The catch is that the source of the knowledge has to be real exploration - exploration of the real observable world. Without real world observations, we're still stuck at round earth vs. flat earth...

However, knowing what books to read and who to ask can be tricky, especially if we've never been taught how to do it (as is the case for most of us).
  • Should you read The Watchtower?
  • Or should you read Common Ground?
  • Should you read Scientific American?
  • Should you read David Suzuki?
  • Should you read Deepak Chopra?
  • Should you read the Dalai Lama?
  • Should you read the Bible?
  • Should you read the Bhagavad Gita?
What you should read depends on what you want to learn. If you want to learn about hindu spirituality, the Bhagavad Gita is a good place to explore an influential hindu holy text. If you want to learn what the Jehovah's Witnesses believe, then you might read The Watchtower. If you want to know what New Agers believe, then you might read Common Ground. If you want to know what "Mind-Body" medicine guru's are preaching, read Deepak Chopra. However, if you want to know about the structure of the human brain, you're better off reading directly scientific publications. The Watchtower authors don't know much about it. They don't explore it. The Bhagavad Gita authors didn't explore it, they didn't have the tools and techniquest to learn about brain structures. Neither did the authors of the Bible. But authors in scientific journals like Scientific American Mind are typically people who actually explore the brain, or study the explorations of others who do.

AND, if you don't feel up to it or don't have the time to research everything properly or whatever is stopping you, at least find someone who knows what they're talking about, who's knowledge is ultimately derived from real world observations and studies, and get them to explain it to you.

The easy way to distinguish whether something is Magical Thinking or sound information is by finding out if the answer it gives actually corresponds to real live observable evidence! If there is reputable, published evidence to support the claim, well, it may just have something to it. If you are taking someone's word for it, and they don't seem to have access to any evidence to support their claim - well then, what that means is that their claim is so weak that it doesn't actually account for anything observable in the real world!!! If it did, there would be evidence. That's what evidence is! Real world observable effects...

Now, a lot of things haven't been properly studied yet. Maybe the microscopes aren't good enough to detect the bugs yet, or the ships aren't quite good enough to sail us around the world yet... BUT SOMEDAY THEY WILL BE! Things are progressing so fast now that someone may already have found a way to answer a question that was impossible to explore just last year!
If you want good answers, make sure you get the most up to date research. An issue that you are worried about, that people are arguing about may already be settled...

So if your question is medical but goes beyond the scope of your family doctor's training (he or she is not able to explain it satisfactorily) then you have to find someone who knows better (a specialist). This is becoming more and more common, because more and more is being discovered, and you can't possibly expect a general practionner to keep up on it all!

If your question is about taxes, you need to consult a tax lawyer, or tax accountant, or get a book written by one!

If your question is about horoscopes, find a journal that has critically investigated the claims of astrologers who claim they can predict things based on the stars. See if they really can! (this is one of the questions that was answered a long time ago).

By looking in the right places, you can actually:

Find out if there really are any psychics in the world (its worth finding out).

Find out if anyone really can levitate.

Find out if praying really does make a difference, and if so: what kind of difference does it make?

Find out if there's any value to an alternative medical practice (or at least find out if it has any basis in reality).

Find out if past-life regressions are real, or just a fairy tale...

Find out if talking to water really does make it freeze into beautiful crystals, or if that is an ingenious hoax...

Of course you don't ask someone who's job it is to sell you stuff! You ask (or read) people with no vested interest in convincing you either way. Independent researchers. And researchers who's writings are reviewed by others in their field, held to high standards, and judged to be competent.

  • If you want to know which vacuum cleaner is the best, don't trust the salesman! Read a good independent review of vacuums!
  • If you want to know about a medication, don't just read its advertising materials! Read independent reviews of the medication.
  • If you want to know how hypnosis works, and whether or not "memories" it appears to reveal are legitimate, read about the human brain and how it constructs experience and memory. ...and so on.


Blogger Anula said...

to search for the truth its difficult, because of all the huge misinformation the media fills us up with.

1:02 PM  

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