More To That

An illustrated, long-form blog that delves deeper into the things that make us who we are.

When Advice Collides With Truth

Truth is revealed by disproving prior versions of it. The process has less to do with discovering new facts of the world, and more to do with discarding the old ones that are found to be false.

In other words, the goal is not to be more correct, but to be less wrong.

Karl Popper was a philosopher of science that championed this emphasis on falsifiability. He argued that the only way to distinguish science from pseudoscience was that any “true” scientific theory must have the potential to be falsified. No matter how true it seems at any given time, there must always be an open invitation to be scrutinized and attacked from any possible angle. The more attacks it survives, the more that truth holds up, but it will always have an asterisk next to it as it holds its ground.

What I find most interesting about falsifiability, however, is that you have to first accept something as true to begin with. You don’t start with a bunch of bullshit thoughts and find the gem among them. No, you start with something you’ve either inherited via conditioning or learned through an authority figure.

Beliefs, like genes, are passed down from generation to generation, and happen just as unconsciously as the division of cells in a fetus. In the same way that a pregnant mother isn’t designing the baby that’s being developed inside her, a parent isn’t fully conscious of the perspectives she’s instilling into the child once it’s out in the world. While she can take a moment to reflect on how she’s communicating with the child, she can’t control the second-by-second responses that are coded in her behavior. And oddly enough, it’s these nuances that are internalized most by the child on a day-to-day basis.

I’ve written before that imitation is the birthplace of human behavior. The things we first believe to be true are largely there on their own accord. We don’t have agency over the initial truths we subscribe to, and it’s up to us to figure out what to do with them as we age. Some of us go will through our whole lives living out the beliefs that were instilled us from the beginning. Others will make it a life mission to rebel against the beliefs that were inherited.

And a handful of us will recognize the impermanence of belief as a whole, and will take everything less seriously as a result.

One thing I like about the Popperian model of truth is its emphasis on humility. Not humility in the sense of lowering yourself to a common standard, but humility as a lighthouse for curiosity and play. The former is a conditioned social signaling tool, while the latter is an earnest calling for your inner child.

If you believe that a truth you hold dear always has the potential to be disproved, then you will inevitably hold it less dearly. And when it comes to unrestrained curiosity, the only way to achieve that is to let go of any intellectual attachments you may have. You must be able to survey the landscape of belief, see that nothing is as certain as you’d like it to be, and use that as fuel to explore the possibilities out there. It is only in this context where you get closer to what is actually true (for now).

I’ve been thinking about this recently because as a creator, you naturally will get a lot of advice on how things should be done. Just hop onto Twitter for a few minutes and you’ll be bombarded by countless threads of “how to do this” or “how to do that.” And whether you realize it or not, all these strains of hard-earned truths from others will find their way into your psyche.

But what I’ve noticed is that when you try to model your life according to someone else’s discoveries, you fall into a pit of unhappiness. This is because you’ve forgotten what it means to put an asterisk on every piece of advice you come across. You’ve put falsification on hold, and are accepting whatever comes in from an authority figure you’ve placed your trust in. And anytime you don’t scrutinize an inherited belief, a piece of your curiosity dies within you.

The key is to be open to any data point that resonates, but to prevent it from becoming your personal operating system. You want to learn from the ocean of knowledge that’s available to you, but to keep the water from flooding your ship. In the end, another person’s beliefs – no matter how helpful – can only propel you so far. If you don’t seek to question someone’s advice, then their values will become your own, and you will be living a life that feels more like deception than truth.

In an age where opinions are common but truth is rare, a strong mind doesn’t take anything in as gospel. It understands that everything is contextual, and you must see if it fits in the context of your own life experiences and goals. And if it does indeed pass that hurdle, the next one is to recognize how ephemeral it is as life evolves.

Because in the end, the impermanence of belief is perhaps the truest thing of all.


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For three more posts of this nature:

Do You Really Believe What You Believe?

Thought Stop Signs: The Source of Lazy Thinking

The Infinite Shades of Uncertainty

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