Living in a world of endless and conflicting information means we have more data than ever before upon which to build our systems of belief and our cultures.
We have access to more books, more online tools, more news media, and more podcasts.
With all this data, we can reinforce nearly anything we believe to be true, into being irrefutable truth – and we would be right to do so. How could so many other people agree with us if we’re wrong? – we tell ourselves.
Sadly it’s not that simple. Nothing has really changed between now and the ages that have come before. No matter the presentation or volume, information is received into our mind the same way it always has – by hitting our emotional centers first, and our logic centers second – making our perceptions heavily filtered by how we feel.
To illustrate this, I will give you a set of instructions to carry out. You will need to navigate away from this blog to do so, but I promise you it will be worth it.
Read these instructions carefully, then carry them out exactly as they are described to you. The reasons will be made clear to you soon enough.
1. Open 2 different browsers of your choice. I recommend 1 google tab and 1 qwant tab.
2. (Optional) Set your qwant browser to a different country -if you have any knowledge of how to do this. A proxy can also be used for this. This is not necessary, but it will improve your understanding of this experiment.
3. Pick a topic. Any topic. Preferably something that can be framed as a question. You are going to type in 2 versions of the same question in the following 2 ways: what is good about (your topic)?, what is bad about (your topic)?.
4. Use one question in one browser tab, and one in the other. Spend several minutes looking at the search results on each of your tabs and open several links to get familiar with what kinds of things have been pulled based on your search criteria. This may take a bit of time but do this intently and carefully – even if you need to take upwards of an hour to do so.
5. Now take your 2 questions and switch them between the browsers, and repeat step 4 with the same level of detailed scrutiny.
6. Breath, and pat yourself on the back. You just did a more comprehensive job at analyzing data than 2/3 of people on the internet ever manage to do.
This probably wasn’t easy, was it? You probably saw things that conflicted with your belief system in ways you may not have been previously exposed to. This conflict likely caused discomfort.
Let’s go back to the beginning of this article where I mentioned the emotional and logical filters. You now understand how this works through having experienced it in the form of a structured exercise.
Combine that with – assuming you managed to do it – using a country-changing IP proxy, you’ve also seen how different countries react to different information. And in that you likely also realized something else – the world you live in is exactly that – the world you live in.
You’ve come face to face with the truth about information – that it’s a double-edged sword.
Although information is vital to us, we need to take extreme care in what we believe. Searching for something using specific words will only yield the results you’ve asked for, playing into a cognitive bias known as Confirmation Bias – one of the 25 major cognitive blind spots brilliantly outlined by Charlie Munger in his book Poor Charlie’s Almanac.
Belief is an essential part of how we build our frameworks and our cultures. With so much at stake, make sure your beliefs are founded on more than just searching for the answers you are willing to accept.