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work and the accumulated knowledge
of centuries. No one can bypass this by
gazing at their navel.
● Don't trust popular opinion. Truth
is not a matter of a vote. Billions of
people believe in life after death, but
strong conviction or wishful thinking
do not even make a halfway plausible
● Don't put up with shoddy language
or logic. If a word or idea seems to be
meaningless, it probably is. Obscure
and apparently profound statements are
like viruses. Because they are neither
alive nor dead they can hang around
Fortunately, there is a high quality,
gold standard way of determining what
is most worthy of trust. Science is based
on experts subjecting the work of other
experts to the most ruthless inquiry.
Key words have to be clearly defined.
Arguments and hypotheses have to be
free of logical fallacies. Experiments have
to be accurately described. Alternative
explanations have to be considered.
Speculation is minimised and the limits
are carefully observed. The evidence has
to be replicated independently hundreds
of times. The work has to published
and evaluated by peers.
This path to certainty is usually
littered with ruined reputations, failed
lives and often a few suicides. It can take
years before a consensus arises, although
there will always be a valuable rump of
researchers acting as devil's advocates.
Any truth that makes it through this
brutal crucible is probably worth trusting.
The method is not perfect, but it is a
shining beacon of light compared to its
There is another way of determining
a much smaller, local truth. It is not easy
but it is very useful. It takes years, but
each of us can gradually learn how to
recognise what is right or true for us
We start with the Socratic position of
admitting how little we really know about
anything. Although we have no choice but
to listen to our intuition, we shouldn't trust
it unconditionally. Our judgements often
reflect our prejudices rather than truth,
and certainly become shaky when we are
stressed, over-emotional or vulnerable.
What feels intuitively right is often wrong,
and vice versa. For example, intuition
tells us that sugar is good for us and that
the sun goes across the sky. Both are wrong.
However, we can gradually refine our
intuition through self awareness. It is said
that the body never lies. This may be true,
but it usually talks so quietly that a noisy
brain can easily smother its message.
Learning to listen can tell us a lot. Our
musculature tells us about stress, pain
and arousal -- our sense of good and bad,
though, comes from the belly.
A lizard or a fox has all the rudiments
of a moral code. If they eat something
poisonous, they instantly spit or vomit
it out. Our sense of right or wrong, good
or bad, true or false has evolved out of
the emotion of disgust and the vomiting
reflex. Our belly responds to a lie just as
it does to bad food. On a miniature scale,
it flips or contracts or sends up a whiff of
nausea. Our clever conceptual brain can
easily be tricked by a plausible idea, but
the visceral response can't be manipulated
in the same way. It is always good to bring
our belly on board when we have to make
a decision. It still may not always be right,
but at least it is honest.
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