5.b.4 – Who can we trust?

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July 4, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

Who can we trust?

The management of our own culture also requires other activities in addition to determining what is good to know; one of these is to assess whether what we learn is valid, if it is true or false or right or wrong. By what criteria can we achieve this purpose? Talking about the imaginary world, we said that the human mind aspires to the truth, but in fact searches anything that satisfies its needs, psychological or practical, and has a minimum of consistency with the evidence of the facts. We know that, by strengthening somewhat this consistency with the experimental verification and with adequate accurate measurements, the current science is achieved; the basic criteria are therefore the consistency and usefulness.
The difficulty of these evaluations is that they are often made at the unconscious level, uncritically, without checking if the result is satisfactory from the rational as well as from the psychological point of view; in other cases these evaluations are not done at all, just because we instinctively trust the dominant thought, the rumors or the authority of some famous personages.
Let’s start from the simplest case, by assessing our own personal discovery: we know that we are not infallible, that by our nature sometimes we reject or alter the truth of the facts even when it is obvious, but we also know that this mechanism is the basis of the process that allows us to know the world; we cannot do without it, but just try to manage it at our best. Historical experience has taught us how:
– our ideas should be carefully compared with the evidence of the facts with which they must be consistent, and then respond to every doubt raised through verifications;
– to reject the notion of indisputable idea, be prepared to question everything, to cultivate the humility necessary to accept the criticism;
– not to seek perfection immediately, but to improve our own system of beliefs over time.
Let’s accept our nature then, our culture can be not always right, what we believe can be not always true, but can be improved it by removing what is unnecessary, harmful and inconsistent with the experience, because obviously it cannot be either useful nor true.
With a little practice, we can apply these principles to what we know well and that is the result of our experience, but what can we do with what we learn from others instead? This is obviously something that has been conceived by others, therefore always the result of the human mind and therefore can be not always true or always right; to expect to have an infallible friend, expert or teacher means to live outside of reality. Friends in particular play a crucial role in cultural formation of the human adult: we know that it is by pleasantly chatting with acquaintances that opinions, ways of thinking and seeing the world spread, as well as tips on how to deal with new situations and new problems. Among adults, the culture mainly spreads among equals and modern studies confirm that we learn more effectively through this channel. In the modern world there are also other important channels, such as television, newspapers and magazines, which make not only information but also culture; then there are the post-graduate or professional training courses.
When someone talks about topics that we do not master well, it is often not possible to check their consistency or effectiveness nor to evaluate any criticism; are we then forced to trust blindly? This can be avoided considering the way the issue is presented to us: this way in fact can be understood if the person who talks, the expert, has made a serious study on the issue and has also applied the above rules. If the presentation makes no mention of the facts upon which the speech is based, if it rests only on the custom and the like, then it is clear that we cannot trust it, it may be that is all true, but there is no reason to believe it: better to be cautious.
From an evaluation of culture we are moved to an assessment of people who give us their culture, by their reliability follows that of their teachings. The advantage is that to judge people we do not need to be experts in their field, is an activity we all can do. This assessment may be the more precise the better we know, on a personal level, these experts; it is good then to address as far as possible to well-known persons, within our circle of friends or even inside our own village, persons for whom we have a consolidated consideration in this respect.
The final aim is to maximize the probability that what we are told is true or equivalent to truth, at least compared to our needs; it is not a behavior that ensures the absolute truth, but at least is consistent with the human nature and possibilities.

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