A dozen clues to “critical being” during an information war

If you want to discern truth from lies, it helps to have the right tools for the job. So what are they?

A dozen clues to “critical being” during an information war

Here is a brief guide to the epistemological weapons that any memetic warrior needs in order to participate in the battle for truth — if you want to come away without getting butchered by semantic subversion. I have framed it as a guide to “critical being”, since you need to integrate critical thinking with “critical feeling”. Success is also a heart outcome, not just a head one.

  1. The “feeling of knowing” is totally useless. It is an emotional response that is easily manipulated and has nothing to do with “actual knowing”. You must work with facts and logic only, not your gut—which will churn if you’ve been deceived. This seems obvious, but few people understand the difference.
  2. Love thyself as a divine being. This may seem like an odd thing to say, but if you do not see yourself as being divine (i.e. of innate infinite value), then your worth will be attached to your ego and the need to be right about things. The desire to be right is very hazardous, as it will make us recoil from investigating truths that contradict present cherished beliefs.
  3. Truth is what’s left after removing the untruths. Just because something is “crazy” doesn’t mean it is false. The scientific method, despite its flaws, allows us to form hypotheses about the world, and if we cannot disprove them after vigorous effort, then they form a tentative truth. We have to be open to all possibilities, no matter how outrageous they may initially seem — else we are back at the “acceptable feeling of knowing” policy limitation to gaining knowledge.
  4. Anomalies are precious. Our real task is to treat any apparent contradiction as being golden and worthy of investigation. This is the chink of light coming through the ventilation shaft of the prison of the mind, through which we can escape from any form of brainwashing or mind control. The uncomfortable dissonance you feel is in fact your friend: know it, embrace it, follow it.
  5. Be aware of your “universe of discourse”. The limiting nature of our conceptual universe is the famous “Plato’s Cave” effect. For instance, geopolitical analysis that excludes the occult and secret societies results in different outcomes to those that include these as considerations. This matters because you need to…
  6. Know your assumptions. The size of our universe of discourse is critical in drawing a boundary around our assumptions. When we ignore possibilities of a “bigger box” and wider explanations, we also discount additional bodies of fact, and make unconscious assumptions that these can be explained away. For example, I have seen many analysis of Brexit that are painfully ignorant of the origins of the EU prior to WW2, which then result in unsupportable conclusions.
  7. Beware misuse of Occam’s Razor. The answer with the fewer assumptions can be a result of ignorance, not simplicity. This is especially so if your “universe of discourse” is unhelpfully small. It is very easy for Occam’s Razor to then be used as a means of legitimising confirmation bias, not for philosophical rigour. You have to include all competing explanations and their supporting data in order to identify which is the simpler. Even then, this is a heuristic short cut, not a law of the universe.
  8. Understand if you are a foundationalist or a fallibilist. We have different inherent attitudes towards new information. Some people like to discard misfitting information quickly, holding a single model of the world (i.e. foundationalists). Others are more open to holding multiple competing ideas in their field of possibility (i.e. fallibilists). These have different costs and benefits, and neither is right or wrong. They do, however, colour how we engage with paradigm change.
  9. It’s OK to “try before you buy”. It is safe to explore new ideas, and immerse yourself in them “in the store”. You can always leave them on the rack, and only walk out wearing what fits you. Refusing to even consider trying something novel on greatly narrows the field of possibility, and means you might be left stuck wearing beliefs in public that are well past their philosophical use-by date.
  10. Know that the world is truly random. Nassim Taleb has written about how people are easily fooled by randomness, and see patterns where there are none. History is dominated by outlier variability – “black swans” — and arguably we are presently seeing even more extreme “purple platypuses” of unprecedented happenings. Those in the advanced probability class will also know the difference between Bayesian and frequentist inference modes.
  11. Distinguish your episteme from your doxaThe ancient Greeks had conceptually separated out conjectural knowledge (doxa) versus that which is fully justified (episteme). This is a common theme in media criticism: are we looking at editorial opinions or hard facts? For instance, the Clinton Foundation has received glowing endorsements from (corrupt) charity review bodies — but these are cheap opinions (doxa). The forensic accounting work of Charles Ortel shows us it is the largest unprosecuted charity fraud in history (episteme).
  12. The “critical being” goal is “safe uncertainty”. We get very anxious when we feel both unsafe and uncertain. Our ideal is “safe certainty”, but that’s delusional in this universe. Anyone offering it is a charlatan. What we have to avoid is “certain unsafety”, and swap it for “safe uncertainty”. This is the true integration of our intellectual and emotional intelligence: “critical being”.

This is far from a complete list. We could go on to discuss the differences between operational, denotational, and intentional semantics; ponerology and the study of evil; how Freud and Bernays discovered the way to manipulate emotions to override logic; the nature of confirmation bias and other cognitive biases; ethospathoslogostopos and kairos; science vs theology; metaphysics and physics; hidden agendas; cults and culture; projection and narcissism; semiotics and linguistics; gaslighting as a form of abuse; psychopathy and pathocracy; education as a propaganda tool; self-discrepancy and how we integrate information; and much more.

Making sense of the world at war is hard, and if there is one thing I have discovered it is self-compassion is the basis of progress. Other people might judge you for upgrading your intuition, with inevitable dead ends that demand changing your mind from time to time. None of that matters. Your own conscience will tell you to forgive yourself for missteps, as the quest for gnosis is fundamentally a righteous one.