Developing a healthy skepticism
For the most part, we are creatures of habit. These habits can be created and influenced by our family, friends, employers, colleagues, and in general, society.
The path is typically the same: we learn something, we do this for a while, or we give up on it.
Then it becomes second nature, like tying our shoes, or it doesn’t. It’s the “use it or lose it” type of learning that enables us to tie our shoes or forget that foreign language we learned in High School.
What I want to suggest is the adaptation of our perspectives towards having skepticism to what we’re told and what we learn.
The mind unlearns with difficulty what it has long learned.– Seneca
We learn a lot from teachers and mentors and are lucky to live in an age of near-instant information and quality educations and literacy.
Yet, I think we are at a point where we have so much information coming at us every day that we only get a piece of superficial information. How can we make rational decisions with only a superficial knowledge of information?
It’s hard to do but we probably do it more often that we know.
So what do we do about this? How can we change our routine of skimming superficial information?
To answer these question with one answer is possible, it’s by having something known as skepticism.
Skepticism in context
I’m sure you’ve heard of someone being a skeptic or having skepticism. There are different forms of skepticism: philosophical, religious, and scientific.
I’ll touch upon each one so we can become familiar with this term and their contexts to have a baseline understanding of our conversation.
Philosophical skepticism goes back to the age of Socrates in 500 BC. Though Socrates was a critic of the extreme version of skepticism.
Though Socrates did show his level of skepticism when he claimed he knew he knew nothing.
This extreme version is where they believed people couldn’t have real knowledge because you would have to question everything and it’s validity. This could be exhausting and you can think of a toddler as a skeptic with their never-ending questions of why.
Religious skepticism is how it sounds. It’s doubting religious dogmas.
Scientific skepticism contains a level of doubt that questions how we understand a phenomenon.
Meaning we have a quest to know more while also knowing that what we know now may be proved wrong tomorrow.
Viewing the world with skepticism
We are lucky to live in an age where most of our questions can be answered faster as we can type the question. Whether we understand the answer is another topic.
I enjoy learning new things. I can’t imagine living a life where I didn’t have something new to learn and with that, something old to replace.
We are bombarded with new science articles that tell us this food is good for you and the next month it’s bad for you. This is a great way to introduce skepticism to your perspective.
Science happens slowly. I forget the author but he used a great analogy for science as a supertanker ship or aircraft carrier.
These ships are feats of engineering but they aren’t a sports car, they can’t turn slowly and it takes miles for them to do a U-turn.
I use this as an example of having skepticism because we can’t believe everything that’s said to us without a form of doubt. Each article that comes out supporting a health claim will either turn the ship or keep it going straight. For example, smoking and health concerns used to be a debate.
The ship wasn’t going to turn because the evidence would push the ship back into line. But eventually, because people were skeptical about the health effects, the evidence for harm kept building and pushing that ship into a U-turn.
Application of skepticism
Have you tried breaking a habit or creating a new habit? Then you know it can be hard to stop or start an action and keep maintaining that over time.
This is the problem so many of us. We are used to having a particular view and it’s easy to stick with it rather than changing it. This is especially true when we have this constant flow of information, true or not, and we have to filter out information.
We all have something called confirmation bias, this means we agree and look for things that are similar to our beliefs. This is where having skepticism comes into play.
We can try to unlearn the bad mental habits we’ve accumulated and approached the knowledge we have and new knowledge presented to us with a level of skepticism. It isn’t easy but it can be done. Old habits have a cruel tendency to return.
We’ve seen it before when a friend or family member tries to quit smoking. Instead of smoking, they eat more, this is a remnant of that habit. But with time, that old habit dissolves, and the new ones become the norm. But this doesn’t happen overnight.
This is how we can apply skepticism to our perspectives. We can view new information and knowledge we think we know to an honest evaluation. Instead of using a gut reaction to judge something as true we can see if the information stands up to the truth.
The struggle of wills
Now that we’ve decided to introduce skepticism to our perspectives, there is the issue is willpower. We are going to struggle against an old habit of going with our gut reactions.
You are pitting your will against an established habit of wanting to believe in things that support your views. It’ll be difficult yet possible to overcome things habit with the use of discipline over time.
It’s our responsibility, for and to ourselves, to be conscious and aware of what we pay attention to and how we create meaning from the information fired at us and, in general, our experiences.
It’s up to us to figure out what information is credible and what information should remember.
Changing our perspective is possible, yet as with all change, it isn’t always easy.
Having a moderate level of skepticism can help us figure out what we believe and why we believe it. In this way, it’s a tool that helps us discover what we’re about.
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