You can’t go anywhere on the internet without seeing an ad or a link screaming “what they don’t want you to know!” A google search on that phrase turned up 1.99 billion results, including:
- From UFOs to psychic powers and government conspiracies…
- 6 True Stories About Disneyland They Don’t Want You to Know…
- undeniable evidence proves that Nasa along with the military government have known that the moon is inhabited
- What they don’t want you to know about the coming oil crisis…
- Natural Cures They Don’t Want You To Know
- and the Wikipedia page debunking Natural Cures They Don’t Want You To Know
Most of these people are trying to sell something. They attempt to exploit our curiosity and our child-like desire to be in on a secret. If you’re curious maybe you’ll click on the ad. If you click on the ad maybe you’ll buy the book. If you buy the book maybe you’ll sign up for the $9.95 a month website.
Some are genuinely convinced there is some grand conspiracy and they think they’re providing a great public service by exposing it. It doesn’t help that we have plenty of real, verified, and well-known incidents of suppressing information by governments, corporations, and religious institutions. If the Catholic church suppressed Galileo’s discoveries and they lied about priests molesting children, what else are they lying about?
Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot. We don’t know – and when we don’t know, inevitably we speculate. And when we speculate, we start looking for evidence that confirms our speculations. Witch hunts don’t always involve actual witches.
We have a natural bias for believing things we want to be true and for accepting evidence that confirms our pre-existing notions about the way things are or the way they should be. We have a similar bias for discounting evidence that challenges what we already think. It’s called “confirmation bias” – the Wikipedia page on it does a very good job of explaining the phenomenon. If you’re not familiar with confirmation bias I encourage you to read it.
So what does all that mean for us?
It means that when you’re debating – or preferably, conversing with – a conspiracy theorist or a holocaust denier or a biblical literalist, simply presenting facts isn’t going to accomplish much. Your facts will be denied, minimized or reinterpreted to fit their way of looking at things. If you want to change their mind, you have to give them an emotional reason to change. Though it’s far from gone, homophobia is in decline because more and more people now know a gay person – “gay” doesn’t mean some strange Other, it means the nice guy in the cubicle down the hall.
It means although we like to think of ourselves as reasonable people who are capable of looking at facts in an impartial manner, we’re subject to confirmation bias too. Looking at data objectively requires a conscious effort to see what’s really there – particularly when it tells us something we don’t want to hear.
Sometimes the price is your soul.
The other danger, of course, is becoming so skeptical we stop seeing the magic and wonder in life.
That can cost you your soul too.
I write regularly about religious experiences. Religious experiences are real without a doubt – the doubts come when we try to interpret them. The standard by which we judge religious experiences is not whether they are literally true but whether they are meaningful and helpful. Do they help you find your place in the world? Do they help you connect to other people and other creatures? Do they help you live according to your highest values?
Do they help you live not an easier life, but a more meaningful life?
If the answer to those questions is “yes” then you have a good interpretation.
If your interpretations of your religious experiences – or your evaluation of the presentations of conspiracy theorists and prophets of doom – makes you fearful, causes you to retreat from the rest of humanity, encourages you to put yourself first regardless of the impact on other people and other creatures, or causes you to harm yourself or others, then you need to take a harder look at the facts and find another interpretation.
The thirst for new knowledge and new experiences is a good thing. The desire be in on a secret is understandable, though not quite so helpful – it leaves us open to manipulation by those who are dishonest, misinformed, or whose poor analytical skills have led them to inaccurate and unhelpful conclusions.
Examine their claims. Be as skeptical and as rational as you can be. Be aware of your own confirmation bias. Evaluate not just the material that’s being presented, but also the outcomes of believing it.
But for the sake of all the gods, don’t click on those “what they don’t want you to know” ads – it just encourages them!