Did You Know the Word ‘Gullible’ Isn’t in the Dictionary?
Did you immediately spot this old-and not especially good-joke?
Or did you briefly stop to wonder if it could possibly be true, finally coming to your own conclusion that I must just be goofing around (as I am often wont to do)?
Or did you say, hmm, that doesn’t sound right, but let me go check it out just to be sure.
Or did you simply assume it must be true, because, hey, you saw it on the internet? Maybe you even passed it on to some folks as if it were an objective fact.
This particular example is rather harmless. Yet we don’t have to spend much time on social media to witness sharing of abject nonsense occur on a regular and far more disturbing basis. Reckless failures of discernment might make for a pretty good band name, but when applied to information that matters we can quickly do a fair amount of damage,
Where we have our filters set often determines how we ascribe meaning to what we see, hear or read. If we start from the premise that a story that fits our world view must be true, we are engaging in confirmation bias. Worse yet, when we are so attached to getting our way or contributing to the achievement of a certain outcome, we might spread what turns out to be an outright falsehood.
The consistently successful dissemination of misinformation relies on targeting folks unable or unwilling to apply basic discernment. The propagation of conspiracy theories relies on finding a steady stream of like-minded people to keep the big lie going. Russian (and other) intelligence services even employ a whole espionage strategy based on identifying and utilizing “useful idiots.”
When we value truth over bullshit, the advancement of knowledge instead of spreading disinformation, and harmony over chaos, we challenge where we have our filters set, we become more aware of our unconscious bias and we push back against data and ideas that do not conform to what seems reasonable. Or at least we investigate further.
As it turns out, “Occam’s Razor”-the philosophical principle that when evaluating two possible explanation for an occurrence the one requiring the fewest assumptions is the most likely to be correct-will often serve us well. In other cases, a little bit of discernment, combined with a quick Google search, will get us closer to the truth.
Amplification of ignorance is among the more pernicious habits that has wormed its way into our culture in recent years.
It’s worth remembering that, more and more, being gullible is a choice.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.