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Pondering the universe

Being you


Many people are held up as intellectuals and thought-leaders, but is what they are doing actually promoting clear thinking?

Just because someone can use big words or express themselves in terms that most don't understand, that doesn't mean that they are highly intelligent, or even that they know what the words really mean. Commumication is about transferring meaning in terms that can be understood by their audience, so using words that are not likely to be known to that audience is more likely about enhancing the communicator's own stature in the eyes of their audience than helping them to understand.

Similarly, firing off words at breakneck speed is not about communication, but about trying to overwhelm the audience's capacity to keep up, perhaps in the hope that they will just accept the narrative rather than really think about it and what consequences it may have. People who indulge in this type of talk are trying to sabotage peoples' intellectual capacity rather than help improve it. Such so-called intellectuals are proponents of anti-intellectualism because the aim is to undermine peoples' capacity to reason clearly.

There are topics that are difficult for the average person to understand, just because the concepts are not commonly discussed. Often whole vocabularies of words with very specific meanings are created to succinctly convey particular meanings related to the topic. However, using them when speaking to those who have not become familiar with them is unlikely to convey the concepts at all. Translation into simpler words that are familiar to an audience, while typically resulting in a lot more of them, is going to result in better communication.

However, simplification of language is not the same as simplification of concepts, as the latter can result in a loss of accuracy. Some use the latter to confuse concepts in their audience so that they can manipulate their thinking to support the conclusions of the communicator. This is the basis of propaganda, which has often been used by politicians and other leaders to create division among people, by cementing unity in their followers and scapegoating and ostracising anyone else.

Beware of those who use documents as if they are repositories of truth. While legal documents are legitimately used as a reference for behaviours in a society, most documents are just opinion, no matter how old or how many people believe they are true. Scriptures are examples of the latter, but are often used to force or cajole people into conforming to what is supposedly written in them, even if the interpretations used are dubious.

Most are using language to spin a narrative, just like in here, and so should not be accepted as truth at face value. They may make sense at the time, but need more contemplation before assuming them to be true. And even then, actions based upon those assumptions need to be periodically examined as to whether the assumptions are reasonable and actually correlate with the reality lived. This is the basis of the scientific method and is a useful tool for conducting our lives in the midst of a lot of confusing and seemingly contradictory ideas.

Even well-presented ideas that make sense and seem to correlate with reality may not be true. An explanation is not reality, but just a theory that seems to fit some of the facts at the time. Reality is not completely documented, so discovery of future facts, or that some of the previous so-called facts were incorrect, may lead to a need to change the explanation.

The concept known as Occum's razor is often used as if it is an absolute determinator of truth, when it really only may indicate that complex explanations are unlikely to be true. Until the real causal relationships are identified, any explanation is essentially wishful thinking waiting for proof. We are increasingly faced with the reality that our world is extremely complex, but that is no excuse to ignore parts of it just to make things simple for ourselves.

Life is about learning to live in a largely unknown world, making sense of that part that we come in contact with so that we have a way of remaining sane and have a feeling of being in charge of our lives. But we create problems for ourselves and others if we try to project or even enforce our world-view onto others. It is as if we are in a big experiment and we jointly need to find a way that all of us can perform our part in it in relative freedom.

That means we need to take time to work out for ourselves what might be true, and while we can listen to others' opinions, we have the ultimate responsibility to make decisions about our own beliefs and thus what actions we take. However, there are many who seek to use propaganda, including advertising, to undermine our capacity to think independently for ourselves. We may accept much of what they push on us, but we need to make collective efforts to limit how insidiously they push the propaganda or use force to get their way.

We are not truly independent, but we don't need to accept what the majority, or even a powerful minority, have decided if it causes harm to us. The so-called powerful are only so because we have given our consent for them to have it. While it may seem an uphill battle to reduce that power, if enough have the will, we can undermine that power base so that we have more equity and equality in the world.

We can start to do this by using our own intellect to expound our own narratives, and if enough by their own free will think that they make sense enough to take action about, we will have effected change in the world, hopefully for the betterment of all.

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