• D. Randall Faro

Serious Homework

Some people really believe that the Denver International Airport stands above an underground city which serves as a headquarters of the New World Order or Illuminati.

Some people really believe that the moon landing was faked . . . a hoax staged by NASA.

Water fluoridation is the controlled addition of fluoride to a public water supply to reduce tooth decay. Some people really believe that it has been a way to dispose of industrial waste, or that it exists to obscure a failure to provide dental care to the poor. Others believe that fluoridation is a communist plot to weaken the American population.

Some people really believe that planet Earth is not a sphere, and that evidence has been faked or suppressed to hide the fact that it is instead a disc, or a single infinite plane. They claim that GPS devices are rigged to make aircraft pilots wrongly believe they are flying around a globe.

Individuals are entitled to believe whatever they fancy . . . as long as those beliefs are not injurious to others. Examples are legion – the illustrations above being a very short list – of contrasting views of reality. In some cases, the contrast is so stark that either one or the other is ludicrous. Planet Earth is flat. Planet Earth is spherical. One of these proclamations is true; the other, it follows, is then false.

Question: what is it that leads one person to observe and acknowledge reality (what really is real), while another honestly embraces what is for them reality, but which is contradictory to what science and reason and objective observation manifest?

In his book, How the Mind Works, the eminent Harvard psychology professor, Steven Pinker, refers to the Wason Selection Task, a logic puzzle devised by Peter Wason in 1966. Many online articles explain the process for the interested reader. Pinker delivers the punchline with the observation that the experiment revealed the average person was irrational, unscientific, and prone to confirming their own prejudices rather than seeking evidence that might prove them false. While the Wason test is a psych lab study, it confirms a phenomenon empirically observed recurrently and stated succinctly with the time-worn adage: Don’t confuse me with facts; my mind’s made up. But this again begs the question: Whose facts? What facts are really facts?

It appears that to an unhealthy percentage of humanity, it doesn’t make a significant difference. Read it in a newspaper or magazine: it’s fact. Watch it on your chosen TV station: it’s fact. Stumble across it on the WorldWideWeb: it’s fact. A person can almost always find evidence or confirmation that what he/she knows to be true is, in fact, true. For instance, some people really, honestly, for-real believe that the Holocaust is a Jewish conspiracy perpetrated to advance the interests of Jews and justify the creation of the State of Israel. Embracing that fantasy with heart and soul does not make it true.

Assuming the prudence of discovering and affirming what is actually reality, how does one go about it? First, keep an open mind. One of the most difficult statements to make is, I could be wrong. Frank Zapa put it well: “A mind is like a parachute; it doesn’t work if it isn’t open.” Closemindedness is an easy way to get stuck in an erroneous rut. Second, do serious homework. Judgments based on what’s in a daily horoscope can lead to horrendously harmful actions . . . to self or others. Many years ago a Manitoba friend stated that he believed in reincarnation. When I asked him from what or where that notion originated, he replied: “It just seems like a good idea.” That is not serious homework. Serious homework means studying, discussing, thinking, observing, and experimenting, and then coming to a considered conclusion.

In 1985 I took part in an all-white gathering at a Lutheran church in downtown Johannesburg. Nelson Mandela was still in prison and apartheid (pronounced apἀrt-hate) was still in full flourish. The group of which I was a part was there to express our solidarity with the oppressed black people of South Africa and to explore how we might be supportive in their quest for freedom. One participant was a man in his late 20s who was an active anti-apartheid advocate. He had been raised in a died-in-the-wool Afrikaner family who had instilled in him the belief that black Africans were inferior to Caucasians and meant (by God) to serve white people. But he experienced a 180-degree change in his thinking due to ardent study, developing meaningful relationships with black Africans, and critical thinking.

I could (gulp) be wrong sometimes. But not when it comes to open-mindedness, serious homework, and critical thinking. You can take that to the bank.

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