how to choose between confusing information

How To Make Sense When Nothing Does

Humans walked the Earth In a quest for knowledge for centuries. Searching for answers, teachers and sacred manuscripts became a motive of sage tales and religious texts. Fast forward a few hundred years ago I am dealing with an opposite issue. There are gurus jumping out of Tiktok and YouTube feeds wanting my attention. The knowledge is so abundant that we invented a digital detox limiting access to ones and zeros sent to our eyeballs at the speed of light.

The problem now is figuring out what knowledge is worthy of our attention rather than finding it. It is not a new issue for our brains as it is already blocking a tonne of information with inbuilt filtering mechanisms also known as sensory gating. You only perceive what’s important whether it is your name being called out when the food is ready or when the traffic light turns green.  

Focusing on what’s important is only a part of the issue. We are now presented with conflicting information either by media outlets taking an opposing view on rising interest rates or trivial matters like choosing the best nuts for health. For instance, this article demonises peanuts stating allergies, industrial pesticides and protease inhibitors which I never heard of but they sound pretty bad. However, in this article, peanuts are a source of all essential nutrients and can turn you into a living god when consumed in moderation.

These seemingly genuine but conflicting articles are just a small drop in the ocean of confusing narratives that exists. For almost every statement there is an equally convincing argument with the opposite conclusion. It is no surprise that some have a complete distrust of the major information sources resorting to conspiracy theories e.g. flat earth or chemtrails. Before you start pulling your hair or accepting a defeatist attitude AKA “Ignorance is bliss” let’s figure out how to deal with this conundrum.

This variation of opinions exists for many reasons ranging from discrepancies in scientific research methods to bias caused by financial benefits. In the previous example, overly positive articles about peanuts were published by the national peanut board. It is unlikely they will be trashing a product that is solely responsible for their own existence. 

It is possible to put on a Sherlock Holmes investigative hat to learn what’s happening under the hood. Many documentary makers and book writers made careers by uncovering the truth. But I can’t possibly check every bit of information that I come across neither I am interested in becoming an expert in nuts. Instead, try to apply this system instead:

  • Is clearing the confusion worth your time?
  • Can you figure out the right answer by using Occam’s razor approach?
  • Find experts in the field and verify them
  • Use knowledge produced by the experts e.g. read their books, follow them on the internet, pay for the advice

Firstly, not every puzzle needs to be solved. If I am choosing between peanuts and almonds I will always choose what tastes good. Provided that I am not allergic and do not eat a kilo on a regular basis I may go with roasted almonds. And change my mind next week. It is good to have variety in life.

Secondly we humans tend to overcomplicate things. I recently played an escape room with a group of friends. If you haven’t tried this it is basically a game where you have to solve puzzles to get out within the allocated time. In one of the rooms, there were a whole bunch of laser beams and 3 exit buttons that had to be pressed simultaneously. The challenge was that every time someone touched the laser beam the timer would speed up. 

Feeling very Tom Cruisy that day I was up for a challenge but soon realised that my mission was impossible. My imagined flexibility lived entirely in my head as the teammates quickly pointed it out. After thinking for 30 seconds about the possible solutions instead of crawling under and squeezing into gaps we just made a coordinated run for it. Occam’s razor principle suggests that the most likely solution (or an answer) is the simplest one with fewer moving parts. Try to cut through the BS and see if there is a simple answer. Just like in our game scenario instead of following instructions, we solved the puzzle by avoiding the most complexity and going straight to the answer.

Thirdly, instead of doing your own research, you can rely on a trusted expert. This can save you valuable time as all you need to do is to verify the credibility of an expert once.

Finding an expert is easy because they are everywhere these days. I usually look for a platform that is suitable to the topic, my learning style and convenience. For instance, there are a lot of exceptionally good channels on YouTube where I can learn all kinds of things from how to do intermittent fasting to the conquest of the Great Plains in the US. And please do not get financial advice from Tiktok videos

When choosing an expert there are two factors you need to pay attention to. Do they have the right credentials in the field? For instance, there is a doctor on YouTube offering “free” help with your diet and explaining complicated concepts in simple language. They cite scientific research in the videos making them very convincing. At a closer look, you will find out that they are not medical doctors or even a dietitian but a chiropractor. On top of that, there are videos of actual medical professionals dedicating debunking videos to the “expert”.

The second part of it is – how an expert makes their money. Everybody needs to put food on the table and it is understandable that we expect to be paid for our efforts. In the example of a YouTube doctor, on top of ads they also sell supplements. This creates a bias in experts’ opinions like with our peanut friends from the earlier article. 

This can go even further compromising an opinion of an expert that may be using scientific research to back their claims.  At some point, people legitimately believed that smoking was a good thing tricked by clever marketing. Tobacco companies behind the campaigns were also involved in funding scientific research on the harm of smoking with medical journals like The Lancet questioning the obvious conflict of interest. A good expert can figure out if they are being fooled by finding inconsistencies between multiple research sources.

It is important to remember that experts’ help is almost never free. If you are not paying for the knowledge then someone else is. For instance, when buying a house there are a few ways to find quality advice on the area and the type of property that is the best to invest your hard-earned money into. The most expensive ones on the surface value are buying agents. These normally charge a flat fee plus a percentage of the property price to find you the most suitable place based on your needs. This can add up to tens of thousands of dollars.

But there are other guys who will find you a new property for free. While they may be quality houses you will be paying a commission that is baked into the price and invisible to the buyer. In effect, this search is funded by the construction company and they look after their rather than your interests first. I would be looking for someone who is transparent on how they benefit from clarifying a confusion or sharing knowledge with you. In some cases, you will have to pay to get quality advice as it is cheaper and likely to save you headaches.

Finally, when someone helped you don’t forget to thank them for the advice or even subscribe. You can do this with my blog by this subscribe link.

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