We live in an information age. We are consumers of it. The impact of good knowledge consumption is something championed by humans: we can alter our behavior and our environment (hopefully) for the better. In this way, all of us intuitively understand and employ this to the best of our ability. My goal of this article is to extend that last notion: “best of our ability.”
There are pitfalls to knowledge consumption. Sometimes it’s a gluttonous endeavor. You may be familiar with the adage, “We read what we like.” I think it usually is worse than that: We believe what we like regardless of what we read. That is, if you watch a news report by a competing view, you have the ability to qualify and even dismiss the presented information. After all, there is no such thing as a definitive answer, these days.
When we’re dealing with basic functions of living and contradicting information, that’s fine, because if you don’t believe me when I tell you, “Your arm is on fire,” eventually the information will get to you by experience, and your beliefs will likely alter. In other words, really, listening doesn’t need to be relevant at the level of imminent survival, because experience informs us better, and more relevantly addresses our individual needs. In this example, you know better than I do. My observations of your arm are nowhere near the authority the sensory neurons in your arm can faithfully provide you.
But what about more distant problems? Why are we inundated with so much “information” on the internet, in the media, in research journals, and why am I discussing our resilience to believe one thing over another regardless of “information”? Today society is attempting to resolve problems that are more distant- physical distance (for example, your aunt in California…), distance in time (…who may have terminal cancer), distance in personal relations from ourselves (…and will rely on cancer research on other human subjects), and in a remarkable way, is able to talk about it.
The problem is our interests in these capacities relies on outdated faculties. If I tell you your arm is on fire, except that the burning is happening very slowly, and the sun is the cooker, you may be wrong to rely on the nice warm feeling you have. If I’m talking about skin cancer, how can we build reliable “senses” to tell us what’s good for us twenty years down the road?
This isn’t just a problem of popular consumption. Many college graduates, even in the sciences, are unable to accurately consume information. Can I really address and resolve the problems in their logic, in my blog, what wasn’t resolved in a college education? It depends, actually, and I’m going to explain by way of demonstration. You will answer for yourself how you wish to treat information.
Situation: An information source (any type- news, blog, primary research literature, whatever) reports the long term impact of UV rays on skin. Ask yourself: Is your skin ever exposed to the sun? Are you concerned about your future welfare? If not to either, then are you concerned about anyone else’s (skin or welfare)- such as your aunt’s? How can you know if the information reported is relevant to you or your aunt?
These sorts of questions are always relevant in determining how to consume information. The reassuring thing is, rational consumption of information is largely a function of your desire to be a rational consumer. You will find that many of the answers to those questions, however remarkable or unremarkable must be qualified in different ways.
We may mistakenly be skeptical of all reports, and default back to the age-old adage of thinking information that is good for us tastes good. However, all studies either directly or indirectly speak to a truth. If you believe at all, there is is something at all out there to be learned, you will start to broaden your tastes from just media reports and blogs that appeal to your interest.
You will learn to like your vegetables. You will learn to digest and crave dry, dry foods. And you will know the probable relevance of a skin cancer report, and more importantly, the qualified meaning and behavioral change it offers your life. You will know how to sense slow fires on your arm just as you sense nuanced bitter tastes, and you will grow in your ability to improve your own life and that of those you care for.
Now go eat. Take my word for it.