Our ability to make sense of the world around us, to make good decisions about how to move through that world, is directly related to our ability to incorporate new information into our worldview. I have written before about the effects of intellectual entropy. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that all energy and matter moves into a state of disorder in a closed system. Our access to, and more importantly willingness to incorporate New Information, is the only mechanism we have to offset the effects of intellectual entropy.
Human beings seem to be born with an aversion to new information. Whether we are talking about the Roman Catholic Church taking 329 years to vindicate Galileo’s cosmology, or the United States’ Food and Drug Administration’s steadfast holding onto a high carbohydrate diet as the key to weight loss despite mounting evidence that their prescription is actually causing an increase in diabetes and heart disease, we see that groups of people are very hesitant to change what they believe to be true. Regardless of this predisposition, if we seek to make good decisions we must strive to allow new, and at times contradictory, information a place at the table, so to speak.
Being open to new information is something we can develop. It requires that we strive to think critically about topics and question everything. Question what you believe to be true, question what others believe to be true, look to the source data that supports a viewpoint, and even more importantly look for information that contradicts your views. This can range from reading a newspaper whose editorial board favors a political view you disagree with to going to the extreme of digging into literature and narrative that supports an idea antithetical to your own.
History has validated that the National Socialist Party and its leadership perpetrated a holocaust against the Jewish people (as well as gypsies, homosexuals, people with special needs, and others they labeled as undesirable) yet there are still those who insist this is a fiction. The former president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed the holocaust was a myth. How could the leader of the 17th largest nation in the world (by population) make such an egregious claim? It was either in his political interest to make this assertion despite knowing it was false, or he believed fiercely in something he had been taught which ran contrary to the facts of the world. In the same vein there are people who believe the Earth is only 6000 years old despite the weight of evidence that says it is roughly 4.5 BILLION years old. There is no way to easily cast off beliefs that have been taught to us since birth.
I do want to take a moment and say that our openness to new information isn’t synonymous with doubting accepted facts or the need to be solipsist. Knowledge is a real thing. We have to learn from the knowledge of others. Continuing advancement in science, in philosophy, in any subject you can think of is only possible by building on the work (both the successes and the failures) of those who came before us.
As John of Salisbury wrote, “Bernard of Chartres used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than them, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.” The can be no doubt that the breathtaking pace of innovation that became common place in the 20th Century, and whose pace has quickened in the 21st, is do to the sheer accumulation of knowledge that we have access to.
In looking at how we make decisions and trying to apply the lessons contained in the OODA Loop we must constantly allow new information into the system.