Understanding the Fake News Problem
Paul Ford
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As a small part of what I work on I have had to comment on how to discern truth. It’s part of a larger problem I work on. How we forget. Well, science is a way of discerning truth (sort of a lazy way that teaches bad habits, though it has produced some dandy economic benefits), but clearly that has been corrupted. You can get any science you want to pay for. Science is a bit young though. How was it done before science? It was done. The Ancient Greeks had the same problem with it we have, sort of a democracy thing. Basically their first development in philosophy was rhetoric, that is persuasive speaking and let me assure you they were just as awash in it as we are from people that had no more respect for the truth, if that is possible. So how did hey solve it? How did they discern truth? Well, naturally that was the second development of Greek Philosophy — Critical Thinking, a term way over used and mis-used currently. It is not just thinking about something or even using reason. It is converting a problem to language (a specific cultural artifact) and using the the tools of reason and logic as applied to that artifact. The problem must be put into words and reason and logic applied to those words or you using Critical Thinking than you are using mathematics when using the word “many” or “few”.

It used to be that an educated person was one who was well read. Reading uniquely teaches critical thinking as the author tells how their character discovered a problem, the process they followed to understand it, the mistakes they make and how they recognized them, then the various steps of expressing the understanding they developed. It sounds easy enough and obvious, but it is learned. It is a critical part of how one uses their mind. The problem though is that electronic media tends not to teach that. It expounds things, but never shows the development and parts that create understanding. One can have a great deal of knowledge with minimal understanding, which is unfortunate because without understanding, one does not know the truth of something. One could be fooled by clever rhetoric that is actually false. Only detailed critical analysis and understanding, in words,would show the truth or falseness of it.

It seems unfortunate that we have so much knowledge and it is often mistaken for understanding. Part of that is just because of laziness. Knowledge is far easier than understanding. You can watch a video on a single piece of technique or technology and you will think you understand it. When you try to use it though, you will find a tedious process of working through details, discarding paths and building an internal understanding.

In a way, this relates to science. Before there was science, philosophy was considered to be the tool to verify truth. Science, which must be considered a part of philosophy, developed other methods of determining truth, particularly prediction and repeat-ability. Really though, all too often, science is used as an end, rather than a means of reaching understanding. For someone reading science, usually it is easier to know what they read than to develop a real fine grain understanding. Science has shown a fantastic practical power to create wealth and manipulate the world. That has made it eclipse philosophy for creating understanding. Some people even think that science is the only valid source of truth, which is quite sad, because it may lead them to ignore the difficult and important questions that science cannot answer … and they are many.

Philosophy has lost a lot of respect, but one should remember that it was once the king of sciences. It is ultimately a way of discovering and verifying truth. It describes how one can best use their mind to develop understanding and even wisdom.