This was originally published in my newsletter, How It Actually Works
Almost everything we know about the world we didn’t learn from the original source.
For example I haven’t done the primary research to prove that protons & electrons exist but I take them for granted because I trust the institutions that taught me: schools, science, etc.
The issue is that today we get so much information that doesn’t come from the old, filtered hierarchies that existed pre-Internet.
So we have to be really careful about who we choose to listen to.
From Hierarchy to Networks
When you read something new consider what path it took to get to you.
1) Event participant > journalist > New York Times > You
2) Research data > scientist > research paper > training book > gym trainer > you
3) Fox News > facebook > your brother > you
Your choices are to believe the closest node (i.e. the person/thing you’re hearing the information from) or to dig deeper.
When can I trust the closest node, and when do I need to go to the source?
The more general agreement there is on a topic the more you can trust the closest node on the specifics.
To take an extreme example: gravity is well accepted so if you search for details about Newton’s formula you can probably accept the results of some random website.
But when there’s broad disagreement (e.g. how to live a good life, political questions) picking the closest node isn’t a great idea.
My favorite example of this is nutrition. CAN SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME WHAT IS ACTUALLY GOOD FOR US TO EAT?
Nutrition is like religion: everyone thinks their version is The Truth and everyone has their favorite success stories that they use as “proof.”
And yet they ignore the dozens of other groups who have their own success stories & whose ideas are mutually exclusive.
Ignore the depth of the supply chain at your peril. If you trust too much in the closest node when everyone disagrees it’s likely that you’ll be wrong.
Instead you have to get to the bottom: talk to the scientists, read the research papers, get as close to the primary source as possible.
Why Don’t We Already Do This
It’s obvious that if you get 10 different answers about the same topic that you should investigate more. And yet so few of us do this.
Because we like to feel comfortable. It’s hard to not be mentally settled. To not be sure about an important topic you care about.
So we often go with the idea that we find first, or that we like the most.
Which is why the people who do make it through get special bonuses in life.
They’re the ones who find a market’s unmet needs, make significant contributions to science, and otherwise get to the truth. Whatever that may be.
Read more like this at my newsletter, How It Actually Works.