Slightly Off Center

How do you know what you know?

By Dennis Hinkamp

This isn’t about this news cycle; it’s about every news cycle since shared cave paintings. Could Kokopelli really play a mean flute? Did elk really look like that? I doubt it; ‘pelli probably just had a good publicist and those elk were hunting story exaggeration. How do you know what’s true? Without going existentialist/Sartre on you and saying nothing matters, here’s a list of sure-fire ways to verify the truth of anything.

Because I read it somewhere: In my church-going days a repetitive joke was Q: How do we know the Bible is holy? A: Because it says so on the cover. In the Internet age, “I read it somewhere” has expanded to every word ever committed to paper or a keyboardwritten.

Photographic evidence: The age of photography would seem to have solved all disputes but seeing has never been believing. Photographic evidence has been used to prove the existence of flying saucers, Big Foot, Noah’s Ark, the Lock Ness Monster and moderate Republicans.

Number of “likes:” I sadly admit that on days when my self esteem is ebbing, some likes on my photos or writing really perk me up. This virtual self-affirmation also is used by some to prove that they must be wise. If I have one million followers I must have super human insight into the truth. Well, not really since a cat fitting into a too-small box can also get three.

Citations: My scientist friends tell me this is the best way to tell if new research is valid. It probably is the best hope for objectivity, but there are notable cases of that being gamed like Amazon product reviews. To the vast wastelands of non-university people, facts are as fluid as stock market predictions.

Google: I do love using the Internet to find quirky little things, but I’m glad that when my doctor is operating on me she does not say “I Googled it.”

Somebody’s web page: Yes, within .36 seconds you can find a website that agrees with your opinion that opinions cause cancer. The Internet is a huge pool that is very shallow. Be careful diving into it head first.

Repetitive escalating hyperbole: You can also make things seem more true if you keep saying them over and over again with unverifiable comparisons. This column is the best column in the history of history according to surveys done by Russian hackers.

Conspiracy/persecution confirma­tion: If you really want to throw out some fictional brain turds all you have to do is say that you are being suppressed by mainstream intelligent people. “People with brains, books, degrees and stuff just aren’t ready for my truth,” you might say.

ALL CAPS: This style has become an emoji for shouting, which must mean that I REALLY REALLY believe it to be true. Exclamation points also help!

Talking fast: There’s a reason “fast talker” has become shorthand for lying and manipulating. If you talk fast you sound more like you know what you’re talking about compared to people who pause and stammer. If you talk fast enough, you also don’t allow for any gaps in the rant that would allow someone else to ask questions.

Epistemology: I saved this for last. I know it is more fun to just argue about it, but there really is a disciple that studies the difference between fact and opinion. There are actually wicked smart people who study this, but that’s just my opinion.

Dennis Hinkamp wishes you luck sorting through the muck of what passes for truth these days.

This article was originally published on October 31, 2018.