Is it the truth or validations that we’re seeking?

It’s a common question I hear — especially from my mom — when people ask close-ended questions like “It’s _______, right?”. Many of us may confidently think that we are looking for the truth yet most of the time we are actually expecting supports for our arguments. And it’s not just when we ask close-ended questions – to real people in real life — but we may keep on feeding our ego with faux-validations for what we frequently search on the internet.

This topic came to me while I’m watching The Social Dilemma, a documentary film by Jeff Orlowski. It is indeed a great documentary — and much relatable for me who’s been working in tech industry for years — to give us a better view on how the internet has shaped our behavior to want more and more validations, instead of the truth.

“We are a nation of people who have isolated ourselves to only watch channels that tell us that we’re right.”
Marco Rubio as quoted in The Social Dilemma

I immediately took out my notebook during the film and wrote down the sentence above. That’s the ugly truth. I’ve been dealing with numerous machine learning and artificial intelligence solutions for many tech problems I faced throughout my career. I may not be the one who code those fancy algorithm, but one thing I know for sure is that all those solutions can’t really tell you what is right and what is wrong. Those algorithms can only predict things based on the available data points, like: what people like (which can be defined based on numbers of likes or shares or comments) or what you may like (which can be defined based on similar things you liked or shared or commented). The truths are biased because you are only exposed for things that the algorithm “predicts” you would love or people similar to you would love. And you may not get the other points of view — if you don’t search it yourself — because the algorithm “predicts” it may not be something you would love. Therefore, the type of information you’re getting is filtered only for things that you and similar people like you (may) agree on.

“…we form our impressions not globally, by placing ourselves in the broadest possible context, but locally — by comparing ourselves to people “in the same boat as ourselves.”
Malcom Gladwell, David & Goliath

Then there comes the “group effect” bias. It’s the kind of bias we usually face in FGD (Focus Group Discussion) when one or several participant(s) are more vocal and the less-vocal participants feel the need to voice similar opinions or feedback. We usually tend to kind of agree with what the “influencers” are saying just because we see many people agreeing to it (or sometimes, simply because they sound super convincing).

“A reliable way to make people believe in falsehood is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.”
Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow

Seeing or listening to the information over and over again may cause the illusion that ends up making us believe in the information, even though the real truth is unknown. From this fact, I really think that Thomas Bayes was a genius for introducing the probability based on degree of knowledge — rather than frequency — in today’s statistics. Because — not in the context of democracy — number of likes are not causal to validity, especially for people who don’t have in-depth knowledge of the context.

However, aren’t we all used to filtered information since childhood? We were bounded by the upbringing from our parents and caregivers and we spent our childhood believing that it’s the only right things to follow. Which aren’t wrong, yet aren’t fully correct either. How we got raised determines who we become as adults, including our way of thinking and — sometimes — our point of view. And that’s where reparenting plays the role in adulthood, to redefine our point of view based on what we truly believe is right. Quoting from one of my most favorite Instagram accounts:

“Reparenting is the practice of relearning how to meet your needs as an adult. Our parents ability to teach us (model) these behaviors is based on their own modeling from their parents. Having to reparent does not mean you had “bad” parents it means that your parents did not learn certain skills. As adults, we have an opportunity (+ responsibility) to become the wise inner parent to ourselves.”
Dr. Nicole LePera, @the.holistic.psychologist

If we seek for the truth, we will not stop solely at our parents’ values but we will refresh it with the values that fits us better, based on the knowledge and experiences we have. We can start by observing people in our surroundings and see their different points of view. From there, we can then determine which values really fit us and which values — that we’ve been holding on for awhile — are actually not wise enough.

“Our assumptions are based on what we’ve encountered in life, but our experiences often draw on biased samples. We become trained, in other words, to notice success and then, as a result, we predict successful outcomes too often because we’re relying on experiences and assumptions that are biased toward all the successes we’ve seen — rather than the failures we’ve overlooked.”
Charles Duhigg, Smarter Better Faster

I always remember how my mom used to tell me that my friends were just jealous of me when they bullied me back in elementary school. I used to believe that. So I became more and more arrogant. I could have kept this fixed mindset and seek for validations by asking “They’re just jealous of me, aren’t they?” Yet it wouldn’t get me anywhere but more haters. As this point of view successfully got me even more bullied until high school, I started to rethink and reshape my point of view: if so many people hated me from elementary school to high school, there must’ve been something wrong with me. Then I realized, I was a pain in the ass. I was this arrogant little kid who didn’t listen for advise because I was raised in an environment where it’s ok to be self-righteous. So I did reparent myself, I focused more on self-reflection and progressively improving myself to be less and less arrogant.

Just like when we do reparenting, we have to always seek for the real truth for every information we get. Now that we know how the internet is treating us — by feeding our ego — we have to be the one who proactively search for real answers. Let’s push ourselves more towards different points of view so that we can be exposed to many angles and have better judgments towards any information. Let’s be the wise one as I believe no one can code the algorithm for wisdom (yet).

“The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it. That means the more something threatens to change how you view yourself, how successful/unsuccessful you believe yourself to be, how well you see yourself living up to your values, the more you will avoid ever getting around to doing it.”
Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck



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