Question Everything?

Don’t. Please don’t. Don’t question everything. It’s unproductive, depressing, and annoying.

“Question Everything.” The context isn’t lost on me. It’s a tagline – intentionally simplified, providing an alternative extreme to correct erroneous behavior. You accept everything automatically? Stop. Accept nothing, question everything.

We know that’s not practical. Yes, it’s pointless to question axioms – fundamental truths of a system that you have to assume are true. But you don’t have to question something to adopt it into your personal belief system.

Here’s a better mantra that will never be adopted because it’s not a catchy tagline. Nor is it extreme. But I think it’s much more practical. “Know your sources.” The first and most relevant collateral is that you know what you’ve accepted without question. Your parents told you that sleeping early makes you smarter? Good for you! It’s totally fine to accept that without question. Just understand that your argument for that case is as strong as your argument for Santa Claus existing (i.e., because your parents told you so).

One great benefit of remembering your sources is that it gives you a mechanism to resolve conflict. If you believe in Santa Claus and have been told he doesn’t exist, then it boils down to assessing the different sources. Your parents say he exists. Your friends say he doesn’t. Which source would you rather believe? And then the other question – do you expect other people to have the same reverence for your sources as you (i.e. why should your friends believe your parents over their parents who told them Santa Claus doesn’t exist)?

The phrase “question everything” is supposed to be used to snub those who accept “unscientific” points of view. But often it instead is used to dis unpopular points of view. Having a more skeptical, more widely-accepted source, isn’t always better. Different sources mean different things to different people. This is why anecdotal evidence is problematic – it means a lot to the one person who experienced it, and means about nothing to everyone else.

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