The first system you debug must be your own. The process is simple but it is never easy. You must first learn how to detach yourself from the uninterrupted whirlpool of thoughts and feelings coursing through your mind. Thoughts produce feelings, which in turn produce thoughts, and for this loop to be broken you must realize that you are not your thoughts. To accomplish this requires concentrated awareness and unflinching objectivity. You will fail often at first, but persistence leads to habit formation and a habit is really just an automated response. This is a good thing because it frees you to concentrate not on the thoughts themselves, but rather on where they come from. It might bother you to learn that much of what you know is derived from second-hand, spurious sources. It might shock you to realize how few of your thoughts are actually your own. You might be compelled to start questioning everything; this, too, will become habitual. You might be surprised to discover how much of what you thought was true is in reality biased, incomplete, misleading, or utterly false. Allow me to illustrate by correcting some common “facts” that are, in fact, totally wrong:

Humans did not evolve from chimpanzees, Einstein never failed math, and Napoleon wasn’t actually that short. The Maya didn’t disappear, not all dinosaurs went extinct, and “In God We Trust” didn’t show up on U.S. currency until the 1950’s. The word “golf” is not an acronym (it actually means “stick”), no one thought the world was flat until the 19th century, and lightning can definitely strike the same place more than once (just ask Roy Sullivan, who was struck 7 times). Sugar doesn’t cause hyperactivity in children (or adults), cracking your knuckles doesn’t give you arthritis, and men don’t think about sex every seven seconds. As a matter of fact, we’re usually too busy thinking about warfare, sports, or video games to even contemplate activities that can tragically culminate in marriage, children or other major setbacks.

Now let’s substitute these total lies with a brief list of actual, verified facts you’re most likely not even aware of, but probably should be:

The average American child has witnessed 200,000 acts of violence and 40,000 murders on television before leaving elementary school. Unsurprisingly, the United States also has the largest incarceration rate on the globe, holding 25% of all the world’s prisoners yet comprising only 5% of its population. In addition, the US has the 2nd worst infant mortality rate in the developed world, has only been debt free for 1 day in its entire history (January 8th, 1835), and if every concerned citizen were to use 1/3 less ice in their drinks, the country would have a surplus of energy every year.

On a lighter note, did you know that, technically, the Earth has two moons, you have four nostrils and we’re currently living in an Ice Age? Were you also aware that there’s more bacteria on a cell phone than a toilet seat, the cracking sound of a whip is actually a sonic boom, only 3% of all mammal species are monogamous, and that humans aren’t one of them?

So, if most of what you think you know is ultimately derived from a vast and superficial morass of unverified facts and assumptions, why do so many people so readily accept them as the truth? I’ll let Laura Helmuth, senior editor of the Smithsonian Magazine, explain this one:

“Our cognitive failings are legion: we take a few anecdotes and make incorrect generalizations, we misinterpret information to support our preconceptions, and we’re easily distracted or swayed by irrelevant details. And what we think of as memories are merely stories we tell ourselves anew each time we recall an event.” [1]

In other words, people don’t really care if what they know is true because they’re way too busy making faulty arguments, deluding the living shit out of themselves, and/or daydreaming about false memories and vicarious lives. For them, sleepwalking is more convenient than wakefulness. This is clearly not an option for restless spirits and independent minds. The art of questioning everything can be exhausting even once automated, but the reward is always substantial and irrevocably exponential.  The more you learn, the more you want to learn. Every answer leads to a new question, which in turn leads to another answer. One loop has now been replaced by another, far more productive one. The loop goes round and around, a seemingly ceaseless exercise in knowledge acquisition. That is, of course, until a pattern begins to emerge. At this point, you will need to grab a wrench.


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