During my years of studying health and wellness, one set of skills that I have been fortunate to have learned is how to research, research.
This learning journey began when I took a class that essentially covered reading and understanding scientific studies. I learned how to decipher complex scientific terms, and how to dive into the daunting citing section at the end of the study (the place where the author details their own information sources). This class opened my eyes - it gave me a new perspective on information in general, and essentially taught me to how to be a skeptic.
In this article, I aim to encourage you to become a skeptic, too. I want this for you because I want you to shift from being controlled by information to being empowered by it.
Without citing its sources, a scientific study is entirely useless. Without proof, the author of the study could say anything they want, claiming that it’s true. But isn’t this true for all sources of information? Allow me to give you an incredibly relevant example :
The information presented by the mainstream media regarding Covid-19.
The issue I have found most exasperating over the last 12+ months is how easily people appear to give up their claim to their own opinions. What do I mean by this? Well, 99% of people are choosing to use mainstream media (MSM) as a primary source of information during these strange and unprecedented times. Ultimately, it is our exposure to information that ends up cultivating our thoughts, ideas, opinions and finally, our core beliefs. When taking the skeptics approach, however, one can interrupt this process. By questioning the sources of the information we are exposed to, we might find that they either don’t exist or are flawed. Yet most of us don’t pause to ask those questions. We passively take in information and allow it to become true in our minds.
When an opinion or belief has simply been planted into your own mind via passive intake of information, it's human nature to consider that concept as born from your own ideas instead of having a specific opinion from your own understanding, instincts, or experiences. I believe this to be fundamentally dangerous, because it shifts the balance of power away from us, the public. Instead, it gives the powers-that-be the opportunity to create whatever narrative they choose. It’s a scientific study without the citing section.
So why are we so susceptible to this form of information? Most would agree that television, a show on Netflix or CBC News, uses high amounts of drama to evoke our emotions. During the initial stages of the pandemic, mainstream media was our only source of information on Covid-19. Constant drama and fear were pumped through our television screens, and continue to do so.
Whether you know or not, this barrage of fear has engaged your body’s “fight, flight or freeze” nervous system reactions, keeping us all trapped in a constant state of threat.
That is called manipulation, pure and simple.
So with this in mind, allow me to share a bit more of what I’ve learned during my studies, specifically about the human nervous system. During a constant state of threat, anxiety, fear, or worry, the human brain works in a unique way. It uses a specific pathway to keep the body and its systems on high alert. This is called the sympathetic nervous system. By design, the sympathetic nervous system initiates the fight-or-flight response, thus allowing us the best chance of survival when something could compromise it. A lion chasing you, or a falling rock, for example. Or in this case, a deadly, highly contagious virus.
Our body chemistry changes drastically in this state because everything, at that moment, is about survival!
Blood rushes to the arms and legs, so we can flee or fight, our heart rate increases to move blood to those areas, pupils dilate, and much more. In this high stress situation, our entire internal existence is about obtaining safety - and nothing else. When triggered into this state by external stimuli, the news, for example, our bodies and minds are literally incapable of slowing down and using our intellect to decipher the truth of the situation. We aren’t likely to think critically or sit down to do some thorough research.
Ideally, when attempting to reflect on information, we would do it with no emotional attachment. Emotion is triggered by that fight or flight response, and is ultimately the single factor that clouds our ability to think critically.
Next, let’s talk about the parasympathetic nervous system, and how it can be utilized to help us all find our inner skeptic.
Responsible for, ‘rest and digest, feed and breed’, the parasympathetic nervous system is all about calmness and relaxation. This is the ideal state from which to critically analyze data, and in my opinion, the very way mainstream media does not want you to look at their information. If you are anxious, and fearful, you are much more susceptible to their scare tactics - meaning more eyes on the screen, and higher ratings for their show.
Note the diagram opposite, you can observe the actions of both parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems.
In summary, I want you to ask yourself a question.
Are my thoughts, ideas, opinions and beliefs about Covid-19 my own well researched, critically reviewed ideas, or has long term exposure to fearful, impressionable data dictating them?"
Knowing that today's media is full of manipulation and flat out lies, we have a personal responsibility to do our own diligence. Personally, if any type of news story doesn't have links to research papers and original sources where I can forge my OWN option, then it doesn't deserve another second of my attention.
I believe we are all are better off considering independent journalists for information. Organizations that are not funded by trillion dollar organizations. These smaller media outlets are far more likely to share their sources. Many independent journalists will also encourage you to be skeptical of all information (including their own!), rather than simply taking their word for it. If you are interested in some of these alternative media sources, please send us a message.
Be responsible. Do your own research. Be a skeptic!
Simon Brazier. Dip HN, NNCP