I remember talking about this very question with an orthodox monastic Elder once and I will get back to that at the very end of this blog. But, first, I want to try and tackle the issue from our daily challenge of discerning what is fact and what is "fake news" from all the information that we receive through media and social media. One fact none of us can deny is that we have an information overload every single day of our lives and I believe that this is a fact that exists for our even very young children which to me is somewhat troubling. One side effect of information increase is attention span decrease(side note: one coaching rule of thumb I have used throughout the years is that the age of the student on average is equal to the number of minutes that I have their attention per every 60 minutes). And herein lies what I see as a growing divide between the art of critical and independent thinking and the more convenient and often more comfortable preference to just 'echo-chamber' information that is the flavor of the day or is inline with a preconceived perspective. For instance, how many of us have heard the statement "I know this is true because I researched it" or this one "I fact checked it"? I know I have heard these statements many times often from my own children and when someone says this in this day in age we can almost be certain what they are saying is that they googled a keyword(s) or perhaps even worse they read a link they had shared with them on some social media forum.
If we look at the definition of the word research we will find that it is inquiry or examination in seeking facts or principles and/or the laborious or continued search after truth. My fear is that we are living in a sort of 'post-truth' era where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. The super fast evolving technology that surrounds us seems to play on the human instinct of finding info that syncs with our own and maybe even the scarier notion of shaping our beliefs to meet the narratives of those who have the money and/or power to control the various technological platforms. It seems to me that there is more value these days in misinformation to those whose motivation is reward of money and power and furthermore that conflict sells. As a result false information overcrowds any reliable information that we may seek making it more and more difficult for us to establish trust in any 'truth'. I would even venture to say that rhetoric has been weaponized by the algorithms to the point that they are more dangerous than say nuclear weapons.
In conclusion, I believe that it is very critical that we (re)establish the importance of education in the area of info literacy. To do this we must not let the art of true critical thinking be drowned out in the flood of misinformation and that we must retain our ability to question and refuse that which we do not trust. We should never lose the fact that trust is established on interaction especially that which is physical and observed through actual experience. We must recognize that communication now more than ever is often just an illusion. We must weigh the value in freedom of speech versus freedom of thought meaning that with freedom of speech anything can be said but we must never lose the ability to discern with our own thoughts whether we choose to believe in what is being said.
One last thing I want to mention is the conversation and the lesson I received from the Elder, he pointed out to me that when Pilate was interrogating Jesus he asked him "what is truth?". Furthermore, he explained he should have rather asked "who is truth?"