Letting Go of Beliefs That Feel Good in Favor of Facts That We Learn Through Reliable Scientific Research
“When one man has reduced a fact of the imagination to be a fact of his understanding, I foresee that all men will at length establish their lives on that basis.” ~ Henry David Thoreau, “Walden”
I hated the part of my graduate program that involved doing research. I was there to be a clinician. But I was in a research-oriented doctoral program. I had to do it. And it took 8 years so that I could do that while receiving my clinical training. In hindsight, the research, as much as I disliked it, changed me in a very profound way. There were two important life lessons from doing the research.
One lesson was to become better able to discern reliable valid research from bad science. For example, within scientific reasoning, going with what “resonates” is not a good thing. On the other hand, for the clinical side, going with what resonates is great with regard to figuring out what brings us joy in life and for discerning likes and dislikes vs. doing something simply because it’s expected of us. There is a place for following what “resonates” for us. It’s just not in science and public health, where science and logic are most important.
The second lesson for me, even more importantly, was to not be attached to our hypothesis or expected/desired outcome. We can look at this as a spiritual lesson, as well. For example, the Buddha taught to not be attached to anything. In scientific research, if we believe that we will find one thing, but the data shows over and over again something else, we need to first look at the science of the research that brought about the unexpected results (Was it a reliable research study? Was it replicated? Were there outside variables that could account for the results?). And, then, we need to let go of our own hypothesis…or at least question it objectively. Getting stuck in our own hypothesis, when reliable science has disproved it, because it feels right and we like that outcome (ie., it “resonates” with us) is not rational. Even more than being irrational, it’s also irresponsible to continue to promote a hypothesis, especially if it is one that affects the health and wellness in a significantly negative way if they follow your advice, just because it feels “right” to you. That’s science. It doesn’t care about feelings.
Having feeling training along with science training was confusing but it was a great training for life and one that comes in handy at a time like this in the world. There are those who are lucky enough to have learned these lessons of discernment without all those years of schooling. But there are still many who are stuck in believing whatever they “feel” is right and opinions are now believed to be facts. And, when given evidence that their hypothesis is disproven, they look for junk science to support the hypothesis that they are attached to because it feels good, rather than being able to just let go of expectation in favor of following the facts with an open mind.
We are in a dangerous place when feelings about a deadly virus are put above what the experts in epidemiology and public health are telling us that the scientific research has found. It’s OK to have feelings about anything, but let’s make measured adult decisions based on science and facts when lives are at stake.
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