I spend a lot of time exploring things that don't interest most other people, or that they find bizarre or unusual. For instance, the following: death and dying, life after death, reincarnation, dreams, the Tarot, the I Ching, aliens and extraterrestrials, the Illuminati, Atlantis, Lemuria, and so on.
Exploring the fringes, as I do, often leads to questions about veracity and trusting others who make sometimes strange or even incredible claims. I often have to ask myself “is this true?”, 'is this real?” or “is this possible?” To deal with the obvious metaphysical and epistemological issues I have, over time, adopted a set of aphorisms to guide my explorations. I don't know how valid they are in any ultimate sense, but they seem to work for me. I share these with you below. I also encourage you to send me your own aphorisms, guidelines, or pertinent descriptions of how your own bs meter works.
Without further ado, here are my aphorisms:
All stories are true;
You know as well as I that there are plenty of liars out there, of every imaginable variety. But to believe that they are all trying to deceive you when they address their views and theories to the general public is, in my experience, usually paranoid. Rather than discard them, it is more interesting and valuable in the long run to ask yourself what portion of what they are saying might have some truth to it. This way, you also avoid the habit of simply dismissing people and views markedly different than your own. Still, perhaps the aphorism might better read: '”all stories are true (at least to some degree).” Or to paraphrase Ken Wilber, no one can be wrong all the time...
2. Where there's smoke, there's fire;
In fact, where there's a hint of something going on, there's usually much more to it than just what you've heard. Take the literature on aliens and ufos, for instance. Everyone has heard of them, but few people have any idea how vast just the associated field of study is, or how complex. But where there's smoke, theres often a (raging in this case) fire. Just because we may not be aware of it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. There are thousands of books and articles written about it, not to speak of movies, tv shows, novels, etc. Now, it may all be explainable as the psychological effects of modern society on its members' unconscious. But even if this is the case, it is still important to realize the sheer magnitude of the phenomenon. (With regard to aliens and ufos, however, this dismissiveness is, in my view, foolish at best, and calls for a judicious application of Aphorism #1 as well).
3. The simplest explanation is the best (Occam's Razor);
Technically, this aphorism states that “among competing hypotheses, the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be selected.” (Wikiepedia – Occam's Razor). Its judicious use is an indispensable way to avoid being credulous, since most of the time, we really do have it right in our own little frog pond. (Unfortunately, it's when we have it wrong that things are most interesting).
4. As above, so below;
This is the Hermetic doctrine of correspondence between the Above and the Below. Its premise is that anything that happens on one level or reality happens on every other. Or to use a different metaphor, for everything in the microcosm (us), there is a counterpart on the macrocosm (the Universe, or “Heaven”) operating on a similar principle, and vice versa. The point is, if you're examining a phenomenon that has a correspondence or arguably could have a correspondence to another level, and many of the same principle(s) seem to apply on both, then you're probably on to something. For instance, to answer the question “what is love?”, it helps to compare and contrast what we know about human love with what we believe about God's love.
5. Mu – or, you can't get there from here;
This is one of my favorites, inspired from Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It consists in throwing up one's hands and saying “mu!” – the question can't be answered as framed. That is, it either has no answer in any terms which we are capable of understanding, or the question is not answerable at the level on which it is posed or at all. For example, the Kantian antinomies seem to me to fall here – e.g., very roughly, what will happen after the end of time? What is located immediately beyond the outermost edge of space? For those with more modern sensibilities, an Eastwoodian dictum also resonates: “A man's got to know his limitations.”
6. “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio. ...” or “Wonder is wonderful”;
As I said above in #3, we mostly do have it right -- in our own little frog pond. But there's a whole, big wide world beyond the tender edges of our comfortable reality. We most of us will never go there, but a fitting modesty requires us to acknowledge that we know next to nothing about the world beyond the familiar. As has been said, 'wonder is wonderful' – it is life in the service of adventure pouring down its magnificent abundance of light and joy – and fear and terror – too. What could be better?
7."It's not the end of the world . ..
Like most people, I hate being wrong. But if I let my fear of being wrong prevent me from swinging for the fences, so to speak, then I have lost a lot more than what little dignity I can muster by having never taken a controversial position and so never having wrong. In the end, it's not the end of the world to be wrong – and it sure feels good not be afraid to take a risk.
In conclusion, these aphorisms don't excuse us from doing the hard work necessary to evaluate what we are examining. But they do help us (in my view, considerably) to ensure that we don't wander completely off track (and to acknowledge that if we did wander for a while, it wouldn't be the worst thing that happened to us).