In humans, we trust

That’s why no one does it. It’s exhausting. Imagine having to personally verify everything.

Pure empiricism is confirming or disqualifying a theory through the lens of personal experience. Touch fire to discover it’s heat. Discover pain through injury inflicted upon us. Trust nothing but what we gather with our own sensory apparatus.

Empiricism is exhausting. No one does it.

Instead, we trust.

We trust people who have experienced what it is hard for us to replicate. We trust the reasoning and wisdom of those with expertise that surpasses our own. The trust we place in individuals, in organisations, in information, in ideas, influences us. Our life and our existence is formed in the reflection of who and what and where we choose to trust.

This is the virtue of society, of cultural and collective knowledge. Lessons once learned, often do not have to be re-learned. Pure empiricism is not needed as most of what we need to know is recorded, archived and readily available. And usually, the knowledge passed down is right.

But if a large chunk of our existence is shaped by the forces we put our trust in, what happens when we misplace it? Human tragedy, suffering, pain and stagnation. Stories of the trouble that befalls us when we are suckered in by liars, cheats and those with selfish designs are numerous and ancient. Consider the fable of the The Scorpion and the Frog. Or Aesop’s The Farmer and the Viper:

“A farmer picked up a viper that was half-dead from the cold. When the farmer had warmed the viper, the viper uncoiled and grabbed hold of the man’s hand and, with a fatal bite, he killed the man who had wanted to save him. As he was dying, the man spoke some words that are well worth remembering: ‘Well, I get what I deserve for having shown kindness to a scoundrel!’”

Trust, like respect, is earned not freely given. We cannot live with pure empiricism, but we can start to take control of where we place our trust. What you read. Where you learn from. The friends you have. The company you keep. Your information diet. These are all reflections of the confidence we place outside ourselves and in others. And they are all choices we get to make.

To make a good decision requires an intimate understanding of the situation. A perspective which encompasses many angles and alternative viewpoints. It requires us to use all our experience, education and the evidence available to calculate the best course of action.

We must endeavour to trust as we choose. Wisely and with caution.