One of the best tests of any information source is how well it predicts the future. This might seem obvious when thinking about divination, but it applies to all forms of knowledge. I think this is highly relevant at the moment as we have so many beliefs and opinions dominating conversations. I remember when the idea of the UK leaving the Single Market and Kent becoming a lorry park were labelled ‘project fear’ only now that seems to be happening…
Predicting the future is of course a tricksy business, and the future is full of surprises. No one really predicted this virus malarkey. However, the international vulnerability to a pandemic was known – the way we travel, the lack of joined up thinking between countries and the way we invade wild spaces where new diseases are lurking, were all known factors suggesting a particular trajectory.
The thing to watch for is how close your knowledge gets you to being able to make useful predictions. If your knowledge source doesn’t take you in roughly the right direction, what you’ve got isn’t knowledge, it’s a belief, an opinion, a fantasy. When you’re really invested in something that doesn’t match up with reality, putting it down can be really hard.
When it comes to prayer, and magic there may be other factors to consider. Are you getting what you asked for, or are you getting what you need? What time frames are you working on? Do you need more practice? In fact that practice question is pertinent across all areas – if you’re trying to study the world in a rational way to predict what will happen, that also requires skills and knowledge and it may take you time to get it right. Knowing where to push to make the changes you want is a big part of getting anything done, and that might not be apparent at first.
There’s a lot to be said for cross-referencing between different kinds of knowledge. Intuition certainly isn’t an irrational source – we take in far more information than we can consciously process, so what rises up from intuition can be a consequence of processing information. The trick is telling between intuition, wishful thinking and fear. Here again the cross referencing helps because information from other sources can clarify which is which, and over time you can build a better sense of what is emotional reaction and what is processed information.
Misguided beliefs and opinions don’t allow us to make good predictions. The longer we hold on to them, the more distorted our relationship with reality becomes. That means having to create ever more complicated stories to explain why what we ‘know’ and perceived reality aren’t matching up. That way lies madness. However unsettling it is to put down a belief, it can be far better to do so than to build layer upon layer of cognitive dissonance. There should be no shame in making mistakes or trying things that don’t work – the important bit is knowing when to give up on an experiment in light of the evidence it generates.