We have very little control over most things, so most of the time we have to choose something to trust, even when we don’t want to.
Trust of any sort directs itself toward an object of trust. We feel peace and empowered when we trust something that proves itself to work. Often, the evidence is through a conflict working itself out or a general feeling of empowerment.
- The things we touch and experience from our senses
- The people we encounter, as well as what they do and say
- the whole idea of cause-and-effect
- Any expectations that the future will be anything like the present
We may think we see an apple on the table and know it exists, but our minds play a trick on us:
- Our eyes take send many mini-snapshots through electrical signals to the brain. Every time an eye twitches, it’s taking another image.
- Our brain converts those signals into a composite image that appears to be a complete image, though it’s offset by time.
- The brain dissects that composite image into forms and abstractions (in this case, an apple-like shape).
- Through associations to things stored in memory, the brain pulls from a network of information, often adding more and more information along the way.
- For whatever purpose the brain was tasked to, it draws up all the potentially useful or relevant stored information.
- Habits, intuition, and decisions dictate the next action or thought.
- Unless the person is mentally unwell, the final thought on the matter will land on some sort of conclusion, which we call “perception”.
Everything we can use to build out our understanding of reality is only somewhat reliable:
- Perceptions that come from the world around us, captured in moment-by-moment snapshots and combined into a story
- Things we derive from those perceptions, ranging from feelings to legitimate understanding
- Whatever our environment tells us, including things we infer and other people
- Broad-reaching things made by/for many people
While each person’s methods vary, we only feel “certain” when we attain enough information to fulfill several criteria at once:
- Enough information to satisfy our sense of curiosity
- Enough information to get a mental image of the relationship between things
- Evidence to verify our likely best decision
To reconcile between reality and our copy, we have a few pathways to fact-check:
- Trust our original sensations were accurate
- Trust our feelings to the degree we believe we can understand those sensations with intuition
- Trust our analytical ability to the degree we believe we can understand sensations with a mental framework
- Trust others and our environment to the degree we believe they’re safe to trust over our own sensations
- We must resolve that tiny bit of uncertainty until we feel comfortable with it. We tend to
This entire process of declaring certainty happens very quickly and dictates almost all our decisions and needs. The only people who are even aware it happens are actively trying to slow down to gain awareness. Most people are simply habituated to constantly trust.
Not everyone trusts easily. The first Erikson stage we go through is asking how much we should trust reality itself, and most of the future stages are trusting ideals that come afterward (in order: willpower, purpose, competence, identity, love, meaning, legacy).
Our entire framework of thinking relies on trusting indirectly connected elements, even when we don’t perceive it:
- Fear of sharks will lead to trusting things that can stop sharks.
- Fear of what a leader may do often requires trusting a different leader (especially in politics).
- Logic requires trusting a conclusion derived off a premise, whether from certainty or through fear of an alternative premise being true.
- Agnosticism, the least trusting religion, gives zero guidance about what to do with ourselves, making it relatively useless.
- Even the statement “I don’t trust them” is effectively saying “I trust myself, which doesn’t trust them”.
We can trust some things more, but must balance a certain “minimum trust” necessary to attain any purposes whatsoever. We tend to automatically trust ourselves, others around us, and authority figures for most things we need, but can train ourselves to shift the trust elsewhere.
To understand how bound to trust we are, try to prove with absolute certainty that insane ideas are completely impossible:
- Prove that we’re not living in a shared computer simulation.
- Demonstrate that the words you’re reading aren’t reading your mind and stealing your life force.
- Verify that death really happens and that people don’t teleport away at that moment and replace themselves with a sack of realistic-looking meat.
- The very essence of speculative fiction is to play with the things we often trust, so try to prove that every single one of them is either impossible or will be impossible.
Often, people with trust issues will try to tear down all forms of trust. It’s the same obsession whether they’re trying to over-trust their understanding of science or religion. They’re powering their decisions by past trauma and don’t want to accept the reality of their needs staying unmet.
The journey to find something “trustworthy” is fruitless. Post-modern philosophers speculate with many ideas on how to do it, but never get it right because trust glues all our understanding together. At its core, we can’t verify where or what our subconscious thoughts are.
Further, the quest to clarify certainty isn’t very reliable. For every question we answer, we’re faced with more questions proportional to our curiosity or fear. We literally believe we understand to the degree that we don’t desire to know about something anymore.
When we trust things, we often have trouble seeing adverse consequences from it, for several reasons:
- We feel comfortable in what we know.
- We calculate the thing as most likely thing to gamble on.
- We often, for other reasons, want to believe that thing.
- Sometimes we are just plain conceited and believe our trust makes a difference in the outcome.
Counter-intuitively, when we’re not certain of something but trust it anyway, we’re often more susceptible to overlooking its downsides because we don’t want to lose our investment of time or thought.
To the degree we trust something, we don’t often observe the costs of believing it. Most notably, we lose the power to move our opinions around about that trusted element without a major inner conflict.
One of the largest indicators of over-trust arises when we see something that doesn’t conform to our view of the world. When we’re immature or suffering past trauma, we’ll try to “fix” that thing to make it conform, but most of the time we’re actually misunderstanding reality and often creating problems for ourselves.
- Free trials that require opting out of.
- Government benefits that require taxes to fund.
- Offering safety in exchange for civil liberties.
- Giving a contract, but adding things in the fine print like termination clauses and non-compete requirements.
Since we must trust things constantly, we must never declare anything as 100% certain unless we’d unflinchingly give our lives for that premise.
Whether you choose to change your mind about something or not, intimately understand what you are trusting and why.
Be careful when dealing with people in occupations that require trust issues (e.g., cybersecurity, quality control, law enforcement), as well as people with pastimes revolving around survival. They’re all finding useful purposes for past trauma, so they may misuse it.
Often, people with trust issues will try to overcompensate with action. Passionate zealots are often less trusting of their beliefs than the declared “moderates” of an ideal, though the storytellers will obscure this fact.
In fact, be careful who you share this essay with. Most people won’t accept this reality. Start with another one instead.