This is a very important question, because when you can know for certain what is true versus what is a fantasy, then you have taken charge of the only thing that you can ever own: your free will.
Our free will is the only thing we have: the choice to act or not act. The choice to interpret information one way or another. The choice to believe or not believe. To care or not to care.
Thus, our free will is the one thing we're constantly wrestling with. From infancy, everyone seeks to take our power of choice away from us: our parents, day care providers, the writers of preschool television tripe, then our schoolteachers, our news providers, the popular kids at school, eventually our employer, our spouse.
And, always, the religious dogma.
Especially anti-theist technology in the guise of journalistic "science." It's the most dogmatic of all; all anyone has to say is, "Because science!" and most people will shut up and accept its Absolute and Unquestionable Correctness.
If you're among the 98% of us who have given over at least some of our free will to the righteous doctrines of others, then, I assure you, much of your experience is based on fantasy and so-called "mental illness."
So. What to do?
The Scientific Method.
Not the "Because science!" kind, where a journalist scrolls some geeky blogs, loosely interprets the conclusions of a few hundred people in white coats, and then lists their own resulting gross generalization as a "fact."
Democratic opinion does not fact make. As Mahatma Ghandi pointed out, even if the entire world believes something to be true, it can still be a lie, and even if everyone believes something to be a lie ...well, if it's true, it's true.
And now, in application of the scientific method, I must admit that, as much as I admire Mahatma Ghandi, I don't quote him because he is an authority. That would be unscientific and insane. I quote him because his statement, so far, stands up to the scientific method.
The scientific method is one of persistent negative inquiry.
Step 1. Observation.
When a concept occurs to you, you need to hone in on it and bring it to consciousness.
80% of us fail at this step because ideas already implanted in our minds when we were very young physically skew the way that we see the world around us.
We observe not the world, but our pre-conceived belief about the world, because what we are able to see is profoundly influenced by what we expect to see.
Step 2. Questioning.
Wonder if your idea is true or not.
Those of us who make it past Step 1 of the scientific method, now have to use our force of will to resist the powerful temptation to believe something to be true just because we like the idea.
Most people fail at this step, as well, because of a mechanism called "psychic equivalence."
Psychic equivalence is the root of all insanity.
Step 3. Formation of Hypothesis.
Formulate your idea into a concept with a beginning and an end.
Put limits on the idea so you can test to see if it holds up to logic.
"I can make fire by choosing appropriate dry, organic materials and rubbing them together."
Not a hypothesis:
"Fire is made by angels to reward us with warmth after we have been oppressed by cold, cold, unfeeling atheists with icy evolutionist hearts."
State your idea in such a way that you can put it on trial. With the intention of ripping it to shreds.
You're going to assume it's guilty until you prove it to be innocent ...which is unprovable.
So, yeah. Assume your idea is going to stay "guilty" forever. Be ready to toss that idea out 'cause soon enough something will come along to prove it wrong.
Step 4. Methods.
Establish the battleground and weapons for a trial by fire to test this hypothesis within an inch of its life.
(Or, more accurately, within 5% of its life, plus or minus, to make room for error. You're never going to prove anything, so why try so hard?)
Your methods must always adhere to logic.
As soon as the idea meets the criteria of any logical fallacy, you've got to put it on the shelf of "maybe, but probably not" and never again on the shelf of "oh, for sure, I can just feel it in my bones!"
(But you can't put it on the "absolutely false" shelf, because just because an idea's logically fallacious, it's not necessarily wrong)
Step 5. Results.
Critically examine whether your idea survived your attack.
And critically examine whether any assumptions you made in your methods also held up.
For example, if we bombard an idea with a century of medical findings, and the idea survives this bombardment, we have to go back to Step 2 and wonder if those 100 years of medical findings are true.
Step 6. Conclusion.
At this point, if your idea has survived our negative inquiry, and all of your methods of inquiry also survived your negative inquiry, you can put the concept on the short list of "could be true."
Now you get to stop worrying about it. Ahh. Such peace.
Why You've Got to Question Every Thought You Think
Your thoughts aren't something that happen to you. They are something that you do.
You cannot prove that your thoughts are true by using more thoughts. If you try, you'll experience the worst of what we refer to as "mental illness," because it will create a hall of mirrors and a mental meltdown.
But you can look at your own thoughts with a negative inquiry, asking, "Is this true? Can I absolutely know this to be true?"
The scientific method and other methods of holding your own thoughts up to questioning are ways of becoming sane. They are ways of owning your mind, exercising your free will.
In my opinion, this is the most important thing you can do.
In my experience, it will lead you to the greatest joy and peace ...to a state in which you're so happy you don't even care whether you're nuts.
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