✉️ Good Thought 4

Who to Believe, Post-Truth

Welcome to Good Thought, a newsletter about fresh ideas for purposeful living in the 2020s.

I’m Aaron Nesmith-Beck. I founded Atman, one of the first legal psilocybin retreats, and my writing at Freedom & Fulfilment has over 1M pageviews. You can learn more about me here.

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Who to Believe, Post-Truth

Image credit: Matt Deslauriers

How is it that people can have deep and powerful insights that have absolutely no effect on their lives?

(This is regrettably common with psychedelic experiences.)

Why do we often feel at war with ourselves when trying to do something we ostensibly want to do?

(Washing the dishes, going for a run, waking up earlier, etc.)

And why, oh why, is it so f*cking hard to concentrate during meditation?

There’s an idea – a framework for understanding the psyche – that provides good answers to all of these questions and more. I’ll tell you about it, but first let me tell you how I came across – and more importantly, came to believe – this idea.

Who to believe?

Sourcing trustworthy information in the 2020s is not easy. Post-truth became a meme in the mid-2010s, and COVID-19 has only accelerated the breakdown of our collective sensemaking. That breakdown of our collective sensemaking has also become a meme points to a sudden, expanded awareness of the intersubjective information-water we’ve all been swimming in.

“Where do I find trustworthy information?” is another way of asking “Who should I believe?” The traditional answer – the established, powerful, often-three-letter-acronymed institution (CDC, WHO, NYT, CNN, DNC, etc.) – no longer serves.

You can trust your friends, but you only have so many friends, and they don’t know everything. Plus, information overload. More information is created every day than you and everyone you know could sort through in your entire lifetimes. What to do?

Something I’ve found helpful is to triangulate the views of trustworthy seeming sources. I think we do this intuitively (“Three people have mentioned this idea to me now, I’m making a note to check it out”), but it can be helpful to make it explicit. Post-truth, a quick way to gauge the quality of an idea is to ask the question: Do trustworthy people believe in it?

An important distinction: by trustworthy here I don’t necessarily mean correct. I mean telling you what they believe to be true; not actively trying to deceive you. Whether they are right about what they believe is a different question.

Heuristics for trustworthiness

How do you tell if someone is trustworthy? There’s no perfect formula, but we can suggest some heuristics, with examples. A person is more likely to be trustworthy if:

  • They have a track record of risking their personal safety or wellbeing for the sake of spreading their message (e.g. Edward Snowden, Garry Kasparov, vocal ex-Muslim extremists, ex-cult members)

  • They are not overly concerned with political correctness or social niceties (e.g. Sam Harris, Nassim Taleb)

  • They are anonymous or pseudonymous and suffer no (real-life) reputational risk from honestly stating their views (e.g. Michael Mayer, Wall Street Playboys)
    • This one can go both ways – anonymity also protects against the reputational risk of dishonesty

  • They are independently wealthy and have no reason or desire to extract money from you (e.g. Naval)

  • They hold ancient wisdom traditions with deep respect, without blindly following them (e.g. Daniel Ingram, pragmatic dharma community)

  • They have built a reputation based on transparency and honesty such that it has become one of their main draws, and to break this trust with their audience/the public would be self-defeating (e.g. Paul Graham, Fred Wilson)

  • They are not embedded in a highly pressurized social group that enforces conformity of belief (counter-examples: academia, Hollywood actors)

  • You can readily verify their claims within your own experience (e.g. Buddha)

There are certainly more of these, and none is sufficient in and of itself, but they all point in the right direction.

Here’s an example of how this kind of thinking has been helpful to me. In 2016, some trustworthy-seeming people (Future Thinkers, Naval, Balaji S., Vinay Gupta) were talking positively about crypto. Triangulating their views (and the views of others, and some research) helped me catch the 2017 crypto bull run, with Bitcoin from around $600 all the way to $20,000. (I caught most of the crash, too, but the point still stands.)

In abstract terms, you have a network of nodes (sources of information) that seem trustworthy to some degree. Each node’s belief in or support for an idea is a data point in favour of that idea, weighted according to that node’s belief in/support for the idea and that node’s trustworthiness.

And this framework is how I came across, and came to believe in, an idea for understanding the psyche that is one of the most fruitful I’ve come across in years. It has great explanatory power, practical utility, and also intuitively makes sense.

I’ll tell you about it in the next newsletter.

See you then!

🕶️ Other cool things

🍄 Psychedelic Integration 101

I’m not sure who’s behind this, but it’s one of the most comprehensive resources for integration I’ve come across. I’ve typically found that good integration advice is either scattered around online in not-always-easy-to-find places, or held in the minds of experienced psychedelic guides. It’s nice to see something so comprehensive that’s free to use and 

🎧 Good listen: Rostropovich and Horowitz play Rachmaninoff: Andante from Cello Sonata (1976)

This is very beautiful. I had the good fortune of seeing Rostropovich play live in Vancouver in 2003, when I was 10 years old and learning to play the cello. It was extremely inspiring. I recommend listening to this while not doing anything else. Credit to my mom for this recommendation 🙂

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