When Your Intuition and the Internet Lead You Astray

By George A. Boyd © 2021

Q: What if your intuition tells you gonzo stuff?

A: What your intuition tells you is information. This information may be true or false. Where this changes you is if:

  1. You believe it
  2. You emotionally react to it
  3. You act on the basis of the belief

If my intuition tells me there is an abominable snowman that lives in the thicket outside my house, I might consider that my intuition is playing with me.

But if I believe this is true, it affects my emotions and my behavior:

  • I might be afraid to go outside because I fear the yeti might kill me and eat me, injure me so I need to go to a hospital, or drag me off to its lair so its children can eat me.
  • I might walk out the back door, so I avoid the thicket where the yeti lives.

At issue, I have not verified the statement is true—that an abominable snowman actually lives in the thicket. If I do an exhaustive search of the thicket, and there is no trace of Mr. Yeti or his offspring, I might conclude my intuition is tripping, and I might laugh at myself for my gullibility.

When people believe something that isn’t true, it engages their emotions, and may also change their behavior.

If someone is lying to them, they may carry out what the person who is sowing this false narrative wants them to do. We see people manipulated through this means through government propaganda; misleading advertising; the speeches and writing of demagogues, cult leaders, and leaders of hate and terrorist groups. This dissemination of misinformation is rampant on the internet: one “thought leader” can introduce these falsehoods and compromise hundreds—even thousands of people—with a tweet or social media post.

Finding Out What Is True

There are four positions I can take regarding a statement is true, whether I receive it internally from my intuition, or externally through others’ communication:

  1. The statement is true – I have verified its veracity. I conclude the information is reliable.
  2. The statement is false – I have analyzed its message and I have found logical errors, or attempts to deceive me. I conclude the information is not reliable.
  3. The statements truth is unknown – I cannot verify the truth of the statement as the evidence I need to verify it is not available to me. The information may be based on the statements, opinions, testimonials, or beliefs of others, but I cannot independently verify their claims. I conclude the information is not verifiable, and withhold my belief.
  4. The statement is non-sensible and clearly false – The information appears to be the product of fantasy, delusion, or irrationality. I conclude this information is not reliable, and I reject it outright.

Let’s review these four conditions:

In condition A, I am able to prove the statement is true. If I suspect that I have termites in my house, and I find an insect that looks like a termite, I can verify that I do have termites.

In condition B, I am able to prove the statement is false. If a politician tells me that he had the largest crowd size “ever recorded” for his inauguration, and historical records and actual photos of the crowd show that it wasn’t the largest crowd, I reject his statement.

In condition C, there is not enough verifiable information to prove the statement, so I hold it as an unverifiable hypothesis. If someone tells me that there are extraterrestrial bodies in a freezer locker in a secret air force base in the Nevada desert, I have no way of verifying this is true. Maybe this is possible, but I have no way to prove it.

I rather doubt if I ask the guard at the gate of the facility is going to let me in to view them if they were there. For example, if I showed up at the west gate of the base, and told the security officer, who is armed with a high-powered, deadly-accurate automatic weapon, “Oh hi! Hey, I’ve heard that you’ve got ETs in the freezer in here? Mind if I have a look? I promise I won’t take any souvenirs!”

In condition D, the statement is so clearly a statement of fantasy that I can reject it outright. For example, if I told you, “I am Spiderman and I’m actually from the planet Venus,” you would know that I sho’ be trippin’—and you wouldn’t believe me.

Sowing of the Seed

To set up misinformation, the one seeking to disseminate it must make you believe that condition B, a false statement, is actually condition A, a true statement—that something false is true.

This commonly occurs through giving you false proof based on spurious or distorted facts—what one of the press secretaries of the Trump administration famously referred to as “alternative facts.”

Sometimes in my leisure time, I watch UFO conspiracy shows on Netflix. I listen to these reports, and I conclude, “I cannot verify this hypothesis and I suspend my belief that it is true. This is condition C.

However, if the scout ship with the grey aliens—the ones with the large heads and prominent black eyes—lands on my lawn… Three aliens come out of their vessel… they come towards me and one of them gives me a high five—or in their case, a high four, as they only have four fingers—my belief that there are space aliens has been validated. I then can say, “yes, there are space aliens: they are parked on my lawn.” This is condition A.

When people get seduced by conspiracy theories; entrapped in cults, hate and terrorist groups; or deceived by propaganda—they believe something that is false is true—and this conditions their emotions and behavior. They believe the false statement, which should be recognized as false—condition B—is actually A, verified as true.

To bring people back from this alternate reality, these false beliefs that appear to them to be true must be shown to be false. The challenge of this is that they tenaciously defend these false beliefs as “the truth.”

The “Aha Moment”

The sudden insight or realization—the “aha moment”—that makes someone realize that something they believe is false and reject it, is the catalyst that enables someone to escape their alternate reality. For them to change, they must have this realization.

For a person who is committed to a false belief:

  • You cannot argue with them. They will not listen.
  • You cannot convince them through showing them other information. They will not believe what you show them.

They must discover that it is false. Then they emerge, and awaken from the dream.

To the degree that you can catalyze this realization, you can assist them to break the spell. Our best psychotherapists and coaches can do this, once in a while.

Going back to your original question, you must verify what intuition tells you, the same way you might check out something another person tells you, or something you view on social media.

If you can’t verify it, it’s conditional—an unverified hypothesis. Perhaps if people could learn to hold more things as an unverified hypothesis, instead of wildly believing them, we would have fewer people getting lost in conspiracy theories and cults.

Those interested in learning more about the dynamics that underlie religious and political cults, you may enjoy reading our book, Religions, Cults, and Terrorism: What the Heck Are We Doing?

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