Whenever we have opposing opinions that cannot coincide then we are in a situation where there are only three possible realities: either I am right, you are right, or we both are wrong. But we cannot both be right. For example, let’s say I believe a colour to be red and you believe the same colour to be blue. Only one of us can be objectively right, or we are both wrong. Of course, we can both be subjectively right given that one of us has a neurological problem that causes colours to display differently, but that doesn’t change the fact that how we see the colour is irrelevant to what the colour actually is. If the colour is red then I am right, if the colour is blue then you are right, and if the colour is yellow then both of us are wrong.
There are also situations where only one of us can be right and the other is wrong. If I believe Elvis is still alive and you believe Elvis is dead than either I am right and you are wrong, or you are right and I am wrong. This is a situation where there is no space for both of us to be wrong because Elvis can only be either alive or dead in the traditionally sense. I am not talking about him being “Alive in our hearts”.
But what about when it comes to more important topics that influence our health and safety. The previous examples are rather benign in the sense that who really cares who is right or wrong? I mean I don’t care if you think something is blue and I think it is red. At the end of the day it is just a colour and doesn’t really affect anyone beyond the conversation about it. What about when an opinion directly affects our health?
We can say for sure that some opinions are far more thought out and researched than others. Some people spend far more time educating themselves to have an opinion compared to others. Does that mean that all opinions are not created equal? Does that mean that we shouldn’t value some opinions or some people’s opinions on this basis?
Imagine you have never heard of performance enhancing drugs e.g. steroids. You are in discussion with someone about the best possible training methods to increase muscle size. You have spent years training, reading all of the best exercise science books and research papers on the topic, you think you know a lot about training for muscle size, and significantly more than the average person. However, one day while in conversation with someone, and while you are explaining the best training methods to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, the person you are talking to causally points out that steroids must play a large role in obtaining such an impressive physique. Up until now you had never heard of steroids and thought the only thing that made someone big was training. You did not even think to take steroids into consideration as you didn’t know they existed. How would the addition of this new information change your perspective on developing larger muscles?
We can at the least conclude that not all opinions are created equal. If, for example, you are having vision issues, many people may have an opinion on why that is. Your friend who kindly googled your symptoms on your behalf has an opinion. Your GP, with her generalised medical knowledge, could also have an opinion. Your Optometrist, with their more specialised knowledge, may also have an opinion. And lastly, your Ophthalmologist with their ultra specialised knowledge, usually 15-20 years study, will also have an opinion. Going from friend to Ophthalmologist we can assume a level of confidence that scales up. So how do we differentiate between which opinions are worth taking upon consideration and which are not? Because if we truly are all entitled to our opinion, and very few of us have an expertise or specialised knowledge of a particular topic, then the vast, vast majority of opinions at best have to be questioned, and at worst have to be wrong.
We also have to take into consideration that when most people give opinions or arguments for something they are not actually trying to share an evidence based opinion or argue for something that they have researched. They are trying to rationalise an already held belief. We know that most of the time when people research something online they do not search objective terms like, “Probiotics and gut health” they use terms like, “Proof that probiotics increase gut health”. The answer they are looking for is already in their search terms so when they tell their friends that probiotics are good for gut health, they know because they “researched” it. To most people “research” is just trying to find different things to support a belief they want to have or keep rather than trying to find out what is actually true.
What does this tell us about our politics? Our health and diet ideas? Our views on drugs and alcohol? Should the layman have the same right to vote on health policies as a nurse? And should the nurse have the same right, or weight of vote as a doctor? And should the doctor have the same right as a specialist who’s entire life’s work and field of research relates specifically to the policy in question?
We all think we know far more about every single topic than we actually do because it is impossible to know what we don’t know. So few of us have a specialised knowledge or have dedicated a large part of our lives to learning about a specific topic. Shouldn’t our opinions reflect that? Shouldn’t we always leave open the possibility that we could be wrong about an opinion we hold? Because unless we have dedicated our entire life to the study of a specific idea then it is a certainty that there is information about all of our opinions that we have not considered yet.