In a world rich with information combined with a seemingly infinite number of sources from which to access said information, we are all subject to an equally large amount of misinformation. One of my primary objectives for not only my clients, but my family and friends, is to research ad nauseam, which aspects of health and wellness are up for debate. Technically, all “facts” are subject to natural inquisition, but the amount of public confidence in a particular “truth” is important to consider. I borrow a way of thinking from Biologist Bret Weinstein, in that we should assign a percentage of confidence that something is accepted as fact. No matter how confident we may be in our knowledge that a truth is in fact true, we should always be willing to assign a tiny fraction of doubt in case a better hypothesis (that is, of course, one that is testable) emerges to replace the previously assigned truth.
There are academic journals, textbooks, “gurus”, mainstream media sites, and social media fostered echo chambers vying for your eyes and ears, not to mention the myriad of friends and family willing to give their two cents on any particular topic. But with so many different ways to obtain information, it’s not surprising that you may be hard pressed to find two strangers on the street that completely agree about any given fact. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as conversation between the two individuals can lead to some sort of consensus and understanding moving forward. If we let free and open discussion act as the gatekeeper of the dissemination and acceptance of ideas, truths, and facts, through the utilization of the scientific process, then one can reasonably expect to arrive at some sort of consensus on a particular subject until more (or better) questions are posited. This, of course, means that we cannot merely censor ideas or thoughts based on our personal views of truth and reality. Poorly formed hypotheses may not deserve to form our basic understanding of truth, but they do deserve the right to hear exactly why and how they are wrong.
Truth/facts should be looked at on a sliding scale of confidence, from 0-99.99… percent confident. Of course now you’re probably wondering why my scale doesn’t quite make it to 100 percent confidence. This is because I do believe, like Weinstein has eluded to, that any proclamation of 100 percent confidence in any accepted truth/fact will most likely result in too much psychological pain to ever admit error and concede to an alternative explanation.100 percent confidence in any given truth/fact is indicative of some sort of dogmatic ideology versus one of intellectual curiosity.
Hopefully I can persuade readers of this post to move through life with less conviction and be skeptical of those unwilling to consider nuance or update a previously held belief. This philosophical diatribe serves as the underpinning for the rest of this article, in which I will be addressing some of the most commonly asked questions I encounter on a regular basis, from not only my clientele, but friends, family members, and even random fellow humans.
It’s not sexy, it’s the opposite of clickbait, and this answer to all questions I receive will more than likely result in several eye rolls and immediate regret for asking the question in the first place. If the inquisitor truly desires a deeper understanding of the question at hand, hopefully he or she will allow for more than a one sentence answer. The following questions are just a few of the many that I field on a regular basis. Even the brief paragraph answers that I provide, may only scratch the surface. Hopefully after reading these examples you will gain insight into how I might break down a question into several others, factor in what is considered “scientific consensus”, and come up with as succinct and reasonable an answer as one might expect a professional in the relevant field to come up with.
Question- Which exercise is best for lower body strength?
Answer- It depends, first we need to define “best”. If we can reasonably conclude that “best” in this case means the most effective exercise for muscular growth while ensuring minimum injury risk and maximum enjoyment, then I would say a traditional squat. I would assign 90 percent confidence to that conclusion in a vacuum, but since life doesn’t happen in a vacuum, more in-depth questions would probably be the best response to this initial postulate.
Better Question– Which exercise is a good option for developing lower body strength, that is relatively easy to perform, safe, and can be easily modified to make it more challenging?
Question- Is water better for you than soda?
Answer- It depends, first we should define “better”. Maybe the person asking has just donated blood and is feeling a bit light headed. Maybe the person hasn’t had a meal in 24 hours and is in desperate need of the extra calories. Hypothetically let’s assume that by “better” we mean healthier. To give a good answer, I would simply need more information, so again I would likely ask more questions as a response. Long-term, I am roughly 99 percent confident that water is “better” for you than soda, but after one day, it’s hard to say (unless of course we’re talking about a diabetic without an insulin shot nearby).
Better Question– Is long-term soda consumption more detrimental to my overall well-being than water?
Question- Is foam rolling good for me?
Answer- It depends, and full transparency, although I have written a book on the subject, we still aren’t entirely sure how effective it truly is. That being said, if we can conclude that “good for me” means that by using a foam roller properly and at the right time, that it may help your body function a bit more optimally in subsequent physical activity than without use, then it could be considered good for you. The question again fails to reveal critical information such as- if foam rolling is taking the place of something else, or are we adding it into an already well-rounded exercise routine? I am even less confident of the efficacy of foam rolling than the previous two questions, but I would say I am 70 percent sure that proper use could elicit some positive short-term effects.
Better Question– If I have enough time to add foam rolling into my exercise routine, and it doesn’t replace other worthwhile elements of exercise, will it provide any benefit?
I’m sure reading these questions is absolutely infuriating to some of you, but truthfully I hope to inspire you all to ask better questions and also be willing to accept a certain level of uncertainty in the answers. This process of admitting the chances that I was wrong about something, up front, is vital to the integrity of the services I provide to you. For example, if I conveyed with 100 percent certainty to you that a particular eating pattern was the most beneficial over all others, and believed it to be the truest of truths, regardless of new evidence to the contrary, what kind of a hired professional would I be if I couldn’t update my beliefs to ensure you had the best information possible? The more we learn, the more we realize we don’t know.
The Bottom Line
Circling back around to the access of copious amounts of information (and misinformation), we need to be able to ask better questions and research for ourselves. If that is beyond your capacity, seek out a trusted professional in the relevant field that can do it on your behalf. Rather than relying on the quality of information and the bodies regulating said information to become exponentially better overnight, we should all strive to become better at interpreting data and deducing our own conclusions.
I encourage everyone to engage in their own form of “evaluation of confidence” in their own lives, as it liberates you from the mental anguish I’m sure everyone has felt when they’ve realized they were profoundly wrong about something they felt so absolutely sure about. It is exponentially easier to update views and opinions, when you hold them with a degree, albeit sometimes very small, of uncertainty. With the seemingly endless amount of information at our fingertips, we must ingest with elevated inquisition. You might now be wondering, what questions should we ask?
Well, it depends…
Yours in Wellness,