By Luis Elizondo for Medium.
In our time on earth, human beings have learned that information — or its absence — can be the difference between life and death. For our prehistoric ancestors, not knowing a tiger was prowling outside the cave could constitute a fatal lack of knowledge.
We live in a time when the lines between knowledge and belief are increasingly blurred.
When I was with the Department of Defense, part of my job was to inform leadership and commanders of the situation on the battlespace. Naturally, providing key leadership with timely, accurate information is critical to maintaining a decisive advantage over an adversary and avoid surprises.
When briefing leadership, I found it helpful to separate information into four categories:
- Information that we know
- Information that we think
- Information that we believe
- Information that we don’t know
During these briefings, it was tempting to confuse information I knew to be factual with information I believed to be true.
Unfortunately, the confusion between fact and belief can foreclose our ability to receive actual facts and data with an open mind. As you can imagine, when it comes to National Security, knowing and believing can be two entirely different things.
As a recent example, prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S. Government conflated its knowledge of Saddam Hussein’s military capabilities with the belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
This confusion of information ultimately led to the Iraq War. Without passing on the validity of the invasion, the rationale that weapons of mass destruction would be unleashed on the U.S. by pro-Al Qaeda Iraqi forces was definitely flawed.
It’s hard work to revise deeply-held notions about what’s fact and what isn’t, but it’s crucial that we try. There’s a lot at stake.
We can’t make progress unless we learn to distinguish between fact and belief.
There’s been significant social stigma in recent decades around the topic of UFOs because it’s so often associated with weird conspiracies and, in some cases, straight-up con artists.
And many of those who do believe that UFOs exist really only want to believe in aliens, which limits meaningful progress in the field.
UAP has even been associated with demons and anti-Judeo Christian beliefs.
I experienced this first-hand during my time working at the U.S. Government’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), where certain senior government officials thought our collection of facts on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) was dangerous to their philosophical beliefs.
In fact, my AATIP predecessor’s career was ruined because of misplaced fear by an elite few. Rather than accept the data as provided by a top-rank rocket scientist, they decided the data was a threat to their belief system and instead, destroyed his career because of it.
Although in private each confided to me they knew the phenomena was real, it still contradicted their view of the world and their beliefs. Therefore, they viewed the effort as an affront to their religious narrative and belief system.
To be clear, these were some of the most incredibly competent and loyal patriots I have ever had the privilege to work with, and their motivations were sincere. Several were dear friends despite my disagreement that UAP were demonic in nature.
If we continue to act on belief alone rather than accompanied by knowledge, we slow down mankind’s progress and prevent ourselves from understanding the natural state of things. Many innovations which the public was initially skeptical of — like vaccines, X-rays, and even the internet — turned out to be extremely beneficial to mankind. It took overcoming cynicism and opening ourselves up to unfamiliar but factual data and observations for society to fully take advantage of these breakthroughs.
Knowledge doesn’t necessarily have to be at odds with belief, but any well-grounded belief should always make room for new knowledge.
Tabloids, social media, and even politicians profit from conflating knowledge with belief.
Today, there are entire industries that profit from obscuring the truth by conflating facts with supposition. Tabloids and gossip columns organize their entire business model based on publishing salacious, yet mostly uncorroborated stories. The logic being, if it’s mostly true, then the entire thing must be true, too.
Social media serves to further confuse what we know to be true and what we believe might be true.
With a click of a button, people are sharing their opinions as facts, and now more than ever, people are willing to believe in those opinions as facts.
One has to look no further than the gluttony of web celebrities pushing commercial goods, from miracle cosmetics to diet remedies to spiritual wellness, each spokesperson du jour swearing by their product, only to move on to another one the next week.
Likewise, politicians frequently frame campaign promises in terms of belief. They promise they’ll lower taxes, educate more children, or feed more people, relying on their constituents will believe their words rather than know their voting track record.
As voters soon find out, these proclamations are usually based less on facts and more on emotional and personal beliefs. In fact, entire campaign slogans often blur the lines deliberately between knowing and believing. One of the most popular and effective slogans in recent history was recently used by a former Presidential candidate; “Change you can believe in.”
Again, I am not passing judgment on any particular party — both parties do it as a habit. But as a voter, it is important to distinguish between a campaign fact and a campaign belief.
Our survival hinges on our ability to accept new information.
In 17th-century Salem, Massachusetts, villagers’ unfounded beliefs that certain individuals were witches and warlocks were taken as fact, resulting in the torture, drowning, and burning of innocent people. In the present day, of course, we are repulsed by such ignorance, yet it persists in many parts of the world.
But whether you’re talking about “witches,” government policies, religion, or anomalies in the sky, it’s critical that we learn how to distinguish between fact and belief.
The only thing worse than lacking knowledge is attempting to make decisions based on a false belief.
Humans have only been able to accomplish all that we have because we are able to receive and process new information, and adapt to new realities. As for the topic of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, we have a choice. We can allow our beliefs to fill in the gaps or we can continue to doggedly pursue data in hopes that what we know informs what we believe.