The Plausibility Test

People often tell me that I have an opinion about everything. While I wouldn’t go *that* far, it is hard to deny that I have a lot of opinions on various topics and am not afraid to share them. This is, after all, the basic premise for Mark Unleashed.

Following up on that question, I sometimes get asked how I know enough about all of these topics to have an opinion on them. The truth is that while there are topics that I am very knowledgeable about, mostly, I know a little bit about a lot of things.

I don’t know why I am this way. It might be a protection mechanism, self-defense, or it might arise from how I hate the feeling of being taken advantage of. I was always told that knowledge is power, and while it is not the end-all and be-all, it has taken me a long way.

Thankfully, in the last few years I have accepted that I have a lot left to learn. But, since life happens even though we don’t know all we need to know, I have devised a test that I think gets me off on the right foot in virtually every situation, regardless of my imperfect knowledge. I call it “The Plausibility Test” and its application is uber-simple. When someone shares an opinion, makes a comment, tries to convince me of something or sell me something, I start by asking myself: “is this plausible?”

I’ve mentioned this to people over the years, and there is sometimes a confusion between possibility and plausibility. I believe that anything is possible. Perhaps no one is travelling through time at this moment, but I believe that it is possible. In the absence of proof that something is not possible, I am inspired by the belief that it is.

So what is plausibility? Above all, it is subjective. What is plausible to you depends on your knowledge, experience, and perspective. It is therefore important to be present to all three of these factors. Consider that something is plausible to you if you can conceive of its existence or occurrence, based on what you know, have learned, or believe to be true.

Okay, okay, how about a concrete example. A friend, shocked, shares a post on facebook about a situation in a Montreal-area hospital from just over a week ago. He wants your reaction. You start reading:

A couple enters a local emergency room. The triage nurse asks the patient a question. The patient’s husband replies that she doesn’t understand and asks if the nurse can speak to his wife in English. The nurse, incensed, leaps up and screams at him (in French): “THIS IS QUEBEC! SPEAK FRENCH!”

You ask yourself: “is this plausible?” I harness my inner Mathnet detective and ask: “What do I know?” (For those who’ve never watched Square One TV and have no idea what I’m talking about, click here.”)

So, I know that Quebec is full of people who are fiercely defensive of their native language. I know that there’s a law in Quebec that requires French words to be twice the size of words in other languages on store signage (and even inspectors with rulers who don’t like the word pasta enforcing the law) and that currently, tensions are high in the province as the governing party is proposing a law that is dividing the population along linguistic lines and fostering hatred between people of different religions.

So, is this plausible? Yes. It is.

If this story had been set elsewhere, literally anywhere else in the Western world, I can’t see it being plausible to me. It is such a ridiculous story that it can’t possibly be true. But, given what I know about the situation in Quebec, it sadly makes sense.

In a nutshell, something that is plausible makes sense, at least to you.

The key to benefiting from the plausibility test is questioning that which you deem implausible and, not stopping the questioning until you have solved the test of plausibility. The test is solved when you gather information that suggests that the story is, in fact, plausible, or that you can’t.

It is important to remember that even if something is plausible, it might still be false. But, if you do not determine that it is plausible, then you must continue questioning to either satisfy that test or dismiss it outright. Accepting an implausible story is illogical.

Plausibility always comes before acceptance. 

The best part about using the plausibility test (and doing the work required by it) is that the less you know, the less you will see as plausible. As a result, you will research more, and can learn more.

The plausibility test is useful in all kinds of situations. From differentiating between honest and biased news stories in the media (and social media), to making sure that we don’t get suckered into marketing hype and buying snake oil-type products or avoid getting taken advantage of by so-called “experts” (construction contractors and mechanics come to mind), the plausibility test is an excellent tool to help us become informed, responsible, and empowered citizens in a society that is becoming more manipulative, complex, and intimidating by the hour.

So don’t just take my word on this test or the benefits that are possible with it; ask yourself: “are they plausible?”

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