words and images by mk swanson


Doubt is a strainer through which we pour experience. What’s credible runs through the mesh; what’s not, stays to be examined and either labeled not true, or kept as an exception: incredible, but still true. Sometimes, though, an incredible experience makes the mesh bigger, allowing more to pass through the strainer.

Research indicates that our doubt process is refined by many things: mental damage and ageexpectation bias, confirmation bias, and that old standby, prejudice. But I’m thinking about the molding of experience: illusion, trickery, propaganda, deceit.

Do you like to watch magic shows? I don’t. I have a deep horror of being fooled. I don’t trust authority, but I don’t put stock in conspiracy theorists, either. I trust only my own understanding and experience, and even in that, I worry if my thinking is properly organized. So when someone fools my senses and bypasses my doubt filter, perhaps even makes that filter wider, because now I KNOW that the thing in question is possible because of my own experience, how can I defend myself?

I fall for it every time. When I was thirty (old enough to know better), I believed for about twenty-four hours that it was possible to bend spoons–because I saw it, close up and one on one. In my 40s, I believed I could feel energy moving in ironstones. (I’m not scientifically illiterate, I knew the stones could be magnetic, so I didn’t imagine this force was supernatural, I just… felt it.) But I wonder: did my ‘friends’ manipulate the stones? Was it my own experience, or was I manipulated?

How far have illusions opened the mesh of my doubt? Is my experience simply a loose sieve? Do I throw out my hard-won certainties because I recognize that I can be fooled?

I want to write a thoughtful, face-saving ending that will make you think that I am now possessed of an impenetrable shield against deception, but there is no such thing.

I’m fairly sure.