When I was on my recent canoe trip the guides, when talking together, often made reference to beta, as in “when I left the rafting company I gave them good beta on the Mountain River trip.” Curious, I asked one of them, so what’s this beta?
He said, guides give each other beta about the river — good campsites, best lines down tricky rapids, hikes up side canyons. Beta is direct, first-hand knowledge passed to another. Good beta received also rests on your knowledge of the person, their skills, personality, knowledge and experience as a guide to be able to accurately assess how you take the beta.
Alpha is what you experience first-hand and know. The lives of the guide’s clients may depend on good alpha and beta.
It hit me immediately the profundity of the idea for our lives. How much do we really know first-hand? Alpha. How much do we know from someone who has experienced something first-hand? Beta. Then how much do we accept as true, whether ideas, facts, rumours, gossip and opinions, that are, what… certainly several steps from real, tangible first-hand experience?
For example think of something as obvious as the world being a sphere. I have been high enough in a jet to see the subtle curve of the earth. Not enough to know it is a sphere but add to that actual footage of looking down from the space station where I could see the dramatic curve of the earth, the Apollo photo of the whole earth and so on, then I can piece together a pretty solid case for the statement, the earth is a sphere, as something I know. Meaning something I perceive rather than believe.
I’m not saying, at least for myself, that unless I can perceive it I won’t believe it. But I do think it worth stopping for a second and consider how far removed most of the ideas that wash over us each day are removed from first-hand experience. If we think of the environment, health, education, national interests, both inside and outside our borders, most of it arrives with no direct connection to someone we know and trust. We also know, or believe perhaps, that much of what passes for news as been spun one way or the other by someone who wants to make sure we don’t receive any alpha on that topic. And add to that most of our perception rests on a deeper set of learned beliefs about self, country, mores, and religion or spirit. Almost all of it not alpha, even though most of us hold some of these beliefs as sacred and not open to question.
I sat for some time thinking what, outside the immediate boundaries of the property I live on and close neighbourhood I live in and the people I live with, can I count as alpha? How much do I really know from first-hand experience? Not learned, second or third hand opinions and biases.
If you do the same, you may discover you know more, or less, than you thought. But I found this idea of alpha knowledge certainly slows my mouth down from spouting the next thing that pops into my head.
Alpha has to do with finding truth. And we know from Keats, ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Next I want to look at finding alpha from within, or knowledge from inner resonance to truth.