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    feedwordpress 14:21:33 on 2018/12/21 Permalink
    Tags: , , bias, biology, , , , , , , , , distrust, distrustworthy, document, documentation, documents, , , , , , , , gatekeeper, homo sapiens, , , , , information and communications technology, , , , , , ordinary language, plain language, plain talk, , , , publication, , , , , , , , , , , , , transparent, , trustworthiness, , vernacular, ,   

    Some Reflections on the Revolution in Propaganda 


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    More or less exactly ten generations after Edmund Burke’s treatise concerning the French Revolution and roughly about twenty generations after the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press, I would like to give you a small update on the state of news, media and publishing following the advent of modern computers on the dissemination landscape.

    In this endeavor, I will utilize a case study involving a podcast video on the interwebs, in particular youtube.com, which I hope will help by providing a graphic illustration of what’s going on right now. The case in point is a discussion between an evolutionary biologist, William von Hippel, and a media magnate, Joe Rogan, concerning the publication of Mr. von Hippel’s new neato book titled “The Social Leap”. I shared a link to the entire discussion a couple weeks ago, here I wish to focus on a short segment starting at 2:08:55.

    Originally, my fascination with the topic centered on the origins of human language, but unfortunately there was hardly any discussion of this during the podcast. Although there are many fascinating points regarding the evolution of homo sapiens, very little (if anything at all) was directly related to the genesis of human language. I have often noted that the very first line in the Bible’s book of Genesis directly indicates “the word” as being at the beginning of human history, but exactly how this first word was ever spoken remains an enigma. My own hunch is that it followed other types of expression – such as body language, facial expressions and the like – and that several rather complex communicative norms needed to become institutionalized (and that language was therefore perhaps far more difficult to develop than other technologies). I imagine that three evolutionary developments might have been particularly advantageous, namely: 1. increased brain size; 2. “whites” of eyes; and 3. improved vocal apparatus. Mr. von Hippel also mentions the first two of these developments.

    I have heard Noam Chomsky give a ball-park estimate of ca. 75 thousand years ago for the approximate beginnings of language. Most of the developments mentioned by Mr. von Hippel predate that by a longshot, but the segment I mentioned above (2:08:55) has to do with a development that is undoubtedly much newer, since it is about reasoning and argumentation (which as far as I know must require language). The segment begins with a discussion of confirmation bias, and Mr. von Hippel then mentions a 2011 paper written by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, saying the paper shows that humans actually evolved to use confirmation bias to persuade each other of their own opinions rather than actually trying to find out what is actually true. I was shocked by this statement and read the original article. Upon doing so, it became clear to me that Mr. von Hippel had misrepresented the original findings – and I have contacted Hugo Mercier and he assures me that my shock was indeed warranted.

    Mercier & Sperber (2011), on the contrary, contends that while the confirmation bias may very well be active when producing arguments, it is largely inactive during the evaluation of arguments. This symbiotic relationship is crucial, and to overlook it is a gross distortion of the findings. Why did this happen?

    I believe the answer to this question involves yet another development in the history of human languages, perhaps even newer than the “Why do humans reason?” development of argumentation proposed by Mercier & Sperber. Perhaps the earliest records of writing date back to cave paintings and sculptures made by humans tens of thousands of years ago, but the development of writing systems standardized enough to be used for communication across larger stretches of space and time required the development of more advanced social institutionalization – perhaps dating back no further than just about 10,000 years (in other words, only ca. 500 generations).

    For most of this time, writing was extremely limited and was only available to the most educated classes. Therefore, any ideas shared would only be written down if they passed the muster of such highly educated gatekeepers. In my humble opinion, this recurring process led to the development of something I wish to refer to as a publication bias – a “believability” of ideas that have been written down. Shortly after the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press a little over 500 years ago, the world up to that point was shaken up briefly… but that came to an end when copyright law was established and the production of large-scale printing presses became prohibitively expensive. For the past several hundred years, the publication bias has largely been reinstitutionalized, though the publishing industry became highly fragmented (from a church monopoly before 1500 to a plethora of publishing gatekeepers thereafter). The new gatekeepers were governed by many laws, and thereby it was possible to control the dissemination of information. Early modern information technologies such as telegraph, telephone, radio, television, etc. did little to change that.

    What did change it was the advent of the personal computer. Desktop publishing was hardly a challenge to traditional publishing, but electronic publishing is marching forwards in leaps and bounds on its way to completely eradicating the titans of the paper era. Day after day, the cost of publishing information across the entire globe continues to new record-setting lows. It is a well-known, commonplace fact that publishing technology has now also been birthed from Pandora’s box, and that it is now nearly everywhere, cheap and easy to use… for anyone.

    And therein lies the rub: The days of publishing gatekeepers are finally over. Clicking a button is not at all difficult to do… and so everyone’s doing it.

    The result we need to face today is that the publication bias – the naive trust in written information – is (or at least should be) also gone, probably forever (or at least for the “foreseeable future”).

    And yet likewise we see virtually on a daily basis that the publication bias is actually very far from gone. On the contrary: not only do old habits die hard, but now we have even more, new and improved, of such biases. Perhaps leading the pack is the modern brand name – completely vacuous and empty, but highly valued, exclusive and nearly impenetrable to most rational thought processes. Brands carry the weight of innumerable imaginary people, built up over years, decades if not centuries. Such colossal weight bogs the average human’s mind, and the most popular brands are revered as gods, never to be doubted or questioned. What previously had been delegated to print, today can fly as high as Coca-cola, Apple, Amazon, Facebook or Google or YouTube or untold other brands. No longer is the sky the limit, either – no, these fantastic companies will fly to the moon, Mars and far beyond into space, reaching for the stars.

    Will ordinary humans ever come back down to earth? How will we ever be able to re-introduce a modicum of rationality into our species? Perhaps we should untie ourselves from our slavery to brands, brand names, megalithic monopolistic enterprises and such. Maybe we should return to ordinary communications – straight talk, free of mumbo jumbo.

    Luckily, the founders of the Internet apparently did have enough foresight to foresee the potential dangers of centralized information resources. The technology at the basis of modern civilization today is actually not the problem. The problem is modern human behavior, especially the way modern humans behave in groups. We have seen this time and again throughout the 20th Century, now we must “human up” and become more reasonable.

    We must learn to recognize the difference between fake and real. This is actually not as difficult as it sounds. What makes it relatively simple is when we simply recognize that the human languages we use on a daily basis are our own, and that we are free to communicate our ideas, wants and needs as we please. We don’t need no central authority to control our thoughts. We don’t need no dictator to figure out the truth. We can rely on what we understand from humans, and also that we will be understood by humans. Humans are rational beings – and that means they will rationalize their ideas, each according to their own language. Mutual understanding among humans is the primary goal we must strive for. Regular ordinary straight talk is the basis of human rationality, and it is time we recognize this fact and reestablish regular ordinary straight talk into our daily lives, our information and communication technologies and our entire media landscape.

    We should not trust that Joe Rogan or William von Hippel are right. We should not feel secure that the big data algorithms of YouTube or Google will watch out for us. We need to open our own eyes for ourselves and take a good hard look at reality – because that is what matters.

    One last point I wish to address is an issue that I feel could easily lead to a misunderstanding. While I argue that brand names are inadequate as symbols of trust or reliability, brand names do serve a constructive purpose, function and useful role in the modern social order. These labels and identifiers enable us to refer to individuals, individual entities, individual processes and distinct, unique phenomena we engage with and participate in on a daily basis. Therefore, they serve an integral role in our entire social fabric. Note, though, that our ability to reference such entities and phenomena has very little to do with the trustworthiness of the entities or phenomena themselves, but rather with the trustworthiness of the social order – for example, a well-functioning legal framework that forms the basis of such well-established social institutions as private property, fair trade, open communications, etc.

    Meaningful information requires language, and meaningful accounting requires itemization. Bringing both of these phenomena together is a matter of dovetailing information organized via language with the accountability of big data bases. If you would like to participate in helping to make this happen, I invite you to get up and sign up with phenomenonline.com!

     
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    feedwordpress 16:21:00 on 2017/04/16 Permalink
    Tags: bias, biases, , , , , , , , , , ,   

    Scripts, Stories, Narratives, Filling in the Gaps without Resorting to Fake News and other Propaganda Techniques 


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    I have recently been minding my gaping gap and just the other day I was talking with someone about filling in the gaps, so I’ve decided to give you all a what’s update (I’m thinking that could maybe catch on sometime as a new term, sort of like all gangsta ‘n’ neato).

    But before I get too far off track, let me mix it up a little with some additional nerdiness: let’s talk about facts! I know there are plenty of data scientists and data journalists who can’t seem to get enough data (like they hope when they die and go to heaven, they will be able to hook up with a lot of ones and zeroes). Me, I’m all about being discrete, but to be honest I think I would much rather get a little more abstract every now and then.

    First of all, there’s the starting point. Little did you know, but you are already past it. Then there’s the end point – and don’t worry: it’s coming up real soon. In between those two points, there are an infinite number of other points. Infinite means: “so much, that even a computer can’t figure it out” — a really bad translation might be something like: “nevermind“. OK, if that isn’t abstract enough for you yet, then get this: in between any two points (like even between any of the infinite number of points between the starting point and the end point) there are also an infinite number of points. I could keep going on like this, but I hope you get the point already (haha — get it? 😉 ).

    Right here I’m pretty much right in the middle of the story. Everything I write here is another point, and all of it could also be referred to as data. But of course there are also missing pieces — like I haven’t told you whether it’s daytime or nighttime, whether it’s cloudy, all sorts of stuff. There are actually humongous gaps, if you think about it. The funny thing is: it’s entirely up to you to fill them in.

    Whether you like it or not, you are going to have to make some assumptions. The sad truth is that you will never have all the data. Why? Well, consider this: even if you think you have pretty much all of the data, there will still be an infinite number of data points in between the two closest points of data in your collection.

    I know it’s a big pain, but you will simply have to use your imagination to fill in the gaps.

    But don’t fret — we haven’t reached the end yet. I still have something more to tell. It’s actually something like a piece of advice for how you could and should go about coming up with the missing puzzle pieces. Way back at the beginning I told you I was talking with someone just the other day, remember? We were talking about something called “confirmation bias” — this is when you fill in the missing pieces with something you already think is true (and therefore it confirms the truth of what you already think — see also this video for a really neato explanation of it with a bunch of examples, too).

    Now there are perhaps also an infinite number of ways that someone could fill in the missing gaps in a story. Let me give you an example. I often talk about “retard media“. When you read those two words, you probably think something like “what does he mean?” (if you follow the link, you will see that I wrote a whole article about what I mean when I use that phrase — but even that article also has an infinite number of gaps that need filling in) Let me simplify this. Let’s pretend there are basically only two interpretations: 1. I am a bad person; or 2. there is something else “out there” that is bad (I am using “bad” here because it seems that a lot of people feel that way about the word “retard”). To flesh out the details a little more, this “bad” might have something to do with attitude — like a condescending attitude (so in other words, you might attribute “condescending attitude” to me or to something else). Now I have written more and more details here, but in the end it is still up to you to fill in the missing pieces, to accommodate the new information with your already existing beliefs and so on.

    As you do this, your biases will influence you. Many people think that the more you are aware of your biases, the better will the accommodation process reflect the actual “facts“.

    That’s it for now (we’re getting very near the end). Have a pleasant day! 🙂

     
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