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

    Some Reflections on the Revolution in Propaganda 

    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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    nmw 16:09:28 on 2016/05/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , common language, , , , , , , , , , , , , reason,   

    The Rise of Rational Media 

    Recently, I posted something on Facebook that I said to Vint Cerf 10 years ago. It was revolutionary then. Even more shocking to me today is that it probably still seems revolutionary.

    Why? Why do so many people still appear so lacking in literacy skills? Perhaps even more importantly: Why do I remain so optimistic that more and more people will eventually acquire more and more literacy skills after all?

    So far, I am sorry to say that I don’t know why. Maybe I simply prefer to have an optimistic outlook.

    But I think almost anyone will have to admit that there are clear signs that a change is indeed presently happening here and now. The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations were clear signs that people are no longer willing to be duped and suckered by governments and corporations alike. The only failure Occupy experienced was a lack of power – in the end, the side with more and most of all more powerful guns won.

    Is literacy more powerful than weaponry? The Enlightenment preached that the pen was mightier than the sword, but was that perhaps also simply a hoax?

    Again: My optimism leads me to continue to believe in the power of literacy. What happened during the Occupy uprising was, after all, not a true test of literacy against weaponry – it was plain and simple stubborn power against stubborn power… and stronger stubborn power won.

    The true test of literacy is when people decide „We won’t get fooled again“… and follow through on their own convictions.

    This was one reason people stopped using Google and started using social media websites instead. They didn’t realize the new boss was more or less the same as the old boss. Do they realize this now? Time will tell.

    What became quite clear during the Occupy uprising was that the government was not on the side of the 99%. This was perhaps a shock to many… but it is not the first time that a government has sided with commercial and industrial interests.

    As I recently wrote: Government may indeed have very little or even no interest in promoting the literacy of its people if it believes it may be threatened by a more literate population. In order to win a following, governments and corporations alike employ propaganda and advertising rather than rational argumentation.

    Rational media, instead, are built on a foundation of literacy. Still few and far between (mainly because propaganda and advertising were much more widespread throughout the 20th Century), rational media are not normally closely held by private interests. Indeed, because of the distributed nature of the Internet, it is very difficult to maintain monopoly power over rational media (versus, for example, retard media).

    The first sign of a literate public is one which is willing and able to abstain from succumbing to monopoly powers. This was true when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses onto the front doors of a Catholic church cathedral 5 centuries ago, and it is equally true for anyone who is willing and able to refrain from using Google or Facebook.

    Another sign of a more literate public is one which is willing and able to agree on terminology. This is perhaps easier said than done. Obviously, it is extremely difficult in situations where people speak completely different languages. Yet even when people speak more or less the same language, they may have different opinions about many things, and such differences of opinion may lead to differing terminology, and perhaps also significant misunderstandings.

    One way to mitigate this problem of potential misunderstanding is to focus intensely on „common language“ terminology. It is possible to sacrifice precision without sacrificing accuracy, and it is a great feat to be content with a solution which is essentially on the mark despite spilling over into minor side effects.

    There are many more aspects of a literate society that deserve to be enumerated, but this post is already quite long. So I will simply save them for another rainy day.

     
  • Profile photo of nmw

    nmw 22:35:13 on 2015/02/15 Permalink
    Tags: , collective subjectivity, , , , , , , , reason, , , ,   

    Subjectivity + Rationality 

    Many people believe the foundation of science and scientific thought is observation and objectivity — but I believe they are simply overlooking a lot of data … and in particular the much more fundamental way humans (and probably most life) think and also about how they tend to naturally make decisions.

    Humans do not normally observe data objectively. On the contrary, they usually orient their thinking towards what other humans think. As I mentioned in my previous post, this may very well have its “roots” in something like instinctive or innate behavior. Yet beyond such reflexive attention to the affections of others, humans also orient much of their rational thinking and base their notion of rationality on such herd thinking (also known as “herd mentality”).

    This is not simply a matter of “pre-modern” thinking before the age of science. While few people today are aware of the fact that Galileo died as a heretic, even fewer are aware that much of what people consider to be “rationality” is also based on the same kind of herd mentality by which observations are deemed as valid or invalid, credible or incredible, accepted dogma or heretical nonsense.

    Democracy and the idea of “majority rule” are prime examples of this phenomenon. Likewise statements like “9 out of 10 experts agree” seem to be a convincing argument that you, too, ought to agree. To establish something as a rock-solid fact, there is nothing nearly as effective as widespread agreement regarding that fact.

    It was only a little over 100 years ago, that the psychologist Gustave Le Bon pioneered the examination of herds and mob mentality. Many of his insights became central to the fields first known as “propaganda”, later “public relations”, marketing and advertising. Basically, the idea in each arena was to use some sort of trick to convince people that the vast majority of people believed some proposition — such as that a food or beverage tastes good, or that some other product or service is desirable.

    Since such tricks undermine what our natural instincts and inclinations lead us to believe what might be reliable information, the increasing influx of misinformation will increasingly make it harder for us to discern good from bad information sources. This problem is further exacerbated by policies which limit the wider public’s ability to learn basic skills such as literacy, numeracy, etc.

    Today, it is more important than ever to understand how (for want of a better term) our “collective subjectivity” can  be used to separate the wheat from the chaffe — firstly, whether that can even be practically attained at all; and secondly, how we can best cultivate such capabilities without becoming misguided by attempts to trick us into being fooled by deceitful attempts dupe the masses into becoming a mob of suckers.

     
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    feedwordpress 17:28:12 on 2014/04/28 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , reason, ,   

    Computers, Humans, Economics, Marketing, Logic and Psychology 

    Computers are machines that apply algorithms according to some sort of logic… — and in this way they function in a way quite analagous to economic theory.

    Humans are beings that use their brains according to psychological quirks they have acquired… — and in this way they function in a way quite analagous to what marketing tactics might predict.

     
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