(ReadWith) UnderstandingIsContageous, PostTruth, ConspiracyTheories, EpistemicClosure, NetocracyAndEpistemology, PostModernism

Are we heading for an end of age of where large scale consensus is dead?

Think about the FeudalismCapitalismInformationalism type models of history.

Under feudalism, where knowledge was divine, there was very tight consensus, managed by the church or religious authority.

Under capitalism / ProjectMan, there was, theoretically a free-market in ideas, supported by literal free-markets in books, journals and PrintMedia.

However, even here, there were forces of consolidation : most respectable knowledge was produced by state sanctioned universities and those educated and qualified by them. And distributed by an oligopoly / oligopsony of serious publishing companies.

Fragmentation was still possible, compare the conventional wisdom of the social sciences with economics etc. But there were strong tendencies towards consolidation.

Now, with the NationStateUnderAttack, AcademiaVsNewMedia and the internet, the tendencies towards consolidation are ever weakened. Everyone is developing their own world-view and repository of beliefs, dependent on their own personal network of influences. Religion is resurgent against rational humanism, pseudo-science and extreme political positions get new exposure. Wikipedia is ever more disputed. ConspiracyTheory abounds.

To say the internet is full of nonsense is over-simplistic. It's daily evidence that consensus has broken down. In its place is NetworkEpistemology.

How seriously does one take these things :

  • etc ...

And how do we make our decision? Appeal to those who the state or the media annoint experts? Agree with friends in our social network? Do a solitary critical analysis?

I wonder if there's a connection with MarketsAsBonfiresOfReason? For topics which are politically contentious : GunControl, IntelligentDesign etc. might the free-market of online communication end up with a ZeroSumGame. Each person desperately trying to "win" the argument (increasingly to avoid the CognitiveDissonance of being wrong ie. WhenProphecyFails) picks more holes in, and spreads more FUD about the opponent (often resorting to critiques of methodology or easily revisably trivial details rather than the overall spirit of the thing.) Essentially, the criticism space becomes polluted with a crud of misunderstandings and half-understood critical minutae. (See also : SwiftBoating)

What's the solution? Software to help map the criticism space : ArgumentVisualization, TypedThreadedDiscussion, SystemSketch etc.

Quora Answer : How big is the world market for fact-based, bias-conscious, debate-rich media?

May 3, 2016

Of course there's a market for truth-telling media. The problem is how you can recognize which media tell the truth or hold a particular magazine or newspaper to that promise.

All newspapers and magazines and TV news present themselves as giving you an honest account. (We normally only see the bias in "other people's" media.)

Now you can say "well let's have a range of opinions" but we've seen how that can quickly collapse into the kind of "he said, she said" journalism which is misleading in its own way : suddenly you think there's a "controversy" between evolution and creation as explanations of the natural world. It's very easy for the TV to pull in opponents to shout at each other while the commentators then give their own interpretation and spin to the result.

What we're actually suffering is a great contemporary drama, perhaps a huge historical shift : the collapse of the illusion of consensus. There was never total consensus but the limited number of media outlets and trusted authorities like schools and governments meant that some kind of shared model of the world could be cobbled together, disagreement fell within fairly well understood parameters, and we believed that we all believed more or less the same facts.

Today everyone with a Facebook page (1.5 billion) or other website or YouTube account, is a media outlet. The plurality of opinions that have been revealed about how the world works is mind-blowing. And the fragmentation and speciation of world models is accelerating.

I find it terrifying and depressing. But I think the reality is that a mainstream consensus (on politics, economics, international relations, whole branches of science and more), is almost extinct. We are entering an era where there's nothing but a cacophony of rival conspiracy theories. Attempts to dig deeper and find out "the truth" just reveal more layers of conspiracism. They just add more epicycles to the already baroque theories.

There don't seem to be any tools to overcome this. If you ask for more supporting evidence, it's always possible to find someone who said something or acted in some way, or knew-someone-who-knew-someone which seems to add weight to the conspiracy theory. After all we live in a "small world" of, if not 6, then very few degrees of separation. And humans always have some flaws that can be highlighted to discredit them.

If you try a statistical analysis, you come up against the fact that all statistics are selective. The data-set you choose is selective and can be accused of "cherry-picking". The particular models / algorithms you choose contain their own biases. The results themselves are only probabilistic rather than certain etc.)

If you try to write better, or produce a slicker video, or a wittier documentary, you'll find yourself in an arms-race with rival conspiracy theories that are also upping their presentation game.

This is all-out memetic warfare. And meme survival in the era of social media depends on "virulence" : how successfully can a meme persuade someone to pass it on to their friends. For that it needs to be a bit surprising or comforting, superficially "truthy", and aligned to the prejudices of the host. No-one likes or passes along memes that they don't initially agree with, that confuse or challenge them. Or that would force them to think (if they felt they had time to think.)

So even if you want to be a respectable, truthful media outlet, first you have to discover the truth. You can't hire reporters that don't have biases. You can't find academics that everyone respects. You don't have the resources to do science or political economic research of your own. (And even if you did, you would have to ground your research within some of the assumptions of the field, which opponents will challenge.)

Even if many people would, in principle, be willing to pay for a genuinely accurate newspaper. It will be impossible to prove that your newspaper is that genuinely true one. You'll still be attacked by disbelievers who are convinced that their conspiracy theory is more accurate than your truth.

Quora Answer : Could an AI algorithm enable a one-click real-time fake news fact check feature, say, on Facebook?

Oct 23, 2017


The problem we have today is not "fake news".

It's the lack of consensus about what the truth is. And the lack of any agreed authority to tell us.

Theoretically, sites like Snopes help us tell the truth from the lies.

But the people who like the lies now just classify Snopes as as a biased "left-wing" news outlet and go on believing the lies.

It's easy to have a "check this" button on Facebook. It's almost impossible to persuade people to believe it, if they aren't inclined to.