Unraveling Reality {43}


A cold-eyed look at humanity cannot help but bring chagrin. History has been a whirlwind of incomprehension that continues to this day. The reason why is simple: whereas discerning actuality takes effort, believing misinformation is easy.

One can never reverse what has been learned, even if the uptake is fiction, not fact. The mind refuses to return to a prior state.

“It is extremely difficult to return the beliefs of people who have been exposed to misinformation to a baseline similar to those of people who were never exposed to it.” ~ Australian psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky et al

The curse of knowledge is the inability to subtract what one knows. The curse manifests when teachers assume that their students know more about a subject than the students do know.

“Social interaction is really an interaction of minds, of mental states.” ~ Janet Wilde Astington

Culture relies upon sharing information. Although believability is a factor in determining whether information is propagated, people mainly pass on tidbits that evoke an emotional response, irrespective of veracity.

“Emotional arousal increases people’s willingness to pass on information.” ~ American psychologist Colleen Seifert et al

Social repetition creates an illusion of consensus when none exists. Thinking that others believe something – particularly those who are respected – solidifies and sustains belief in a falsity.

“A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” ~ Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin

From ancient times, propagandists have appreciated human gullibility. Politicians invariably rely upon it.

One outcome of lies in the societal arena is pluralistic ignorance: a dichotomy between what is generally believed and what people think is generally believed. This can result in the false-consensus effect: those with a minority belief wrongly thinking that they are in the majority. Such wrongly perceived social consensus can serve to solidify belief in falsity. Correction becomes practically impossible, creating the continued-influence effect: a lie becomes the truth.

The press contributes to misinformation. To render science “newsworthy,” the media inexorably oversimplify, misrepresent, or overdramatize scientific results.

As science is inherently complex, simplification is inevitable. But oversimplification easily leads to misunderstanding.

Another failure prances in journalists’ illusory aim to be “balanced” in their reportage. There is no balance to be had in some stories.

“If media stick to journalistic principles of “balance” even when it is not warranted, the outcome can be highly misleading.” ~ Australian psychologist John Cook et al

Reportage about man-made climate change is exemplary. Human manufacture of global warming through worldwide pollution is scientifically indisputable. Yet contrarian tripe has featured prominently in the media. The misleading sense of controversy on a scientifically settled issue has left the public confused about the severity of human impact on the planet.

While refreshingly diverse, the cacophony of the Internet has grossly exacerbated the problem of public misinformation. So-called “fake” news has become common.

Fact or fiction, repetition in and of itself reaps a reward when it comes to learning. Familiarity creates credence.

“Repetition of information strengthens that information in memory and thus strengthens belief in it, simply because the repeated information seems more familiar or is associated with different contexts that can serve as later retrieval cues.” ~ Australian psychologist Ullrich Ecker et al

Falsity is most readily accepted when it is part of a plausible story, consistent with other assumed facts, or corresponds with established beliefs.

“People’s worldview plays a key role in the persistence of misinformation. Personal beliefs can facilitate the acquisition of attitude-consonant misinformation, increase reliance on misinformation, and inoculate against the correction of false beliefs.” ~ German American psychologist Norbert Schwarz et al

Facing facts which run counter to current belief, only if a source is considered credible and the listener relatively open-minded on the topic can otherwise-suspicious factual content hope to trump its sinister sister: misinformation.

“Although suspension of belief is possible, it seems to require a high degree of attention, considerable implausibility of the message, or high levels of distrust at the time the message is received. So, in most situations, the deck is stacked in favor of accepting information rather than rejecting it, provided there are no salient markers that call the speaker’s intention into question. Going beyond this default of acceptance requires additional motivation and cognitive resources.” ~ Stephan Lewandowsky et al

Once misinformation is accepted, it is highly resistant to deletion, which requires active mental denunciation. This is especially difficult when a falsity fits well within an ensconced belief.

“Retractions rarely, if ever, have the intended effect of eliminating reliance on misinformation, even when people believe, understand, and later remember the retraction.” ~ Norbert Schwarz et al

Misinformation is abetted by the illusion of knowledge: people thinking they know more than they do. With few exceptions, the illusion of knowledge is universal.

“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.” ~ American historian Daniel Boorstin

Thus, this is the state of human knowledge: an admixture of facts and fabrications attached to widespread beliefs in falsehoods, with fictions as foundations, and facts supportive only by being sewn into a fabric of falsity. The central beliefs of humanity are rubbish which have diverted humanity down cul-de-sacs of self-destruction and abiding ignorance.

“The bulk of the world’s knowledge is an imaginary construction.” ~ American author Helen Keller