Want to Acquire Breakthrough Knowledge? Open your Mind!
By George J. Chanos, Jan 12th, 2020
If this article challenges your existing world view — consider yourself lucky. That’s what breakthrough knowledge does. It provides disconfirming evidence. It makes you see something that you hadn’t seen before. Something that challenges your existing assumptions and offers new insights.
Breakthrough knowledge can be unsettling. It can move you from certainty to uncertainty. That’s ok. The truth however unsettling is always preferable to the comfort of false certainty. Hopefully, you will read something here that opens your mind to an alternative perspective — a perspective that can provide you with “breakthrough knowledge” — knowledge that allows you to see the truth more clearly.
Most people do not watch news sources that challenge their existing world view. This is how media echo-chambers and thought silos are created, developed and maintained. It’s incredibly dangerous and we are only now beginning to see the consequences of it’s sustained effects.
FOX appeals to conservative confirmation biases. MSNBC and CNN appeal to liberal confirmation biases. They all continuously feed their viewers information that conforms to their existing world views. These media outlets want to build and maintain market share. They don’t want their viewers leaving. They don’t want to upset or disappoint them. And they don’t want to create cognitive dissonance in their viewers, that is discomforting, by confusing them with ambiguity or mixed messaging. They want stickiness. They want people to tune in and stay tuned. And they want them to feel comfortable, safe and secure in the views being expressed — so they mirror the views of their audience.
In social media, the echo-chamber and thought silo effects are even more profound. Companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon want the same stickiness. The term “Stickiness” originated in the online space. These companies were specifically designed around three core principles and objectives.
- Attract as many eyeballs as possible;
- Keep those eyeballs focused on your media for as long as possible; and
- Deliver as much advertising as possible with the highest possible conversion rates.
This is how these companies make money — by selling advertising and data. Massive amounts of money. Trillions in combined market value. Greater than many nation-states.
All of these objectives are radically inconsistent with your own.
These companies have collected massive amounts of data concerning your likes, preferences, dislikes, and world view. They also have highly sophisticated artificial intelligence and algorithms that they use to target you with information, stories, images and news feeds that appeal to your known preferences and confirmation biases. Information that they derive, from data they have collected, relating to your activities both on and off social media.
The net effect of all of this has been to create echo-chambers and thought silos that have fueled the greatest level of social and political polarization since the Civil War. Researchers have had to go back 160 years to find this level of political polarization. It wasn’t this bad during the Vietnam War or the Civil Rights movement. And the farther one has to go back to find such social and political division, the more it evidences that society is devolving rather than progressing.
These companies also represent the greatest threat to democracy ever created. George W. Bush won the 2000 election by 537 votes in Florida. Future presidential elections will be won or lost by only thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of votes. It is now possible for a single Facebook algorithm to tip the balance of a U.S. presidential election, by influencing hundreds of thousands of votes, without anyone knowing. And this represents an existential threat to our democracy. A far more immediate threat than the existential threat of global warming.
Donald Trump used a company called Cambridge Analytica to target what the company had identified, through the use of artificial intelligence, as “persuadables” in key midwestern states during the 2016 election. This is well documented through multiple news sources. And a Russian disinformation campaign attempted to inflame public division during the same 2016 election. This is also well documented in the Mueller report.
All of this represents an enormous and immediate threat to our democracy, to our mindset development, and ultimately to our national security.
Our minds are extremely malleable and susceptible to misinformation. Our brains receive 11 million bits of information each second. Our conscious brain can only process 15 to 50 bits of information per second. The rest of this information enters our brains through our unconscious — outside of our conscious awareness. Studies have shown that researchers can implant false memories and use music, smells, touch, and other sensory stimulation to influence our behavior. The same qualities of the human brain that allow us to learn and process vast qualities of information also represent an enormous threat — an Achilles heel through which false information can pass undetected.
These threats are exacerbated by our natural reluctance to watch alternative news sources. We want validation. We want our world view to be the correct view. Tribalism, the people we associate with, work with, play with, and speak to, contributes to the reinforcement of our world view. Our egos become invested in these world views and our egos hate being torn down even to be rebuilt. Our social tribes further reinforce our world views and discourage our expression of alternative views. We may be criticized, ostracized or even banished from the tribe for expressing views or beliefs that some regard as tribal blasphemy. And many of us need our tribes. We depend on these relationships, so we are careful not to jeopardize them by expressing alternative perspectives. This further disincentivizes us from even wanting to learn about alternative perspectives — what good are they if we can’t even share them with our friends, family, and co-workers and no one we know is embracing them?
Our brains are even hardwired to think this way. Information that conforms to our existing beliefs travels down a different neural pathway than information that challenges our existing beliefs. Information that conforms to our existing beliefs is immediately accepted by our brains while information that doesn’t conform to our existing beliefs is subjected to a gauntlet of challenges. We will accept information from a dubious news source if it conforms to our existing beliefs while rejecting information, from a far more credible news source, that challenges our existing beliefs. And all of this occurs outside of our conscious awareness. We don’t even realize it‘s happening. We honestly and genuinely believe we’re being objective — when in reality we’re not being the least bit objective.
Moreover, all of this is exacerbated by a mainstream and social media that are financially incentivized to deliver content that appeals to our confirmation biases rather than truly educate or inform us.
This is all contributing to a state of ignorance and social polarization that is contrary to our collective self-interests. It breeds ignorance and intolerance. It fuels polarization and prohibits communication, collaboration, and compromise.
Importantly, this level of distraction, distrust, and division is not contrary to everyone’s interests. Some are benefiting from it and others are intentionally fueling and creating it.
In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari says, “Though it’s monopoly over the media, the ruling oligarchy can repeatedly blame all of its failures on others and divert attention to external threats — either real or imaginary… If the nation is facing external invasion or diabolical subversion, who has time to worry about overcrowded hospitals or polluted rivers?”
Think Russian collusion, Ukraine, Impeachment, and Iran. This is all about distraction and diversion.
Our government, and both political parties, regardless of who is in office, all have a vested interest in both dividing and distracting us. Make no mistake about this. If you understand nothing else understand this. Your political party is not your friend. They are not acting as your fiduciary. They are not working for you. They are working for themselves to acquire and consolidate power and control. And they are fostering division and distraction to acquire and maintain that control. They are not interested in communication, collaboration, and compromise. All of which are required for true and sustainable progress. Some are driven by myopic ideology and a misguided belief that they, or their tribe, have all the answers or the right ideology. How is that possible when their ideology represents the views of, at most, only half the country? Others are driven by greed. Some simply want power and control.
Personally, I believe that our system of government is in the final throes of decline and that a new technology-based system of direct voter participation and control will need to emerge and replace our fundamentally flawed system of “unrepresentative” government. I see major structural political change happening in ten to twenty years. I talk more about this in my new book. Millennial Samurai: A Mindset for the 21st Century. Available on Amazon.
Knowledge is derived not from confirming information but from disconfirming information. This is especially true of “breakthrough knowledge” — knowledge that helps us make real and important progress and discoveries. This has been the path of scientific progress for centuries. One piece of disconfirming evidence is worth a million pieces of confirming evidence. And you won’t find that disconfirming evidence in your echo chamber or in your social media feed. You will only find it by watching and reading alternative news sources. By talking to people outside of your tribe and by engaging in a search for the truth with an open mind.
For more information on mindset development go to Mindset And Motivation | Millennial Samurai (http://www.MillennialSamurai.com) and read my new book. Make the most of your one and only life by opening your mind to new possibilities and perspectives.