43 – #MUNTED

Dicit ei Pilatus: “Quid est veritas?”

Vaccines cause autism.

Man never landed on the Moon.

Obama is a Muslim.

Everything is true. Even false things. We know this, because whatever we believe, we can find confirmation. Provide any assertion (however outrageous) to a search engine, and find the others: Flat Earthers and Birthers, Lizard Rulers and Orgone Believers. Where we once confronted the Horrible Truth alone, we now band together. We act as balm for each other’s wounds, soothing the pains of a World That Will Not Listen, blind to the truth.

What is truth? Is it simply what we believe, or is there something outside ourselves which must serve as reference point? Can something become true simply because enough people believe it? We frequently act as though belief magically transmutes into truth. But if this were true, there would be no truth, consistency, nor logic. The world would be a patchwork of assertions inside each of our own heads, with each of us the creators of our own peculiar universes, each running according to their own rules. More than mere solipsism, this amounts to a psychotic separation from the real.

What is real? Reality is that which will kill you if ignored long enough. It takes the form of a polio virus, transmitted in the wake of a collapse in herd immunity, because too many children went unvaccinated; or a lethal bacteria, which evolved resistance to all antibiotics because people have a poor understanding of natural selection, and reject evolutionary theory; or an asteroid impact, unavoidable because the crystal sphere of heavens is fixed and unchanging. Reasonable to ridiculous, flimsy to fatal, one truth remains unchanging and undiluted: “It’s not what you don’t know, it’s what you know that just ain’t so!”

We have constructed the perfect amplifier of knowledge. Only now do we see its shadow, ignorance at the speed of light: hyperstupidity. We can feed at the tree of knowledge, but this is both good and evil. We come not in innocence, but in ignorance, and that ignorance shapes our taste in fruit. Blinded by what we do not know, clinging to what we believe, we seek reassurance, not anxiety, a self-reinforcing loop of choices which leave us increasingly imprisoned by our own prejudices.

How delightful, then, when someone else comes along to reify us, praising us for holding to our peculiar truths. We return the favor, sharing around our shared interest in this truth, and that moment of connection becomes a bond. One bond, replicated in other moments of connection, becomes a community, defined not by what it believes, but rather, by what it rejects. Heresy is the boundary of all community: to be free one must be shunned.

Sharing does not create truth. There is no generative epistemology within hyperintelligence. Connection, sharing and learning can lead to wisdom, but may also produce a greater darkness. Until the moment when an entire structure collapses – a bridge of fantasy undone by the real – we can continue believing. If that moment never comes, if our beliefs never engender life-or-death emergencies, we can carry them throughout the course of our lives, acting on them as if they were true, even though they are not. This produces a wake of small errors, decisions which flow from a larger but unrevealed flaw.

We have always believed more than we know, and acted from those beliefs. Though we should know everything now, perversely we believe more than before, a rejection of the Age of Omniscience for a false sense of security. More than false, dangerous: since ‘all knowing is doing, and all doing knowing’, we act from the lies we tell ourselves, and these lies have consequence.

We find ourselves moving with inertia into the substance of our lies. As we move deeper into the lie, it becomes harder to repent, and change direction. Assumptions become beliefs become prejudices, fixed psychic objects which we defend as if identical to ourselves. (That lie is the mother to many others.)

Lies accumulate. We make a decision based on our own misapprehension of the truth; this becomes the basis for someone else’s decision, the foundation of fact they must draw upon, and the whole thing becomes more error-ridden as time passes, patched repeatedly until a moment of catastrophic failure. The real asserts its prerogative, bringing everything down.

At this moment, we could ‘endure the unendurable’, changing our beliefs to more closely model reality, or we could turn away more completely, shutting ourselves off from any connection to the real, until that moment when it can no longer be ignored, forestalled, or thwarted.

As the flow of information accelerates in the age of hyperconnectivity, the pressure on all beliefs correspondingly increases. It is harder to assert anything unchallenged, but it is also more difficult to be shouted down. We search through all the noise for any signal that confirms what we believe, seizing upon it, sharing it with all who share our belief, and strengthening that belief for the entire community. We do this with increasing speed and ever-improving effectiveness.

Trapped as never before, creatures of our peculiar truths, even if we could look beyond ourselves, we would only see other menageries of other creatures, mirrors of ourselves and our condition. We consider knowledge liberation, but it is also a straightjacket, enabling and disabling in equal proportion. This is the paradox of hyperintelligence: all of our knowing constrains us, even as it gives us wings to fly.

We can not simply keep our heads empty. They will inevitably fill up with something. We need not be ignorant about our ignorance. But in this moment, in our ignorance, we are munted.

Munted – adj. refers to the property of an object (or person) as broken, ruined, significantly damaged, disfigured or deformed, often to the extent that it is not reversible or repairable.

3 thoughts on “43 – #MUNTED

  1. I think some of the ideas expressed in this chapter are echoed by one of my favorite comedy speeches by the founder of somethingawful.com.

  2. Pingback: 44 – #DISCRIMINATION | THE NEXT BILLION SECONDS

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