Thursday, September 10, 2020

What is Truth?

Today I watched a documentary on Netflix called The Social Dilemma and it was pretty good and interesting, talked about political polarization and acted like the far-left is just as bad as the far-right so you know I didn't like that a whole lot, but overall worth a watch. The thing that really got my brain gears turning was when one of the social media expert dudes started talking about how if we, as a species, can't have some collective notion of what is true, we're fucked. He said "doomed" actually but you know.

This, of course, was in reference to the issue of fake news and a general loss of confidence among the populace in news media or any information that might come their way, no matter the source. I myself am suspicious of any information coming out of the U.S. government, while others no longer trust scientists and academics.

Is this going to doom us? The guy in the documentary said that we needed to get back to having some collective consensus about truth, but I wonder if that's true or possible. With the internet, there is so much information and it may be impossible for governments to regulate the spread of misinformation. First of all, how do you decide what is misinformation and what is truth?

Something I've learned over the years, in part thanks to social media, is that there is no universal truth, no universal reality. We all assume the sky is blue but it's not to colorblind people, is it? Right now in Oregon the sky is orange. Fuck you.

In order to live through these shitty, shitty times, I think what we really need to do is deconstruct our very idea of "truth" and "fact." I'm pretty sure I've already blogged about reality tunnels. It seems true to me that every person, being a unique human being with a unique brain structure formed out of countless life experiences that are in turn shaped by our unique DNA, parts of which can be changed or activated by experiences, sees the world in a unique way. We don't really know that the person next to us even sees colors in the same way we do.

What social media has done is enable us to smash all of these different realities together. Without understanding that someone's reality can be so different from ours, we can get very upset when they say things that seem to contradict our reality. And it's by no means a cure for internet-fueled outrage, but realizing this has helped me detach myself from social media fights. It's hard to get hijacked by that shit when you sit back and realize that this person's reality has been shaped by such different forces.

Doesn't mean they're not still an asshole. But it helps to understand a little bit how they got there.

One time I tried to explain the idea of reality tunnels to someone who was trying to fight with me online and boy howdy they did not like that AT ALL. Which is understandable. Humans really like the idea of universal truth and fact because it makes things simple and easy. But they're not.

We all want answers to the 5,000 problems facing humanity right now. We all want to know why the world is so fucked. But the only answer I've come up with is that humans are messy little shits flailing about, creating technology that so rapidly outpaced evolution, we don't even know how to make this whole civilization thing we came up with work anymore.

In my more optimistic moments, I think that what we're going through right now is growing pains. It's happened to humans on plenty of occasions, particularly when some new technology was invented that left us forward. It used to be that we'd invent some new metal or weapon and go about killing each other more. Now we have technology that would look like demon magic to those people but we can't stop the whole U.S. west coast from burning down every summer.

We have an old-timey scholar's dream of information at our fingertips and we can't gain consensus on whether the Earth is round or whether throwing children into concentration camps is bad. We no longer know what truth is.

Maybe we just need to let go of the idea altogether. Or at least realize that what seems obvious to one person seems absurd to another. One of the best parts of the documentary, though I was aware of this already, was its demonstration of how one person's search suggestions and Facebook feed can look totally different from another person's based on a shit ton of data factoring in things like shit you've searched for in the past, what images you've looked at the longest, your location, any personal information you've given the tech overlords freely, and on and on and on.

It's as variable as the human brain.

A lot of people still don't get this. It wasn't long ago I was seeing a lot of "omg if you type this and such into a search engine look what it auto-fills" but that auto-fill can be different on the phone of the person next to you. I think people have finally started to get this but that only scratches the surface.

I worry sometimes that social media radicalized me and what that means. It's hard for me to feel like radically wanting everyone to have a healthy and fulfilling life no matter what could be a bad thing, but I don't know, maybe I only think that anarchism is a sound philosophy because of the Twitter users that ended up on my feed because of The Algorithm. Maybe that's ultimately okay for me but it does creep me out a little.

I think humans are naturally optimistic creatures so I understand that we all had dreams of the amazing world we would create thanks to the internet. But really, we probably should have seen this coming. This technology has drastically altered the world in such a short period of time, of course there is upheaval. We just have to hope that we'll figure it out. If we can't, well, then good luck to the next species on Earth that evolves to become sentient or whatever. 

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