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The Perils of Making Sense in a Parallel Universe

Posted by intellisg on August 15, 2007

perils.jpgI am sure you’ve experience it before. It goes like this: you read, see or hear something in the real world and form an opinion on it. Then you log on only to find the same topic written in an opposite way. It leaves you wondering, “hey, did I miss something or what?”

Calm down, you’re not in the “twilight zone,” you’ve just stepped into the “parallel universe.” – the internet.

The Parallel universe is a self-contained separate reality coexisting with our own known world, it implies a relationship with our own universe. The internet and the MSM is perhaps one of the starkest representation of this motif where truths are as malleable as chewing gum. Often differing to such a degree one can even draw endless contradictory accounts to suggest they are two different worlds set so far apart – heaven and earth would do quite nicely to describe the relationship.

What’s really behind this contradictory depiction of the truth?

Not only do facts differ in the parallel universe, time along with the ebb and flow of sentiments have their own speed and cadence. A case in point is how MSM depicted the Mr Brown vs Mica incident, contrast this with the prevailing mood in the internet. Do they line up happily? Hardly. How did the WSM vs Derek Wee case stack up? Did the MSM dovetail with the internet to successfully capture the prevailing sentiments accurately?

What emerges from a comparative between the MSM and the net is simply this: they are diametrically opposites in so far as how they represent “the truth” and vice-versa.

Consider this simple question: How do you regularly make sense of information in the internet? I am not talking about the act of reading and understanding. I am referring to the task of how you sieve through linkages of information to form your world view? What if, I tell you, you use roughly the same processing power to navigate around the net in the same way a cockroach uses to find it’s way out of a four side box? Sounds preposterous right? Think again.

Before we start peeling off the lid on the parallel universe conundrum. Let’s take a closer look at how most of us regularly make sense of the known world. To paraphrase, how do you derive at the known truth? Well you could say you read, watch TV or even think about stuff. But bear in mind all this is happening inside “you.” To be more precise: a large chunk of human nature kicks in and this is where we really need to ask, how does our nature really function in the internet? What if I told you, your method of assembling information in the internet is so different as to suggest it has little or nothing to do with linear reading which is typically used when we peruse through print media?

To understand this further a brief history of who we are is necessary – psychologist have discovered even as far back as 50 years ago how little human nature has really changed. Saying that we no longer burn people on stacks or resort of witch doctors doesn’t mean our nature evolved to a higher form only the myriad of social, economic, political and technological options just offers us more civilized ways to indulge ourselves. To simply put it crudely, the more ways we have to do what comes naturally to us, the more we will do it. Consider avarice (greed), its not that humans have become any greedier than in generations past. Only the avenues to express greed have grown so varied these days, we can generate wealth in limitless ways. The same is true of the other deadly sins: just think of all the new channels of gratifying our anger, gluttony, lust and even sloth both real and in the virtual realm? In short very little has changed as far as human nature is concerned.

But let’s re-focus what has human nature got to do with the whole issue of the parallel universe? How does it all tie in to how you make sense of information in the net?

The short answer is a whole lot! Now I have to warn you that I have been doing some experiments in this area – admittedly piece meal fashion by just modeling it out in napkins during those filler times when I wait in airport lounges etc. But it’s an on-going project that recently has yielded enough to draw certain definitive conclusions about how the internet exerts enormous influence on how we often make sense of the known world. I could explain this in gobby gook mathematics and theorems, but just to cut to the chase, the gist goes something like this: consider a cockroach as it moves around an enclosed area, it moves in a haphazard manner to the untrained eye, but what’s its actually doing is building up an imagery of its surroundings –space and time features along with a million other stuff that we don’t have to bother ourselves with. But what’s worth noting is the roach is trying to make sense of its environment in a very logical way, though to us, its just running around aimlessly and one of the ways it accomplishes this is my imitating, to be precise genetic encoded imitation, that’s to say it’s passed on genetically.

Now if you take this roach model and superimpose it on let’s say how you and I typically make sense of information when we surf, it isn’t so different. In fact, I found the variance to be less than 15%. Now I am saying we related to roaches though I admit a few of my friends could do with a spray from time to time – but what I am saying is there is a similar mechanism at work here which relies implicitly on imitating and mimicry which is not so different from how a roach make sense of the known world.

What most of us fail to consciously recognize every time we log on is how the internet as a medium possesses an ecology that regularly amplifies millions of communication channels which allow the inputs of others to be registered, filtered and processed into pathways. Now don’t bother yourself with the details. In simple terms, these pathways are like trails. Some run and fork out, others lead to open squares and of course there are those that just lead to a dead end. A good way of tracking movement in the net is the visitor counter which does a decent job of capturing collective psyche by cataloging the sum of all our beliefs and preferences to underscore what is or isn’t worth reading. Yes, I know I am stretching the model somewhat, but conceptually, if we draw upon the main strands this will form much of my assumptions for this article.

My point is this: how you and I regularly make sense of the known world whenever we read something in the net is a function of collective imitation that leads us to the most “popular” fads and fashions. This could well account for the disconnect (real or imagined) we so often experience between the net and MSM. The latter is usually apathetic to happenings in the net. While the former appears to promote certain discussions heightening them to levels which aren’t even reflected in the same order in the MSM – we see this sort of disconnect often enough to suggest the whole idea of a parallel universe isn’t so much the stuff of speculation as it is a reality.

It throws out the question: what’s happening here?

In a nutshell what this means is the imitation program or roach mentality of making sense of the known world means – what you will eventually read will not be so different from me or the next reader who logs on in the net. There is a collective psyche here that supports the tendency for imitation. By the same corollary, what you consider important will in most likelihood also stimulate the same level of interest in me. Extend the remit and it simply means in all likelihood we may even share the same point of view albeit with slight differences.

What most people fail to realize is within the mechanism that holds this whole concept of how we make sense of the known world in the net – you could actually be imitating me and vice versa – sounds implausible right?

Think again.

Based on my rough math model – I drew a few startling conclusions. Firstly, what’s usually considered popular in the internet– isn’t so different from democracy gone all wrong. I say this simply because every time you read an article or comment in the internet, whether you are aware of it or not, you actually leave an electronic trail. Now that same trail will lead others to that virtual meet point and if more people read then a cascade effect happens – they post etc- comments get piled up- arguments wax and wane etc.

I am not saying just because a site receives X number of hits, this means it’s necessarily popular. In the net it just means a lot of people imitating others to do the same. This doesn’t point or even suggest there is anything close to a consensus, let alone collective understanding – it simply means unbeknown to us there is an unseen cockroach algorithm that is subtlety nudging or prompting us towards a certain direction to pick up on common thoughts. All this operates of course insidiously just below our level of consciousness – that’s what it means to surf the net – we are all simply binary figures surrendered to the omnipresent power of what the system wants us to read and eventually believe – that’s how the system is configured. It has nothing to do with the truth and everything to do with how the net is designed, it finds the path of least resistance.

Imitation is by definition a multiplier and can swell a single opinion into a mass movement or catapult the smallest common denominator to the forefront of cyber awareness. Where does a fad start? Where does a common belief originate from? How does a bubble grow? One would naturally assumes it originates from your thought processes, but think again, because the whole proposition of this paper suggests there is a pervasive mimicry in how you eventually form your world view, and it doesn’t really matter whether it is something as emotive as the Mr Brown vs MICA saga or the War Against Terror – you have been collared by the collective psyche of the web. That’s my point – unbeknown to you, you have relegated your powers of independent critical thought to a larger unseen construct – the collective psyche of the web – the power of you and me, the collective readership that makes up the statistical whole.

Some people may say this is simply the mechanics of the law of the majority at work and they see nothing pervasive in this equation – but I say think again!

If you think this sounds far fetched i.e the notion your thoughts are not truly yours but rather a construct of a larger sphere in the community of the internet, think no more, because this is a phenomenon that even economic theorists have long subscribed too – what else can account for the mania of the helium days when we once believed dot.coms heralded the advent of a new age in trade and commerce, what of our current preoccupation with globalization? Or for that matter what’s really fueling the property and stock market boom? Are they premised on fundamentals or sentiments? Are they closer to truth? Or simply the stuff of fiction?

So next time when you think you have such a thing as an opinion that is truly yours after reading something from the net, think again, for all you know – you just imitating or to paraphrase following in the footsteps of someone else and this is where you just need to ask yourself the question that has confounded sages for the ages:

Who is the bigger fool? The fool who leads? Or the fool who follows?

Darkness – Trajan, Pretoria and Astroboy (Recycled) Reading Beyond The Lines – Brotherhood Press 2007 / By / Cat: Philo / Logic / 2007 / Annex: 38027EP RV563883ES / 99238-07 –The Perils of Making Sense in the Parallel Universe –  The Brotherhood Press 2007


2 Responses to “The Perils of Making Sense in a Parallel Universe”

  1. muneera said

    TOTALLY off topic. but isnt that picture a santiago calatrava-designed building?

  2. darkness said

    Well spotted Muneera. You know in the day time it looks like a soviet warehouse, but when night falls one can’t help but recall Emerson’s words: even a humble brick aspires to reach the heavens.

    It was not wasted after all.


    Darkness 2007

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