On a daily basis, as a software engineer, I am inundated with opinions, beliefs, white-papers, spam, and “news-worthy articles” – all trying to spell out the next big thing in software design.
When I began as a developer, I was not easily suckered, but it was hard for me to say “wait a minute, that seems wrong”. My background is not pure-computer science, I actually have 3 degrees, one of these is a B.S. in Informatics from Indiana University – with a minor in computer science. But, if I may be blunt, it has been the course in “Algorithms and Data-structures” that has been my touchstone of truth and my means of checking bullshit. Sure, in the real practical world of applied problem solving or software engineering, there are usually several decent solutions to any given problem, but the “cost” of a bad solution ought not to be controversial or opinion based – hence my anger and frustration over being involved with Microsoft AMALGA in 2010/2011 at the University of Washington (not a story I want to go into in this post – but I address elsewhere).
I am am going off on this tangent, because the common “critique” I have received over the years usually takes on the form of “Argument from Authority”: the imbuing of something with “truthfulness” because a figure of authority states it. AMALGA was a great system, because one or more PhD(s) at the UW said so. Design patterns are the only correct means for building large systems, because your boss says so. A consultant sells TDD (Test Driven Development) or Agile or any number of methods (some of which may work) and because the company spent $100K on the consultant, the statements must be true – otherwise why would they charge so much? (this last one is a bit muddy, because it also deals with the issue of cognitive dissonance)
So, yes – in the world of computers, where Americans have been led to believe “logic and reason rules”, there is as much BS as you have anywhere else, arguably more so. Because applied machine intelligence is complex, the very complexity creates an aura of “magic” and this is the manure from which many forms of magical thinking sprout.
In the world as a whole, especially in America these days, we are surrounded by illusions, lies, confusion, deception, rhetoric and marketing. We attempt to filter through it, but it colors every aspect of our lives. I wish I could say, “well, sure, there are deceivers at my place of work but when I get home this ceases”. It would be nice to say that. In reality, the deception is 24/7.
The marketing or rhetorical techniques, that play on the themes of “authority”, “conformity”, “insider/outsider”, are reasonably well known. But then there is the manufacturing of truth. Those who observe the Federal Reserve and our Federal Government with respect to economic reporting see these lies daily. John Williams, of shadowstats.com, has an entire website dedicated to uncovering the truth with respect to unemployment, GDP, inflation, and other critical metrics relating to the health of our economy and our future. “Zero Hedge”, one of my favorite websites, publishes home-grown and re-postings of articles that provide an alternative view of our current economic conditions – but these are outsider, fringe, and marginalized by the “real” media. They are often called “sellers of doom-porn” and “mongers of fear”. Our mainstream media sells us (or rather feeds us) the “truth” and these other sources are the true deceivers – if you believe the mainstream media line.
I just finished watching a documentary, called “Mirage” – about Richard Doty (USAF RET) and the disinformation campaign, managed by our government, regarding UFO(s). I don’t know what to think regarding the UFO phenomena – I’ve never seen one, but I’ve met honest people who say they have. But, I also know enough history to understand that parallel-narratives, narratives sprinkled with truth, are often used to mislead and to control. Do I think the U.S. Government would use resources to convince people that “UFO(s) are real” in order to cover up TOP-SECRET programs? – Absolutely. There are documented cases, from World War 2, of our government constructing elaborate counter-intelligence illusions or tricks in order to fool the Germans and the Japanese. Yes, I think our government would use psy-ops and counter-intelligence to manipulate “believers” in the world of UFO(s) – but at what point do you ask the next question? – why? Simply to hide stealth fighters? – Perhaps. But what if the story, concerning the story, is fiction too? At what point does the search for “truth” become impossible? – who knows.
This screed, or rant, or essay, or just vanilla blog entry, is not meant as a random discussion of deception or illusion or lies. I rather want people to remember, including myself, that once you go down the road of questioning, then “questioning everything” is not that many leagues distant.
Descartes begins his meditations this way – he questions everything, but then reaches a point of truth, at least for him: “I think therefore I am”. Sean Paul Sartre, 3 centuries later, re-states this as “I think” and “I am” and in no way are those two moments of being by necessity connected. Even this foundation of modern philosophy does not protect us from the philosopher’s morass – solipsism.
I am critical of many things.
It was my critique of my “Catholic world”, as blunt as it was, while still a youth in grade school, that set me on a course away from God and towards Atheism – it was the same mind, when confronting the question of life and existence, that led me back to God. The very critical mindset that could lead to non-belief, led me back to belief, and in this I learned the simplest truth – none of us has the option of living without some kind of faith, even if the faith is to be faithless.
I continue to be critical, and not solely because it is part of my personality. I am critical because we live in perilous times when our leaders are constantly trying to cover up one mistake with a worse error. Economic problems? – no problem, we can just start a war. Presidential controversies? – no problem, we can talk about terrorists and looming attacks.
Our leader’s favorite dance partner, as is so oft stated, is fear.
Fear often is the root of illusion. Fear changes the chemistry of the brain and impacts our perception. Fear can turn a tiny noise into a “ghost” a “goblin” an “alien”. Fear can lead us to close our minds to new information – information that might actually help to clarify an issue. Fear is one of the dimensions of deception.
Paradigms – paradigms are crucial and they suck.
Paradigms are the models through which we perceive the world and are also cognitive traps that keep us from seeing the world “a little differently”. Thomas Kuhn, in the “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” actually coins the term “paradigm shift” and he points out that much of the history of thought is a history of conformity that is punctuated, and abruptly imploded, by radical new ideas. So, no – paradigms are not prisons without escape, but when you are stuck in one it is hard to know or even to conceive what sort of escape might exist.
We can all agree that any drug, when abused, is likely bad. What is more controversial is the use of psychotropic drugs for treating depression and other “behavioral disorders” and what their real impact is. I for one believe marijuana, in small amounts, might actually be therapeutic for most people, but I’ve used anti-depressants and I must say that the “legal” drugs feel more dangerous, more shattering of awareness.
Governments work with big-Rx to push “drug therapies”, and they are pushing these on almost every age cohort. This is troubling and one wonders what the long term impact will be.
I am beyond a 1,000 words – so I am going to close out this rant with the following:
I do not know if I know the truth. I believe I know the truth, but I cannot prove it. I cannot prove that the universe is real, but I act as if it is. I feel as if I am manipulated, every day, in every dimension of my life, into believing ideas that are false. I sense the manipulation, but I cannot prove that the manipulators are doing this purposefully or simply out of paradigmatic ignorance. I do not know if Janet Yellen, for example, actually believes the things she says about the economy OR if she is acting in a duplicitous way vis-a-vis the American people. We all know “mirages” are real. We don’t spend much time debating this. We all know liars are real, and we mostly agree the insane are real – though we should give Foucault his day and admit that “madness”, per se, is historically and culturally contingent.
I do not have a means of proving that I believe what I believe – this is true.
(or is it)