Re: Truth Maintenance

Darrell Parfitt (
Thu, 18 Sep 1997 21:30:47 -0400 (EDT)

On 18 Sep 1997, Anders Sandberg wrote:

> (not related to Rick Knights original question, of which
> I unfortunately know very little)
> Just a brief note. I have just returned from a conference
> about the military uses of virtual and enhanced reality
> (yes, I have a lot to tell). One of the subjects I got
> really interested in was information warfare. I had great
> fun talking with John Osterholz from the Pentagon about
> this, and the general impression I got at the conference
> is that truth will be a very scarce commodity in the future.
> After all, why crash your opponent's computer when you can
> feed him desinformation? And information warfare isn't just
> for the Pentagon - everybody can do it.
> The original post gave me a vague idea, inspired by some
> other discussions, like memetic civil defenses ("How do
> we protect our culture from destructive memes?" - essentially
> what a senior officer asked me) and the ideas for a
> transhumanist facilitator service. Could it be possible
> to form, on a volunteer basis, some kind of "truth maintenance
> service" that can in one way or another ensure that at least
> some essential facts cannot be distorted?
> The military-industrial complex is more fun than most think. :-)

I believe we have reached the state of society in which massive
disinformation transfer is far more common than anything resembling
truth. While truth can be found by the discerning person who knows where
to look, the majority of people recieve their memes through mass media,
which trains all it's practioners on how to subtly and unsubtly pass
information through a great reality filter. One such indoctrinations
are mindless egalitarianismAll people are fundamentally the same and can
acheive anything they want through hard work. This idea is
schizophrenically coupled with the idea that people's problems aren't
their fault, usually with a pointer towards a genetic predisposition,
unless they are doing something illegal. Another meme is that concerns
the importance and need for governmental involvement. Back when I read
newspapers I saw an article about government standards for the age at
which women should be taking mammograms. Basically, it said that medical
associations vary on when they think detection procedures should begin,
and the government didn't have any specific age specified. The quote I
recall goes along the lines of, "Woman are afraid, and furious because the
government won't tell them what to do."
Thereby they both report and perpetuate an attitude of helplessness
in the absence of government guidance, no doubt with patriarchal overtones
that would have delighted Freud without limit. However, they also widely
propogate the meme that government figures are usually corrupt and self
serving (which generally involves nothing more than reporting what
politicians say about each other), and a vast corporate/government
Big Brother is watching over your shoulder all the time (I believe I saw a
Time magazine not long ago which on the cover had the eye of Big Brother
peaking through a keyhole, with the title "They are Watching You.).
Schizophrenic again. The majority of people either respond by deaf and
blind Puritan support of authority, or develop a paranoid hatred of
There are many other memes that come through the media filter, but
those two sets of opposing ideas shape much of industrialized world,
especially badly in the United States, probably because of its extremely
Protestant heritage clashing with an evolving technocratic culture.
Science especially fairs poorly through mass media, as the media presents
two equally flawed views of the scientific process. One is that those
with the most titles and official support are telling the truth about
science, e.g., the FDA says that L-Tryptophan can kill people so it
should be banned. It's amazing that the FDA permits openly sell bread
in a supermarket. The paranoid side of the coin is that scientific studies
are only the tools of corporations so they can make money. An example of
this is the lawsuits against tobacco companies over second hand smoke
injuries, in which the plaintiffs get away with dismissing tobacco company
studies that show that there is no statistically significant health risk
associated with second hand smoke because tobacco companies in the past
lied about tobacco's carcinogen status. They did, of course, but that
doesn't change the fact that there really isn't any proven health risk
from second hand smoke. The Public as a whole is left in the murky world
of political science because mass media never takes the trouble to explain
how the scientific method works, or what statistics mean.
Reality protection is an idea that has been kicking around for a while.
Eric Drexler has long and strenously emphasized the use of freely
available expert discussion on science through hypertext technology.
Of course, there are organizations around the world that perserve the true
word about this and that subject, but someone who doesn't know very much
doesn't have any way of seperating the genuine experts from the political
Some have taken a more anarchic approach to the problem of media and
government unreality campaigns. Bill Burroughs produced a few strange
pamphlets on electronic warfare that discussed ways of starting riots with
tape recorders and other amusing activities, and with new technology
anti-media activety is growing stronger. Just check out the
Disinformation search engine, that can be reached via Yahoo. One group of
techno-terrorists I like is Emergency Broadcast Network, which is a group
of reality hackers who started up EBN during the Gulf War when they saw
that the media was projecting a bizarre hyperreality on top of a
relatively banal little war. They produce multimedia productions
of TV messages and political propoganda over a techno soundtrack, and
build floppy missiles that they shoot into the air.

I can see VR providing a defense from disinformation campaigns, in that
they could be used by a responsible organizatrion to remove the filter
entirely. In an entirely immersive environment, people could see events
and processes without editing or commentary, see everything there is to
see on the process and thus make their own decisions. The interactivety
is even more important, as somebody could keep accessing information on a
subject until they were satisfied that they knew what was going on. This
might prevent disinformation debacles such as the endlessly repeated
Rodney King beating vehicle, which invariably had the initial section cut
in which King charged the officers. The media wanted everybody to know
that the cops weren't being very nice, which was true, but it is a bit
contemptible to remove any information which might influence people to
think the contrary. And contemptible is the essence of mass media. I
personally make the decision just not to expose myself to mass media, and
on the rare occasions that I am assaulted, I just laugh at it. I think
that the only sensible reaction, as getting sketchy and paranoid is
exactly what they, or rather, it wants.