Digital artwork of a brain surrounded by a network of interconnected nodes and icons, including social media and technology symbols.

First things first, the George Orwell quotation below is spurious, as the author of this article, David Cain, points out at the end of it. The point is that, it sounds plausible, so we take it on trust. It confirms our worldview.

We live in a web of belief, as W.V. Quine put it, meaning that we easily accept things that confirm our core beliefs. And then, with beliefs that are more peripheral, we pick them up and put them down at no great cost. Finding out that the capital of Burkina Faso is Ouagadougou and not Bobo-Dioulasso makes no practical difference to my life. It would make a huge difference to the residents of either city, however.

I don’t like misinformation, and I think we’re in quite a dangerous time in terms of how it might affect democratic elections. However, it has always been so. Gossip, rumour, and straight up lies have swayed human history. The thing is that, just as we are able to refute poor journalism and false statements on social networks about issues we know a lot about, so we need to be a bit skeptical about things outside of our immediate knowledge.

After all, as Cain quotes Michael Crichton as saying, there are plenty of ‘wet streets cause rain’ stories out there, getting causality exactly backwards — intentionally or otherwise.

Consider the possibility that most of the information being passed around, on whatever topic, is bad information, even where there’s no intentional deception. As George Orwell said, “The most fundamental mistake of man is that he thinks he knows what’s going on. Nobody knows what’s going on.”

Technology may have made this state of affairs inevitable. Today, the vast majority of person’s worldview is assembled from second-hand sources, not from their own experience. Second-hand knowledge, from “reliable” sources or not, usually functions as hearsay – if it seems true, it is immediately incorporated into one’s worldview, usually without any attempt to substantiate it. Most of what you “know” is just something you heard somewhere.


It makes perfect sense, if you think about it, that reporting is so reliably unreliable. Why do we expect reporters to learn about a suddenly newsworthy situation, gather information about it under deadline, then confidently explain the subject to the rest of the nation after having known about it for all of a week? People form their entire worldviews out of this stuff.


People do know things though. We have airplanes and phones and spaceships. Clearly somebody knows something. Human beings can be reliable sources of knowledge, but only about small slivers of the whole of what’s going on. They know things because they deal with their sliver every day, and they’re personally invested in how well they know their sliver, which gives them constant feedback on the quality of their beliefs.

Source: Raptitude