The Hall of Mirrors Effect

     When people read or hear something from different sources, they are inclined to take more notice.  In particular, if a particular idea or observation is stated by multiple people, then people are more inclined to believe it or at least give it consideration.  One reason for this is perceived social consensus; if the idea is stated by more individuals then maybe it is becoming more important in the social sphere.  

    But there is another reason, which is that if more people notice something, then it is more likely to really be there, not just a mistake of one person.  Or, if multiple people ascribe to a particular belief then it is less likely to be the result of a single person's idionsyncracies.  

    The key assumption is that these observations and beliefs are independent.  For example, if every day during seven days, a different person tells you they encountered bigfoot, then you would take notice.  Because it is seven separate sightings.  On the other hand, if you found out that only one of these people claimed to actually see bigfoot, but the others were just in the area at the time, then it is not seven sightings but one.  And in that case, whether to believe it or not depends on how reliable the one person's testimony is.  

    Similarly, there are many sources of news or information which really all come from one source, just amplified many times.  Like a hall of mirrors that reflects the same image many times and creates the illusion that there are many objects, one source of unknown reliability is repeated multiple times, creating the illusion of many independent sources.

    Social media is particularly bad with regards to this.  Because it gives people the illusion that everyone they know believes something or knows something when in reality they are just repeating mass media narratives that they know nothing about and haven't thought about other than to give official sources the benfit of the doubt.  A feature of human psychology that is natural and helpful in normal situations is hijacked.   

    Sometimes, when I read unusual opinions or beliefs in multiple places and start to take them more seriously, I sometime wonder whether if I'm fooling myself and it's just the hall of mirrors effect.  It's worth taking into consideration, but I think it is definitely far less than with leftist content.  Bruce Charlton has a post which I haven't been able to find again where he writes that left-wing bloggers are pretty much interchangeable.  It's not about expressing their individual beliefs or knowledge, it's about advancing the narrative.  By constrast, non-leftists think about what they write for themselves.  So, even if an idea comes from a single source, different people will write about it with different analyses and may agree but via different lines of thought.  

    Before the invention and proliferation of mass media, the hall of mirrors effect was far less common.  But at this point, when so much of our information comes second hand, it's good to think about from where the information originated. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

The real AI agenda

    On a post  by Wm Briggs, about artificial intelligence, a commenter with the monniker "ItsAllBullshit" writes:           "...