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A Conspiracy of One

Posted 29 Nov 2009 at 13:53 PM by livelywoodsprite

Power drives us all. The struggle to balance a sense of self with one's environment can be observed according to multiple perspectives, analyzed and reduced to patterns we recognize, and used to frame our understanding of the world.

It is the structure of information we use every day. Marketing, politics, traffic, and even simple personal negotiations like what shoes go with which dress are all information based power dynamics based on needs and resources. We need the structure and balance in order to make decisions, and in the absence of it we tend to "fill in the blanks" in order to maintain function. We habitually assume that we make decisions based on fact using logic, but the truth is that we are so used to filling in the blanks in the patterns that we assume the information and structure we use to reason is sound without question, when, most assuredly, our information base can be incomplete or unverifiable, our interpretation biased, or the logic fallacious.


In psychology there is a phenomenon described as the availability heuristic, specifically, that we estimate the probability of events occurring based on how easily these events are thought about or remembered rather than how often these events actually occur statistically or in our experience. As human animals, we rely on pattern and repetition to systematically relate sequential information with relevance to the situation and the environment. Patterns are created by emphasis distinctions. Positive and negative space juxtaposed in alternating squares gives us a checker pattern, for instance.


It is instinct. In the absence of a complete pattern, we anticipate the missing elements based on background information. For instance, if I write: "be_r", the missing letter would be interpreted according to subjective pattern recognition in the absence of context. Is the incomplete word best described by a vowel or a consonant? The decision to use bear, beer or BETR depends more on the textual environment than on emotional context in this case, but you get the idea. If I hit all the red lights on the way home from work, I may perceive that I am a victim of forces beyond my control where the actual number of red lights, their timing and frequency becomes irrelevant. The emotional impact in this case may increase the importance of the experience beyond factual context.


Maslow's Herarchy of Needs describes a range of human developmental motivations or perspectives which can filter our perception of the information and influence the structure we use to reason, possibly leading to rather conditional conclusions more in the range of magical thinking than objective analysis or synthesis which would lead to conclusions or decisions based in unassailable fact. In theory, because we are incapable of omniscience, we are always making subjective judgments based on patterns we have derived from previous experience, contextual information, and our personal priority of needs at the time of the conclusion. The thought is not whether we use magical thinking, but to what degree.


For instance, the common real-estate bubble in the context of the recession. Magical thinking is essential to the bubble's inflation. The pitch is to get rich without doing anything by purchasing property in order to hold and then flip it for a huge profit when property prices rise. This is speculation, not investment, but the preponderance of evidence did not dissuade people from plunking their money down on risks. Why?


In order to make a finding of fact we must credibly assess it in context by source and method of acquisition in addition to verifiability through repetition, and then assume that the item in question is true enough according to our criteria. For instance, how many points of comparison should I use to forensically compare two fingerprints? 5? 20? 100? A finding that these two fingerprints match depends on the accuracy of pattern completion criteria and the plausibility of the decision making process in order to be accepted as true.


Power is reliant in part on having useful, relevant, plausible information in a recognizable, acceptable pattern. Power is the perception of a degree of control over contextual elements like information. Machiavelli described power as a corrupting influence tempered by contextual forces such as checks and balances of politics, religion, philosophy and economics. A basic balancing agent is an argument, which also has a structure or hierarchy. For our fingerprint example, a lawyer could challenge the assertion that the defendant's fingerprints were found on an object by attacking the credibility of the match.


A fun example:

M: Oh look, this isnít an argument.
A: Yes it is.
M: No it isnít. Itís just contradiction.
A: No it isnít.
M: It is!
A: It is not.
M: Look, you just contradicted me.
A: I did not.
M: Oh you did!!
A: No, no, no.
M: You did just then.
A: Nonsense!
M: Oh, this is futile!
A: No it isnít.
M: I came here for a good argument.
A: No you didnít; no, you came here for an argument.
M: An argument isnít just contradiction.
A: It can be.
M: No it canít. An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.
A: No it isnít.
M: Yes it is! Itís not just contradiction.
A: Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.
M: Yes, but thatís not just saying ĎNo it isnít.í
A: Yes it is!
M: No it isnít!

- Monty Python ďArgument SketchĒ


The point is that an argument makes sense or doesn't depending on the facts in a structure creating a pattern we interpret by a method of logic. An argument can be flawed on its face by either the lack of credible facts or the lack of emphasis or precision in the structure of the logic, otherwise called a logical fallacy.


Alvin and Heidi Toffler used existing facts and information drawn from history in a logical structure to make predictions about future trends and events in the books Future Shock and Third Wave. While this is an exceptional example of pattern helping to reduce and anticipate future events with some accuracy, it does serve the point. We can make accurate predictions about our environment using logic to balance the degree of magical thinking.


What happens if we can't complete our pattern because the facts or environmental variables are vague? If no pattern can be established, and our sense of self according to Maslow's hierarchy is threatened by the lack of pattern - - then what?


(correction: danger is imminent, not eminent,
Max Dunbar - thanks for the use!)

Although contrast is important for creating the perception of order from chaos, it does create tension. The greater the tension, the greater the degree of emotional distress perceived by the person involved. Sometimes we may feel victimized by forces beyond our control in the search for pattern completion. One common attempt at filling in the gaps in order to establish the essential pattern and rescue ourselves from discomfort is "if the pattern is not recognizable, it may be that the pattern is larger or smaller or more complex than I can see or understand". While that idea may be true in some instances, it is a fabrication which may or may not be accurate.


Conspiracy theories are an example of attempted pattern completion. Does this mean all conspiracy theories are fallacious? Well, it just means that the conspiracy theory is only a theory - a potential explanation assigned to an incomplete pattern. The word ďtheoryĒ as a method of scientific study merely refers to ďsystematically organized knowledge applicable in a relatively wide variety of circumstances, especially a system of assumptions, accepted principles, and rules of procedure devised to analyze, predict, or otherwise explain the natural behavior of a specified set of phenomena.Ē (Websterís New Collegiate Dictionary).


Whether or not you believe a theory depends on how you value or measure the credibility of facts and patterns inferred. Did the US Government bomb the World Trade Center on 9/11, and will we ever know? Are humans evolved from pigs, shrews, apes, or were they brought by aliens or created by God? Is God a myth? Some things are just not going to be credibly fit into a pattern with concise, neat logic to a credible, satisfying conclusion and the speculation will inevitably continue.


more another time

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  1. Old Comment
    John Clearwater's Avatar
    deja frikkin vu!
    Posted 29 Nov 2009 at 14:00 PM by John Clearwater John Clearwater is offline

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