Human Capacity to Absorb Information
John von Neumann was a twentieth-century polymath who made enormous contributions in mathematics and science. He invented the eponymous von Neumann architecture for computers, which is still used in computers today. The speed and depth of his thought processes amazed his contemporaries, who were themselves leaders in their fields. Many considered his genius to be in a class by itself, and during his lifetime, some thought he was the smartest human alive.
Stanislaw Ulam, a mathematician and friend of John von Neumann, reported a discussion with him that I have paraphrased in which von Neumann describes technology as ultimately reaching a point where humanity approaches some type of “singularity” beyond which human relationships cannot continue. I believe we are reaching that point with regard to the dissemination of information. News now flows instantaneously from multiple sources with social media platforms contributing vast amounts of information with claims that cannot be verified in any timely or practical way.
Many people no longer know what to believe. They no longer know what is true and what is false. As a result, people are increasing feeling cutoff from the reality of their own lives. They are finding it increasingly difficult to communicate with their neighbors and even family members because they have different concepts of what is true.
Sadly, we are seeing the consequences of this for both the coronavirus and election for president. Misinformation is widespread, and our scientific authorities and democratic processes are no longer trusted. Social media sites blast our conspiracies faster than they can be invalidated.
There was a time in this country when people could turn to respected news sources and know that information reported had been rigorously reviewed by an editor and sources checked for accuracy. This did not mean that facts reported were always 100% accurate, but the reliability was high and false information was not intentionally disseminated. I believe that these news sources still exist, but the reliable sources get lost among the deluge of information. Opinion is often reported as news, which just adds to the confusion.
People are inundated with data, and often they do not have the time or desire to check the validity of what they read, which may require considerable research. The source may be presenting fake news or just have been careless in verifying the facts before presenting them as news. I am well aware of the difficulties in writing accurate nonfiction, whether it is a news article, blog post, book, or some other type. When working on my books, on several occasions I spent hours researching an item to see if the right adjective was occasionally or frequently, some or many, and sometimes or often. I tried hard to be careful in what I stated so I would not mislead readers. Unfortunately, some writers, especially bloggers but even some mainstream news reporters, do not share this concern. And we have a president who makes unsubstantiated claims on a daily basis. He states what he wants the truth to be without any regard for facts. And his followers accept his version of reality as the truth.
I fear that this will not end well for this country or humanity as a whole. Are we approaching a singularity with regard to the dissemination of information where the lies are so prevalent and interwoven with real facts that it is impossible to separate them and get a true picture of human activity? Will we soon reach a state where human affairs as we know them simply cannot continue? We are deluged on a daily basis with more information than we can possibly evaluate or absorb, and no grand editor exists to tell us what is true and what is false. I fear that any such attempt by social media giants is far beyond their capabilities. They can prevent obvious dangerous messages from being posted or provide warnings, but they do not consider themselves publishers and assume no responsibility for statements made on their platforms. And how would they monitor the posts and messages for veracity of over a billion users? So where do we turn for the truth?
We cannot validate everything we hear or read each day. But we can seek out trusted sources for our news, and these sources will clearly differentiate between news and opinion. Look for the source of what they report. If they are promoting some political philosophy, they are nor unbiased. What is their record for accuracy? Because you read something from the internet, it does not mean it is true. I have done considerable research on the internet for my books and posts, and I find that even for items that are unrelated to politics numerous errors and differences in interpretation exist. I normally have to check several sources before I have confidence in the information. Remember that anyone can post anything.
For guidance in our lives, I believe that a source exists that we can trust to always direct us along the correct path. This source can be reached in meditation and through our dreams, and it will carry us through the most trying times. But we have to get beyond our egos; we have to have humility to hear the still small voice that speaks to us. We have to recognize that the conscious mind may have reached the limits of its ability to evaluate the flood of information that bombards it each day. And the conclusions it reaches are not always correct.
Look to those who promote unity and understanding and eschew division and hatred. We are in perilous times with even greater challenges coming in the future. Division is the last thing we need. We need leaders whose truth is based on facts, and who urge us to unite to meet the challenges we face. We need leaders (government and corporate) who have compassion for those less fortunate and emphasize the best in us, not the worst. We need to reestablish the importance of having good values as the basis of our lives, not winning at any cost. We are all united at a deep level and a lack of recognition of that fact just indicates ignorance, not wisdom.
PBS has a new series called The Rise of the Nazis. I recently watched the second episode, which shows just how quickly democracy can disappear. In a matter of six months, it was gone in post-WWI Germany. For an understanding of how this occurred, I recommend this series. I believe we are in a very dangerous place in this country. We have deep divisions in the United States, and neglect of racial problems and our environment can no longer be tolerated.
Radical groups are exploiting the openness of the internet to create even greater divisions in this country, and there are those who want to subvert our very democracy. Disagreement about policies is one thing; the taking up of arms is quite another. And a growing number of people think that an armed overthrow may be necessary to “save” democracy. I believe they are very misguided. Even some evangelical Christians are practicing firing their handguns at gun ranges to be ready. They believe they must be ready to shoot the enemy who they think threaten their way of life. My suggestion to them is to reread the New Testament.
I will repeat what I have written in a previous post. I believe that Donald Trump is one of the most dangerous men to ever occupy the White House. He could very easily end the division and hatred over the election results, but he chooses to fan the flames of distrust. His claims are not based on fact; they are based on his inability to accept defeat. Unfortunately, without concrete evidence, he has caused a large percentage of his base to believe the election process was fraudulent.
Let’s examine some of the claims. His supporters believe that the results in states such as Pennsylvania cannot be accurate because Trump had a massive lead that mysteriously disappeared, almost overnight. If his supporters had been following the real news, they would know that the news media was saying Trump would have a large lead in Pennsylvania when results were first reported because the early results were from the people who voted on Election Day, and would primarily be from Republicans. Democrats tended to vote by mail. In Pennsylvania, many counties decided to not start counting those votes until Wednesday. As expected, President Trump had a huge early lead. But as the mail-in votes were counted, especially from democratic Philadelphia, his lead shrank rapidly. There was no mystery; it played out as predicted.
Trump claims he won the election by millions of votes. Where is the evidence? No evidence has been produced, but many of his supporters still believe he is right. I have recently seen numbers that indicate half of the Republicans believe he won the election. This is not a rational belief; it is the belief of those in a cult. They believe whatever the cult leader says, regardless of the lack of evidence to support his claims and often in the face of evidence that contradicts his claims.
President-elect Biden will face enormous challenges in reuniting Americans. If Trump maintains his position that he was cheated in the election, we will have a large group of people who will not accept Biden as legitimate, and may actively work against him during the next four years. It will be difficult to meaningfully address climate change, health care reform, immigration, and a number of other important issues.
Cult members often follow leaders who are uneducated with no expertise to support their claims and actions. Donald Trump has no background in medicine or any aspect of health care, yet he would have us believe that he knows better than the experts do. He has no background in science, but he knows that climate change is not a threat to our existence. He knows that he won the election, but the data says otherwise. People who believe him are members of a cult. They don’t care about or believe anything that contradicts their leader.
President Trump and his supporters have yet to produce any evidence of widespread fraud in the election. He claims fraud because he lost. Now he is attacking the very democratic principles of this nation by trying to overturn valid election results at the state level. We have the President of the United States as an enemy of our democracy and the main disseminator of fake news, which he often rails against. He has done immeasurable damage to our country that may be long lasting. He is willing to bring harm to an entire nation to assuage his ego. I urge the Republican leaders to tell Donald Trump that he needs to concede the election and support the transition to a new president. It is way past time for him to go.
If you want to know what is happening in the world, don’t get your news from biased websites and social media. Rush Limbaugh, a friend of Donald Trump, is one of the most successful of the conservative talk radio hosts. His weekly listeners are reportedly over ten million in number (some question it being anywhere close to this number). What is his expertise to make him an authority on far reaching topics? According to Wikipedia, he dropped out of college after two semesters and the article quoted his mother as saying he “flunked everything…” For political or social advice, I don’t turn to people with those credentials. Many of his claims have been proven false, and some are outrageously false. He has long been a creator of division and a generator of conspiracy theories. But President Trump recently awarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his long service to this country.
Your favorite social media platform may just be feeding you stories that they think meet your interest based on your searches, but that also can lead to problems. After a while, you will get a narrow view of the world, and other stories that may be of great value will never be shown to you. Also, make sure you check the source of a story or article you are shown. Sometimes I see a story or article that appears suspiciously biased, and when I look at the source, it is usually Fox News.
We must become more demanding of our news sources. If they are reporting some conspiracy or inflammatory story, demand that they produce evidence to support it. Some of Trump’s supporters think the election machines were programmed to favor Joe Biden. How do they think that happened—in Republican states such as Arizona and Georgia?
Others have said that fake ballots were brought in the back door of the processing sites. Again, how did that happen, with Republican observers at the processing sites in Republican states that Joe Biden won?
Still other Trump supporters believe that Joe Biden could not have received more votes than Donald Trump received because Trump had many more people at his rallies. These people are uneducated and do not understand that rallies are not a representative sample of the voters. Joe Biden minimized the number and size of his rallies because of the coronavirus; President Trump ignored the dangers of spreading the virus to energize his base. But his base is not representative of the total electorate.
I find it very difficult to communicate with people who ignore facts and do not care about logic. However, I believe we must continue to try. But sometimes we can only present our views and stand strong for what we believe. Arguing accomplishes little and may only increase the hostility. It is better to be a positive example for others to follow than to become divisive.
Many evangelical Christians support Trump and they apparently voted for him in large numbers. Some even claim he was sent by God to save the nation. I have studied The New Testament and cannot see any relationship between Christ’s teachings and Trump’s promotion of hatred, discord, and division. He has shown the world what he is, and I don’t see a savior. The coronavirus is exploding throughout the country and we are a divided nation. He held rallies with few people wearing masks during a pandemic, and he consistently made anyone who opposed him the enemy. He is not a builder and uniter; he is a destroyer and divider.
I believe we must all ask ourselves how Donald Trump was elected president and how he received so many votes in the recent election. Obviously, a deep undercurrent of dissatisfaction existed and still exists in this country. Many people lost faith in the traditional politicians. They wanted a change; they wanted someone who was different. Donald Trump seized on that dissatisfaction and realized he could manipulate a large segment of the population. He sold people on his business acumen, which people readily believed from his many years on TV hosting a show as a business expert, even though the show was reality TV. He outwardly expressed what many people thought, and he played on the base emotions (the desires and prejudices), of the ordinary people, who felt ignored. He needed enemies to focus his followers rage, and he gave them enemies. In other words, Trump was and is a demagogue.
Believe those who are not afraid of facts to support their positions. Insist that those who spread rumors substantiate them with facts. Recognize that some knowledge and skills are learned after many years of study and practice, such as in the medical field. The unschooled people who would have you believe them instead should not be taken seriously. Reporters and web sites that generate “news” may lack any expertise in the subjects in which they purport to be experts. As a believer in intuition and dreams, I certainly would not simply dismiss a flash of insight concerning some subject. But that doesn’t make me an expert in that subject. Become more selective in your sources of news and question anything that doesn’t seem quite right. And for daily guidance, meditate and pay attention to your dreams.