Do you remember when you were a student? You were supposed to be “trained.” The term comes from the Latin trahere, ‘pull,’ and implies that your teachers force you to learn whatever you were supposed to learn. Things change completely when you become a professional. At that stage, you must learn to consult many sources and sift good information from the bad. As a good professional, you listen to everybody and trust nobody.
In my case, I remember how, as a young scientist, I spent long hours perusing scientific journals in my department’s library at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. The administrators wisely kept the library open all night for us, students and postdocs, to nibble at the treasure of knowledge stored there. It was the equivalent of what we do today when “surfing the Web”, it was just slower and more laborious. But it was a great experience: I soon learned that not all the articles found in scientific journals were inherently trustworthy, nor were the scientists. When I started my career, frauds and lies in science were not so common as they are nowadays, but there were plenty of evident mistakes, unjustified assumptions, sloppy work, or, simply, irrelevant confusion. You had to learn to recognize what’s good and what’s bad. You need to grok what you read. Those who don’t grok, are grokked. They are not experts, at best they follow rules dictated by others.
Different learning strategies can be described in terms of the structure of the networks involved. In a training environment, schools or universities, you have a “vertical” network in which one of the nodes (the teacher) dominates the others (the students). Information moves “down” from the source to the targets. It may be retained by the targets, but not critically examined (“grokked”). It is the same with the traditional media: TV and newspapers. Information flows “down” from a central control node. In the case of professional learning, instead, you have a “horizontal” network in which all nodes (learners and sources) are approximately on the same level. Information is exchanged bidirectionally and it is critically evaluated by the target. (It is part of the concept of “virtual holobiont,” but let me skip that, here).
The “grokking-style” learning can be defined with a single sentence: “listen to everybody, trust nobody.” It applies to scientific research, but also to all kinds of information collection in ordinary life. Or, at least, it should apply if you want to really understand what you are learning. You can pass exams in college without having grokked anything of what you regurgitate to your examiners. In the same way, you may think you know what’s going on in the world from what you are hearing on TV, but you really have no idea whatsoever about what’s really happening. You haven’t grokked it.
It is here that we have the problem, a big problem. Universities don’t teach you how to grok. Probably, it is because the old saying is true: nothing worth learning can be taught. At least, not in the traditional way. Even good professionals often are completely naive when they leave their specialized field and are exposed to propaganda. Yet, it is not impossible to learn how to grok. It is a recursive affair: you must grok how to grok!
Nowadays, with a tsunami of propaganda submerging all of us, I am discovering that many people I know use the same grokking strategy. Typically, we avoid tv and mainstream media, and we use aggregators, feed readers, and similar ways to access multiple sources. Many people seem to have developed this learning strategy by themselves. Not long ago, my good friend Anastassia showed me how she does it: she has hundreds of telegram channels she follows. She clicks on the titles of posts that seem interesting to her, reading them if they turn out to be really interesting. She doesn’t trust any of them, but she listens to all of them. I have a feeling that there is some correlation between this style of learning and the fact that she is among the brightest persons I know.
Personally, I tend to use feed readers rather than Telegram (I described the method in a previous post), but it is the same idea. In addition, some blogs and sites are structured as aggregators and they will do a good job for you by linking to other sites and sources (a good one that I follow is Raul Ilargi’s “Automatic Earth.“). In any case, you want to be in control of what you receive: so, no Facebook, no Twitter, nothing like that, even search engines are biased. You don’t want others to decide what you see. You listen to everyone, and you trust no one.
This method of managing information has the advantage that it makes you nearly invulnerable to propaganda. I say “nearly” because we are all humans, and we all tend to believe in what we would like were true. But, surely, a good grokker is a hard target for the classic propaganda techniques that consist mainly in suppressing the sources of contrasting information. Then, by repeating the same thing, over and over, it becomes true (you surely remember Karl Rove’s statement about “creating our own reality”). If you watch TV, you are their slave, but if you are reading this blog, you probably aren’t. So far, it is still possible to collect a fan of information sources sufficiently distant from the official truth to be able to grok the situation.
On the other hand, there are problems with this strategy: one is that by abandoning the mainstream sources you risk rolling down on the other side of the disinformation hill. In this case, you’ll find yourself fishing out rotten morsels from the soup of madness that often surrounds “alternative” news sources. You know, things like the moon landing hoax, graphene in the Covid vaccines, viruses that do not exist, and the like. It is bad information that comes in part from people who have gone Martian coconuts, and in part from paid disinformers who just want to trick you. You risk “inverse grokking,” which means that the powers that be are grokking you! (incidentally, Igor Chudov makes a good case for the “viruses do not exist” meme as a psyop created by the PTB. He even could identify the site that created the meme and diffused it. Be careful! They want to grok you, and often they succeed.)
The other problem, much more serious, is that if you are a serious grokker, you place yourself outside the mainstream beliefs and views. You become a mystery for everyone who is not using the same information management method. You may find that your friends and family think that you are “strange,” that when you walk toward someone you know in the street, she may cross the street to avoid getting close to you. And woe betides those who try to discuss with the non-grokkers. You will be ignored (at best), ridiculed, and even insulted by people whom you thought were your best friends. I don’t have to tell you that being in this situation can be very bad for your mental health and, in some cases, for your physical survival. You may remember the ominous sentence, “what do we do with these people?” as expressed by Canadian prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the unvaccinated. And you may also remember how, in the 1930s, it was common to discuss the “Jewish Problem.” Later, someone devised a solution, and you know what it consisted of. Some solutions are truly final.
So, know that knowledge carries a risk, something that has been known from the time of Adam and Eve. On the other hand, we are always seeking truth, an activity that every good person on this planet should pursue. And so, onward, fellow grokkers! All you have to lose is your ignorance.
If you have time, you can tell me in the comments the way you use to gather and process information. I suspect that many readers use the holobiont method and are good grokkers.
In the following, some excerpts from a post by “John Carter” which inspired my post. Note, though, that if you read his whole post, you may notice that not even he is completely immune from being grokked by reverse propaganda. Probably it is also my case…. alas. See also a recent post by Todd Hayen on “Off Guardian” that expresses very similar concepts.
Excerpts from a post by John Carter on his blog, “Postcards from Barsoom“
“Where do you get your information from? What are your sources?”
I really hate this question.
Part of it is that a lot of the places I tend to go to collect information would strike the normie as batshit insane conspiracy sites. Once you’re on the other side of the great hyperreality bifurcation, you’re experiencing a world in which very fundamental assumptions of the old societal mainstream, ranging from ‘what is true’ to ‘what is moral’, are no longer taken for granted and, indeed, are widely rejected.
Another part of it is that a great deal of what gets circulated within the hydra originates with anonymous or pseudonymous writers. By the very nature of communicating one’s thoughts from behind a veil, it is impossible to verify whether they really know what they’re talking about. A normie used to the anodyne pronouncements of credentialed experts being fellated by talking heads on CNN will find the idea of taking seriously the words of random Internet schizos to be a bit jarring.
But the single biggest reason I dislike this question is that it’s the wrong question. ‘Sources’ have absolutely nothing to do with how I gather information; and from what I’ve seen, that’s true for most of us.
When you’re attempting to scale the walls of Chapel Perilous in the weird corners of the Internet, you don’t have the luxury of relying on authoritative sources. The very concept of ‘authoritative source’ loses all meaning, and of necessity one develops a very different approach to information gathering and belief formation. Inside the datastream of the Internet, no one perspective is privileged as being unimpeachable. Nothing is to be trusted. Nothing is ever to be 100% believed. Everything one comes across, from any source, whether an established blogger with hundreds of thousands of daily readers or some rando in the comments section, is greeted with more or less the same response:
Here’s what I do; and I suspect it’s pretty much what the rest of you do, too:
I’ve got a variety of news aggregators I tend to go to, each more or less reflecting the worldview of the individual or team who maintains them through the lens of the topics that attract their attention. I skim these feeds and occasionally click on something if it catches my own attention. There are a few forums that I frequent, where various topics are discussed, and people share links to things they think are interesting together with whatever impressions they have of them. Social media plays a similar role; while I’m not on Twitter or Facebook, I do subscribe to a couple of hundred Telegram channels, some of which I’ll peruse throughout the day, once again clicking on anything that looks interesting. Add to this an archipelago of blogs which provide some degree of original analysis, but are mostly the Internet’s editorial page; in these cases, I gravitate towards those authors I find to be consistently interesting. Then there are podcasts and livestreams, most of which take the form of a free-ranging conversation between hosts and guests.
In most cases I have no idea about the identities or credentials of the authors, and I could generally care less. The contribution of an anon on 4chan can be every bit as insightful and correct as the analysis of a facefag whose CV I can review in detail. Equivalently, the facefag can be every bit as wrong as that of the shitposter. The salient detail is not the identity of the person originating the information, but the structure of the argument.
When perusing something, at the same time that I’m evaluating the information, I’m also evaluating the worldview that produced the information. What are the ideological biases of the author? Is he a libertarian, a post-liberal, an old-school leftist, a nationalist, a trad-Catholic, a deep ecologist, a neoliberal managerialist, a critical race theorist? Does the author have something to gain from what he’s writing – is he trying to get me to buy something, or being paid to advance a perspective that will enrich his paymasters? The author’s perspective is inseparable from the argument being put forward, as it structures what the author considers to be interesting, and what he believes to be axiomatically true and false – creating attentional foci and blind spots.
This doesn’t mean that something is to be rejected or accepted merely because it conflicts or accords with a worldview I find personally agreeable – that’s ultimately just a version of the ‘authoritative source’ mindset, one that leads straight into an echo chamber. In principle, valuable insights can come from almost anywhere. The purpose of the exercise is rather to discern the model of reality that produced the perspective leading to the information being organized as it has been.
All models are by their nature simplified schema that fail to capture the full complexity and nuance of the world. They emphasize some things and omit others. That’s why it’s important not to get overly attached to them. However, some models are more accurate than others, much more likely to correctly predict unfolding events. By foregrounding the models that produce the hot takes, one begins constantly testing these models against one another. As events unfold, one notices which models are more, and which less, accurate. New information can then be evaluated on the basis of the model that generated it, and its probability of being accurate weighted accordingly.
As this goes on, one inevitably begins to construct one’s own model of reality, simply by combining the elements that seem to have worked from the models that one has been exposed to. There’s nothing particularly special about having a model of reality – we all do, of necessity; the advantage lies rather in that this process becomes conscious and deliberate. One makes one’s own model, rather than simply accepting whatever model is offered by ‘authoritative sources’.
The normies still trapped in the mass media holodeck cling to the certainty that their ‘reliable sources’ can be trusted, and the result is that they inhabit a nightmare world of shifting illusions that has driven them quite entirely mad. It frequently happens that they wake up to one or another of the lies of which the control system is built, but having perceived the deception on a given topic, they react by looking for an authoritative source elsewhere that they can rely upon. Invariably in this case, they get trapped in a different lie – trading the regime ideology they’ve left behind for a new ideology, one that they accept whole as uncritically as the one they were raised with. That’s what that boomer in the bar was looking for. His first instinct, upon being confronted with plausible arguments that he’d been systematically misled by the legacy media, was to reach for something he could trust. To trade one gospel for another.
In truth, there are no reliable sources, and there never have been. Paradoxically, it’s only by letting go of the desire for reliability, by holding things conditionally rather than absolutely true, and by constructing one’s own provisional reality model, that one can find one’s sea legs on the shifting and uncertain waters, and successfully navigate the ocean of the real.
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Originally appeared on The Seneca Effect Read More