Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Useless Information is Useless

Over the past week I’ve tried to do my helpful best to steer my readers away from ending up in a certain sad predicament: that of thinking that they know what they most certainly don’t know, or of thinking that they know that something is true whereas they most certainly don’t. And I am not happy with the results: people keep writing me to tell me that they most certainly know this or that, and how on Earth could I possibly think that they don’t? You see, they have read up on whatever it is on the internet, they watched several Youtube videos on the subject, and they discussed it with several complete or incomplete strangers on social media. Based on all of this research, they have formed an opinion, and that opinion is, according to them, the truth.

The word “truth” has a lot of emotional appeal: we don’t fancy being called out as liars, or seen as misguided and misled, or feeling ignorant. We want to be curious and inquisitive. Inquiring minds want to know! Actually, that’s just a pose. We want to have lots of interesting, original stories with which to entertain each other. These stories can be funny or touching, or they can be used to make us look brave or purposeful or erudite and generate a feeling of gravitas: great things are afoot, nothing is really as it seems, and we are among the few who are in the know.

In our youth we tend to be idealistic and rebellious, but the traditional recourse to beating up members of the neighboring tribes is now frowned upon, forcing us to fight imaginary battles. A popular one is attempting to slay the three-headed dragon of government propaganda, mass-media lies and disinformation spread by ignorant educationalists. Amateur sleuths are apt to say that they do it “for the love of truth.”

That sort of truth has almost nothing to do with the abstract and delicate machinery (both logical and physical) that underlies the pursuit of absolute, clinical certainty. Its use is so exacting and demanding (and expensive) that truth has to be carefully rationed. It is mainly used in high-risk endeavors where imprecision can be deadly. Get a number wrong, and the ship runs aground, or the nuclear reactor explodes, or a building collapses. The rest of the time rough approximations and rules of thumb are plenty good enough.

Where extreme precision is required, there is just one overarching emotion: the fear of not knowing the right answer, or of getting it wrong. Once that fear is overcome, there may be a less fraught emotion associated with finding an optimum answer within the solution space (where time and budget allow) but it is still tinged with fear—this time, of being accused of gold-plating or of milking the job or of making a hobby of it. Those who lack this fear are often said to be “out to lunch.” I was in engineering school when the Challenger space shuttle exploded on takeoff, and the dean of engineering assembled us, ordered a minute of silence, and then said: “This is what happens when engineers fuck up: people die.” That’s basically it in a nutshell: the opposite of the exact truth, known to several decimal places, isn’t lies, or ignorance, or distortion; it is death.

If truth (as in, the real, observed and recorded, precisely measured or counted, provable truth) were pursued all the time, just because it feels good to know the truth, the world would run out of money. This, by the way, can be a problem for basic science: since it treats knowledge as a value (meaning, don’t you dare put a price tag on it!) more research is always needed until the grant money runs out.

But knowledge, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder; concretely, the product of scientific research is information. Is it useful information, and is information useful generally? That depends on whether we can act on it. If we can’t, we can still simply enjoy it, finding it interesting or aesthetically pleasing, but that’s a useless luxury. There are lots of interesting and aesthetically pleasing things that aren’t true. They are just as good and generally much cheaper.

If we can act on it—use it in making decisions—then how much does it matter whether the information is, strictly speaking, true? What matters to us is the outcome, and a positive outcome achieved through a decision based on an erroneous piece of data is in general just as good. What’s more, although we like to think that our lives result from our conscious decisions, most often they are the result of accidents. If the accidents are happy ones, then we are happy about them.

Would better information help us make better decisions, or to avoid mistakes? Perhaps, but people tend to make changes when they feel that anything at all would be better than more of the same, and that’s not information—that’s a feeling. And people do make mistakes, lots of them, all the time, but usually the same ones over and over again, information be damned. They decide to light yet another cigarette—based on which bit of brilliant research? Or they make the mistake of going to work every day, to a job they don’t like, instead of investing their energies in figuring out how to not have to. How would having better information help them?

Still, inquiring minds want to know, and there is no better bait for idle curiosity than 9/11. It is sufficient to say “Sure, 2 planes knocked down 3 skyscrapers” and instantly lots of inquiring minds demand do know what you think really happened. Obviously, you don’t know; you probably weren't even there. But you may have a keen sense of bullshit. There’s archival footage that nobody is challenging, and it shows two instances of what look like local earthquakes, followed by a tall skyscraper disappearing vertically into a hole in the ground at freefall acceleration. Most of its steel is instantly incinerated to a fine iron oxide powder that billowed out in a giant cloud and settled in a thick layer all over lower Manhattan. It shows a third skyscraper destroyed in a textbook example of controlled demolition, with its owner on record saying that he decided to “pull it” (a demolition industry term for detonation). Add to this the ample clinical evidence of those present at the site after the event later succumbing of ailments associated with exposure to ionizing radiation. Add to that Russian satellite images showing two craters full of very hot molten material. That’s some puzzling evidence, wouldn’t you say?

Do I know what really happened? Of course not! But I don’t need to know. There is absolutely nothing I can do to act on such information if I did have it in my possession. What do I know? Well, I feel quite certain that those who think they know what happened that day in fact don’t. This is important for me to know, because it is information I can act on: I can avoid getting dragged into pointless discussions with them—on this topic, or, for that matter, on any other, because, clearly, they are eager to keep making the same mistake over and over again—the mistake of wasting their energies on attempting to obtain information they won’t be able to act on.


JonL said...

The thing about your articles, Dmitri, is that they always make me think, which is always a good thing.
Thank you.

JeanDavid said...

"If truth (as in, the real, observed and recorded, precisely measured or counted, provable truth) were pursued all the time, just because it feels good to know the truth, ..."

I know lots of those. At one point, I learned all about how US railway signal systems worked. And it is really interesting to me. But since I will never seek employment working for railway signal departments, nor I interested in committing sabotage of railways, the information is of no economic use to me. It would be correct to call my interest a hobby. And I did pay some real money (not a whole lot) to acquire that knowledge. What I know about that subject is true, in the usual sense of the term, but since it is not something I will act upon, it is certainly nothing to be worshiped as an idol. Those truths may be some of the ingredients of wisdom, but by no means are they the whole of it.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Useless comments are useless.

the blame-e said...

Actually Dmitry, this should have been the title of our post. "Useless comments are useless."

The West has all kinds of pearls of wisdom it dishes out as the truth, all about how one person can "make a difference" like: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." "The West is the Best." Kind of rhymes with "I love the smell of napalm in the morning." "One man can make a difference," and all that. Still, it all comes down to whether you are man (person) enough.

There is the Butterfly Effect. "In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.

The term, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the metaphorical example of the details of a tornado being influenced by minor perturbations such as the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier."

A butterfly in Thailand cannot know they are causing tornados in Texas, hardly considers itself an agent of change. I hardly think that a butterfly knows they are a butterfly. But if a sentient being (like a human), knew they could control the weather in Texas by strapping on butterfly wings would they?

As strange as this might sound, the true meaning of the Butterfly Effect might just come down to one thing: "Where ever you go, there you are." This is like offering if you could put on and take off your butterfly wings just in time to be in Texas when the tornado you created arrived would you feel it as something you did? Could you own the tornado?

"Big things have small beginnings." This the little guy thesis incarnate. Depending on how old you are, this is either a famous line spoken by T. E. Lawrence in his novel "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom" or spoken by the android David in "Prometheus" as an homage to Lawrence of Arabia, AKA T.E. Lawrence.

The idea of the individual affecting the course of history is everywhere in western culture. Most of these examples involve suicide. The idea of the loner use to be celebrated until MSM started referring to mass shooters as "an isolated, troubled, angry, misguided, maladjusted, disgruntled loser and loner." Who wants to be a loner now? Truth changes all the time.

"The Charge of the Light Brigade" is a good example. The valiant struggle by 186 men at the Alamo against 4,000 Mexicans is another. The truth of Custer's Last Stand changes generation by generation. According to Texas educators, seeped in the virtue signaling of today and "open borders," the Alamo defenders are not to be viewed so much as heroes and martyrs but racists, bigots, and nationalists.

The truth here is that individuals seeking to change the course of history often become the history they sought to change. Or is that another bon mot the west coughed up?

Unknown said...

Just sponsored a Town Hall on this subject. Is truth knowable in your estimation? What kind of information can we act on?

jerry said...

If someone did puzzle out "the truth" about 9/11/2001, wouldn't that potentially be actionable information? That is, a person might decide to support certain politicians, or withhold support from others, based on the information. A person might decide what country to live in, or what career to pursue.

Perhaps those who are fascinated with 9/11, feel that to write about it is to call for action. To write is, in itself, a form of action. Or anyhow, Dmitry: as a blogger / pundit, I would think that you would feel some sympathy to that position.

The ailments associated with ionizing radiation, the craters full of hot molten metal, the 'dustification' of the iron structure, are fascinating clues. For persons who are young and ambitious, and looking for a career in science and/or engineering, I would like to suggest some possibly actionable ideas.


Unknown said...

I would argue that we can only disprove and not prove something. So the “truth” is somewhere in the space of possibilities that is left over when we subtract all the impossible, i.e. disproven options.

We get information either directly by observing something or indirectly by reading, listening or viewing information generated by other. Based on the information we get, we can form an opinion about what is possible and not possible.

Of course information can be false or faulty. Or an assumption about a causal mechanism can be explained in a different way in hindsight at a later point in time. So even “disproving” something is not a totally certain matter. The disproof might have to be revised and abandoned if our world view changes.

But when we evaluate all the information at our disposal, including the causal mechanisms we suppose, for example the “laws” of physics as they have been developed and tested over the centuries, we can form an opinion about what is most likely disproven and what is not. And I would argue that for many such opinions we do not need a very high grade of investigative powers.

So while it may be very difficult or even impossible to very precisely determine what has happened in a specific situation, i.e. to exclude all other options, it may be very easy to say for a large number of things that they are disproven by this or that information we already have at our disposal.

For 9/11 it is IMHO quite easy to remove the so called “official” narrative from the space of possibilities. And there is a limited amount of causal mechanisms which we can suppose without getting in the realm of fiction or fantasy. Therefore, in my opinion, we can say something like this:

„WTC7 must have been destroyed by pre-placed explosives.“ That is because there is no other known mechanism that removes all the structural resistance or load bearing capacity of a building at once. If we want to knitpick we can add a disclaimer like: „Or a hitherto unknown mechanism was at work.“

If we have doubt about certain information, we can make a conditioned judgement. For example like this: “If the researchers who found remnants of thermitic material in the dust collected after 9/11 by New York residents living near the WTC are not lying, it is very likely that a substance called Nano-Thermite was used.”

We even can try to evaluate the likelyhood that a certain information is correct by comparing it with other information like video evidence, environmental data etc.

What I am trying to say: We will never get the one totally certain “truth”. But we can form an educated and rational opinion by way of an open (scientific) discourse. And to a certain extent anyone can to that.

So what can we do with that kind of information?

For example we can draw some conclusions about the trustworthiness of persons and/or institutions that promote certain explanations and give certain arguments or do not give valid arguments.

I think the process of determining what is most likely true and what is most likely wrong helps us always in those realms that are of interest to us. So the realm in political questions, the process helps us as long we are interested in such questions.

Rita said...

A few years ago I watched part of a presentation about 9/11 at a national Mensa gathering. I came in late so don't recall the credentials of the presenter. The general thrust of the presentation was "inside job." Lots of interesting details and "facts" that I don't have the expertise to cross check.

But even if I had been convinced--what would I do with the information? Spread general distrust of the government? To what purpose? I hate the police state tactics that 9/11 led to. I hate the wars we were maneuvered into on the basis of "terrorism." However contemplating the US as a failed state in which no one believes anyone or anything and all authority is questioned and opposed is not a pleasant alternative.

Conspiracy theories can be very emotionally satisfying; everyone likes to have the inside story and feel superior to those who accept the official version of anything--whether it is 9/11 or 'the real reason Debbie dumped Henry.' Just human nature.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the article Dmitry. In my humble opinion our main problem with the truth is a term almost lost in our age of progress: "humility". Say to yourself often "We don't know" and "maybe I'am wrong" and ironically you will be closer to the truth.
Will it be useful?
Maybe yes...maybe not...

Greg Simay said...

In many practical situations, it's better to deal in probabilities; i.e., like the saying, " 'the race is not always to the swift, nor yet to the strong', but that's the way to bet." Take the ad hominem fallacy, for example. It's true that just because some scoundrel is making statement A, you can't conclude with 100% certainty that A is false. But as an empirical matter when it comes to scoundrels, you may well be able to state there's a 90% chance A is false. Moreover, the consequences of disbelieving a true A may be far less severe than believing a false A. There's only so much time and energy during the day; I agree with Dmitri that for many situations, rules of thumb that help you avoid disasters are essential. When it comes to 9/11 and various other events where the official versions are questionable: perhaps the most useful conclusion is that untrustworthy authorities are yet another marker pointing to collapse. And once you're persuaded that collapse is a serious possibility, the most useful information becomes how you, your family and a Dunbar's number worth of friends and allies can keep their heads when everyone else will be losing theirs, with some of them deciding that the best way to survive is to kill you and take your stuff.

Grant Piper said...

You don't need to know the facts of everything, but you do need judgement. Like a 'black box' experiement, you see the inputs and the outputs, without needing to know what or who did what inside the black box. This informs your 'rules of thumb' and judgement for future use. To believe the official narrative you need to be what I call 'wilfully naive', and somehow reconcile the irreconcilable, which leads to mental distress as Dimitry has stated before in his writings. Religion is useful as it pre-conditions us to reconcile irrational narratives. No matter how 'smart' or educated a religious person is, at any time they can click their heels and believe in Oz.

Yossi said...

Your last para seems to in tune with Stoic philosopher Epictecus "take care to distinguish between things we can control and things we can’t, so that we will no longer worry about the things we can’t control".

Roberto said...

What? Hitler didn't dump Eva in the bunker so he could take a secret sub to a hidden antarctica base to cavort with a fallen angel giant hottie before hitting the star portal to planet Q-12? WTF man!?!?! I thought this was fairly sound and accepted intel.

Winfield Tyndale said...

So you are saying that we should go to war with Iran for the sake of Israel? Seven trillion spent already. Iran will finish us. Got it.
Give up on the Neocon deception? Never.
Ryan Dawson on YouTube is one of my favorite investigators on 911. He continues to be one of the best reporters on the Neocon deception in Syria. This war is not over. It will not end until the Neocons are killed or the USA is busted out Kosher Nostra style like the Soviet Union.
The other investigator on 911 is Christopher Bollyn from American Free Press. Bollyn stresses that Solving 911 will end the War of Terror. It will, but a military counter-coup will be needed. We should be discussing with the military what is and what is not a legitimate military coup. Disarming citizens is not legitimate, for example. Is my comment useless? Not to Patriots that will bleed for their liberty.

Anthony Jay said...

This is a very silly article though I love most of Dmitri's work. We had a huge massacre in 2001 with thousands murdered and the Truthers in America want the perpetrators brought to justice. By contrast Dmitri says we should do nothing and let the evil-doers get away scot-free for annihilating thousands of innocent human beings.

This kind of fatalism is typical of the Russian mentality, it's part of what led your country being overtaken by the catastrophe of Bolshevism. America has its many problems, but we are a proud and assertive country. Our leaders and our media do not represent what America believes. There is a big awakening place as seen in movements around the country. And many conservative Americans admire what Vladimir Putin has done.

PatOrmsby said...

Point well taken. AE911Truth has put put some of its best minds to work on convincing the US public to take some sort of action in the form of a new investigation to identify the perpetrators, and we can all see how far it's gotten them in 17 years. The simple math on the spectacle that you outlined, on the other hand, has caused at least a few people to take actions or been a factor in their decision. I suspect it is one reason Mrs. Clinton is not the US president, as Trump hinted some awareness of this painful thorn in the side. Most people who might make a difference see all kinds of reasons why they'd better not. I think there is a lot of hope that somehow if we analyze this enough, humanity can do better in the future. Good Germans went along with you-know-who, and now it's good Americans' turn, trapped by their social/family/whatnot condition like flies in a sticky web.
Still, this is the first time I've heard about possible ionizing radiation at the site. Dammit, inquiring minds want to know!