To take a minor detour from my usual posts here at “The Philosophical Fighter,” I want to tell you about some of what I’ve been working on academically. I recently had the chance to present my research on QAnon, a meta-conspiracy theory, and the media ecology perspective taken by Neil Postman. You may have seen me quote Postman a fair amount recently and for good measure. He was an educator, media critic, and language enthusiast, among many other things. He also drew heavily on historical analysis. I share many of his concerns about how technology shapes, influences, and even takes over our human capabilities.
Epistemology is the study of knowledge, precisely what we know, how we know it, and to what effect. Following many others such as Postman, Marshall McLuhan, and Jacques Ellul, I am critical of what modern technologies are taking from us, or rather, what we are giving away when we cede our abilities to some innovation or invention. It becomes a “Faustian Bargain,” to use Postman’s metaphor, when we look longingly at what technology brings and fail to see what it will inevitably take.
Applying the Media Ecology tradition to conspiracy theories, more precisely the 21st-century phenomenon QAnon, I looked at how modern media enabled these subaltern ideas to grow. Everything from algorithms to Facebook groups, YouTube influencers to Twitter hashtags allowed the ideas to spread and influence individuals across the United States. While the prophecies of the QAnon church have not come true, there are still those who have hope that they are correct. This hope was arguably created, elevated, and remains in large part due to the media environment in which these individuals live.
For a deeper picture of my research, here’s a 20-minute video of the major points. The speech was given at the 2021 General Semantics Symposium in New York.
(Photo by Markus Winkler from Pexels)
7 thoughts on “Epistemology and the Media Environment”
This is a major concern for us all. Downloaded your research paper and will give it a good read over the holidays. You present yourself really well in your video and come across as someone who is dedicated to making a positive & constructive change. Within the first minute of your talk you alluded to the fallacy of heuristic thinking. Perhaps if you were to briefly explain this concept in reference to your material it would lend more weight to your argument. You also made sufficient eye contact with your audience. This helps to convey sincerity, that you truly care about your objectives. Wishing you and your family a wonderful holiday season!
The recommendation included in my former comment may have been somewhat vague so allow me to clarify my meaning in part:
“The reason we have conspiratorial thinking is because we want certainty; we don’t like randomness so we try to connect these often unrelated dots.” It’s in how these conspiracy theorists go about making these connections that Availability Heuristics can play a factor.
I appreciate you reading and welcome any feedback you wish to offer. I followed your suggestion about heuristics. I am often citing Kahneman and Tversky’s work on biases/heuristics/mental shortcuts, etc. Confirmation bias is another prominent factor in conspiratorial thinking. I am currently writing a paper on neuromyths (brain hemisphere dominance, learning styles, etc.) and how they are pervasive in education, even after being debunked over the last 20+ years. Confirmation bias and Availability heuristic play into the staying power of many of these myths. For most beleivers in them, their intuition is highly influential. “It just feels right.” But, as Kahneman says, intuition is bias.
Awesome! What you are doing possesses a lot of value for the future of America.
“If you want to lead something, start by saying: This is what I care about and this is what I want to do and why I think you should want to help….” Former President Clinton recently began his online Masterclass with this statement. How do you feel about beginning your next speech by applying his advice?
Could you bang off a couple of paragraphs about neuromyths and send it my way?
I think Clinton’s advice is useful for nearly any speech. In my communication class, I tell my students to 1) tell the audience who you are (ethos), 2) tell them what you want them to know and why it matters (pathos), and 3) what you want them to do with the information (logos). I think that lines up in a roundabout way with Clinton’s statement.
I’m in the research/information gathering stage on neuromyths, but as soon as I get something started, I’ll shoot you a synopsis.
Ethos-Pathos-Logos provides a solid foundation. Looking forward to the synopsis. Presently reading through your paper over morning coffee. Thus far, it’s probably safe to say that it’s one of the most lucid academic papers in American history but certainly most relevant to the times we live in.
Dear Joshua and Jason,
Hello! I have enjoyed reading many of your posts on your respective blogs as well as your conversations here and elsewhere.
Regarding heuristics, I have explicated them at length in some of my longest posts, plus citing the seminal research of Israeli cognitive and mathematical psychologist Amos Nathan Tversky, and Israeli psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman, who is the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.
One of my aforementioned posts is entitled “💬 Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic: 🧠 Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity 🦠“, which you can easily locate from the Home page of my blog. The post deals with untruth-oriented epistemology, social epistemology, the media landscape and information ecosystem, as well as a series of detailed discussions and analyses (distributed over twelve sections, each of which is instantly accessible via a navigational menu) in the domains of Behavioural Science, Cognitive Science, Critical Thinking, Cultural Studies, Environmentalism, Epistemology, Ethics, Evolutionary Biology, Evolutionary Psychology, History, Human Nature, Information Science, Journalism, Logic, Media Studies, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Social Media and Social Science. I welcome your feedback there.
Wishing you and your respective families a Happy New Year!
May you find 2022 very much to your liking and highly conducive to your travelling, writing, reading, thinking, researching, critiquing and blogging whatever topics that take your intellectual fancy and philosophical whim!