Information, Misinformation, Disinformation, and the Limits of Human DiscriminationYuroc
Misinformation is incorrect information. Disinformation is misinformation with a hidden motivation to cause mischief or harm. It is proven here that there can be no reliable Classifier who can always accurately discriminate between what is true and false.
"Judge not, that ye be not judged falsely," the Good Man said. Perhaps nothing much more needs to be said, but it seems that I am being guided to say a few things anyway.
As publishers, we seek to bring potentially important information to the public, so that each person has the opportunity to reach personal truths about significant issues. We cannot infallibly judge the truth of any information that comes to us. In fact, it is provably impossible for anyone to do so. And if one cannot reliably recognize truth, one is even less likely to be able to discern the underlying motivations behind information, which is the difference between misinformation and disinformation.
An example of misinformation might be the circulation of the wrong date for a close approach to Mars. Mistakes happen. A few folks might have wished that they had cross-checked their sources before running with it, but by and large it was a harmless mistake and no one was hurt.
Disinformation, being intentionally malevolent, is much more sinister. If Dan Rather had had a Classifier, he might have retained his reputation and position. In his case, someone intending to harm him gifted him with forged documents that seemed to prove that George W. Bush had knowingly shirked his reserve duty during the Vietnam era. It was poisoned bait, prepared recently using Microsoft Word, an application that tends to exponentiate the "th" in words such as 4th. Microsoft Word did not exist at the time of Bush's service, and typewriters of the era could not exponentiate. In the competitive rush to be first, CBS swallowed the bait, and when the hoax was easily and promptly exposed, down went Dan, the disinformation, AND the issue it purportedly related to. The issue of Bush's AWOL promptly dropped from sight, seldom to be raised again. The Disinformers won, as did George W. Bush.
Assume that someone could unerringly distinguish what is true from what is false. Let's call such a person a Classifier. A Classifier could take any person or assertion and accurately place it into the True (good) stack or the False (bad) stack.
What a blessing it would be to have a real Classifier on our team! We could ask him/her to make up lists of good and bad people and to deflect all misleading information from our attention. However, such an ability is demonstrably impossible, and to assert otherwise is itself an assertion that a true Classifier would put into the False pile.
How do we know that it is impossible for a Classifier to exist? Let us assume that one does exist. One could, in theory at least, begin to list and number all the possible assertions in a given language and sort them into ascending order by sentence length. Then we could ask our Classifier to filter the emerging assertions into True and False piles for us.
If our Classifier lived long enough, he/she would eventually encounter a problematic item, which we will call Assertion X, that says "Assertion X is false." The Classifier would confidently categorize it, according to its truth.
If the Classifier puts Assertion X into the True pile, then it would be true that Assertion X is false, so our Classifier would be including false information in the True Pile and thus could not be an infallible Classifier.
If, on the other hand, our Classifier puts Assertion X into the False pile, it must be false that "Assertion X is false," that is, Assertion X must be true, in which case it belongs in the True pile, and again our Classifier has erred and consequently is not an infallible Classifier.
So unerring Classifiers cannot exist. Some things will be indeterminate, or mistakes will be made. Guaranteed. It follows that there can be no infallible guide to lead us through the fog. It also follows that there can be no objective truth, that all truth is subjective. What is true for someone may be false for another.
There is often no way to prove the kinds of assertions that we encounter in the realms of the paranormal and extraterrestrial. We cannot run parallel experiments, one with ET involvement and the other without and measure the difference in weight, or run one experiment with precognition invoked and the other without, or schedule one abduction to be run by aliens and the other to be run by covert agents. The scientific method is not applicable to these issues.
What we have in its place is more valuable than the sientific method, but it is more subtle, too. It is called Inner Knowing. Each of us has it. You may be reading a book and disagree with most of it; you may even categorize it as disinformation and be about to toss it out.
Then BOOM! There it is, right in front of you -- the reason you felt compelled to read this book -- that one piece of information that rings your innermost Bell of Truth. You know it is true, without proof or footnotes. It resonates within you in a deep and undeniable way. It becomes instantly integrated into your subjective truth. No one will ever be able to argue you out of your knowledge of it. Your neighbor, reading the same book, may get nothing from it, or may even get much more from it.
As publishers, it is our mission to present information to the public that is likely to ring someone's Inner Bell of Truth. Authors, especially as they begin to get prominent, often get fed poisoned bait. Being human and naïve and expected to produce upon demand, an author will often swallow the bait and publicize it. When that particular item gets discredited, the author's reputation gets tarnished, the book sales drop, and fewer Bells of Inner Truth ring out across the land. In such cases the Disinformers win. The potentially useful subjective truths that readers might have picked up in the author's other work have been successfully suppressed. Seeds falling upon barren ground, if you will.
As publishers all we can do is to follow our inner guidance, listen for our Inner Bells of Truth, and present quality materials that have a good chance of ringing some people's Inner Bells of Truth.
I am reminded of the World War II tailgunner who said, "You get the most flak when you're over the target."
When we publish a manuscript, it is not because we have concluded that everything in it is objectively true, but because a lot of it rang our Inner Bell of Truth. If we find in a manuscript what we think might be disinformation or misinformation, we do not conclude that the author is a disinformation agent for the covert government, or that everything that the author writes is suspicious or of no value. We do the best we can to check what we can and to delete incorrect information, to the best of our abilities. That is all anyone can do.
So be astute. Be alert. Run from anyone who claims to know the truth. Listen for your own Inner Voice of Truth. Know that Truth does not struggle against ignorance. Open your minds to valuable, unexpected, subjective truths and enjoy all the books we publish!
And remember what a real Kook said about the truth: "The higher the truth, the simpler it is." —Abraham Isaac Kook.
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