[cyberheretic] Internet and ignorance

  • From: Cyberheretic <cyberheretic-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <cyberheretic@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 21 Jun 2002 07:48:15 +0200

 C Y B E R H E R E T I C?S   U N C O L L E C T E D   W O R K S 
   N E S A B R A N A   D J E L A   C Y B E R H E R E T I K A
***  Any clod can have facts, but having opinion is an art. ***
Vol. I / No. 1 / 2002-06-21


Internet and ignorance


Since the dawn of time man strived to collect knowledge. Every day, some
knowledge is gained through research, exploration and learning. But also
some knowledge is lost while people forget or die failing to record
their knowledge or pass it over. Nevertheless, until these days, the
aggregate knowledge of human race has been augmenting in time. Recording
techniques such as writing, sound and video taping, and digitalization,
help to keep our knowledge from oblivion. 


Some scientists today say that in this century, for the first time in
history, human civilization will lose more knowledge than it will
collect, and diminishing of aggregate human knowledge will take place.
They see this as a consequence of globalization and spreading of western
civilization, as lot of people abandon their heritage in favor of
contemporary values marketed by global companies. 


There is common belief that Internet, through its omnipresence and ease
of use, is the most powerful tool for knowledge dissemination and
multiplication. While I maintain this true, I do recognize that it is
also a powerful tool for sharing someone's ignorance. Can information
gained through Internet impact your knowledge in such a way that it does
actually decrease? 


Information theory teaches us that the volume of information contained
in some event depends on the probabilities of its outcomes. Let's take
an experiment of tossing a coin. What are the probabilities of its
outcomes? You know that - 0.5 for heads and 0.5 for tails. What
knowledge we have about the outcome of this event? We have none, because
all outcomes have the same probability. 


Few weeks ago I was browsing Internet in search for information about
the composition "In the Hall of the Mountain King". I was pretty sure
that this piece was composed by Edvard Grieg, let's say some 90% sure.
But, as I have only little musical education, I sought to increase my
knowledge by gaining some from Internet, so I made my research. Results
were, well, quite interesting. I got lot of results connecting the term
"Mountain King" to Edvard Grieg, and not one which bound the exact title
I was searching for to the great composer. But I do got two results that
attributed this title to another great composer - Modest Petrovich
Mousorgsky, and one result even mentioned John Lennon. While it was easy
to opt-out Lennon from this list, the other results left me in doubt. I
can say that now I am, say, only 70% sure that Grieg composed this
piece. In a way, my knowledge about this composition is smaller than it
was before I searched Internet.


And now for the heresy: Is it possible that Internet, through its
openness and easiness of presence can participate in diminishing the
aggregate human knowledge by making it possible to spread the
overwhelming ignorance? I do believe that danger exists. 


What can we do? I remember what Norbert Wiener once said, during some
discussion about probabilistic nature of living creatures' behavior.
Somebody said that if someone put a great number of monkeys to type on
typewriters, giving enough time, some day one of them will write "War
and Peace" by L. Tolstoy. Wiener replied: "Gentlemen, our sacred duty is
to keep monkeys away from typewriters!"


Yours truly,



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