Polluting the Environment of Mind

“Fake news”, false stories on the Internet, are generally just a byproduct of web commerce. Sites make money through advertising and the measure of exposure is purely the number of views. Anything that provokes a click is rewarded in this attention economy.

If we understand a little bit of what we’re doing, maybe it will help us to find our way out of the maze of hallucinations that we have created around ourselves.
Gregory Bateson Steps to an Ecology of Mind

Fake news is like environmental pollution. Like particulate matter from a coal plant or trash dumped into the sea, produced with no real thought of consequences. After all, the information environment, like the sea or sky seems really big. Large enough to absorb the pollution released by industrial processes.

This of course an illusion. The atmosphere is big but not infinite. A planet of hairspray can destroy the ozone layer with chlorofluorocarbons. Burning all that fossil fuel can increase the level of greenhouse gases like CO2, melting arctic ice.

Its not surprising that once there’s enough fake news to create some truth dead zones, there are effects in the wider data environment, choking off real journalism and affecting the climate, cultural and political in this case.

Gregory Bateson described this relationship between what’s “out there” and the structure of our thoughts. His theory of an ecology of mind is based on the model of belief being an ecosystem, based on an interaction between what’s in the brain of an individual and the information, the ideas, that the individual is exposed to. You can’t separate the organism from its ecological niche

Falsehood is poison to a healthy ecology based on trust and acceptance. Bateson would tell you that, like any complex system, this ecology will eventual reach a new state that may be quite different from what came before. I see the beauty of the stark desert landscape, but prefer the verdant diversity of the Eastern Forest.

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