Sunday, September 9, 2007

informationless age

We must make a sharp distinction between data and evidence. Data are measurements, details, numbers ~ data simpliciter say nothing about any theory, any story about how and why these details and numbers fit together. Only evidence can support or refute a theory, and the process of turning data into evidence is neither trivial nor even congenial to any general systematization. At the very least, this process incorporates a vast array of background beliefs and expectations which, themselves, are immune to evidential support.

The "information age" is an age of increased data, not facts or evidence. The never-ending stream of "factoids" which the internet presents to us cannot hold the full-fledged status of "facts," as for every factoid that A, there exists another that not-A, and it is an intrinsic characteristic of facts that they are true. Since, A and not-A cannot both simultaneously be true, they cannot simultaneously be facts, and thus not all factoids are facts. Surely, some factoids are facts, and thus all we need is a theory about which "information sources" can be trusted and which cannot. Here, however, we run into the problem of turning data into evidence. For the trustworthiness of a given "information source" can only be judged against a background of prior beliefs and expectations. Thus, the factoids originating in that source alone give no evidence about its authenticity, they are merely data.

If all the factoids, all the "information," available on the internet is merely data, than the modern e-citizen is faced with the monumental task of turning data into evidence not just for theories about the world, but also for theories about the reliability of data-sources. This second-order uncertainty ensures that any modern e-citizen knows less in this "information age" than ever before ~ for the sheer proliferation of "information sources" via the internet magnifies the conceptual problem of validating said sources past the finite bounds of human ability. Yet faith in certainty ever abounds, and certainty has proved itself the chimera of the modern age.

The wise man says: attestation to knowledge is the hallmark of madmen and fundamentalists.

1 comment:

Steven G. Harms said...

The General knows...