On myth

Myth vs Opinion

The value of a thing sometimes lies not in what one attains with it, but in what one pays for it - what it costs us. - Nietzsche

We no longer discover wisdom embodied in ancient myth for guidance. Myths are Lindy in the sense that the longer they have been around the longer we can expect for them to persist. Myths were historically passed from generation to generation via oratory storytelling. However, in modern times it is more common to discover these myths in written form. The fact that myths are no longer passed down by oration may explain their loss of remembrance, this was the fear of many philosophers, Socrates included. Oration brings a heightened sense of awareness to the information that is being presented. It allows for physical movement and gesture, nuanced details, and dialogue to further comprehend the information. The written word as beautiful as it is does not capture the true essence of information being presented.

On the one hand ancient myths, folklore, parables or stories are amalgamations of truths and experiences that have survived due to their value (they are signals amongst an ocean of noise). Ancient myths appeal to almost everyone due to their underlying axioms which permeate all humans. One can read an ancient parable today and connect with the message almost instinctually. On the other hand current opinions are neither time tested nor broadly compelling to individuals. Sound bites, clips, and screenshots now make up a large part of how people consume information - many times this information is neither vetted nor truthful. The compression of information from oration to long form writing to clips in various forms has degraded the quality of much of the information we now consume. This lack of quality leaves many uninterested in returning to the longer forms of informational uptake. It is akin to taking a sip of a drink, being dissatisfied and then asking for more. High quality information is a synthesis of idealistic myth and bare praxis. This allows the person consuming the information to gather that it is 1) traditional 2) rational 3) useful.

Information being traditional means that it is acknowledging the fact that events and occurrences have pre dated the latest statement. It is a respect for the things that have lead to the present. It is not an assertion made ex nihilo to assuage current biases. Rational information and processing is essential. It is the ability to successfully discern if something you are consuming is valuable and worth taking note of. The onus is two fold, on one hand the creator of the information needs to consider rationality and truthfulness when releasing information for others to consume. On the other hand it is the responsibility of the consumer of information to train their mental faculties to accurately interpret the information. Is the information truthful, rational, and worth internalizing. Useful information, is the information that is a signal, it carries with it value that should be both remembered and put into action. It is not a straightforward exercise and it takes ample practice and study to develop efficiency in finding high value information. Once you are able to discern the wheat from the chaff you can quickly consume information that is valuable and discard information that is just noisy and worthless. Quality makes you think, not necessarily make you feel. An appeal to the mind is superior to an appeal to the heart.

Today, however, we are inundated with opinions that have not been tested by time nor distributed consensus. These opinions are usually mixed with a sliver of factual information to rile, incite, and influence. Information no longer seems to be vetted for accuracy, but molded by opinion to appear accurate and factual. This may be a sign of the times or an undesirable affect of the mediums being used to disseminate information. As Marshall McLuhan famously stated “The Medium is the Massage”, the way in which we consume information matters. We have finite attention, finite memory, and finite interests. Gone are the days of attending debates, now one is more likely to consume information from the quickest and easiest medium possible.

It seems the most powerful form of information, called signals, are best conveyed in face to face oratory form, due the reasons stated above. Face to face interaction allows the interlocutors to more accurately gauge what the other person is trying to convey. Sadly, the rate in which information is being consumed in this manner is decreasing due to social distancing (self imposed or not), digital messaging, and online publications. It will be a sign of affluence and intellect to meet in person to converse and share ideas with others. What once was common practice will soon become esoteric and walled off to many.

Present opinions, unlike myths, have not been subjected to an equal level of scrutiny or senescence. This is why many opinions or narratives simply do not resonate with broad swaths of individuals. The narrowness and lack of appeal inherent in modern narratives reveal their fragility. When one reads the Illiad one recognizes the underlying story is nearly universal. One wants to be the hero, one wants to reap the rewards and praise, one wants the glory.

Information from many mainstream sources is no longer something that can be relied upon to inform and educate the mainstream. If the majority of people receive their information from mainstream sources and the mainstream sources are no longer reporting accurate information, the majority of the population is now de facto misinformed. This is a scary thought, that many may not fully grasp. The onus is now on the individual rather than the source (publisher, network, platform) to verify and vet all information. Theoretically, this is great, we all have computers in our pockets, but in practice, many people do not take the time to cross reference, check sources, and research whether the information they are consuming is valid. I don’t think most people have the time or the wherewithal to verify all of the inforamtion they come across. That is why messengers/missionaries and trusted institutions emerged in societies that exceeded the Dunbar number.

Let’s say you set out to plan the world. “If we possess all the relevant information,” writes Hayek, “if we can start out from a given system of preferences, and if we command complete knowledge of available means, the problem which remains is purely one of logic.” We only need to plug in the right data into our calculus and issue orders. The problem is that this solution presumes that the unsolvable problem — gaining that information — has already been solved.

One should look back on what has survived in order to implement processes to thrive in the future. Modern opining swerves from what has survived to something far from providential truth. One should strive for comprehension, retention, and implementation of signals that are received. Turn to the ancients and great minds, turn to videos of open debates, and turn to the texts and stories that have lasted generations to find the truths and information you seek. Respect the past, rationalize the present, and create the future.