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  • In the party game called Telephone, people sit in a circle and someone whispers a sentence to the person to the left, who whispers it to the person on their left, around the clock, until it comes back to the original speaker. The final message may make sense, but it is almost never the message originally sent. This is a form of truth decay that everyone understands.

    Truth is a scarce commodity. Science progresses by disproving theories, not proving them (that only happens in mathematics). In the real world, everything you know to be true just hasn't been disproved yet, so stay tuned.

    Not only is the amount of truth finite, it doesn't grow very fast. The total quantity of human discourse, on the other hand, is exploding before us, thanks to digital media, social networks and PR engines. Fictional facts and regurgitated opinions about everything imaginable surround us. This disinformation explosion makes it harder and harder to identity truths embedded in what is mostly noise. Truth decays like echoes do, toward unintelligibility.

    It would help some if we had more scientists. What really would make a difference would be to have more skeptics, people motivated to challenge revealed truths with empirical truths. For example, instead of believing in revealed truth about the invisible hand of markets, why don't more people take time to understand how markets are manipulated, like the manipulators do?

    Bankers, fast traders, futures speculators, derivative spinners and hedge funders know how to game the system. You could know too, and would, if it mattered to your bottom line. But it really does matter to you. You would know that if you took time to do some homework to learn how markets really work and how they affect your life. It takes focus and persistence, but if you assembled some data you could tell other people how to replicate your research results. If you did that, maybe you could create some true unbelievers.

    Some truth decay is definitely deliberate (and almost always self-interested), especially when issues get politicized. But most of it is just due to truths swimming in a sea of irrelevant information in which they are too few and far between to notice.

    So, I am suggesting that, every day, take a few moments to connect a few dots of truth that you feel have been neglected. Shout them out here on Cowbird for others to inspect and then do whatever they will. So you can feel good about what you did with your day.

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