Objective transdiciplinary analyses of the "conspiracy theory meme" by independent academic experts with integrity.
The founder of Conspiracy-Theories.eu is Dr. Christopher B. Germann (EU Marie Curie Alumnus / Ph.D., M.Sc., B.Sc.) who is a scientist and an interdisciplinary scholar with formal specialised training in cognitive psychology, social psychology, psychophysics, and neuroscience (inter alia). The research which forms the basis of Conspiracy-Theories.EU was funded by the European Union as part of the interdisciplinary Marie Curie Actions CogNovo programN.B.Specifically, Project#14 entitled 'Irrational Decisions'. located at the University of Plymouth (United Kingdom).
What follows is a synopsis by Dr. Germann which briefly outlines various motivational factors which provided impetus for the creation of this project.
On the Cognitive Science of Conspiracy Theories, Neoliberalism and Academic Integrity
“Fundamental scientific questions concerning the rational and irrational factors which undergird conspiracy theories have engaged me during my entire PhD as a European Union funded Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Plymouth (United Kingdom). The nominal topic of my PhD was entitled “Irrational Decisions” (Project#14), and much of my empirical research focused on the basic mechanisms of perception, logical inference/reasoning and unconscious processes in human judgments.
From a cognitive psychology perspective I reached the conclusion that “belief bias” (i.e., in conditional syllogistic reasoning), generic dual process accounts of cognition, and various models of selective (limited) attention provide excellent explanatory theoretical frameworks to analyse conspiratorial cognition in a systematic and scientifically valid manner.
In addition, research findings from contemporary neuroscience are of great pertinence in this context, for instance, studies on prefrontal executive functions, the neuroanatomy and processing characteristics of the limbic system (e.g., fear and the amygdalae), neurochemical dopaminergic activation of reward circuitry (viz., nucleus accumbens/ventral tegmental area), schema formation in higher-order associations cortices, regulatory/inhibitory top-down mechanisms, the rôle of the 5-HT2A receptor in pattern-recognition and creative problem-solving, the rôle of neuroplasticity in cognitive flexibility and open-mindedness, etc. pp.).
Furthermore, well-established theories in social psychology (especially inter-group dynamics, ostracism, and Social Identity Theory) provide analytical tools which afford an in-depth analysis of conspiracy theories and their function in social systems (cf. cybernetics). As a web-developer I am keenly aware of the importance of free access to information (i.e., the open-access/open source philosophy which enabled the evolution of world-wide-web) and the workings of the Public Relations (PR) industryN.B. Public Relations - A strategic euphemismBefore the Bernayesian euphemism was popularised the term for Public Relations was Propaganda. It was only after the Germans 'spoiled' the term that it was intentionally renamed by a committee chaired by Edward Bernays (nephew of Sigmund Freud and 'founding-father' of the Public Relations sector). and their utilisation of insights derived from the social sciences and humanities.
Summa summarum, these research domains are complementary with respect to each other and I am firmly convinced that interdisciplinary scholarship is of crucial significance for a scientifically valid understanding of conspiracy theories. Fragmentation of knowledge and a lack of meta-cognitive epistemological reflection (due to extraneous factors like publication pressure and group conformity influences which interact with characterological variables correlated with careerism, ego-centrism, and narcissism) are the primary impediments to this endeavor in the reigning, unfortunately predominantly neoliberal, mainstream academeN.B.Cf. Prof. Erich Fromm on his excellent differentiation between the 'To Have' versus 'To Be' modus of existence. See also Berthold Brecht on 'TUIs', i.e., corrupt and spineless academic 'intellectuals' who sell themselves to the ruling financial power elite (visit my domain www.tuis.tk for a definition and further information on this topic which has obvious far-reaching detrimental societal ramifications).; but see Prof. Noam Chomsky on the anti-Humboldtian neoliberal assaultURLSee Chomsky’s excellent lecture entitled 'Academic Freedom and the Corporatization of Universities' which can be accessed under the following URL: https://chomsky.info/20110406/ on academic institutions and academic freedom, an attack which is executed primarily by the military-industrial-entertainment complex and its associated co-opted myrmidónesExplicationIn classical Greek mythology of (i.e., Homer’s Iliad) myrmidónes were commanded by Achilles during the Trojan War. According to the legend Zeus created them from a colony of ants (myrmex). Cf. Sir Francis Bacon on ants, spiders and bees. Per analogiam, ants are scientists who are rule followers who do not reflect (metacognitively) on what they are actually doing. They work within a given Kuhnian paradigm without seeing the bigger picture..
~ Christopher B. Germann (2019)
Supplementary information can be found on the following websites which were created by Dr. Germann for the purpose of public dissemination:
Stanovich, K. E., & West, R. F. (2008). On the Relative Independence of Thinking Biases and Cognitive Ability. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1682
Groves, P. M., & Thompson, R. F. (1970). Habituation: A dual-process theory. Psychological Review, 77(5), 419–450. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0029810Evans,
J. S. B. T. (2011). Dual-process theories of reasoning: Contemporary issues and developmental applications. Developmental Review, 31(2–3), 86–102. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dr.2011.07.007
Petty, R. E., Heesacker, M., & Hughes, J. N. (1997). The elaboration likelihood model: Implications for the practice of school psychology. Journal of School Psychology, 35(2), 107–136. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0022-4405(97)00003-4
Lecture by Prof Noam Chomsky on 'Neoliberalism and the Global Order' (@ Yale University)
Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic and political activist. Sometimes described as ‘the father of modern linguistics’, Chomsky is also a major figure in analytic philosophy and one of the founders of the field of cognitive science.
Chomsky, N. (2000). Beyond a domesticating education: A dialog. In D. Macedo (Ed.), Chomsky on miseducation (pp. 15-63.). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Chomsky, N (2003). The functions of schools: Subtler and cruder methods of control. In D. A. Saltman & D. Gabbard (Eds.), Education as enforcement: The militarisation and corporatization of schools. New York: NY: Routledge, pp.25-36.
Prof Noam Chomsky on 'The Military-Industrial-Entertainment Complex'
Further Pertinent References which substantiate/validate the arguments stated above
Edwards, M. A., & Roy, S.. (2016). Academic Research in the 21st Century: Maintaining Scientific Integrity in a Climate of Perverse Incentives and Hypercompetition. Environmental Engineering Science
“Abstract over the last 50 years, we argue that incentives for academic scientists have become increasingly perverse in terms of competition for research funding, development of quantitative metrics to measure performance, and a changing business model for higher education itself. furthermore, decreased discretionary funding at the federal and state level is creating a hypercompetitive environment between government agencies (e.g., epa, nih, cdc), for scientists in these agencies, and for academics seeking funding from all sources—the combination of perverse incentives and decreased funding increases pressures that can lead to unethical behavior. if a critical mass of scientists become untrustworthy, a tipping point is possible in which the scientific enterprise itself becomes inherently corrupt and public trust is lost, risking a new dark age with devastating consequences to humanity. academia and federal agencies should better support science as a public good, and incentivize altruistic and ethical outco…”
Buela-Casal, G.. (2014). Pathological publishing: A new psychological disorder with legal consequences?. The European Journal of Psychology Applied to Legal Context
“Over the last few years, university policy in developed countries has placed too much emphasis on assessing publications on the basis of the impact factor. any scientific material that has not been published in a journal indexed in the journal citation reports is academically irrelevant. hence, researchers strive hard to publish in such journals. failure to achieve this means not having a successful career or receiving any academic recognition. a thorough analysis of the effects of this phenomenon on the researcher community leads to the conclusion that the overestimation of the impact factor is likely to cause disappointment among many researchers. researchers only have two options: adopting a politically correct behavior, that is, following the ‘impact factor style of thinking’, or accepting the futility of their research regardless of its relevance. this is an example of the involvement of university policy habitus obsessed impact index. o policy impact index is accepted, or is doomed to academic ostracism, and exclusion from participation in all university policy.”
Bernays, Lippmann, Fromm, Brecht
Edward BernaysWalter LippmannBertold BrechtErich Fromm
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.Our invisible governors are, in many cases, unaware of the identity of their fellow members in the inner cabinet.They govern us by their qualities of natural leadership, their ability to supply needed ideas and by their key position in the social structure. Whatever attitude one chooses to take toward this condition, it remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons—a trifling fraction of our hundred and twenty million—who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.” (Edward Bernays, Propaganda, 1928)
Bernays, E. L. (1928). Propaganda. Horace Liveright.
Bernays, E. L. (1936). Freedom of Propaganda. Vital Speeches of the Day, 2(24), 744–746.
L’Etang, J. (1999). The father of spin: Edward L. Bernays and the birth of public relations. Public Relations Review, 25(1), 123–124.
“That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough. . . . [a]s a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power…. Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart. Where we act on that theory we expose ourselves to self-deception, and to forms of persuasion that we cannot verify. It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach. … The public must be put in its place, so that each of us may live free of the trampling and roar of a bewildered herd.” (Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion, Chapter XV)
Lippmann, W. (1920). Liberty and the News. Museum.
Lippmann, W. (1970). The Phantom Public. Politics.
From 1930 onwards, Brecht became part of a wider complex of projects exploring the role of intellectuals (or “Tuis” as he called them) in a capitalist society. A Tui is an intellectual who sells his or her abilities and opinions as a commodity in the marketplace or who uses them to support the dominant ideology of an oppressive society. ] The German modernist theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht invented the term and used it in a range of critical and creative projects, including the material that he developed in the mid-1930s for his so-called Tui-Novel—an unfinished satire on intellectuals in the German Empire and Weimar Republic—and his epic comedy from the early 1950s, Turandot or the Whitewashers’ Congress. The word is a neologism that results from the acronym of a word play on “intellectual” (“Tellekt-Ual-In”).
According to Clark (2006): “… the critique of intellectuals which Brecht developed… around the notion of ‘Tuismus’ engages a model of the public intellectual in which the self-image of the artist and thinker as a socially and politically engaged person corresponded to the expectations of the public.”
Clark, M. W. (2006). Hero or villain? Bertolt Brecht and the crisis surrounding June 1953. Journal of Contemporary History.
Hunt, T. C. N.-. (2004). Goodbye to Berlin: For 200 years, German thinkers have shaped British intellectual life – but their influence is fading fast. The Guardian.
“It is very useful to differentiate between rational and irrational authority. By irrational authority I mean authority exercised by fear and pressure on the basis of emotional submission. This is the authority of blind obedience, the authority you will find most clearly expressed in all totalitarian countries.
But there is another kind of authority, rational authority by which I mean any authority which is based on competence and knowledge, which permits criticism, which by its very nature tends to diminish, but which is not based on the emotional factors of submission and masochism, but on the realistic recognition of the competence of the person for a certain job.”
― 1958. The Moral Responsibility of Modern Man, in: Merrill-Palmer. Quarterly of Behavior and Development, Detroit, Vol. 5, p. 6.
Excerpt adopted from the CogNovo.Eu website
(accessed on May, 2016)
The interdisciplinary Marie Curie CogNovo program has been intentionally designed by the European Union and the University of Plymouth to discuss and disseminate a wide view on a diverse spectrum of topics including psychology, neuroscience, current affairs, basic science, humanities, and the arts, inter alia. Note that the views and opinions expressed on this website do not necessarily represent the opinions of any of the institutions mentioned on this website and belong exclusively to the copyright holder. The CogNovo program explicitly emphasises cognitive and social innovation, the generation of new ideas and perspectives, and the probing of boundaries, but see https://www.cognovo.eu/about/
CogNovo is a multi-national doctoral training network that offers research training in Cognitive Innovation, both as a new field of scientific investigation and as a strategy for research and innovation.
In the competitive, dynamic world in which we live, technological and social innovation is key to future economic success. Nature provides clues which can help us build a strategy for innovation. Humans, like other animals, actively explore their world, they respond to novel situations and problems by creating and evaluating potential solutions, they remember new information about the world and ways to behave gained in this process, and exploit this knowledge in subsequent thoughts and actions. In this process of directed creativity, essential cognitive abilities develop and become applied in novel ways. This is not creativity or innovation in a vacuum. What is critically important for social and technological progress is innovation within appropriate constraints; Cognitive Innovation. CogNovo aims to establish a firm scientific basis for cognitive innovation and a research training programme in which new researchers learn to adopt the self-aware, multi-faceted process of cognitive innovation (exploration/speculation, explanation/synthesis and exploitation/implication), applicable both to their research activities and their professional and personal development.
Researchers of the future need to be able to think creatively and critically. They need to understand the implications of their research; the potential benefits and negative consequences. They need to anticipate changes and proactively seek out new solutions to problems. They need to know how to transform their ideas into utilisable products and effective social innovations. CogNovo provides a wide-ranging curriculum designed to nurture curiosity beyond conventional discipline boundaries to enable CogNovo Fellows to graduate as confident, productive and insightful innovators, with the intellectual breadth and transferable skills necessary to take up the challenges of the future.
CogNovo draws on the unique composition of its multi-disciplinary consortium to offer complementary expertise across a wide range of disciplines:
Cognitive neuroscience: will explore the brain basis for cognition and the relationship between cognition, novelty and creativity. CogNovo Fellows will to learn how to apply neuroimaging technologies to investigate the neural basis for creativity in imagery and deception, and how novelty detection helps to shape cognition. This work will help to establish a scientific basis for cognitive innovation.
Computational modelling: of neurobiology and behaviour helps to derive theoretical models from empirical data. CogNovo Fellows will develop bio-inspired models that provide testable explanations for creative cognitive processes. Computational modelling provides important links between cognitive neuroscience and experimental psychology and a basis for developing novel intelligent cognitive technologies.
Humanities: A strong Humanities perspective will help to broaden the scientific ear of CogNovo Fellows, offering new ways of thinking about problems by taking a transdisciplinary approach not normally considered within the scientific community. A particular focus will be on the human values important for sustainable innovation in technological applications.
Experimental psychology: Social innovation is seen as an important way to address societal needs, yet the impact of behaviour-change initiatives remains rather poor. CogNovo Fellows will work with a team of experimental psychologists to develop innovative solutions to the problems of alarm design, and medical communications and decision making, thus providing new insights into the basis for sustainable social innovation.
Creative arts: The creative industries are seen as an area for high growth potential in Horizon 2020. CogNovo Fellows will explore the dynamics of social creativity within interacting groups of adults and children, through direct engagement with creative practices at the arts/science interface.
Cognitive robotics: The development of human-like cognition in artificial robotic systems remains an unsolved problem, yet is a fundamental requirement for effective human-robot interactions. Drawing on studies of creativity in human cognitive development, CogNovo Fellows will investigate relationships between curiosity and creativity and whether artificial creativity can similarly support the development of artificial cognition.
Private sector involvement:
CogNovo enjoys substantial support from the private sector. Private sector partners include prominent industrial research labs (Sony, Philips), a private education provider (LogicMills), a company specialising in entrepreneurship and commercialisation of Intellectual Property (Frontier IP), arts organisations (Kin, R-Research, i-DAT), major international media archives (EYE Film Institute, Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision), and a leading journal for the application of contemporary science and technology to the arts (Leonardo).
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