Vandy’s Berry Lecturer Michael Lynch delivered an important message last night about “Google-knowing” and its mediated threat to deep understanding. The more we rely on digital connection to plug our knowledge gaps, the weaker our perceptual acuity. The more we depend on external data storage, the thinner our empirical relation to the world of facts in context, or genuine knowledge. Here’s his lively and peripatetic recent introduction to The Internet of Us-Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data:
Jill Lepore, writing in The New Yorker, says Lynch “thinks we are frighteningly close” to losing our ability to know,
as if the whole world had suddenly gone blind. There would be no immediate basis on which to establish the truth of a fact. No one would really know anything anymore, because no one would know how to know. I Google, therefore I am not.
We heard a report in the Atheism class Thursday that seems to me to support this alarming forecast. It was a good and thoughtful report, informed by Google, but ultimately resigned to a world in which competing facts-&-values and alternative local cultures (even cultures as superficially similar as Nashville and St. Louis!) will never be reconciled. The reporters were skeptical about reason’s relevance in settling differences, confirming Lynch’s “three sources of skepticism about reason: the suspicion that all reasoning is rationalization, the idea that science is just another faith, and the notion that objectivity is an illusion.”
Our reporters illustrated their skepticism with a distressing sitcom clip in which a creationist dismisses science’s greatest virtue, self-correction, as “lying, sometimes.” He concludes, without serious challenge from a room full of supposed Darwinists , that evolution is simply an article of faith and not fact. Lynch’s prediction that, imbued with mere Google knowledge, we soon “won’t be able to agree on the facts, let alone values,” is already manifest.
“No matter the bigness of the data, the vastness of the Web, the freeness of speech, nothing could be less well settled in the twenty-first century than whether people know what they know from faith or from facts, or whether anything, in the end, can really be said to be fully proved.”
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