Week 11 Summary

December 7th, 2009 - 


French, C. C., & Wilson, K. (2007) Cognitive factors underlying paranormal beliefs and experiences. In S. Della Sala (ed.). Tall Tales About the Mind and Brain: Separating Fact From Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chapter 1, pp. 3-22.

Moving on to start thinking about my final assignment, I still find myself mired down in conspiracy theories and have been trying to find ways to relate the most recent set of readings (on emerging cyborg pedagogies) to this several weeks past of work. My lifestream is reflective of this shift as I try to find materials and resources which might help me bridge the gap.

I found a very helpful site of materials from Goldsmith’s University, London where Professor Chris French runs a course on anomalistic psychology. I took a chance and mailed Prof. French (explaining about my 9/11 work) and asking if I could rummage through his course materials. Luckily, several readings are open-access. Whilst Prof. French’s course doesn’t deal with specific issues arising from conspiracy theories (focusing rather on beliefs in ghosts, UFOs and alien abductions) many of the issues identified in these course readings seem to be as readily applicable to the field of conspiracy theories as they are to vistors from other planets or dimensions.

A number of key cognitive processes are identified which may have a bearing on dealing with an ‘informant’ (to stick with Hine’s term) and their account of an event or phenomena. These are:

  • Probablistic reasoning
  • Syllogistic reasoning
  • Biased concepts of randomness and meaningfulness

Further to that, a reading of a 1992 study by Goetzel yielded the following:

‘A survey of 348 residents of southwestern New Jersey showed that most believed that several of a list of ten conspiracy theories were at least probably true. People who believed in one conspiracy were more likely to also believe in others. Belief in conspiracies was correlated with anomie, lack of interpersonal trust, and insecurity about employment.’

But if those are the processes which are (allegedly) at work, what does all of this have to do with a cyborg pedagogy?

There’s a wonderful Irish expression, frequently used in the political domain: ‘An Irish Solution to an Irish Problem’. To my considerable amusement, the Wikipedia definition is as follows:

In Irish political discourse, “an Irish solution to an Irish problem” is any official response to a controversial issue which is timid, half-baked, or expedient, which is an unsatisfactory compromise, or sidesteps the fundamental issue’

If conpiracy theories (ancient or digitally-mediated) are to be explained or understood, then perhaps what we need is a ‘cyborg solution to a cyborg problem’ – where the fractured, disaggregated nature of a conspiracy theories constituent parts explains the remarkable difficulty that any ‘debunker’ (or would-be online anthropologist) has in taking the narrative on. They’re located in so many places, their memes so ambiguous and shifting, their foundations so transitory that perhaps the only way to conduct a meaningful study of them is to embrace the fact that they cannot possibly be nailed down in the same way that a standard historical narrative can be.

Perhaps a ‘cyborg pedagogy’ can help us to make sense of conspiracy theories?