“We have more information than ever before, but we arguably understand less. That’s the puzzle,” says Yuval Avnur, associate professor of philosophy and this year’s director of the Scripps College Humanities Institute. But is this a new phenomenon, or are we just now noticing its pervasiveness?
The Humanities Institute will attempt to address this dilemma and more as it continues its “Ignorance in the Age of Information” series with a full slate of lectures, conversations, and a daylong conference. Avnur will be bringing a select group of media and academic luminaries to Scripps to discuss some of the complex topics to do with the content of misinformation—like “fake news”—as well as the forms it takes—like the “echo chambers” or “filter bubbles” of social media feeds. The season will also look at misinformation in context, examining the history of phenomena such as fake news in print media and its evolution online.
“Fake news is misinformation and manipulation through false explanations, facts, and narratives—this is an old problem, with examples dating back to the advent of the printing press. What’s different now is the speed and the grip of the news cycles, as well as the influence of people with lots of interests on the news media,” says Avnur.
Program highlights include a February 19 talk with The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz, whose reporting has focused on social media trolls on college campuses, free speech in contemporary online life, and the mainstreaming of fringe politics on social media platforms. Also slated for the spring semester, social psychologist Karen Douglas will explore the nuances of conspiracy theories, and Harvard’s Rebecca Lemov discusses brainwashing and technologies of mind control. On Saturday, March 30, the institute will host a daylong conference featuring talks by major scholars of social epistemology on perils of the Age of Information, the nature of ignorance in a social context, and other problems with our contemporary epistemic environment.
For Avnur, misinformation is not only an important subject for philosophers and social scientists, but for anyone interested in a healthy, functioning democracy. “Misinformation are a problem for democracy because you’re supposed to vote for society’s, or at least your own, interest,” he elaborates. “But to figure out what those interests are truly being served, proper information is needed. When it’s so easy to be misinformed, people can’t properly function as citizens.”
Founded in 1986, the Humanities Institute at Scripps College presents a thematic program each semester on a topic related to the humanities. As part of Scripps’ tradition of interdisciplinary education, this program includes lectures, conferences, exhibitions, performances, and film series bringing prominent and emerging cutting-edge scholars to campus.
Unless otherwise listed, events are FREE and open to the public. For more information about the Humanities Institute, visit scrippscollege.edu/hi/.