// Patrick Louis

Cognitive Confinement In Narrative Prisons

With his description of the floating island of Laputa, driven by a group of lunatic scientists with a time-wheel magnetism, Jonathan Swift, in his 1726 novel Gulliver's Travels parodied the Royal Society.

After writing a whole book about internet and narrative control, I want to share what I personally do, in my own limited ways, to try not to get stuck in bubbles. The book covers a lot of ground on this used up road, especially in the last part, but let’s be practical instead. This isn’t meant to be didactic but only informative of my reflection on how I attempt to achieve this and the issues I’ve encountered.

To embark on this journey I require a new instrument that takes the form of a novel mindset. This mindset isn’t additive but subtractive, erasing assumptions, biases, and notions that were blotting the map of the territory I want to explore.
Doing this allows me to slowly extract them from the tool that was guiding me, and to convert them into helpful keys that I can carry along.

Alnisyan shakel min ashkal 7oriya — 5alil Gebran
Forgetting is a form of freedom

This bartering of meaning making, the joyful discovery of the range of cognitive diversity, is the catalyst that fuels my quest into the depth of the forest of the minds.

While not dwelling on the topic of epistemology, the adventure starts by dipping my feet into the ways we initially construct these maps. I advance and glance at the meaning of words, start to pay attention to them floating around, the different forms and concepts they attract depending on time and culture.
I try to detach my personality from these meanings, to distance myself, while noticing how some people gather them like magnet as if they needed them to float above the water.

These cultural frustrations bring with them, when shined upon, the vision of uncomfortable clashes related to our cultural weaknesses, my own and yours. Yet, through this enlightenment, their associations weaken.
We all have concepts that come to mind when we hear certain words, these naughty implicit biases that have been innocuously hammered into our brains. It isn’t pleasant to hear that your experience is only a subset of the human one, and that it may not be universal.

I did a couple of online tests related to implicit biases, but the core questions of the tests themselves seemed to have implicit biases in them. So I’ve tried bringing more confluence in the meaning of things to not muster a unique idea when I hear a word.
You can try this exercise yourself: what if I uttered the name of a country, will you be quick like a Pavlovian dog to bring up pictures and emotions, a story you’ve told yourself or that you’ve been led to believe. Is that story linked to the politics of the country you currently live in? Have there been statistics in the region you live about such sentiment?

Here’s another exercise, what if some entity or person you currently love suddenly changed their minds about a topic you you feel strongly about. What would be your reaction to this change of heart?
What about a scientific research showing the opposite of what you believed?

Similarly, in internet discussions I’d start to notice the heavy generalizations of the speakers, especially the vociferous ones. Sometimes so heavy it would be tiresome to always switch footwear with them when exchanging ideas. Gradually, I would feel as if they were molding me unto them.
The frustration I felt was normal but I made peace with it and became accustomed to the different attires of my wardrobe. Yet, I’ve seen some people slowly be transformed by clothes that weren’t theirs, fusing them with their identity. A frightening sight!

Hold your identity lightly — Julia Galef

Often I would notice people using abstract words that carry with them their local meanings with a presumption that this meaning would percolate anywhere or that the audience would somehow be limited to their peers.
References to concepts that apply only to certain geographical areas, treaties, states, or countries, such as “the law”, “taxes”, “legality”, “the government”, “the system”, “our institutions”, the name of a company or brand, etc..

We all assume the world revolve around us and the people like us. It’s not easy to write or express oneself in a way that someone, anyone, would understand. We prefer to write from the inside looking out: we’re the subject and everything else is an object of observation.
The essence of what I want to do is to have more objects and less subjects, this is what I want to achieve. Externalizing what I’ve internalized, to be able to share, play, debate, and exchange it freely. Play is especially important.

The truth is that you don’t have the truth; that you never will.

Travailler, c’est entreprendre de penser autre chose que ce qu’on pensait avant — Foucault
Working, it’s the journey of thinking something else than what we thought of before.

New movements in relation to metamodernism and metathinking are trying to ink definitions of this exact feeling, to embrace it fully. They dabble with nebulosity and paradoxes, get comfortable with them, have uncertainty and non-absolutes as toys.
To see things as a flux of ideas, constantly in iterations to be updated and mixed.

I have been tinkering a bit on the topic in the past and have been following and reading online blogs and books. Some examples:

Parts of the metamodern movement presumes the readers are people from Western education and seems to want to offer something for them that is currently missing in their life curriculum (the WEIRD, Western Educated Industrialized Rich and Democratic, as some call them). This renders the movement somewhat flawed. Meanwhile, metarationality is a very useful way of approaching the world that applies everywhere and has existed in countless forms under different names since forever.

Still, nothing beats living this in your day to day life, and this is close to my particular situation. I live in a country of conflicting ideologies, like so many others living in true melting pots, mestizos. It has become second nature to make peace with conflict, to juggle with it. People have to learn to live in harmony with these concepts and find a common ground.
One example is the simplistic dichotomy of left and right in politics that exists in some places but which doesn’t apply where I live. This is the sort of overarching assumption that many people online often bring from their own country. When picturing what happens they try to color the events through the lenses of the system that exists in their minds. In my country, these simplistic systemic ideas break and don’t match reality, instead there is a multi-faceted system, a multi-dimensional one. There’s even a saying that goes like this: “If anybody claims they’ve understood the situation it means they’re actually far from understanding it”.

This can be extended to many other things, tearing them apart. Not only political ideas, but even going back to the classical philosophical, moral, ethical, religious, or economical questions, avoiding getting stuck in local optima. Questions such as:

  • Should the individual come before the collective?
  • Are monarchies good for the economy? Do they provide a higher standard of living?
  • What is democracy? What are the flavors of democracies? Does there need to be multiple parties fighting for elections to have democracy, a party system? How many parties?
  • Is a higher standard of living necessarily related to happiness?
  • Does happiness differ through time and space or is it a universal?
  • What are human needs? Is the Maslow’s pyramid, or other categorizations of self-actualization, based in reality? Are there counter-examples?
  • What is freedom? What does it mean to be free?

These are random teaser questions anyone can ponder on, and that many in the metamodern movement are tackling. The gist is that they put in perspective things we might take for granted. A sort of selective skepticism, or healthy contrarian, or even steel man. Essentially, it is trying to put into words some of the things we wouldn’t normally speak out, displaying in the open the cultural weaknesses that some might have.

Additionally, it is about looking and describing the basic and boring. What is so close that we’ve stopped paying attention to it. What dissolved into ourselves, that have become an inherent part of us. It’s only if I take distance from the mundane that I realize what it’s about — distance and slow thinking.
It is like becoming an anthropologist of the present, the philosophy of the everyday routine. As I found out, this isn’t a simple thing to do. I’ve taken a look at how the scholars of the everyday achieve this and it’s normally done by questioning repetitive actions we see, or studying history.

So to stretch this skill, I’ve chosen to get used to it by doing it with the past and by getting acquainted with different cultures. For that I’ve been looking at movies and clips from the 1920s and earlier, and reading or watching documentaries about how people live in different era or in different spots in the world.
I’ve got a particular fascination about the ones related to modes of transportations as they show how people get around, do commerce, move, live, exchange, and interact together. This brings forward the dialectic of society as a whole.

There can’t be any exchange without language. To shatter more barriers, it’s good to know multiple languages. This is especially important on the internet as the language you know instantly puts you in a box. Writing in English on my blog is itself an assumption about the readers, and who the readers will assume I am.
Online, it’s not a surprise for anyone that when using the English language there’s an implicit link with the WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic), which we talked about.

I’ve personally experienced this “language divide” first hand. I currently speak three languages, learned a fourth in high school (but barely use it so I can only understand but not speak it properly now), and I am in the process of learning a new one. The internet differs widely depending on the language you use, it becomes apparent.
Even the pronunciation of words, what you notice when you hear them, the sounds, and concepts differ.

Language can wrongly be used to categorize people into reductive groups that don’t define who they are — the classic in-group/out-group bias. Here’s a few expressions, maybe some will highlight your biases too.

  • The sinophone world
  • The english-speaking world
  • The arab-speaking world
  • The russian-speaking world
  • The francophone world
  • The hispanic world

Some act as if these worlds actually existed, when in practice they only exist as a blob without nuance in the minds of the ones that doesn’t speak the language.

To help me I’ve tried multiple translation tools, they’re good friends. However, like any interpretors, not all of them are perfect and they can have bad days, especially when using OCR (scanning an image to find symbols) with languages that have more calligraphic writing.

Regardless, the internet is wonderful and allows to watch movies from around the world in languages I don’t speak. Even when they are missing subtitles I can quickly find a good Samaritan that has created subtitle files for it. Searching for “srt” or “vtt” yields good results.
You can use ffmpeg to convert “vtt” to “srt” and then add them to videos.

ffmpeg -i subtitle.vtt subtitle.srt
ffmpeg -i movie.mp4 -f srt -i subtitle.srt -c:v copy -c:a copy -c:s movie_with_sub.mp4

This has opened a Pandora box of wonderful content which makes me dream of fantastic faraway lands that are closer than ever before. I want to feel more connection, to make myself feel as if I’m everywhere and nowhere, lost in the sublime of humanness and landscapes. For that, I had to try to free myself from the omnipresent Om of the proximity bias.

The first step I took was to keep a globe next to me and set a world map as my wallpaper. To have it all under my gaze.
Yet, this isn’t enough, as a lot of people know, the Mercator map projection is a different size than reality; A tool of assumption like many others.

This makes you consider that proximity bias isn’t necessarily about proximity but about a selective perception based on measures of importance to the people living nearby, the businesses, investments, and politicians — What is important to who.
Looking at projections using other metrics makes this clear. Many such maps can be found online, such as on the views of the world website.
Here’s a few examples:

World map GDP World map oil World map happiness World map crops

Does a country that have higher numbers in some of these metrics appear more important to the people around you? Do you know the name of the countries with the highest metrics? Is the world only about cold numbers, should you pay attention to them? Why? What should be considered important? Is proximity about metrics?

Another website I spend a lot of time on is Google Map/Earth, which allows easily diving into research about countries.

The second step is related to news, to be able to pay attention to these corners of the world that would’ve been missed if I only based myself on the frame of the metrics. My personal solution to that is to create an RSS feed with news websites from as many of these countries as possible, especially when they discuss international news.
This alone offers a new perspective on the events of the world, permits to clearly see the narrative brought forward by certain actors, and to pay attention to what’s underneath all that.

Objectivity in journalism aims to help the audience make up their own mind about a story, providing the facts alone and then letting audiences interpret those on their own. To maintain objectivity in journalism, journalists should present the facts whether or not they like or agree with those facts. Objective reporting is meant to portray issues and events in a neutral and unbiased manner, regardless of the writer’s opinion or personal beliefs.

…How far are we from this today?

What I ended up with is an RSS feed that gives me around 400 articles in the morning and also 400 in the evening. This may seem colossal but because news are often redundant, it suffices to simply pass through the headlines.

On that note, I’ve also noticed that it’s always better to go for news websites that have the TLD (top-level domain) of the country. Otherwise, the website might be “tainted” and not actually reflecting the reality of that place but one pushed by different state actors (as weird as this sounds).

This also applies to trendy social media, which I personally stay away from, and to tech news.

On social media, instead of regional bubbles, we have bubbles based on personal interests, political leaning, products preferences, different definitions of identity, and more.
Similarly, tech news aggregator, such as HN and lobsters, are cocoons of their own, they only reflect a very narrow subset of the tech sphere. For instance, HackerNews is centered around Silicon Valley companies, especially Apple, tech-related laws, and product launches à l’Americaine. This needs to be kept in mind when browsing these websites to understand that the people commenting often have the point of view of someone located there looking out (or someone that molded themselves to endorse that), with all that it entails. We’re back to the topic of subject/object.

The third step relates to media. Along with watching content from around the globe and through time, the type of content also matters. I’ve mentioned documentaries but art is also an excellent way to open horizons.
Today, we’re overloaded with the entertainment business and it has robbed us of our ability to appreciate art. Is art entertainment, and is all entertainment art?

Entertainment gives you a predictable pleasure… Art leads to transformation. — Makoto Fujimura

Entertainment makes us feel good. It doesn’t surprise us; it meets our expectations. And that’s why we like entertainment: it coddles us.

But the problem with entertainment is it leaves us unchanged. And we so desperately need to be changed, whether we realize it or not.

Art, on the other hand, transforms us. How? It wounds us — breaks our hearts, causes us to cry, and reveals our own inadequacies.

Art forces us to make a choice. It does exactly what we don’t expect, and that’s how it changes us.

From https://goinswriter.com/art-and-entertainment/

As you can see, this is in touch with the shining upon cultural weaknesses I mentioned before.

And thus, I started visiting online museums, learning about art movements of different ages in different countries, listening to musics I wouldn’t have listened to, reading poems, and watching movies from different film hubs than Hollywood.

I sometimes intentionally dive in folklore when researching topics for ASCII art pieces. For example, the dragon series, or my latest armour series where I read about all types of protections homo sapiens used.
The demoscene is wonderful.

Chinese armour song dynasty

Like many, I spend time on video platforms, especially YouTube. However, I’m aware that the recommendation algorithm has incentives that go counter to diversity. It’s hard to tame it to actually recommend what you like.

What I’ve been trying out is to login and deliberately filter the stream by only watching what I’m truly interested in and tagging on the home page videos I don’t want as “not interested” or to stop recommending the channel that it emerged from.
Yet, even with all that, the algorithm keeps pushing videos I explicitly don’t want.

  • I don’t want music, I don’t got to YouTube for music
  • I don’t want “react” videos
  • I don’t want any short videos less than 1min
  • I don’t want sport videos, yet YouTube has been testing me with all sports that exist on planet Earth
  • I don’t want clickbait videos
  • I don’t want gaming videos
  • I don’t want car videos
  • I don’t want craft videos

I’m deeply aware that the algorithm is optimized for viewing time, for ads, marketing, and business. This is apparent from the type of content that gets recommended, which when looked at from a distance has for purpose to promote and evangelize the consumption of product (games, widgets, crafts, musics, cars, sport events). Everyone is a brand evangelist now, reviewing brands and selling lifestyles.
Interestingly, ads don’t match up. I’m getting ads about products that no locals would be able to buy nor would want to, things that are out of touch with reality. I found this peculiar, nevertheless interesting.

Aside: Fusion splicer ads kept popping up, I work in a related field but not with the hardware. I was shocked. Then weirdly, one of my friend who started working in networking told me he had one. It might also not help that the whole region is using the same couple of public IPs. Yes, peculiar, but interesting.

Another things I’ve attempted is to change my location on the platform, selecting different places that speak a language I know or where I could get good auto-translation. This has helped a bit.
I’ve noticed that French and German YouTube is of much better quality, less click-bait, more thorough and scientific to a certain limit.

Instead of YouTube, there are many alternative video platforms such as the archive.org video section, Odysee, or Vimeo. I enjoy visiting them too, especially archive.org.
However, my main issue with them is that their service is hard to access. The speed of download and the high quality of the video formats make them almost inaccessible on my connection. On YouTube I set the default quality to 144p, but such a quality isn’t available on most websites.
youtube-dl --format "worst" is my go-to command. This brings to light how these websites were built for persons that have the latest and fastest device and network connection.

While, I’m OK with going for a hegemonic USA tech giant like Google for watching a couple of videos, this isn’t the case for searching online.

Searching, seeking information, is the entry point to a multitude of paths for exploration. It’s of high importance that this doesn’t lead to dead ends. It’s incredible how many people aren’t good at properly doing online research.

I’ve honed my googlefu, but now Google keeps spamming me with captchas every time I use it. Maybe because I keep looking beyond the first results that confirm my view, or that I’m extremely picky with niche subjects.

The breadth of results and quality of them has dwindled over time, especially for non-mainstream q&a search, or for language different than English. It has become all about shopping on Google, relevant content is hard to find.
That is why I now mix and match results from different search engines. I don’t limit myself to a single one.

I’m also considering making my own local search engine or links bin, a digital garden, similar to a discussion we had on nixers.

Let’s end this article by saying that we shouldn’t always dismiss filter bubbles, and that we can sometimes get something out of them. It’s about noticing them and creating bridges between them, even if only for yourself. At least that’s for the online world, real life is complex, especially when some people become memeoids, slaves of ideas, templates, speaking in predictable ways, consumed by their ideologies. We may blame society for that, but what is a society without its component: us.
Let’s be open to play with ideas for our own growth.

Have a great day my fellow mind travelers!

An impulsion and compulsion sway and over-master it like a command; a will and a wish awaken, to go forth on their course, anywhere, at any cost; a violent, dangerous curiosity about an undiscovered world flames and flares in every sense. “Better to die than live here” — says the imperious voice and seduction, and this “here,” this “at home” is all that the soul has hitherto loved! A sudden fear and suspicion of that which it loved, a flash of disdain for what was called its “duty,” a rebellious, arbitrary, volcanically throbbing longing for travel, foreignness, estrangement, coldness, disenchantment, glaciation, a hatred of love, perhaps a sacrilegious clutch and look backwards, to where it hitherto adored and loved, perhaps a glow of shame at what it was just doing, and at the same time a rejoicing that it was doing it, an intoxicated, internal, exulting thrill which betrays a triumph — a triumph ? Over what ? Over whom ? An enigmatical, questionable, doubtful triumph, but the first triumph nevertheless; — such evil and painful incidents belong to the history of the great emancipation. — Human, all too human


  • Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, Leipzig edition, c. 1910

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