Greta Cognitive Bomb-Olivier Auber

Besides the apparent unity of the climate processions, Greta Thunberg is a matter of very violent disputes in all sectors of society. One may wonder whether this general discord does not promise a global social warming that could be more dangerous
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  1 Greta, cognitive bomb? Olivier Auber  6 min read Besides the apparent unity of the climate processions, Greta Thunberg is a matter of very  violent disputes in all sectors of society. One may wonder whether this general discord does not promise a global social warming that could be more dangerous than the climate ’ s one. I am looking here for a cold explanation of this phenomenon and a way to defuse it. I rely on an analysis grid borrowed from cognitive sciences developed in my latest book  Anoptikon, an exploration of the invisible Internet.  Greta ’ s audience has reached an extraordinary level in a record time, from that of her relatives and friends a  year ago to billions of people exposed to her speech today. This diagram gives an idea of the curve (dotted line) she followed on Facebook following her media coverage.   A miracle On Facebook only, Greta Thunberg ’ s audience now rivals that of Mark Zuckerberg himself. Each message from each of them records about 100,000 “ Like ” . It is seen by millions, even billions of people. We who are not (or not very) famous follow more modest curves. Those who want to increase the reach of their messages (restricted  by Facebook  ’ s algorithm) have to pay, which is not unrelated to Mark  ’ s success. But Greta didn ’ t pay a single cent. The fact that a single human being ’ s voice is given to listen to billions of others is extremely rare. The few characters who have experienced this fate in history reached this point in several decades or even in centuries. Mark took about ten years only. Greta, a single year. In Mark  ’ s case, no mystery: his audience is due to the fact that he monetized the others ’  for his benefit. In Greta ’ s case, is it a miracle? Social robotics   Among the many aspects of our social cognition developed in my book, I propose to retain two hypotheses by the researcher Jean-Louis Dessalles that seem enlightening to me: 1) We are very sensitive to unexpected events and we cannot help but report them to others. 2) We are all competing, not to find information, but to provide it to others.    2 Information would therefore be of a completely different nature than food, energy and currency. It would find its source in the unexpected. Not only do we all want to be providers of information (to the point of inventing something unexpected if necessary), but we can go so far as to pay for it to be received. These cognitive characteristics are reflected in this curve representing our “ signalling investment ”  (the energy we put into communicating) as a function of our “ quality  ”  (we consider here that the more facilities an individual has to signal, i.e. the less energy he spends to do so, the greater his “ quality  ”  is, and vice versa). This S-shaped curve makes it possible to distinguish three groups. Individuals C1 emit little and have only a limited social network. Their “ quality  ”  is only latent, they have not yet expressed it (this is the case for children and teenagers), unlike C3s, which can do so in front of a large audience. The C1 and C3 have in common that they are “ non-competitive ” , i.e. their investment in communication is only slightly correlated to their “ quality  ” . On the contrary, C2 corresponds to a “ competitive ”  group: C2 individuals compete for signals to increase their “ quality  ”  and the size of their audience.   One might think that these three groups are superimposable with what are known as “ social classes ” . It ’ s a little more complicated than that. Indeed, it should be noted that this curve is the result of a simulation. “ Robots ”  have been programmed to behave with each other with a strategy derived from the observations mentioned above. Then three groups of robots are emerging from their interactions.   Since we observe exactly the same thing when we examine “ real ”  human data, it suggests that this S-shaped curve which is the result of a kind of social robotics represents nothing less than the social profile of our species.   Chain reaction   Let ’ s go back to Greta. How did a teenager (who was initially part of C1) win such an audience worthy of the highest level of C3? Is this due to the particular nature of his message? Are there any other factors? Her message is very simple. It can be summed up in a few words: “ There is a climate emergency, stop your blah  blah blah ” . Implicitly, it is addressed to the C3. Is this a relevant message? We will see about that later. Is it an srcinal message, in the sense that no one would have formulated it before her? No, of course not. Only Greta  was noticed by someone passing by. Not just anyone, a C3 named Ingmar Rentzhog, a PR specialist committed to climate change, who gave Greta her first boost in the media. Speculations are made about the unexpected or premeditated nature of his discovery. In any case, the result is a chain reaction. The role of the media is essential. Whether or not they meet certain C3 interests, by definition, they caress the audience in the direction of the hair, whether with a brush to shine or a critical horsehair glove. From then on, notoriety leads to notoriety. For the average person, the event is not so much that Greta says what she says, but that she says it in front of such a large audience, which was immediately, not only large but of “ quality  ” , that is,  3 made up of C3s of the highest level implicitly validating the relevance of her statements. That a C1 is listened to and relayed at such a level by some C3s, whether to approve or criticize him/her, is an event considered to be of the greatest rarity, and therefore of the highest level of unexpectedness. Thus, not only did no one fail to notice and report it, but when it came to the survival of the human species, almost everyone placed it in the pinnacle of their imagination. Atomization  For many, this miracle is a source of hope. For others, it is not a miracle: there is a bug somewhere; it cannot be true. There are also those who think that climate change has no reality and that all this is just a conspiracy by this or that fringe of C3. The conflict between these three currents of opinion is taking place right now on the networks, especially on Facebook which, despite Mark Zuckerberg ’ s desire to “  bring people together ” , seems to have become the main seat of the atomization of society. The violence of the reaction can be explained by considering that Greta constitutes a kind of short-circuit  between C1 and C3. Set apart from the current, group C2 is transformed into a mass of undifferentiated spectators and commentators. This downgrading effect of the C2s is probably all the more unbearable for them as they occupied a high position. Escape Darwin   s hand  The miracle of Greta ’ s ascension is an almost religious phenomenon from which some cognitive springs have  just been dismantled. Greta fell into a trap that I called “ Darwin ’ s hand ” . This trap puts her in great danger. How could she thwart it? The second point of Greta ’ s message suggests that she is close to realizing that her greatest enemy is the mechanism that has given her her fame and the prestige that we still want to give her (the Nobel Peace Prize). Stop your blah blah blah refers directly to this social game. It carries in germ a message of unsuspected relevance: To face all the challenges, environmental and others, we must invent new ways of doing a society. To do this, we must be aware that our world is woven with invisible (anoptical) perspectives on which we can act: our social robotics can be overcome. This could go so far as to radically transform the social profile of our species from an S-shaped, invariable since the dawn of humanity, to a Z- shaped curve…  Greta may be the cognitive bomb that will drive this transformation. ---- Olivier Auber is a researcher in cognitive art and science, associated with CLEA, Leo Apostel Interdisciplinary  Research Centre of the Free University of Brussels (VUB), author of  Anoptikon, an exploration of the invisible    Internet: escaping Darwin ’   s hand. (Fyp edition 2019).  
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