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MATT HICKEY: So Kirby Ferguson is a New York-based writer,
researcher and film maker.
He first gained attention
with the online web series 'Everything Is a Remix',
which explored remix culture
and challenged traditional views of creativity
and the legal framework around it.
His next project, 'This Is Not a Conspiracy Theory'
launches later this month.
It looks at the human decisions, quirks and random events
that have resulted in the economic, social and political structures
we have in place today.
Well, conspiracy theorists may like to...
Well, they may fear that there's an omnipotent man or woman
pulling levers behind the curtain.
Kirby contends that the truth is actually much more scary -
that no-one actually understands, let alone controls the systems
that govern our lives.
Please welcome Kirby Ferguson.
Oh, good morning. Good morning. What a pleasure to be here.
Thank you all for coming out,
for choosing this session instead of that other ***,
whatever's going on in the other room.
*** those guys.
What I'm gonna talk about today is something brand-new, newer than new.
In fact, it's called 'This Is Not a Conspiracy Theory'.
I'm gonna start with patterns.
Patterns, I will have you know, are very, very important.
And even if you have never been described as brainy,
even if no-one has ever copied your homework,
you are excellent at spotting patterns.
If you are not excellent at spotting patterns,
actually, it would be your ancestors, you would be gone.
You would be out of the gene pool.
You ate the wrong berries, or whatever, and you're gone.
You have to be good at spotting patterns.
So patterns are the foundation of understanding,
they are the foundation of knowledge,
they're how we begin to understand the world around us.
Of course, we recognise patterns
by perceiving links between items, events, whatever.
It is an absolutely fundamental behaviour
not just to humans, but to animals as well.
So BF Skinner, back in the '50s,
did an experiment called 'Superstition in the Pigeon',
in which food was dispensed on a timed interval to pigeons,
and the pigeons would develop seemingly superstitious behaviours
based on associating food with their activities.
Here's a little clip.
This is from a movie called 'Mr Nobody'
that just, sort of, recaps the experiment.
MAN: Like most living creatures,
the pigeon quickly associates the pressing of the lever and the reward.
But when a timer releases a seed automatically every 20 seconds,
the pigeon wonders, "What did I do to deserve this?"
If it was flapping its wings at the time,
it'll continue to flap,
convinced that its actions have a decisive influence on what happens.
We call this 'pigeon superstition'.
(KIRBY CHORTLES) So, yeah.
Based on the coincidence of flapping its wings,
or turning around in circles, or doing whatever it was doing,
it thought it was causing the events around it.
So even the humble pigeon can detect patterns,
but it is also a human behaviour, a very basic human behaviour.
And being more sophisticated than pigeons,
we can get into...
Oh. Sorry. Oops.
..we can get into way more trouble with where we are seeing patterns.
And unlike the pigeon,
after the pigeon tries flapping its wings a bit
or turning around in circles to get food and it doesn't work,
it will give up.
We are smarter, and we can prolong these things much longer.
We can convince ourselves that these patterns are really meaningful.
Darren Brown, an illusionist from the UK,
revisited Skinner's experiment and he used human subjects,
so he set up this scenario.
He set up a randomly advancing score.
It was dictated by the motion of a goldfish in a bowl,
a countdown, a room full of random objects,
and a cash prize behind a locked door.
This was the scenario he set up, and this is what ensued.
BROWN: They're becoming so fixated
on trying to find a link between their behaviour
and the advancing score, that they don't consider
that there might be something else they could have missed.
Five minutes into the experiment,
I unlocked all the doors in the room.
If they were only to stop and look up at the sign
written on the wall above their heads,
then they would know that they could leave at any time,
but I'm gambling they won't.
And so, with only four and a half minutes to go,
the team are still working frantically
to achieve their final points in order to win the money.
Orange. Orange. Mouth.
-Orange. Orange. Mouth. -Orange. Orange. Mouth.
Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!
BROWN: It's part of our nature as human beings
to try and effect some control over randomness.
We desperately look for patterns.
We make irrational links between cause and effect
that couldn't possibly exist,
and then we get trapped in a circular belief.
It's this very human trait
of attempting to find evidence of control in random situations,
this superstitious thinking,
that has blinded my guests to a more lucrative conclusion to their task.
And they still haven't noticed the sign above their heads.
KIRBY: Right. So the solution was right there in plain sight.
If they just paused and strolled around a bit,
they may have noticed it,
but instead they were uncomfortable in the situation,
probably a bit anxious, and they defaulted to recognising patterns,
this very basic human behaviour.
So this faulty pattern recognition
is not just the foundation of understanding, of knowledge,
it is the foundation of superstition.
It's the foundation of conspiracy theories.
So before we get too much deeper, what are conspiracy theories?
Actually, let's start before that.
What is a conspiracy?
So a conspiracy is an unlawful or harmful act
planned by more than one individual.
So conspiracies are not uncommon.
It's a very common criminal charge, happens lots of the time,
and there's plenty of famous conspiracies.
So Julius Caesar, of course, his assassination was a conspiracy,
Abraham Lincoln's assassination was a conspiracy,
and the Watergate spying scandal,
in which a group later linked to the President
were spying on the Democratic Party, was a conspiracy.
So conspiracies are real. They happen.
A conspiracy theory is usually,
it is, of course, a theory about a conspiracy.
And conspiracy tends to not exist,
but over the years the conspiracy theory has kind of evolved
into being a very particular type of thing.
And it is usually views
based on the belief that the world is controlled by a hidden elite.
But most people tend to just think of conspiracy theories
as goofy, paranoid ***.
It's goofy paranoid ***. I don't quite know how they work.
I don't get it.
So, for instance, let's take a look at a few of these.
This, for instance - these vapour trails
that are sometimes left behind by planes,
some people believe that these are nefarious chemical agents.
They're never sure what kind, but it's some sort of chemical agent.
And this is referred to as the chemtrails conspiracy theory.
Er, the moon landing was a hoax.
The 'Apollo 11' moon landing was a hoax.
This just seems so much more complicated than landing on the moon.
I don't know - the special effects required,
and, like, were all the previous missions fake as well?
And wh... But I don't know. It seems very, very complicated.
And of course, David Icke.
I don't know if you've heard about David Icke.
David Icke thinks we are ruled by shape-shifting reptiles, OK?
But I think he just took the miniseries 'V'
a little bit too seriously.
I mean, watch that late at night, you've had a couple,
that'll haunt you.
That'll stick with you.
So because of their bad reputation,
conspiracy theorists tend to exist on the peripheries of media,
and what that used to mean was a lot of hard work, a lot of labour
back before the internet - not a lot of this.
You had to print your books, your newsletters, your pamphlets.
You had to pack them all up.
You had to ship them or schlep them all around the country,
or all around the world.
It was a lot of work.
There was a lot that was limiting the reach of your audience.
But now, of course, we have the net, we have the internet
and the internet loves conspiracy theories,
and conspiracy theories love the net right back.
So this gentleman, for instance,
he think he sees the Eye of Horus in 'The Royal Tenenbaums'.
Actually, he sees it everywhere,
but in this case it's 'The Royal Tenenbaums',
so look at this, it's everywhere - oh, my God!
By the way, this is the Eye of Horus.
That's the Eye of Providence.
Like, if you're gonna be obsessed with something and see it everywhere,
-like, maybe Google it... -(LAUGHTER)
..just one time, find out what it is that is following you everywhere.
Er, here's one.
This is a very popular video -
'Why the Illuminati Killed Michael Jackson, Part 3'.
I don't know why part one
and part two didn't catch on in quite the same way, they didn't resonate,
but part three was the one that really took off.
And in the thumbnail image there, of course -
that's...that's Dave Chappelle.
Why not, right?
Just thrown in there. Go big.
And here, lastly, is the crown prince of conspiracy theories on the net.
This is Alex Jones, who never met a conspiracy theory he didn't like.
And here he is doing a fairly typical outburst.
They wanna be your priest! They wanna be your god!
They wanna be your ruler! They wanna be your controller!
They wanna take your free will!
They are the most blasphemous, disgusting,
filthy, stinking, ugly,
mm...just microscopic little devils!
-KIRBY: Yeah. -(LAUGHTER)
He pulled it out there.
I thought he was gonna get stuck there, and just not...not get it out.
(YOSEMITE SAM YELLS GIBBERISH ANGRILY)
I don't know. That's the link that I see.
That's what I think of.
So all this demonstrates - I'm sorry -
all this demonstrates why conspiracy theories have such low credibility.
Almost any time the term is used, it is an insult.
If somebody says your idea sounds like a conspiracy theory,
that's an insult, you should take offence at that.
So for example, here's a montage.
This is movies from the last, I don't know, 10 or 15 years
mentioning conspiracy theories.
Hey, you thought you was gonna try
and turn me gay when I wasn't looking, huh?
I know all about y'all's gay conspiracy agenda.
This organic fuel is great.
Why haven't I heard about it before?
It's a conspiracy, man!
The oil companies got a grip on the government.
They're feeding us a bunch of lies, man.
A bear and a deer working together?
How far does this conspiracy go? What other animals are involved?!
God bless America! I hope the bald eagle hasn't turned!
We need to be very, very careful with this.
We go out there and yell "conspiracy!"
it's like waving a lunatic flag.
What do you mean?
All I'm saying is
you don't know how high up the food chain this thing goes.
-I heard stuff. -What stuff?
You know, I heard stuff - smoke, rumours. I've heard stuff.
***. Max, it's conspiracy paranoia.
Did something happen? Something happened. You saw something?
No. You saw something you weren't supposed to see.
I knew it! That's what happened.
What, are you nuts? It's not a conspiracy. It's no big deal.
You know, I heard there's so many magnetic waves
travelling through the air because of TV and telephones
that we're losing,
like, 10 times as many brain cells as we're supposed to.
Like, all the molecules in our heads are all unstable.
All the companies know about it, but they're not doing anything about it.
It's like a big conspiracy.
(SIGHS) You can pick something. I don't care.
Whatever they are, man, they got plans.
-You know what I'm saying? -MAN: John!
I mean, I'm that guy. I'm the conspiracy guy.
Nobody gives a crap what I say, but this is real, man!
Holy ***. Maybe it's a conspiracy like in 'The X-Files'.
Combined with our efforts here,
everything is proceeding precisely according to plan.
Gay bars are up, straight men are experimenting.
The priesthood is still our number one...
-We got a leak. -What?
(SIGHS) We've got no choice.
We're gonna have to shut down
this entire worldwide multibillion-dollar gay conspiracy.
So, matter of fact, even conspiracy theorists themselves
won't use the term 'conspiracy theory',
or if they do, it will be an insult as well.
They'll say things like "The official government conspiracy theory".
OK, so what's wrong with conspiracy theories?
Number one, they're ***, they're ***,
and number two...
Er...I'm gonna stop there.
That seemed like l... that seemed like lots.
Why rub it in at that point?
OK, so, better question, what's right with conspiracy theories?
Why care about these things?
Why care about this *** little subculture
that seems to always be wrong about everything?
OK, so, number one, their sources can be legitimate.
The most powerful and longest-lasting conspiracy theories
draw their inspiration from real events.
Number two, they're a reflection of the way we think.
They are mostly based on common techniques that we all use.
They aren't based on some entirely different set of methods.
They're a reflection of the way that we think.
There's one little twist in there
that gives them their special je ne sais quoi,
but they're basically just kind of the way we think
with an embellishment.
And, number three, this is kind of the heart of the matter for me.
They're an effort to understand the forces behind events.
They're a deeply flawed effort,
but I think this is a direction that we should be heading.
We should be trying to better understand the forces
that shape us and our world,
so that we can change these forces for the better,
but science is on the job, OK?
We should be looking toward science for an example here,
not this guy.
OK, so first one -
conspiracy theories draw their strength from real events.
So these events get transformed into fiction, basically.
They get spun off into these wild, very elaborate, very dramatic ideas,
but nonetheless the sources are real.
So conspiracy theories, sort of, act like a, kind of, a funhouse mirror
of American anxiety.
So the JFK conspiracy theory, for instance -
at the time this seemed like a fairly reasonable conclusion
considering what happened after JFK's assassination.
So there was the leak of the Pentagon Papers
detailing assorted lies and deceptions
that had taken place over decades.
There's the Vietnam War, which had started
for very confusing, and perhaps, you know,
perhaps it didn't start for the right reason.
Er, it was also very divisive,
you know, lots of people didn't like it.
And then, of course, there was the - capping it off -
there was the Watergate scandal,
which implicated a sitting president in a conspiracy.
So considering what was going on in the world,
it seemed to make sense in the years that had followed
that JFK, of course, would have been the victim of a conspiracy.
This seemed like a logical conclusion.
It didn't seem to make sense
that just one single, lone nut guy would have done it,
but, of course, that still is the best theory.
It turns out that that is correct, as far as we know.
The 9/11 Truth Movement really took off...
So the idea that 9/11 was an inside job
organised by the Bush Administration.
This really caught on after the invasion of Iraq.
So it lent credibility, you know, the idea
that we had invaded a country based on lies or deception,
or just sheer stupidity.
It seemed conspiracy-like.
It lent a lot of credibility to the idea of other sorts of betrayals.
And back in the US,
we were treated to revelations on a nearly daily basis now
about the ever-expanding activities of the NSA.
I see Australia is getting in... is chipping in
with the spying on Asia.
That's... Go, Spy Team. Good job.
Who knows? Who knows what this is going to inspire?
Who knows what this is laying the foundation for?
Who knows what ideas are coming down the road,
but I'll make a prediction that we won't like them.
We won't like the ideas, whatever they are.
So conspiracy theories are sometimes inspired by real events,
although they get converted into fiction, basically,
their sources are indeed very real.
And people want to criticise conspiracy theories,
people who think it's just goofy reasoning,
and we need to suppress these things, get rid of them,
maybe they should consider, especially if they're in government,
maybe they should consider giving people less reason
to believe in conspiracy theories.
As I showed in the stats in the opening,
a majority of Americans believe in some sort of conspiracy theory.
It appears, there's lots of polls suggesting,
that over half of the population believes
in at least an element of one or believes in one.
So it's very popular despite their really poor reputations,
despite the fact that they're a joke, it's pervasive.
Lots of people believe in these things.
Matter of fact, if you're out at a party,
it's not uncommon to hear something like,
"I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but..."
And that's a red flag, by the way.
You're about...buckle up, you're about to hear something nuts.
Er...and then you get it, and then you get the conspiracy theory.
So everybody knows... We don't talk about it.
You know, it's like saying, "I'm not racist, but..."
And then you get it.
Everybody knows you shouldn't do it, but nonetheless we do still do it.
OK, so next point.
Conspiracy theories are a reflection of the way we think,
er, they're kind of a dramatised version
of the way we think in the West, and especially in the United States.
These methods are mostly just the reasoning we hear every day,
but there's one embellishment.
So conspiracy logic works like this -
it's just weak evidence,
there's lots of that everywhere,
you're gonna turn on the radio or whatever, read a newspaper article,
you're gonna see lots of weak evidence all over the place,
weak reasoning, lots of biases and fallacies
and all that sort of stuff, and weak connections -
the pattern recognition that we saw early in the talk.
These are everywhere. These are not unusual.
They're all over the place. We do them.
You've probably done it today. I've probably done it today.
We just do these things. It's very natural.
So the secret sauce, the secret element, is this one -
belief in control by an invisible elite.
This is sort of the passport
to Looney Land - you can go anywhere.
When you got this in your toolbox,
you can kind of just pick an idea
and just make it happen.
You can get there
because anything that doesn't fit your idea was planted.
If the evidence just doesn't exist, you can say that it was suppressed.
Like, you've just got...you've got this really powerful arsenal
to just deflect anything.
It's like a force field that just keeps anything out.
So in the US we don't have belief,
we don't have pervasive belief in a hidden elite, necessarily,
but we have pervasive belief in domination by a visible elite.
That's very popular.
So the Tea Party, for instance, they target the government.
They consider government
to be the root source of the United States' problems,
so if we just reduce the size of government,
slash it down as much as possible,
then somehow some sort of equilibrium will be found.
So just get rid of these guys. These guys are the problem.
Over at Occupy Wall Street, on the left wing,
where the people are hotter, they target the rich.
They target the 1%, or even the 1% of the 1% -
the so-called plutocracy.
So here the idea is that the greed of this elite
has produced inequality at levels not seen since the Great Depression,
that this elite is not just excessively wealthy,
but that they are actually responsible for poverty, for poverty.
So let's take a look at a few narratives
from, kind of, this end of the spectrum.
So this was a popular article
a few years ago in 'Rolling Stone',
'The Great American Bubble Machine'.
It's by Matt Taibbi
who wrote a book called 'Griftopia'
This is a book by Charles Ferguson, who's not related to me.
He directed a movie called 'Inside Job',
a documentary about the financial crash, which was very popular.
This is the synopsis of the book.
"It explains how a predator elite took over the country step by step."
And last up, here, this is Bill Moyers,
who is a left-wing icon in the United States,
talking about how inequality has been engineered by an elite.
MOYERS: Our once and future middle class is fading.
Their share of the nation's income is shrinking,
while the share going to the top is growing.
Wages are at an all-time low as a percentage of the economy,
and chronic unemployment
is at the highest level since the Great Depression,
but the richest Americans now hold more wealth
than at any time in modern history.
This gross inequality didn't just happen, it was made to happen.
It was politically engineered by powerful players in Washington
and on Wall Street.
KIRBY: OK, so I'm not necessarily disagreeing
with all the points that these people make.
I'm pointing out the style of narrative,
so this narrative that individuals
are the root cause of huge long-term trends,
that it is the personal failings of these individuals,
it is their greed that is the central problem.
So Daniel Dennett refers to this sort of thing as the "intentional stance".
Here's how it works.
First you decide to treat the object whose behaviour is to be predicted
as a rational agent, then you figure out what desires it ought to have.
Did I skip something?
Then you figure out what beliefs that agent ought to have,
then you figure out what desires it ought to have,
and finally you predict this rational agent will act to further its goals
in light of its beliefs.
So this is kind of part of our culture, especially in the West,
especially in the United States with its heritage of rugged individualism,
and it could be argued that this is part of our biology.
For three million years we were hunter gatherers.
Today we stand with the brains of hunter gatherers in our heads.
Richard Leakey was a palaeontologist.
Our ancestors had no human-created complexity to contend with.
They had no infrastructure, no macroeconomics,
no globalisation to contend with.
The only complexity they had to understand was the world around them,
and their understanding of this world
frequently wasn't that much beyond the pigeon that we met earlier.
So for a very long time,
we were the thing we understood best in this world.
And these brains are what we are still walking around with.
So Douglas Hofstadter argues
that analogy is the machinery behind the pulsating heartbeat of thought.
So by making comparisons, we are able to think.
That is the starting point of human thought - analogy, comparing things.
So how did we explain this baffling world around us?
We figured it was kind of like us, right?
We assigned a soul and a life force to the plants,
to the animals, to inanimate objects, to the natural phenomena around us.
In ancient Babylon it was believed that eclipses were caused
by restless and bad-tempered supernatural beings,
but they eventually realised
that these eclipses were happening on a fairly regular schedule.
They detected a pattern, and that led them to think,
well, are these beings keeping a schedule with their tantrums?
Like, "Oh, it's time to block the sun...again."
And that was the beginning of astronomy.
So we once thought the natural world was like us,
and this belief has been woven into the culture,
but we are now in the early phases of learning that nature is not like us,
but instead we are like it.
Nature is a complex system, and we, our bodies,
our complex systems, our society,
our economies are all complex systems.
So what is a complex system?
"Complex systems are collections of diverse, connected,
"interdependent entities whose behaviour is determined by rules..."
So we and our social creations
are complex systems
similar in some ways to the natural world around us.
So complexity science is showing us
that super storms resemble financial crashes,
they're showing us that our brain is like the internet,
and they're showing us how we are like ants.
Now, some of you might be saying,
"That's all great, but I don't think we really are like ants.
"I don't see the similarity. I don't know.
"I've never met an interesting ant."
And, er, it's very true. That's a good point.
We only see these similarities when we zoom way, way out,
when we abstract the data and look at larger patterns over time.
So from this perspective,
we can see patterns that are otherwise invisible to our senses,
but pulling back, we can start to make sense of this order.
And I think this is where we begin to understand
the forces shaping our world,
not with stories about individual emotions and motives.
We need to place those stories about characters and their motives
within the context of these larger forces.
And the conspiracy theory attempts to do this.
It's sort of the degraded attempt at doing this.
So paranoia, which is the temperament
that frequently is associated
with conspiracy theories,
paranoia is the belief
that some kind of threat
is both ongoing and imminent,
and that the truth
is being hidden from view.
Yet paranoia is also about
understanding the world in terms of connectedness,
indeed perceiving it to be organised beneath the surface.
So conspiratorial thinking is, sort of, a crude attempt
to create a streamlined model
of this incomprehensively complex world that we live in.
Frederic Jameson once said:
So meaning the way you arrange information in your mind
into, kind of, a model of reality.
And there's certainly truth to this,
and yet conspiracy theories don't generally present
comprehensive narratives about what is really going on.
They're always chasing more evidence.
They can never quite prove their case.
They're always one step behind.
So think of 'The X-Files'.
('THE X-FILES' THEME PLAYS)
So Scully and Mulder were forever discovering plots within plots,
within plots, deeper and deeper sources of causality.
The ground is forever shifting underneath their feet.
So take away the aliens and the government cover-ups
and that's kind of like science.
We acquire provisional knowledge,
knowledge that is constantly being rewritten,
and it gets us all one step further, and one step further,
and there is no end in sight.
Nothing is built on stone, all is built in sand,
but we must build as if the stone were sand, as if the sand were stone.
So we need to grapple with complexity,
and this is very daunting because real causality is hard to find.
A lot of our expectations for clear, simple problems and solutions
break down at this level.
But if we want real change,
we need to tackle complexity and not surrender to it
and blame things on some imagined puppet master,
because when we do this we're defaulting to a technique that we use
when we really have no clue what is happening.
So the conspiracy theory is a very disempowering philosophy.
These narratives are all about
impossibly powerful and elusive forces.
You cannot win against this enemy, but complex systems show us
that small changes can cascade through the system
and produce enormous changes.
So, yes, you are within a system.
Yes, you are bounded in ways that you probably do not comprehend.
You're much more bounded than you think you are,
and yet your potential for change is essentially unlimited.
And complexity isn't produced by powerful men,
although they certainly do have their fair share of influence.
It's produced by rules.
And unlike viruses and ants and super storms, we make our own rules.
Thank you for your attention. Thank you for having me. Thank you.
We have about f...
Er, not long for questions.
So if you do want to ask one,
we've got a microphone over here, and then one up the top there.
I should have told you before,
but we are actually filming this event,
so if you don't want the Illuminati to see your face,
just stay in your seat.
In the meantime, while you're making your way there,
I just have to ask,
you've gone from remix culture to conspiracy theorists.
How did that... What's the connection there?
I think, because...
So my previous project was called 'Everything Is a Remix',
and it was about how creativity is kind of like remixing.
Whenever you're creating something,
you're not just, kind of, summoning things out of the blue,
you're using tools that are around you,
you're using works that are around you.
So it's an idea that you are embedded, you are social,
you're not just a completely independent being.
And I think that's, kind of, the link.
That's kind of what I wanted to get into.
I want to understand that boundary between you and the world around you,
and, you know, how we can understand that better
so that we can make these forces around us work better.
Great. OK, we have a question there.
Just state your name, and try and keep it quick,
and preferably with a question mark.
-Yeah. Sure. Hey, Kirby. I'm Rachel. -(KIRBY LAUGHS) Hi.
I'm Rachel. I just wonder... You talk about the invisible elite.
I wonder if you can comment
on whether you think this is...this conspiracy theory idea
is really connected to capitalism?
So do you see the same kind of thing in communist society
where they are governed by an invisible elite?
-I don't know. I haven't looked in... -A geographic bias.
Yeah. I don't have a good answer for that.
I haven't really looked into communist conspiracy theories.
-I tend to think... -Do you think they have them?
I don't think they do. I doubt they do.
You actually do have somebody who's controlling you
in a communist society.
-(LAUGHTER) -So there's no...
Why do you need to make up stories about it?
Yes, so that's an interesting point of view.
Yeah. I tend to think... I'd be interested in that, actually.
Yeah, I think that'd be really interesting to explore that.
Communists, of course, were common...
We thought of them as being in control
or infiltrating the United States in the 1950s so they were our target.
-Yeah. -Yeah. That's interesting. Thank you.
MATT: Great. Thank you. Is there a questioner up there?
-(LAUGHS) -Oh, yeah.
Oh, that's amazing!
-That's... -Look at that pattern!
-Different question? -MAN: Thank you very much.
-Is it a different question? -Sorry?
-Can you answer that question? -Yeah.
Very fitting for today, isn't it?
So you mentioned that conspiracies are real.
You mentioned a few examples like Caesar, Watergate, etc.
Then you go on to say
that conspiracy theories are, as you so deftly named, "***".
And you gave us a few examples of this *** ones,
such as the moon landing, etc.
I feel that these particular examples
are, sort of, the low-hanging fruit of conspiracy theories.
KIRBY: Uh-oh. We've got one. We got one.
Hold on a sec. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but...
-You're wearing a red shirt. -Hell, yeah.
These are, sort of,
the low-hanging fruits of the conspiracy theories, right?
Now, I don't have any conspiracy theories to give you examples of,
but surely there must be something out there
which is...that we haven't...
..that is possibly governed by a company
or a group of people that are evil, or whatever.
I'm not talking about a worldwide conspiracy theory,
but something perhaps on a smaller scale that we just...
Such as, for example, if Watergate was never found out
and people out there were thinking
"Well, you know, Watergate could have happened
"but it never got exposed,
"that would just be relegated to a conspiracy theory, not the truth."
Yeah. I just think they don't generally exist.
That's just generally not what conspiracy theories are.
They're much more dramatic than that.
Like, that's more...that's more like investigative journalism,
Like, conspiracy theories don't tend to take that form.
I'm sure stuff like that exists
and it would technically be a conspiracy theory,
but it's not really the same sort of idea where...
..where somebody, there are these invisible forces
that are ruling everything.
So that's kind of a more moderate version of the conspiracy theory,
and it's not really what I'm targeting in the series,
but I picked those easy ones,
because I did want to be funny for a little bit there, yeah.
-MAN: Anyway, thanks. -Thanks a lot. Thank you.
MATT: Thanks. Alright. Just down here, thanks.
WOMAN: Hi, my name's Jo.
I'm just curious to know what you think
about the fact...the way that we are accessing information these days
using the internet in terms of people's confirmation bias,
so people are basically accessing information,
they're going to sources which confirm those beliefs
and staying away from any information that would disconfirm them.
So given how ubiquitous that is,
do you have any thoughts on how we get past that
in terms of getting people to good information?
Yeah. I mean, that's an awesome question.
That's actually something that I had in the talk at some point.
Like, the internet is actually a machine
that fosters conspiratorial thinking.
I had a quote in here at one point
that said the internet is a conspiracy theory,
because it's just links after links after links.
You're chasing all these links.
You're going into this tunnel that seems like...
It seems like you're in a universe,
but you're really going down this very tiny tunnel,
so it feels very persuasive.
So, yeah, the internet, it fosters, it actually does...
Just because of the structure of it,
it actually does foster conspiratorial thinking.
So I think the only solution we can do is...
..the only solution is to make better media.
Like, I think that's what I'm trying to do.
I think make better media, and it's probably...
It's gonna take a long time, probably.
I think, you know, try to tell good entertaining stories
that challenge these views.
I think make good media is the way to go.
Yeah. Thank you.
MATT: There's gotta be someone who believes in lizard people
that wants to get up there.
Is that someone making their way to a microphone now?
-No. She's leaving. -Alright. Here we go.
WOMAN: I've got one. My name's Sarah.
I study engineering and systems and networks...
-Oh, great. -..and that sort of thing.
And it's bloody complicated to understand.
And you seem to be suggesting that the antidote to conspiracy theories
is that everyone understands this.
-By God, it's complicated. -KIRBY: Yeah. I know. I know.
So do you see a decrease in conspiracy theories in the future,
or is it something, do you think,
we just don't have the capacity to understand as a general populace?
I think there aren't easy answers. Like, it's not...
I'm just hoping to popularise the idea of feedback.
All I would like to get...
If people just came away,
I didn't talk about feedback today,
but in the series, that's an idea that I think is powerful,
that I would like to get out there,
and I think people can understand the notion of feedback.
So I'd like to get that in there.
In terms of getting people to really understand systems,
that is incredibly hard, but I think we at least have to understand
how to deal with that complexity, you know?
Like, maybe we can't understand these systems,
but we have people who can do that for us.
There has to be some way to navigate this stuff better
rather than just depending on, er, these stories
that are all about characters and events,
and it's just, sort of, this endless now of things that are happening,
and people aren't really talking about how events connect.
I'm sorry, what was the...
You had a question that wasn't quite about that. What was it?
Basically, do you think we have the capacity?
Do we need to actually understand the systems
or just understand that the systems are out there and working?
Yeah, I think just understanding that things are interconnected,
that people have motives that are coming from elsewhere,
like, that they aren't just these isolated beings.
They have incentives that are coming from us.
It's kind of an economic, sort of, point of view.
Er, so, yeah, just awareness that it exists, I think, is something,
and, I think, you know, just not having bad ideas,
like the sort of bad fallacious ideas that emerge from thinking
that people are just these completely independent things.
I think just getting past that is good progress.
I mean, I think the idea with this series
is just to start on this sort of journey,
but I think it is very complicated.
It's really hard to tell good stories in this sort of realm.
-WOMAN: Cool, thank you. -Thanks.
MATT: Actually, we've got time for two more
so we'll just get these two really quickly.
-MAN: Alright. -Go.
-MAN: Can you hear me alright? -Yep. Great.
-Hi, Kirby. My name is Nick. -KIRBY: Hi, Nick.
Sometimes, when I look into certain issues,
I find it quite hard to find statistics on particular things.
Do you think that if statistical data on multiple issues
were more readily made available, more convenient to find,
people would maybe tend not to go into conspiracy theories?
Yeah. I mean, it almost seems like...
I mean, maybe Google has to be involved in this.
Maybe there needs to be...
Like, we used to have gatekeepers, right?
Like, gatekeepers, they kept people out.
They kept people who weren't necessarily credible out.
They also limited what we could see and hear,
so it was, like, a double-edged sword,
but they kind of took care of us in a lot of ways.
We wouldn't be getting *** statistics all over the place,
because we had these people who were protecting us.
Now everything's exposed. It's just floating around.
It almost seems like you do...
There does have to be some sort of centralised decision-making
that's going on in Google.
I assume it would have to be transparent,
but there has to be some sort of standards
that are established, I think.
-Do you have any suggestions? -Maybe...I don't know.
Maybe, like, a Google Scholar kind of thing, like Google Stats?
That would be good. Yeah.
And they'd have to come from academic institutions, peer-reviewed stuff,
I guess, something like that.
You can do that! Can you that for me?
-MAN: Yeah, sure. -OK. Get on it. Yeah.
MATT: This talk's going up on YouTube, which is owned by Google,
so they'll hear all about this...
Oh, OK. They'll just do it. Yeah. Right.
Just picking up on that quickly,
it seems that, like, with the solar eclipse,
there needed to be a certain number
until they were able to look back and see that.
I mean, there are like depressions and economic recessions.
There's just not enough data points, really, to do that.
And so how would that, sort of, address those situations?
God, I don't know.
I mean, economists can't even agree
on what...they can't agree on what caused the last financial crash.
They can't agree on the Great Depression, even, like,
it's incredibly complicated stuff.
Er, there's no easy answers.
We're pretty *** then. Yeah.
-Yeah. We're ***. Yeah. -(LAUGHTER)
Good. OK. Last question over here. Thanks.
WOMAN: My name's Grace, and given...
-Hi, Grace. -Thank you.
..given the revelations provided by people like Chelsea Manning,
Edward Snowden, etc,
they've obviously validated a lot of previous conspiracy theories.
And given fuel for a lot more conspiracy theorists.
Do you think this is ultimately a negative thing?
Will it have a negative impact on -
like, obviously, there will be
a huge amount of conspiracy theories coming out -
or positive for the fact that the information it's provided
is ultimately going to be very useful to our understanding of government?
Yeah. I don't know. It depends what it is.
Like, it depends how destructive it is.
I guess it's just, in the balance of things...
Like, I tend to think it won't be good.
We would be better off if this wasn't going on,
and it wasn't adding fuel to this fire,
er, that would be the ideal scenario.
Like, I do sort of feel like,
well, that's the price that you pay, you know,
like, when you're doing these things -
people are like, "Why won't they just start
"coming up with sort of crazy ideas
"when they know that all this stuff is going on?"
So it depends, like, what form it actually takes,
but I tend to think it will be more destructive than good, probably,
and it will be...
God. This is dark. This is a very dark talk today.
I tend to think it won't be good,
but I don't think the 9/11 Truth Movement was good either.
I mean, that's something that emerged for legitimate reasons.
Like, there was a real conversation to have there,
but it just ended up going, like, someplace else entirely
into fiction land,
so I think that wasn't a good force in the scheme of things.
I think it makes people think of the government as an enemy.
GRACE: So we function more effectively
with some secrecy in our government?
No. Some tr...transparency.
Transparency is the answer, right?
Like, at least give us...let us know the basics of what is going on,
I think, would help, wouldn't it?
-Isn't that what WikiLeaks has done? -I'm asking you a question.
-Isn't that what...? -Isn't that what WikiLeaks has done?
Yeah, but the government didn't do it willingly,
like, if they had done it before that,
I think that...that's the sort of transparency I'm talking about.
Yeah, I think whistleblowing is not my idea of transparency.
-MATT: Great. Thanks for that. -Thanks a lot.
-(APPLAUSE) -Thank you.