Bigsley the Oaf

Common Knowledge Catastrophe

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on December 25, 2013

This continues on the earlier post.

For society to “discover something about itself” means that some large portion of its population knows something true about it. E.g. society “discovered” its approximate population at some point. Right? Right now, “most people” know that the population of earth is ~7 billion. Maybe 20 years ago most people knew what the population was. Who knows? But if you go back far enough, very few people knew the population. This means that at some point, society “discovered” it.


So, it stands to reason that at some point, society is going to “discover” other things about itself. Look, I’m not even saying that the things that it’ll discover are right, but merely that at some point it’ll be true that the majority of people know something, and know that everyone else knows it, too. [1]

What if what it discovers is that something very bad is going to happen. This is the stuff of boring sci-fi – but it’s often the case that boring sci-fi turns into interesting reality.


[1] I’ve talked about this a lot – the idea of “common knowledge completeness” – often, it matters more what people think about what other people know than what they know, themselves. This is the idea behind bank runs and whatnot.


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