Echo Chambers and Epistemic Bubbles

An Excellent essay from Aeon

What are Echo Chambers and Epistemtic Bubbles?

C Thi Nguyen: Both are social structures that systematically exclude sources of information. Both exaggerate their members’ confidence in their beliefs. But they work in entirely different ways, and they require very different modes of intervention. An epistemic bubble is when you don’t hear people from the other side. An echo chamber is what happens when you don’t trust people from the other side.

Current usage has blurred this crucial distinction, so let me introduce a somewhat artificial taxonomy. An ‘epistemic bubble’ is an informational network from which relevant voices have been excluded by omission. That omission might be purposeful: we might be selectively avoiding contact with contrary views because, say, they make us uncomfortable. As social scientists tell us, we like to engage in selective exposure, seeking out information that confirms our own worldview. But that omission can a

also be entirely inadvertent. Even if we’re not actively trying to avoid disagreement, our Facebook friends tend to share our views and interests. When we take networks built for social reasons and start using them as our information feeds, we tend to miss out on contrary views and run into exaggerated degrees of agreement.

An ‘echo chamber’ is a social structure from which other relevant voices have been actively discredited. Where an epistemic bubble merely omits contrary views, an echo chamber brings its members to actively distrust outsiders. In their book Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment (2010), Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Frank Cappella offer a groundbreaking analysis of the phenomenon. For them, an echo chamber is something like a cult. A cult isolates its members by actively alienating them from any outside sources. Those outside are actively labelled as malignant and untrustworthy. A cult member’s trust is narrowed, aimed with laser-like focus on certain insider voices.

In epistemic bubbles, other voices are not heard; in echo chambers, other voices are actively undermined. The way to break an echo chamber is not to wave “the facts” in the faces of its members. It is to attack the echo chamber at its root and repair that broken trust.

Asians & Aryans

A few things jump out of this map:

(1.) Tibet is important, real important. These rivers feed half the world and these are the population centres of what we mean by “Asia.”

(1a.) Continents ultimately are arbitrary political constructs; what geographic feature cuts off Europe from Asia (is it really the Urals)? This map represents “core Asia” and more than ever I can see why the Middle East has an entirely different orientation. If a world government did ever come about; for fairness sake there would have to be some redistribution in how the Asian super-continent is treated; Africa’s population is burgeoning but difficult to see how it can match this.

(2.) It’s interesting to see how all the South Asian rivers have a common source (the Ganges has another source); a poetic meditation on the unity of the Subcontinent.

(3.) invaders or not; foreign or alien what is admirable about the Aryans is the extent to which they co-opted local traditions. As most readers of this blog know, Mt. Kailash is known as the home of Shiva and it literally feeds the Subcontinent.

(3b) Each initial wave seemed to have weaker and weaker ties to the land. The AASI seemed to have settled in the mists of pre-history, the (Elamitic?) Dravidian farmers may have fused with them to found the Indus Valley Civ.

(3c) the best way to think of the Aryan invasion is the Mongol conquests. The demographics of Central Asia and Mesopotamia shifted (and collapsed) as they did not (only) because of the rapacity of the Mongols but because of the failure to maintain the qanat (complex irrigation systems). I know that for a fact in Greater Iran whereas I can’t be sure that they used qanats in Mesopotamia.

(3d) At any rate either the Aryans filled in an ecological collapse (which seems unlikely since they spread with a rapidity elsewhere meaning that they had some technical and military advantage) or they triggered it. The indigenous compounded Dravidian-Negrito/Australasian (sorry for the loaded terms but easier to use Arya/Dravid than the newfangled terms) collapses and the remainder population did a Latin America where Aryans males were polygamous and high status.

(3e) the Aryans were the last invaders to both fully merge and embrace India as their core civilisation. The Muslim (Turkic?) invaders were oriented West and the British even further West. Each succeeding invasion wave was invested in India by an order of magnitude less than the preceding wave. The English returned to their colonies, the Muslims created Pakistan and the Aryans kept Aryavarta while the Dravidians have their local politics that tie them (especially in TN; the heart of the Dravidian movement).

(3f) I know it’s contentious but I would imagine the AASI would be like the Negrito coastal population and a related equivalent further upriver in the Indus prior to the Dravidian farmer wave. Prehistory was probably pretty ugly and tragic we just don’t know about it as we don’t have records but think the New World repeated time and time again.

(4) a final point as to why Iran may not have had as much a genetic impact. The Iranian plateau is exactly that a plateau. As I was told in Tehran a couple of years ago by a geographic; the mountain is life, every city in Iran is based on hills and mountains the rest is all desert (fertile plains are in short supply). It’s probably why it’s difficult to effect population replace in Iran as it is in its neighbours (Turko-Mongols introversion in Central Asia, Arabs influx in Mesopotamia, Aryan “invasion” in the Indus).

That’s all I can think for now btw the title is a bit misleading since Aryans are always a good lede lol.

India would have been a dump for crackpot science had Modi not Nehru been its first leader

Instead of being noted for its exceptional space programme (Mangalyaan!) and brilliant string theorists (Ashoke Sen!), India would have become a garbage dump for every kind of crackpot science. Medical research would have concentrated on medicines made from cow urine and cow dung, the celibacy of peacocks would be under intense scrutiny, astrology would be taught in place of astronomy, and instead of teaching actual mathematics there would be Vedic mathematics. As in Pakistan, Darwinian evolution would be considered heretical and destructive of religious faith.

Nehru’s stamp upon Indian science can be seen across the length and breadth of India in the form of dozens of scientific institutes and universities that owe to him. India is probably the world’s only country whose constitution explicitly declares commitment to the “scientific temper” — a quintessential Nehruvian notion formulated during his years in prison. Briefly: only reason and science, not holy scriptures, provide us reliable knowledge of the physical world.

I was able to see the huge difference that Nehru had made to his country while on a speaking tour in 2005 before audiences in about 40 Indian schools, colleges, and universities in seven cities. Without Nehru there could never have been the huge and palpable mass enthusiasm for science. This was manifested in the many science museums within a single city, and countless scientific societies working to spread understanding of basic science among ordinary Indians. I do not know how much of this has changed under Hindutva. But most definitely not even a fraction of such enthusiasm was visible then, or can be seen now, in Pakistan.

Nehru must also be credited with keeping a lid on his generals. In a democracy the army should be subordinate and answerable to civilian authority, not the other way around. And so, immediately after Partition, Nehru ordered the grand residence of the army chief to be vacated and instead assigned to the prime minister. This move carried huge symbolism — it said clearly who was boss.

When Ayub Khan’s coup across the border happened in 1958, it led to rules that further diminished the role of the Indian army in national affairs. Gen Cariappa, who had retired but praised the coup, was told to shut up. Officers, serving or retired, were strongly discouraged from commenting on matters related to public affairs and economics — and particularly their pensions and retirement benefits. There was no concept of army owned enterprises and businesses.

All this could now be changing. Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat, known for his bellicosity, has broken with the army’s tradition by freely commenting on many foreign policy matters — the Rohingya refugee problem, how India should deal with the Doklam crisis with China, and the need to call “Pakistan’s nuclear bluff”. Time will tell whether Rawat is an exception or, instead, the new rule characterising an interventionist army. Ominously for Indian democracy, criticising the army chief is being described by its media as anti-national.

How much of Nehru’s India will be undone by Modi and his cronies remains to be seen. A demoralised and broken Congress opposition means that they are here to stay for long.

Meanwhile, it is becoming easier by the day for Pakistan to recognise its mirror reflection across the border.

Pictures in Handles

To all new commentators; please add pictures (any picture) to your handle.

Anonymity and privacy are of course the prerogative but it’s also for the quality of conversation that any handle have some sort of identity associated with it because otherwise it’s hard to keep track of who’s saying what.

I’ll keep reminding to all the newbies..

I’ll write up a post about guidelines for all new commentators to follow and pin it. Essentially have a picture on your handle and don’t be abusive.

Question of the Day?

Setting aside my personal views entirely.

Why is Partition a bad idea but Indian independence a good one?

Why is Jinnah a villain but Gandhi & Nehru not?

Does Pakistan have an original sin that it can’t account for?

The reason I ask is that we need to come to BP to examine our preconceptions constantly otherwise what is the point of wasting our collective time.

Ghar whapisi

Accident in a booking made the Ivy book my under my wife’s name (her original name is Changani after her 5th great grandfather Changomal, Lalchand is a patronymic styled after her late grandfather like how mine is Latif, mine is Malik). Lalchand has a better ring to it than Latif. I have been thinking of ameliorating my Muslimness especially as we want to eventually move further West to Silicon Valley.

Should Western authors write on desi topics

I read Kabir’s excellent review of the Leela book by Alice Albinia. However since it is easier for me to start new posts than write a new comment I’m going to take a slightly different tack.

How receptive should we be when Western authors want to write on the Subcontinent.

(1) William Dalyrymple is an excellent example of appropriation; he’s invented a few Indian ancestors (I’ve seen another white chap do that to run an Indian organisation) in order to become the preeminent Western historian on the Subcontinent.

(2) white authors benefit from white privilege at home (they glide the corridors of pr & power almost effortlessly) and from the desi/third world /coloured slavishness towards white people in the “Rest.” White privilege in the West is magnified a 100x over.

(2a) Uganda is a great example; when the Brits were administering it they were disliked. After they left they were almost worshipped and even if Uganda is a 99% black nation, the most elite neighbours (Kololo etc) is at least 30-50% white, Asian.

(3) there is no doubt Asian privilege vis a vis Black people but as in the law of large numbers; the number one spot can buy out the rest. Just as the US military is larger than the next 18 militaries combined so to is white privilege so much more effective than any type of racial privilege.

(4) I would hazard, in Britain at least, that a sensible white working class lad has as great a chance at success as a very well educated Asian & an elite Blake person. Success at Work isn’t about 9am – 5pm but actually 5pm – 9am.

(5) I have seen it time and time again when the Beeb wants to consult “local experts” they’ll consult the white English person who speaks the local language. It’s almost absurd but the privilege is so invisible and pervasive that’s it almost hard to deconstruct. Also Asians hate to come off as whiny whereas Black people come off as too pushy.. it’s a good cop bad cop combo but the deconstruction of privilege has barely started (elite restaurants, colleges etc barely represent the demographics outside, except when an effort is made at tokenism).

I do like Joe Scalzi’s definition of white male privilege. It’s like a video game where the default level is easy whereas for other people (minorities, women) it’s normal (white women, Asians) or hard (black people).

I have seen though that excessive privilege leads to decadence and breeds arrogance. Too much privilege is a bad thing but too little of it (where you can get thrown out of a Starbucks) is also harmful.

In principle I don’t want to read about my subcontinent from white authors, who can never the soul of South Asia and what it means to be desi. As E M Foster said one cannot glide effortlessly in both worlds.. I will never truly understand a WASP society because no matter how Waspy I become; I am not white, I don’t have white parents and my wife/children are not white.

Therefore It would be absurd for me to write a novel about a white family channelling Jesus and using the parables of the Holy Bible & Yahweh’s voice to construct a meta-narrative. It would in fact be a bit condescending..

That’s why a God of small things, A Suitable Boy remains the definitive icons of South Asian literature because they’re authors are brown like us. And us I do think Slumdog Millionaires, Hotel Marigold, & Lion are shit degrading films (apologies for the harsh language) which extol and fetishise brown poverty and are aimed at white audiences who want to feel good about their rape of the Subcontinent.

There is a schadenfreude in seeing poor brown and black people because the immediate connect is that it wasn’t there when we were ruling them. The power of the subconscious mind is orders of magnitude more than our hypocritical conscious selves. Just as we may decry colonialism we also abet it when we show poverty porn.

Are Bollywood and Lollywood really that bad that their output can’t transcend the cultural divide into the mainstream West?

I saw the Persian film, the Salesman, and it’s only because it consciously aped Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman was it able to get the Oscar.

Apologies for the vitriol but just sharing my feelings..

Sunday Thoughts


I have made Kabir author again (at his request). He writes very well on culture & music and it would be a shame to lose him (and his authentically PakAmerican voice). I can also make people authors (I just realised that two days ago lol) so since Omar is super-busy just hit me up if you want to make a meaningful contribution to BP.

BP is not a safe space

I just want to reiterate (more to my mate K than anyone else) that BP is not a safe space. I do eventually want to write on the Pakistani psychosis; I may say some things that seem Islamophobic from time to time but BP is what it is, we are muddling through. As long as we’re not abusive & personally insulting (ad hominem attacks etc) then it’s all good. While I believe in the divine station Prophet Muhammed (PBUH); I encourage blasphemy to its fullest extent against all religions (including my own) as it pushes the extremities of intellectual thought.


As an aside I seem to have triggered a trend of resignations among the contributors. But just as I have returned (and iA so has Kabir) I’m hoping Slapstik (I can never remember if there is a c or not) and Vikram will return and share their unique voices. All perspectives are welcome at BP and I also realise I can be a self-righteous (and pretentious) twat at times; if I am mea culpa, I apologise ..

I am elastic, I am in the habit of contradicting myself

Like Walt Whitman I contain many contradictions and I disagree with my views last week. This is why I deeply dislike the IQ fanatics; for my human nature is fluid and there’s always a chance to grow. I’m very attached to the elastic mindset and my growth is experiential rather than educational. I could have avoided the hullabaloo if I had listened to Vidhi and used my computer more, my mobile is my mistress, I would have realised I was actually an admin. Anyway to reiterate; I don’t think there should be sensitivity to any perspective.

Kay Khusrau

As an example I personally found Razib’s comments about Emperor Khosrow* (or was it Kay Khusrau) rejecting the modern Persians & Iranians as his children to be jarring.

I obviously disagree but at the same time it gave me food for thought*.. I don’t want my sensitivities violated constantly but the occasional prickles does wonders to shock the mind and stimulate personal growth. If it ever did get much then the onus is on me to privately disengage for a little while and come back to BP; not vice versa.

The Last Mughal

This is probably equivalent to how Kabir feels about his Prophet since I like to joke I am the last Mughal. Like Akbar I have my own religion, have a Persian mother and a Hindu wife and am very open to new cultures (I’m somewhat Waspified irl but I can’t get over how much they drink so there is always the wine line I can never cross).

the Muslim Question and the state of the Ummah

Islam & Muslims are one of the great issues of our time. No matter what the faults of the West & the rest may be; the Ummah has forgotten an important axiom “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.”

Palestinians, Kashmiris, Chechnyans and many other Muslim oppressed minorities don’t do themselves any favours in my opinion.

The Bahá’í example

I’m not fully informed but when I contrast them to the Bahais of Iran where our leadership was imprisoned for the past decade (grandmothers are finally released after being in jail for 10yrs) I just see that we Bahai’s play the ultra-long game to win it. I actually don’t agree with the Bahá’í leadership on this since I see there is a double standards in our resistance to the Iranian government and complicity with the Israeli one (Gaza is an open air prison).

From being seen as British-Russian agents (Babis were overly represented in the 1909 Majlis Revolution) there is now such an overwhelming sympathy for the state of Bahais in Iran; that our patience has turned out to be a coup.. I have seen this first hand in Tehran where it’s pulsating with an extraordinarily active Bahá’í community that has only been strengthened by its suffering.

Where is the Internet Pakistani?

Also Pakistanis simply aren’t very interested in online blogging. There are only 4 Paks on BP (K, myself, Omar & AbdulM) and between us we have to represent the views of 200mm people. There is Riaz Haq, 3qd & South Asian ideas but we don’t really have the Internet Mughal willing to scour the internet to proclaim the greatness of Akbar and his civilisation.

Vidhi wants to go to Karachi

Finally on a personal note I’m going to have to be far more circumspect in what I have to say since Vidhi has decided yesterday that she wants to visit the land of her ancestors and visit Karachi in the winter. Sindh for Sindhi Hindus is a bit like Kosovo for Serbians; their homeland shrouded in mists and occupied by an alien people. Thankfully it’s only Karachi, in this our tastes accord since I have no interest in any other part of Pakistan (maybe the Northern areas but those are too dangerous for now).

The challenge is going to have to be in getting my Hindu wife, with an Indian citizenship (her contention is that if she ever does win a Nobel, it should be for India) a visa to our Muslim Republic.. fun times ahead!

* Khosrow I is known for saying a philosophic quote that follows:

We examined the customs of our forebears, but, concerned with the discovery of the truth, we [also] studied the customs and conducts of the Romans and Indians and accepted those among them which seemed reasonable and praiseworthy, not merely likeable. We have not rejected anyone because they belonged to a different religion or people. And having examined “the good customs and laws of our ancestors as well as those of the foreigners, we have not declined to adopt anything which was good nor to avoid anything which was bad. Affection for our forebears did not lead us to accept customs which were not good.[39]