The misinformation that lies at the centre of humour possesses a vital quality. Unlike other erroneous data that can be more easily dismissed, this particular strain proves attractive to the individual, who consequently runs the risk of being taken in by its infected memetic basis. How does some misinformation achieve this dangerous and beguiling quality, and what factors influence its intensity?
The ubiquity of information in the human environment necessitates the individual’s facility with its absorption and retention. As members of this species are more reliant than any other for the inheritance of their behavioural instruction on culturally rather than genetically transmitted data, the desire to identify and pursue the sources of new memes represents an advantageous adaptation. But along with the impulse to immerse ourselves in the most recent information comes the difficulty of filtration, since providing the mind with the apparatus to expand its resources also leaves it open to infection by poor quality, potentially deleterious incursions. According to information normalization theory, precisely the same elements that enable some memes to become successful, rapidly reproducing additions to our expansive world views are also responsible for enticing us to take on board less useful forms of instruction. As Ernst Mach commented in 1905, “Knowledge and error flow from the same mental sources.” Some errors are attractive, and they are attractive for a reason.
“An error is the more dangerous in proportion to the degree of truth which it contains.”
Henri-Frédéric Amiel, Journal entry 12 November 1852