We live in the times of interaction and communication . Technological progress, to which we are inevitably subjected, makes it possible for anyone to access an enormous amount of information in just a few seconds. From the comfort of the place in which they live and without much effort.

This rapid development has allowed the events that take place anywhere on the planet to spread at breakneck speed, immediately becoming a subject of global knowledge that is very difficult to stay away from. It is a totally new scenario in the history of humanity, for which we do not yet know its impact in terms of the way we interpret our surroundings and the truthfulness we can give to our “social knowledge”.

Although this is a question that aroused the curiosity of many philosophers in past times, the historical situation we are living in impels us to take them up again with renewed interest. Therefore, in this article we will address one of the most popular explanatory theories on this issue: Clear’s law of recurrence .

What is the law of Clear’s recurrence?

Ideas, understood as the representation of a phenomenon in subjective terms, have the capacity to remain impassive in the face of the passing of time. Those who decide to take on any idea, in their condition as living beings, end up giving in to the inexorable finitude to which we are all condemned. Nevertheless, they endure beyond the death of the one who defends them, as if it were a simple vehicle to provide them with the strength they need to travel from the mouth of the one who pronounces them to the ears of the one who hears them.

Ideas can adopt infinite forms , as well as be made by any of the fabrics that make up human reality: politics, science, religion or any other. Moreover, they have the power to unite people in any purpose when they are aligned in the same direction, but also to provoke the most impassable of the abysses between them. This is why it is said that individuals with similar beliefs tend to be attracted to each other or, in any case, end up becoming more similar as they share time.

Although all ideas are worthy of respect as long as they do not harm others, there are also some that are directly false or do not fit reality in the best possible way. Sometimes this inaccuracy (whether deliberate or not) extends its negative influence to individuals or broad groups, who are degraded by stereotyping or stigma. This has often occurred among people suffering from certain mental health disorders, unjustly labelled by others as violent or irrational.

Another interesting example of this comes from what has recently been called fake news (or false news). These are dubious rumours, or directly lies, which take on the appearance of truthfulness because they are published in recognised media or because they have been revealed (supposedly) by a person about whom society has the best expectations.

Most often, third parties (political rivals, close enemies, etc.) end up discovering an interest behind them, so the original intention is usually overtly malicious.

Certain ideas, either because they are fake news or because they stimulate social debate, are often the cause of heated discussions in which rarely is either party willing to abandon its position. The evidence tells us that the purpose of such dialectical frictions is never to reconcile positions in order to seek a balance between the two contenders, but is limited to “achieving reason”. All this can be explained by the simple fact that they are often enormously distant counterweights in the spectrum of opinion on the issue at hand, thus minimizing any possibility of persuasion or influence.

Clear’s law of recurrence postulates something that, without a doubt, is very bad news for the party that opposes the idea being debated or discussed, for the end of the scale that would advocate “extirpating” it from the conscience of every human being: the percentage of people who believe in any idea is directly proportional to the number of times it has been repeated over the last year (even if it is false)

Thus, the moment we decide to participate in a discussion with another person whose thought we judge to be “hateful”, we perpetuate his perspective on things on the “white canvas” of social opinion.

What is the significance of this?

The phenomenon we have just described, for which there is abundant empirical evidence in the field of social psychology, is important especially in the Internet era in which we live today . And this is so because the spaces in which debates used to unfold have moved to an entirely virtual environment, in which most of the subjects who interact are absolute strangers.

This absence of information facilitates the generation of a poisonous attribution for those who say something that offends us, in such a way that the idea about which we disagree extends to the rest of the features of the person who defends her , whom we end up judging in a way that is equivalent to the emotional reaction that her convictions provoke in us.

In situations that occur in “real” life it is much more likely that, in one way or another, we will come to know a little more about those in front of us. This makes it easier to effectively persuade the “rival”, or to be convinced by their arguments, especially if we perceive similarity in personality or values. This is diluted in online conversations, since the ignorance and uncertainty that one has about the other is “filled in” by inferences from what he says, embodying in him all the bad things that we attribute to the naked idea that he wields. In short: “if he thinks this, it is because, for lack of more data, he is a bad person”.

This means that, with the aim of maintaining reason and raising the ideas that we consider most valid or ethical, we participate in intense and irreconcilable discussions that increase the number of times the issue we intend to “attack” is shown before the eyes of others . As a direct result of this, the percentage of people who believe in him would also increase; since all this (according to Clear’s law of recurrence) is related to his availability and his recidivism.

In short, it is clear from this law that attempts to combat beliefs that we judge negatively (pseudosciences, political orientations, etc.) are not only ineffective on the vast majority of occasions, but also contribute to their undesired expansion among the population (since they increase availability in the scenario where they are usually published). In such a way, without even noticing it, we feed through repetition the terrible monster we wanted to defeat.

This is one of the mechanisms by which the virality of fake news or other events of questionable credibility that become popular on the web is reinforced. This is even more evident in the case of platforms (such as Twitter) that allow us to visualize the issues that are most talked about at any given time (the trend topic), since their simple appearance on these lists gives them a certain prestige without the need to go much deeper into why they are there.

In conclusion, the new technologies are an ideal framework for the dissemination of all kinds of ideas, given that they facilitate an exchange of opinions that is rarely resolved by consensus and only increases the number of times the issue is mentioned (for better or worse). This, at last, would also stimulate the credibility that people give to it.

So how do you fight an idea?

Ideas are abstract entities, that is, they are not objectively found in the reality of those who usually deal with them. In that sense, they are only found in the thought of the human being and become evident to others through the spoken or written word, this being the only ecosystem in which they are kept alive. Silence is a toxic environment for ideas , because in it they lack nutrients to feed on and related beliefs with which to reproduce. That is to say, silence is the one that kills them. Slowly, but mercilessly.

If we want to fight against an idea, because we consider it to be opposed to our most intimate principles and values, the best way to carry out this task is to ignore it. But not only that, it will also be necessary to give voice to our deepest convictions, and to let them reach the ears of those who wish to listen to them. Best of all, in this process, every attack will be a valuable ally.

Bibliographic references:

  • Nekovee, M., Moreno, Y., Bianconi, G., Marsili, M. (2008). Theory of Rumour Spreading in Complex Social Networks. Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, 374, 457-470.
  • Turenne, N. (2018). The rumour spectrum. PLoS ONE, 13, e0189080. doi: 10.1371/ journal.pon.0189080.