Information killer

Good decisions are made when one acts on good evidence and is well-informed. Good information, a good form given to a situation, a moment, a part of reality which in-forms the one who possess it.

In our age of fake news, fact-checking and perceived misinformation, we may be tempted to believe that the history of bad information starts now. That we’re the first to wake up to the risk of making decisions based on bad information.

But, as always, the ancients were there first. And they, unlike us, clothed their experience in the language of myth, the best tool culture has at its disposal to ensure that lessons are not forgotten, that wisdom accumulated in one generation doesn’t evanesce in the next.

The cost of acting on bad information was fatal from the very beginning. In Greek mythology, Aegeus, the father of Theseus, the hero who defeated the Minotaur and ghosted Ariadne, had instructed his son to put up white sails, rather than black, when sailing back from Crete to signal his success against the Minotaur. Theseus, however, forgot, and having killed the Minotaur, returned to Athens without changing the sails. Upon seeing the black-sailed ship, Aegeus killed himself, thinking that his son had failed. Incorrect information leading to tragedy.

In Virgil’s Aeneid, misinformation also leads to death. Lavinia’s mother, Amata, who had betrothed her daughter to Turnus, the king of the Rutulians, killed herself after learning, incorrectly, that Turnus had been killed in battle. Just like Aegeus, Amata didn’t fact-check her information source, deciding instead to act on what she thought had been reliable evidence and pass the point of no return.

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