The illusory truth effect

I would like to bring attention to this scientifically documented phenomenon which is at play in all our lives, and alas too often without being recognized. To me, this is the reason why many people believe what they have been told since childhood by their parents, school systems, religious leaders, mass media, entertainment and advertisement industries, snake oil peddlers and propagandists of all stripes etc.

Buddhists are heavily affected by this phenomenon. For example, many (if not the overwhelming majority) believe that it is okay for lay people to offer money to monks and for monks to accept it. There is no basis for it, just the power of repetition.

I share below the Wikipedia article on the subject

The illusory truth effect (also known as the illusion of truth effect, validity effect, truth effect, or the reiteration effect) is the tendency to believe false information to be correct after repeated exposure.[1] This phenomenon was first identified in a 1977 study at Villanova University and Temple University.[2][3] When truth is assessed, people rely on whether the information is in line with their understanding or if it feels familiar. The first condition is logical, as people compare new information with what they already know to be true. Repetition makes statements easier to process relative to new, unrepeated statements, leading people to believe that the repeated conclusion is more truthful. The illusory truth effect has also been linked to hindsight bias, in which the recollection of confidence is skewed after the truth has been received.

In a 2015 study, researchers discovered that familiarity can overpower rationality and that repetitively hearing that a certain fact is wrong can affect the hearer’s beliefs.[4] Researchers attributed the illusory truth effect’s impact on participants who knew the correct answer to begin with, but were persuaded to believe otherwise through the repetition of a falsehood, to “processing fluency”.
The illusory truth effect plays a significant role in such fields as election campaigns, advertising, news media, and political propaganda.

Initial study
The effect was first named and defined following the results in a study from 1977 at Villanova University and Temple University where participants were asked to rate a series of trivia statements as true or false.[2][5] On three occasions, Lynn Hasher, David Goldstein, and Thomas Toppino presented the same group of college students with lists of sixty plausible statements, some of them true and some of them false. The second list was distributed two weeks after the first, and the third two weeks after that. Twenty statements appeared on all three lists; the other forty items on each list were unique to that list. Participants were asked how confident they were of the truth or falsity of the statements, which concerned matters about which they were unlikely to know anything. (For example, “The first air force base was launched in New Mexico.” Or “Basketball became an Olympic discipline in 1925.”) Specifically, the participants were asked to grade their belief in the truth of each statement on a scale of one to seven. While the participants’ confidence in the truth of the non-repeated statements remained steady, their confidence in the truth of the repeated statements increased from the first to the second and second to third sessions, with an average score for those items rising from 4.2 to 4.6 to 4.7. The conclusion made by the researchers was that repeating a statement makes it more likely to appear factual.[1][2]

In 1989, Hal R. Arkes, Catherine Hackett, and Larry Boehm replicated the original study, with similar results showing that exposure to false information changes the perceived truthfulness and plausibility of that information.[6]

The effect works because when people assess truth, they rely on whether the information agrees with their understanding or whether it feels familiar. The first condition is logical as people compare new information with what they already know to be true and consider the credibility of both sources. However, researchers discovered that familiarity can overpower rationality—so much so that repetitively hearing that a certain fact is wrong can have a paradoxical effect.[4]

Relation to other phenomena
Processing fluency
At first, the truth effect was believed to occur only when individuals are highly uncertain about a given statement.[1] Psychologists also assumed that “outlandish” headlines wouldn’t produce this effect however, recent research shows the illusory truth effect is indeed at play with false news.[5] This assumption was challenged by the results of a 2015 study by Lisa K. Fazio, Nadia M. Brasier, B. Keith Payne, and Elizabeth J. Marsh. Published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology; the study suggested that the truth effect can influence participants who actually knew the correct answer to begin with, but who were swayed to believe otherwise through the repetition of a falsehood. For example, when participants encountered on multiple occasions the statement “A sari is the name of the short plaid skirt worn by Scots,” some of them were likely to come to believe it was true, even though these same people were able to correctly answer the question “What is the name of the short pleated skirt worn by Scots?”

After replicating these results in another experiment, Fazio and her team attributed this curious phenomenon to processing fluency, the facility with which people comprehend statements. “Repetition,” explained the researcher, “makes statements easier to process (i.e. fluent) relative to new statements, leading people to the (sometimes) false conclusion that they are more truthful.”[7][8] When an individual hears something for a second or third time, their brain responds faster to it and misattributes that fluency as a signal for truth.[9]

Hindsight bias
In a 1997 study, Ralph Hertwig, Gerd Gigerenzer, and Ulrich Hoffrage linked the truth effect to the phenomenon known as “hindsight bias”, described as a situation in which the recollection of confidence is skewed after the truth or falsity has been received. They have described the truth effect (which they call “the reiteration effect”) as a subset of hindsight bias.[10]

Other studies
In a 1979 study, participants were told that repeated statements were no more likely to be true than unrepeated ones. Despite this warning, the participants perceived repeated statements as being more true than unrepeated ones.[6]

Studies in 1981 and 1983 showed that information deriving from recent experience tends to be viewed as “more fluent and familiar” than new experience. A 2011 study by Jason D. Ozubko and Jonathan Fugelsang built on this finding by demonstrating that, generally speaking, information retrieved from memory is “more fluent or familiar than when it was first learned” and thus produces an illusion of truth. The effect grew even more pronounced when statements were repeated twice and yet more pronounced when they were repeated four times. The researchers thus concluded that memory retrieval is a powerful method for increasing the so-called validity of statements and that the illusion of truth is an effect that can be observed without directly polling the factual statements in question.[11]

A 1992 study by Ian Maynard Begg, Ann Anas, and Suzanne Farinacci suggested that a statement will seem true if the information seems familiar.[6]

A 2012 experiment by Danielle C. Polage showed that some participants exposed to false news stories would go on to have false memories. The conclusion was that repetitive false claims increase believability and may also result in errors.[6][5]

In a 2014 study, Eryn J. Newman, Mevagh Sanson, Emily K. Miller, Adele Quigley-McBride, Jeffrey L. Foster, Daniel M. Bernstein, and Maryanne Garry asked participants to judge the truth of statements attributed to various people, some of whose names were easier to pronounce than others. Consistently, statements by persons with easily pronounced names were viewed as being more truthful than those with names that were harder to pronounce. The researchers’ conclusion was that subjective, tangential properties can matter when people evaluate sourced information.[3]

Although the truth effect has been demonstrated scientifically only in recent years, it is a phenomenon with which people have been familiar for millennia. One study notes that the Roman statesman Cato closed each of his speeches with a call to destroy Carthage (“Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam”), knowing that the repetition would breed agreement, and that Napoleon reportedly “said that there is only one figure in rhetoric of serious importance, namely, repetition”, whereby a repeated affirmation fixes itself in the mind “in such a way that it is accepted in the end as a demonstrated truth”. Others who have taken advantage of the truth effect have included Quintilian, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush,[12] Donald Trump,[13][14] and Marcus Antonius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.[10]

Advertising that repeats unfounded claims about a product may boost sales because some viewers may come to think that they heard the claims from an objective source.[6] The truth effect is also used in news media and is a staple of political propaganda.

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To illustrate the issue further, here is an article showing how we are all going to be aggressively targeted by all sorts of propaganda.

NATO’s Plans to Hack Your Brain

NATO is developing new forms of warfare to wage a “battle for the brain,” as the military alliance put it.

The U.S.-led NATO military cartel has tested novel modes of hybrid warfare against its self-declared adversaries, including economic warfare, cyber warfare, information warfare and psychological warfare.

Now, NATO is spinning out an entirely new kind of combat it has branded cognitive warfare. Described as the “weaponization of brain sciences,” the new method involves “hacking the individual” by exploiting “the vulnerabilities of the human brain” in order to implement more sophisticated “social engineering.”

Until recently, NATO had divided war into five different operational domains: air, land, sea, space, and cyber. But with its development of cognitive warfare strategies, the military alliance is discussing a new, sixth level: the “human domain.”

A 2020 NATO-sponsored study of this new form of warfare clearly explained, “While actions taken in the five domains are executed in order to have an effect on the human domain, cognitive warfare’s objective is to make everyone a weapon.”

“The brain will be the battlefield of the 21st century,” the report stressed. “Humans are the contested domain,” and “future conflicts will likely occur amongst the people digitally first and physically thereafter in proximity to hubs of political and economic power.”

The 2020 NATO-sponsored study on cognitive warfare.

While the NATO-backed study insisted that much of its research on cognitive warfare is designed for defensive purposes, it also conceded that the military alliance is developing offensive tactics, stating, “The human is very often the main vulnerability and it should be acknowledged in order to protect NATO’s human capital but also to be able to benefit from our adversaries’ vulnerabilities.”

In a chilling disclosure, the report said explicitly that “the objective of Cognitive Warfare is to harm societies and not only the military.”

With entire civilian populations in NATO’s crosshairs, the report emphasized that Western militaries must work more closely with academia to weaponize social sciences and human sciences and help the alliance develop its cognitive warfare capacities.

The study described this phenomenon as “the militarization of brain science.” But it appears clear that NATO’s development of cognitive warfare will lead to a militarization of all aspects of human society and psychology, from the most intimate of social relationships to the mind itself.

Such all-encompassing militarization of society is reflected in the paranoid tone of the NATO-sponsored report, which warned of “an embedded fifth column, where everyone, unbeknownst to him or her, is behaving according to the plans of one of our competitors.” The study makes it clear that those “competitors” purportedly exploiting the consciousness of Western dissidents are China and Russia.

In other words, this document shows that figures in the NATO military cartel increasingly see their own domestic population as a threat, fearing civilians to be potential Chinese or Russian sleeper cells, dastardly “fifth columns” that challenge the stability of “Western liberal democracies.”

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NATO’s development of novel forms of hybrid warfare come at a time when member states’ military campaigns are targeting domestic populations on an unprecedented level.

The Ottawa Citizen reported this September that the Canadian military’s Joint Operations Command took advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to wage an information war against its own domestic population, testing out propaganda tactics on Canadian civilians.

Internal NATO-sponsored reports suggest that this disclosure is just scratching the surface of a wave of new unconventional warfare techniques that Western militaries are employing around the world.

Canada Hosts Cognitive Warfare Event
Twice each year, NATO holds a “pitch-style event” that it brands as an “Innovation Challenge.” These campaigns — one hosted in the Spring and the other in the Fall, by alternating member states — call on private companies, organizations, and researchers to help develop new tactics and technologies for the military alliance.

The shark tank-like challenges reflect the predominant influence of neoliberal ideology within NATO, as participants mobilize the free market, public-private partnerships and the promise of cash prizes to advance the agenda of the military-industrial complex.

NATO’s Fall 2021 Innovation Challenge is hosted by Canada, and is titled “The invisible threat: Tools for countering cognitive warfare.”

“Cognitive warfare seeks to change not only what people think, but also how they act,” the Canadian government wrote in its official statement on the challenge. “Attacks against the cognitive domain involve the integration of cyber, disinformation/misinformation, psychological, and social-engineering capabilities.”

Ottawa’s press release continued: “Cognitive warfare positions the mind as a battle space and contested domain. Its objective is to sow dissonance, instigate conflicting narratives, polarize opinion, and radicalize groups. Cognitive warfare can motivate people to act in ways that can disrupt or fragment an otherwise cohesive society.”

NATO-Backed Panel
An advocacy group called the NATO Association of Canada has mobilized to support this Innovation Challenge, working closely with military contractors to attract the private sector to invest in further research on behalf of NATO — and its own bottom line.

While the NATO Association of Canada (NAOC) is technically an independent NGO, its mission is to promote NATO, and the organization boasts on its website, “The NAOC has strong ties with the Government of Canada including Global Affairs Canada and the Department of National Defence.”

As part of its efforts to promote Canada’s NATO Innovation Challenge, the NAOC held a panel discussion on cognitive warfare on Oct. 5.

The researcher who wrote the definitive 2020 NATO-sponsored study on cognitive warfare, François du Cluzel, participated in the event, alongside NATO-backed Canadian military officers.

Oct. 5 panel on cognitive warfare, hosted by the NATO Association of Canada.

The panel was overseen by Robert Baines, president of the NATO Association of Canada. It was moderated by Garrick Ngai, a marketing executive in the weapons industry who serves as an adviser to the Canadian Department of National Defense and vice president and director of the NAOC.

Baines opened the event noting that participants would discuss “cognitive warfare and new domain of competition, where state and non-state actors aim to influence what people think and how they act.”

The NAOC president also happily noted the lucrative “opportunities for Canadian companies” that this NATO Innovation Challenge promised.

‘Ways of Harming the Brain’
The Oct. 5 panel kicked off with François du Cluzel, a former French military officer who in 2013 helped to create the NATO Innovation Hub (iHub), which he has since then managed from its base in Norfolk, Virginia.

Although the iHub insists on its website, for legal reasons, that the “opinions expressed on this platform don’t constitute NATO or any other organization points of view,” the organization is sponsored by the Allied Command Transformation (ACT), described as “one of two Strategic Commands at the head of NATO’s military command structure.”

The Innovation Hub, therefore, acts as a kind of in-house NATO research center or think tank. Its research is not necessarily official NATO policy, but it is directly supported and overseen by NATO.

In 2020, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT) tasked du Cluzel, as manager of the iHub, to conduct a six-month study on cognitive warfare.

Du Cluzel summarized his research in the panel this October. He initiated his remarks noting that cognitive warfare “right now is one of the hottest topics for NATO,” and “has become a recurring term in military terminology in recent years.”

Although French, Du Cluzel emphasized that cognitive warfare strategy “is being currently developed by my command here in Norfolk, U.S.A.”

The NATO Innovation Hub manager spoke with a PowerPoint presentation, and opened with a provocative slide that described cognitive warfare as “A Battle for the Brain.”

“Cognitive warfare is a new concept that starts in the information sphere, that is a kind of hybrid warfare,” du Cluzel said.

“It starts with hyper-connectivity. Everyone has a cell phone,” he continued. “It starts with information because information is, if I may say, the fuel of cognitive warfare. But it goes way beyond solely information, which is a standalone operation — information warfare is a standalone operation.”

Cognitive warfare overlaps with Big Tech corporations and mass surveillance, because “it’s all about leveraging the Big Data,” du Cluzel explained. “We produce data everywhere we go. Every minute, every second we go, we go online. And this is extremely easy to leverage those data in order to better know you and use that knowledge to change the way you think.”

Naturally, the NATO researcher claimed foreign “adversaries” are the supposed aggressors employing cognitive warfare. But at the same time, he made it clear that the Western military alliance is developing its own tactics.

Du Cluzel defined cognitive warfare as the “art of using technologies to alter the cognition of human targets.”

Those technologies, he noted, incorporate the fields of NBIC — nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science. All together, “it makes a kind of very dangerous cocktail that can further manipulate the brain,” he said.

Du Cluzel went on to explain that the exotic new method of attack “goes well beyond” information warfare or psychological operations (psyops).

“Cognitive warfare is not only a fight against what we think, but it’s rather a fight against the way we think, if we can change the way people think,” he said. “It’s much more powerful and it goes way beyond the information [warfare] and psyops.”

De Cluzel continued:

“It’s crucial to understand that it’s a game on our cognition, on the way our brain processes information and turns it into knowledge, rather than solely a game on information or on psychological aspects of our brains. It’s not only an action against what we think, but also an action against the way we think, the way we process information and turn it into knowledge.

In other words, cognitive warfare is not just another word, another name for information warfare. It is a war on our individual processor, our brain.”

The NATO researcher stressed that “this is extremely important for us in the military,” because “it has the potential, by developing new weapons and ways of harming the brain, it has the potential to engage neuroscience and technology in many, many different approaches to influence human ecology… because you all know that it’s very easy to turn a civilian technology into a military one.”

As for who the targets of cognitive warfare could be, du Cluzel revealed that anyone and everyone is on the table.

“Cognitive warfare has universal reach, from starting with the individual to states and multinational organizations,” he said. “Its field of action is global and aim to seize control of the human being, civilian as well as military.”

And the private sector has a financial interest in advancing cognitive warfare research, he noted: “The massive worldwide investments made in neurosciences suggests that the cognitive domain will probably one of the battlefields of the future.”

The development of cognitive warfare totally transforms military conflict as we know it, du Cluzel said, adding “a third major combat dimension to the modern battlefield: to the physical and informational dimension is now added a cognitive dimension.”

This “creates a new space of competition beyond what is called the five domains of operations – or land, sea, air, cyber, and space domains. Warfare in the cognitive arena mobilizes a wider range of battle spaces than solely the physical and information dimensions can do.”

In short, humans themselves are the new contested domain in this novel mode of hybrid warfare, alongside land, sea, air, cyber, and outer space.

‘Embedded 5th Column’
The study that NATO Innovation Hub manager François du Cluzel conducted, from June to November 2020, was sponsored by the military cartel’s Allied Command Transformation, and published as a 45-page report in January 2021 (PDF).

It shows how contemporary warfare has reached the kind of dystopian stage, once only imaginable in science fiction.

“The nature of warfare has changed,” the report emphasized. “The majority of current conflicts remain below the threshold of the traditionally accepted definition of warfare, but new forms of warfare have emerged such as Cognitive Warfare (CW), while the human mind is now being considered as a new domain of war.”

For NATO, research on cognitive warfare is not just defensive; it is very much offensive as well.

“Developing capabilities to harm the cognitive abilities of opponents will be a necessity,” du Cluzel’s report stated clearly. “In other words, NATO will need to get the ability to safeguard her decision making process and disrupt the adversary’s one.”

And anyone could be a target of these cognitive warfare operations: “Any user of modern information technologies is a potential target. It targets the whole of a nation’s human capital,” the report ominously added.

“As well as the potential execution of a cognitive war to complement to a military conflict, it can also be conducted alone, without any link to an engagement of the armed forces,” the study went on. “Moreover, cognitive warfare is potentially endless since there can be no peace treaty or surrender for this type of conflict.”

Just as this new mode of battle has no geographic borders, it also has no time limit: “This battlefield is global via the internet. With no beginning and no end, this conquest knows no respite, punctuated by notifications from our smartphones, anywhere, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

The NATO-sponsored study noted that “some NATO Nations have already acknowledged that neuroscientific techniques and technologies have high potential for operational use in a variety of security, defense and intelligence enterprises.”

It spoke of breakthroughs in “neuroscientific methods and technologies” (neuroS/T), and said “uses of research findings and products to directly facilitate the performance of combatants, the integration of human machine interfaces to optimise combat capabilities of semi autonomous vehicles (e.g., drones), and development of biological and chemical weapons (i.e., neuroweapons).”

The Pentagon is among the primary institutions advancing this novel research, as the report highlighted:

“Although a number of nations have pursued, and are currently pursuing neuroscientific research and development for military purposes, perhaps the most proactive efforts in this regard have been conducted by the United States Department of Defense; with most notable and rapidly maturing research and development conducted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA).”

Military uses of neuroS/T research, the study indicated, include intelligence gathering, training, “optimising performance and resilience in combat and military support personnel,” and of course “direct weaponisation of neuroscience and neurotechnology.”

This weaponization of neuroS/T can and will be fatal, the NATO-sponsored study was clear to point out. The research can “be utilised to mitigate aggression and foster cognitions and emotions of affiliation or passivity; induce morbidity, disability or suffering; and ‘neutralise’ potential opponents or incur mortality” — in other words, to maim and kill people.

Retired General Robert Scales in 2011. (C-Span)

The report quoted U.S. Major General Robert H. Scales, who summarized NATO’s new combat philosophy: “Victory will be defined more in terms of capturing the psycho-cultural rather than the geographical high ground.”

And as NATO develops tactics of cognitive warfare to “capture the psycho-cultural,” it is also increasingly weaponizing various scientific fields.

The study spoke of “the crucible of data sciences and human sciences,” and stressed that “the combination of Social Sciences and System Engineering will be key in helping military analysts to improve the production of intelligence.”

“If kinetic power cannot defeat the enemy,” it said, “psychology and related behavioural and social sciences stand to fill the void.”

“Leveraging social sciences will be central to the development of the Human Domain Plan of Operations,” the report went on. “It will support the combat operations by providing potential courses of action for the whole surrounding Human Environment including enemy forces, but also determining key human elements such as the Cognitive center of gravity, the desired behaviour as the end state.”

All academic disciplines will be implicated in cognitive warfare, not just the hard sciences. “Within the military, expertise on anthropology, ethnography, history, psychology among other areas will be more than ever required to cooperate with the military,” the NATO-sponsored study stated.

The report nears its conclusion with an eerie quote: “Today’s progresses in nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science (NBIC), boosted by the seemingly unstoppable march of a triumphant troika made of Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and civilisational ‘digital addiction’ have created a much more ominous prospect: an embedded fifth column, where everyone, unbeknownst to him or her, is behaving according to the plans of one of our competitors.”

“The modern concept of war is not about weapons but about influence,” it posited. “Victory in the long run will remain solely dependent on the ability to influence, affect, change or impact the cognitive domain.”

The NATO-sponsored study then closed with a final paragraph that makes it clear beyond doubt that the Western military alliance’s ultimate goal is not only physical control of the planet, but also control over people’s minds:

“Cognitive warfare may well be the missing element that allows the transition from military victory on the battlefield to lasting political success. The human domain might well be the decisive domain, wherein multi-domain operations achieve the commander’s effect. The five first domains can give tactical and operational victories; only the human domain can achieve the final and full victory.”

Canadian Special Ops Officer
When François du Cluzel, the NATO researcher who conducted the study on cognitive warfare, concluded his remarks in the Oct. 5 NATO Association of Canada panel, he was followed by Andy Bonvie, a commanding officer at the Canadian Special Operations Training Centre.

With more than 30 years of experience with the Canadian Armed Forces, Bonvie spoke of how Western militaries are making use of research by du Cluzel and others, and incorporating novel cognitive warfare techniques into their combat activities.

“Cognitive warfare is a new type of hybrid warfare for us,” Bonvie said. “And it means that we need to look at the traditional thresholds of conflict and how the things that are being done are really below those thresholds of conflict, cognitive attacks, and non-kinetic forms and non-combative threats to us. We need to understand these attacks better and adjust their actions and our training accordingly to be able to operate in these different environments.”

Although he portrayed NATO’s actions as “defensive,” claiming “adversaries” were using cognitive warfare against them, Bonvie was unambiguous about the fact that Western militaries are developing these techniques themselves, to maintain a “tactical advantage.”

“We cannot lose the tactical advantage for our troops that we’re placing forward as it spans not only tactically, but strategically,” he said. “Some of those different capabilities that we have that we enjoy all of a sudden could be pivoted to be used against us. So we have to better understand how quickly our adversaries adapt to things, and then be able to predict where they’re going in the future, to help us be and maintain the tactical advantage for our troops moving forward.”

‘Most Advanced Form of Manipulation’
Marie-Pierre Raymond, a retired Canadian lieutenant colonel who currently serves as a “defence scientist and innovation portfolio manager” for the Canadian Armed Forces’ Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security Program, also joined the Oct. 5 panel.

“Long gone are the days when war was fought to acquire more land,” Raymond said. “Now the new objective is to change the adversaries’ ideologies, which makes the brain the center of gravity of the human. And it makes the human the contested domain, and the mind becomes the battlefield.”

“When we speak about hybrid threats, cognitive warfare is the most advanced form of manipulation seen to date,” she added, noting that it aims to influence individuals’ decision-making and “to influence a group of a group of individuals on their behavior, with the aim of gaining a tactical or strategic advantage.”

Raymond noted that cognitive warfare also heavily overlaps with artificial intelligence, big data, and social media, and reflects “the rapid evolution of neurosciences as a tool of war.”

Raymond is helping to oversee the NATO Fall 2021 Innovation Challenge on behalf of Canada’s Department of National Defence, which delegated management responsibilities to the military’s Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) Program, where she works.

In highly technical jargon, Raymond indicated that the cognitive warfare program is not solely defensive, but also offensive: “This challenge is calling for a solution that will support NATO’s nascent human domain and jump-start the development of a cognition ecosystem within the alliance, and that will support the development of new applications, new systems, new tools and concepts leading to concrete action in the cognitive domain.”

She emphasized that this “will require sustained cooperation between allies, innovators, and researchers to enable our troops to fight and win in the cognitive domain. This is what we are hoping to emerge from this call to innovators and researchers.”

To inspire corporate interest in the NATO Innovation Challenge, Raymond enticed, “Applicants will receive national and international exposure and cash prizes for the best solution.” She then added tantalizingly, “This could also benefit the applicants by potentially providing them access to a market of 30 nations.”

Call for Investment
The other institution that is managing the Fall 2021 NATO Innovation Challenge on behalf of Canada’s Department of National Defense is the Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM).

A Canadian military officer who works with CANSOFCOM, Shekhar Gothi, was the final panelist in the Oct. 5 NATO Association of Canada event. Gothi serves as CANSOFCOM’s “innovation officer” for Southern Ontario.

He concluded the event appealing for corporate investment in NATO’s cognitive warfare research.

The bi-annual Innovation Challenge is “part of the NATO battle rhythm,” Gothi declared enthusiastically.

He noted that, in the spring of 2021, Portugal held a NATO Innovation Challenge focused on warfare in outer space.

In spring 2020, the Netherlands hosted a NATO Innovation Challenge focused on Covid-19.

Gothi reassured corporate investors that NATO will bend over backward to defend their bottom lines: “I can assure everyone that the NATO innovation challenge indicates that all innovators will maintain complete control of their intellectual property. So NATO won’t take control of that. Neither will Canada. Innovators will maintain their control over their IP.”

The comment was a fitting conclusion to the panel, affirming that NATO and its allies in the military-industrial complex not only seek to dominate the world and the humans that inhabit it with unsettling cognitive warfare techniques, but to also ensure that corporations and their shareholders continue to profit from these imperial endeavors.

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Another example of the illusory truth effect in action is Capitalist Realism

Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia page of the book where the term was introduced:

Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? is a 2009 book by British theorist Mark Fisher, published by Zero Books. It explores Fisher’s concept of “capitalist realism,” which he takes to describe “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.”[1]

The book investigates what Fisher describes as the widespread effects of neoliberal ideology on popular culture, work, education, and mental health in contemporary society. Capitalist Realism was an unexpected success and has influenced a range of writers.[2]

The subtitle refers to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s pro-market slogan “There is no alternative”.

According to Fisher, the quotation "it is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism,” attributed to both Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek, encompasses the essence of capitalist realism. Capitalist realism is loosely defined as the predominant conception that capitalism is the only viable economic system, and thus there can be no imaginable alternative. Fisher likens capitalist realism to a “pervasive atmosphere” that affects areas of cultural production, political-economic activity, and general thought.[3]

Capitalist realism as I understand it cannot be confined to art or to the quasi-propagandistic way in which advertising functions. It is more like a pervasive atmosphere, conditioning not only the production of culture but also the regulation of work and education, and acting as a kind of invisible barrier constraining thought and action.[4]

Capitalist realism propagates an idea of the post-political, in which the fall of the Soviet Union both solidified capitalism as the only effective political-economic system and removed the question of capitalism’s dissolution from any political consideration. This has subverted the arena of political discussion from one in which capitalism is one of many potential means of operating an economy, to one in which political considerations operate solely within the confines of the capitalist system. Similarly, within the frame of capitalist realism, mainstream anti-capitalist movements shifted away from promoting alternative systems and toward mitigating capitalism’s worst effects.

Exponents of (apologists for?) capitalist realism do not assert that capitalism is a perfect system, but instead that it is the only system that can operate in a means compatible with human nature and economic law.[5] By promoting the idea that innate human desire is only compatible with capitalism, any other system that is not based on the personal accumulation of wealth and capital is seen as counter to human nature and, by extension, impossible to implement.[6]

Fisher argues that the bank bailouts following the 2008 economic crisis were a quintessential example of capitalist realism in action, reasoning that the bailouts occurred largely because the idea of allowing the banking system to fail was unimaginable to both politicians and the general population. Due to the intrinsic value of banks to the capitalist system, Fisher proposes, the influence of capitalist realism meant that such a failure was never considered an option. As a consequence, Fisher observes, the neoliberal system survived and capitalist realism was further validated.[7] Fisher classifies the current state of capitalist realism in the neoliberal system in the following terms:

The only powerful agents influencing politicians and managers in education are business interests. It’s become far too easy to ignore workers and, partly because of this, workers feel increasingly helpless and impotent. The concerted attack on unions by neoliberal interest groups, together with the shift from a Fordist to a post-Fordist organisation of the economy – the move towards casualisation, just-in-time production, globalization – has eroded the power base of unions [and thus the labor force].[7]

Fisher regards capitalist realism as emerging from a purposeful push by the neoliberal right to transform the attitudes of both the general population and the left towards capitalism and specifically the post-Fordist form of capitalism that prevailed throughout the 1980s. The relative inability of the political left to come up with an alternative economic model in response to the rise of neoliberal capitalism and the concurrent Reaganomics era created a vacuum that facilitated the birth of a capitalist realist system.[8] The collapse of the Soviet Union, which Fisher believes represented the only real example of a working non-capitalist system, further cemented the place of capitalist realism both politically and in the general population, and was hailed as the decisive final victory of capitalism. According to Fisher, in a post-Soviet era, unchecked capitalism was able to reframe history into a capitalist narrative in which neoliberalism was the result of a natural progression of history and even embodied the culmination of human development.[3]

Despite the fact that the emergence of capitalist realism is tied to the birth of neoliberalism, Fisher is clear to state that capitalist realism and neoliberalism are separate entities that simply reinforce each other. According to Fisher, capitalist realism has the potential to live past the demise of neoliberal capitalism, though Fisher posits that the opposite would not be true.[8] Capitalist realism is inherently anti-utopian, as it holds that no matter the flaws or externalities, capitalism is the only possible means of operation. Neoliberalism conversely glorifies capitalism by portraying it as providing the means necessary to pursue and achieve near-utopian socioeconomic conditions. In this way, capitalist realism pacifies opposition to neoliberalism’s overly positive projections while neoliberalism counteracts the despair and disillusionment central to capitalist realism with its utopian claims.

According to Fisher, capitalist realism has so captured public thought that the idea of anti-capitalism no longer acts as the antithesis to capitalism. Instead, it is deployed as a means for reinforcing capitalism. This is done through media which aims to provide a safe means of consuming anti-capitalist ideas without actually challenging the system. The lack of coherent alternatives, as presented through the lens of capitalist realism, leads many anti-capitalist movements to cease targeting the end of capitalism, but instead to mitigate its worst effects, often through individual consumption-based activities such as Product Red.[3]

With regards to public views on capitalism, Fisher coined the term ‘reflexive impotence’ which describes a phenomenon where people recognize the flawed nature of capitalism, but believe there are no means of effecting change. According to Fisher, this inaction leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy as well as a negative toll on their mental health.[3]

Fisher identifies a widespread popular desire for a public sphere that operates outside of the state and free from the undesired “add-ons of capital”.[9] However, he claims that it is the state alone that has been able to maintain public arenas against the capitalist push for mass privatization. Popular neoliberal thought supports the destruction of public spheres in favor of the privatization of public institutions such as education and health based on the assumption that the market best determines public needs. In this vein, Fisher also raises the idea of ‘business ontology’, which is the capitalist ideology in which purposes and objectives are understood exclusively in business terms.[10] He further postulates that in the case of uniformly business-oriented social conditions there is no place for the public and its only chance at survival is by means of extinguishing the business framework in public services, adding that “if businesses can’t be run as businesses, why should public services?”[10] Thus, a frequent topic of Fisher’s writing is the future of the public sphere in the face of neoliberal business ontology and what it might look like in absence of a centralized state-run industry.[9][10]

The ‘realism’ aspect of capitalist realism and its inspiration—socialist realism—is based on Jacques Lacan’s distinction between the Real and ‘realities’, such as capitalist realism, which are ideologically based understandings of the world that reject facts that lie outside of their interpretations. Fisher posits that an appeal to the Real which is suppressed by capitalist realism may begin to deconstruct the pervasiveness of the ideology. Fisher points to areas such as climate change, mental health, and bureaucracy that can be highlighted to show the weaknesses and gaps in capitalist realism.[11]

In the wake of Fisher’s work, other critical theorists in academia and the political blogosphere have employed capitalist realism as a theoretical framework.

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