A mind is like a parachute
It might save your life,
but you have to know how to use it first.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

If a Blog Falls in the Forest and No One Reads it...

I have not been posting lately, but that is for a number of reasons.  The first is that no one reads this blog anyway, so whether I post or not isn't really important is it?

But the more important reason is that I have been making my way very slowly through James Gleick's book, "The Information".  Slowly because I have had little time, certainly, but also because I can't get through a page or two without being sidetracked by imagination.   What he is exploring are some of the very things that I have been privately obsessed with for the past several years.

I mean, not just the subject matter in general matches what I have been interested, but some of the implications of communication and noise and signals and vocabulary.   It has caused me to rethink both the necessity of explaining my state of mind on these topics (since a great thinker has already done so with more clarity and depth), but has also made me feel proud for having drawn many of the same conclusions as a result of my own thought experiments.

In the final analysis there may be no such thing as original thought.  If I can string two logical sentences together in my mind, the odds are good that these sentences have been strung together in someone else's mind at some point in the past.  And if these thoughts are rooted in the nature of reality, than the odds that someone has already thought of what I am thinking is higher still.  Far be it for me to think I am the first person to ever call a sunset beautiful or think that rocks are hard.  If our experiences guide our thoughts then to the extent that we have shared experiences, we will have shared thoughts.

So it was never my assumption that any of what I was thinking about was especially new, but it was new to me, and that is why it mattered.  So to read a book that is so exactly what I needed to read right now is both deflating to the desire to write down what I have been thinking but also strangely encouraging to the desire to keep "pulling the logical string" and seeing what is attached at the other end.

One change I have definitely decided to make in any further blog entries is that I will be less concerned about readability.  If no one, or almost no one, (no offense Mom!) is reading the product of my thoughts, then why would I be concerned with whether someone who reads them could understand it?   It is undeniably true that the purpose of communication is to be understood (*see note below), but who am I communicating with and who do I need to understand me?  In a real sense, the main person I am communicating with is myself -- or a future self who may be interested in sewing these scraps of cloth into a garment someday.   If that is the case, then I need only be concerned with whether a forgetful person like me can be made to remember what it is I was talking about at some future date when these passages are revisited.

Yet, even here, I have learned that it may not hurt to be as clear as possible since there is no telling how obtuse the future me may be about the "revelations" imparted here.  But in short I shouldn't waste too much time with clarity if it impinges on my ability to express what I am thinking about.

If this makes the whole project that much more challenging (or boring) to read, then I guess that will only be a problem to anyone who actually chooses to read this.

* Note:   Of course there are other purposes to communication.  Obfuscation is clearly (can obfuscation be clear?) a use of communication.  There are those, especially in politics and marketing, who use the auspice of communication to make it appear that what is being said is very different from what is actually being said.  I give you Robert Heinlein's great quote on art from Stranger in a Strange Land:

“It's up to the artist to use language that can be understood, not hide it in some private code. Most of these jokers don't even want to use language you and I know or can learn . . . they would rather sneer at us and be smug, because we 'fail' to see what they are driving at. If indeed they are driving at anything--obscurity is usually the refuge of incompetence.” 

So it is clear that there  is communication to communicate.  But there is also fake communication -- a cardboard cut out of words designed to look like communication -- that is in fact designed to hide incompetence or worse disguise the truth.

This "false communication" would be a great topic to come back to, but it will have to wait until after real communication has been laid more bare.

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