20 August 2008
Couldn’t figure out a graceful way to integrate into the last post, but another interesting stance on analysis and information comes from Chris Anderson et al at Wired. If I may summarize with far too much brevity, it is the nth degree (or the reductio ad absurdam, depending) of the dictum that to increase understanding, add information.
While even I think that statement needs qualifiers, it is demonstrably true on most maps. Cf the two pictures below:
Epistemological nuts and bolts are one thing, but sometimes it is hard to say what we are even trying to build with them. To start with, even if time doesn’t exist, our perception of it certainly does. And while you may want to argue with that statement, too, let me give some examples as grist for the mill.
Specifically, our notions of what 10,000 years might look like are pretty hazy. Alan Weisman has put together a compelling sightseeing tour of a set of connected possibilities, and talked to a lot of people whose opinions are not often taken into account on such topics to do so. Certainly his choice of targets makes us more likely to sit up and take notice of a longer view than usual.
And speaking of a longer view, my favorite way to think about 10,000 years has recently become much less abstract–like by having an actual place to build a thing. So maybe the point is, as Douglas Adams once said, in order to make the best model possible of a thing, make your model as much like the thing as possible. Or maybe it was Stephen Hawking. Or maybe I paraphrase badly.
In any case, I’m also reading Everything is Miscellaneous and enjoying it quite a bit. I’m only about half way through, though, so I don’t know if Weinberger addresses one of the most salient critiques I’ve read of the poster child for miscellany, Wikipedia. A critique from, you know, just some guy.
Almost forgot to say that types of knowing can vary greatly, and we usually only consider a pretty restricted set of inputs. Increasing the likelihood that we can use more than just sight to learn stuff is a pretty cool concept.
Total solar eclipse today, though not visible from Oregon or, indeed, anywhere in the US. I didn’t make it to blog about the solstice, as is becoming rather usual, but at least I got this one on the day of the event.
Meanwhile, instead of a very erudite discussion of confidence levels and logic, I’d just like to pose a question about how we ever decide we have enough information to act on. NN Taleb frames the question by running counter to his own advice and quoting from Herodotus about Solon. Perhaps another good (and equally intellectually snobby) example is the prisoner’s dilemma.