Re: virus: Rationality

Martz (
Sun, 2 Mar 1997 12:59:45 +0000

On Sat, 1 Mar 1997, Alex Williams <> wrote:
>> Thanks for carring the torch for us, but the fact that we have to keep
>> asking for definitions and re-defining our own statements has made most of
>> us painfully aware of this already.
>The `why' of such things are the grist of the subject for me right
>now, as a memeticist. Why does communication breakdown? How can I
>predict how communication might break down, and take steps to improve
>the protocol or CRC-check the encoded intended signal? These are
>fairly important things that don't oft get explored in memetics.

As far as I can see we can recursively break all communication down to
these three steps;

1. Something I want to express is converted [1] into a set of symbols
that I think will convey my meaning.

2. These symbols are placed onto some physical medium where the intended
recipient(s) can access them.

3. The symbols are converted [2] by you into something meaningful.

With step 1, the most important step [3], a lot can go wrong. Some
potential problems relate to the media to be used. For example, informal
languages are very imprecise. Ambiguosity abounds in the english
language so to avoid errors we must try to avoid these ambiguosities, an
impossible task. We have designed formal languages which can express a
concept in a singularly precise way (I realise that we interpret even
these within our own memetic ecologies but I consider that a separate
issue, more on which later). However these languages tend to be very
specialised; maths, engineering etc.; none are capable of expressing the
full range of human communication [4]. Another problem is that it's
difficult to keep track of all the media you're actually using to
communicate. Words, body language, tone, pitch etc. all combine to
transmit a high-bandwidth signal. On a minute-to-minute basis, most
people aren't even aware of the signals they're sending, never mind
being practised in the skill of controlling them. I think a lot of this
can be overcome with study and discipline but not everyone will put that
much time and effort into their communications. There comes a point when
the cost of error prevention outweigh the value - how much data
redundancy can you afford to build in? Finally, we build our
communications using our internal map of the universe and as such we
likely each have a totally unique language. All we can do here is to try
to tailor our communication to the internal map of the intended
recipient. No mean feat; we have only our internal map of their internal
map to work from; what if they're also tailoring their interpretation to
take account of their internal map of your internal map (Catch 22); what
to do with an audience of more than one person [5]?

With step 2, the problems are media-dependant. Each medium has its
noise-to-signal ratio. These are beyond my current scope but I'd be
curious to hear any thoughts on what those ratios might be for signals
directly processed by the human senses.

Step 3 has a similar set of problems to step 1.

Will that do to start us off?

[1] I've used the word 'converted' very deliberately here as recent
thoughts (see my question re: wildfire mutation rates in a closed
memetic environment on another thread) have led me to believe that there
is some sort of a feedback loop involved in this process such that just
as our mental structures create the symbols of expression (imperfectly),
so do the symbols we use affect the structures which created them. I'm
still fermenting this one so all ideas gratefully received.

[2] Again, I think I see a feedback loop here. Our interpretation
overlays itself to some extent on the symbols we received, altering them
to better fit the interpretation.

[3] Small errors at source can be magnified the further they travel in a
gemotric fashion. A flaw of +/- 1 degree will amount to +/- 18cm at a
distance of 1m (hasty calculation, correct me if necessary), I think the
same principle applies to communication. We can't map this yet because
we don't even have a measure of 'distance' which can be applied. This
would depend on media the signal was travelling through.

[4] It could be argued that the full range *requires* that the
imperfections be present, but it would be nice to have the choice of
whether to use formal or informal symbols as appropriate.

[5] We would have to tailor our symbols to match only those parts of the
audiences internal maps which they had in common. This would explain why
blockbuster movies tend to have that LCD appeal.


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