Re: virus: Rationality

Alex Williams (
Sun, 2 Mar 1997 12:07:45 -0500 (EST)

> 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.

Can't argue with any of this at all, its unassailable, since I agree
with it. :) Well, except for the `intentionality' of step 1 and the
wording of step 2.

Step 1 leaves aside that through body language, we're constantly
signalling the world the state of our minds day to day, moment to
moment. It might be useful to replace `I want' with something more
like `a sufficent meme-pressure exists.' We communicate things we
`don't want' to fairly regularly; seeing a mind as a composite,
emergent entity of memes makes this more sensical. Various memetic
groups can work toward vastly different things; the core group that
has physical support from millions of years of needing to be present,
the body-language transmission core, has almost unrestricted access to
our kinetic selves.

Step 2 `suggests' that you may only be talking about writing and
speech, given its denotation of `putting symbols onto some physical
medium.' Body language, and some
as-yet-unknown-means-of-communication may be different. `These
actions are then executed by the body,' may be better, whether it be
typing a key, writing a letter or verbalizing a phonene. In some
form, the flesh makes a mark on the outside world.

> 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

Let's distinguish the protocol (English, body lnguage) from the media
(email, my flesh). In emailed, the /media/ is extremely reliable, its
quite often checked for single-bit-errors. The protocol and its
implimentation, however, may absolutely suck. See the majority of
UseNet for examples.

> 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

Note that these same ambiguities allow us to convey ambiguous ideas,
which may represent our intent in the first place. They also serve as
handy `placeholders' for less important ideas that would take
resources we don't want to waste in expanding them.

> 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

Right, recipient-side interpretation.

> 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

And, in media which are very different or lesser bandwidth (email for
example), people have to consciously think to account for the
information lost in changing bandwidth.

> the cost of error prevention outweigh the value - how much data
> redundancy can you afford to build in? Finally, we build our

Additionally, what is the importance of your communication? Quick
chat with a friend or stopping war with the prime minister of the UK?

> 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.

Again, as I said before, its useful to distinguish media from
protocol. English is a finely used protocol, both in the media of a
long legalese document signing your home and chattel over to your
ex-wife, and the media of a scrawled message in flourescent
spray-paint on an overpass. In the first, you want to put in as much
error checking as possible and have several people whose jobs are
/just/ to look for holes examine the product. In the latter, there's
lots of chance for error by the interpreter, a fleesting glance while
zooming down the highway, a scrawl amongst other scrawls.

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

Plus the added burden of an interpreter that's not written to the
exact same spec of the originator.

> Will that do to start us off?

Shuah. :)

> [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.

Its much like a learning NNet in continuous flux; creating a pattern
its rewarded for reinforces that pattern, which makes it more likely
to emerge and things /like/ it to emerge.

> [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.

We do, that's why we developed legalese, math and computer languages.