Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Information Exchange

There is a planetary view of humans that pictures us as just these tiny living objects scattered about the world compulsively exchanging information, much as ants provide mash for each other or stack one thing on another reflexively. In that view, none of the bits of information is reliable individually, but in the aggregate it allows us, nearly unthinking creatures that we are, to build interesting things and improve our lot. All our grand philosophy and logic is not real, but because the sheer quantity of information exchanged is so great it eventually results in a good idea here and there, and these are additive. 

We all believe our logic is much more elevated than this, and our science, religion, and understanding are Real Knowledge.  I generally think so too. Yet our understandings are built out of such vast quantities of information, much of it embarrassingly trivial, that I have to wonder.  While out walking on a rail trail today two women approached rapidly on fat-tire bikes.  As they came along I could hear "(mildly irritated tone with indistinguishable words)...There was a raging party at my house. I went to bed before (indistinguishable)"  and they were gone.  I can't remember now, but at the time I unconsciously noted their age, dress, appearance and a hundred other things: time of day, speed of movement, writing on their jerseys.  Multiply by a million over the course of a lifetime. Have I ever really thought about anything, or am I just a collection of these fragments?

This comes up in the context of wondering whether intelligence is anything other than memory storage plus hyperactive, compulsive brain connections. In discussion with my son and his new wife last week why I have less interest in playing games than when he was a child and I was deeply conscious of my responsibility to teach him, I came slowly onto the idea that I compulsively acquire and discharge information, and that is pretty much it. Sponge absorbs, squeeze sponge, repeat. It is not a virtue. It is a reflexive physical act.  As this type of exchange is useful for the anthill I get some reward. I'm not sure that's not a clearer explanation of my life than my other theories which are much more congenial to my ego.

Absorb information (mash).  Discharge mash to other ants. Repeat with relief.


Roy Lofquist said...

“Sir Isaac Newton, renowned inventor of the milled-edge coin and the catflap!"

"The what?" said Richard.

"The catflap! A device of the utmost cunning, perspicuity and invention. It is a door within a door, you see, a ..."

"Yes," said Richard, "there was also the small matter of gravity."

"Gravity," said Dirk with a slightly dismissed shrug, "yes, there was that as well, I suppose. Though that, of course, was merely a discovery. It was there to be discovered." ... "You see?" he said dropping his cigarette butt, "They even keep it on at weekends. Someone was bound to notice sooner or later. But the catflap ... ah, there is a very different matter. Invention, pure creative invention. It is a door within a door, you see.”

― Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

james said...

The Perth mint says that: Newton accepted the position of Warden of the Mint in 1696. At his disposal was “a new invention of rounding the money & making the edges of them with letters or grainings”, which suggests that someone else invented it and he had the wisdom to recognize a good invention.
"Dr Newton's Oath as Warden of the Mint"

Roy Lofquist said...

James, thank you. Rounded off my learn three new things every day goal.

I ran into the Adams quote a number of years ago and it made a profound impression on me. I was in the computer business and have pondered the possibilities of artificial intelligence since the 1960s, essentially what our host AVI wrote about here. The insight is that the mysterious phenomenon of intuition, "the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference", is the essential element of consciousness, not the parlor tricks of the AI cowboys. No one has ever even started to grasp a mechanism to explain it. It is the Divine mystery.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Roy - Boy, I hope you're right.

Texan99 said...

I find few things more pleasurable than making unexpected brain connections. It's like an internal sunburst.

Zachriel said...

Assistant Village Idiot: Sponge absorbs, squeeze sponge, repeat. It is not a virtue. It is a reflexive physical act.

You act as if it's a bad thing.

Assistant Village Idiot: Absorb information (mash). Discharge mash to other ants.

Don't forget the importance of mastication!

Of course, humans are deuterostomes, tubes with an opening in one end to consume life forms, typical appendages to help with stuffing in the food, and an opening in the other end to excrete waste, all in the service of the gonads to make more tubes. (But that's not all humans are!)