Too Much Communication

This is surreal and ironic on many levels.

Sam is probably my second favourite amongst the four horsemen, a real moral philosopher. No prize for guessing my least favourite, but it was he who tweeted the link picked-up by Ricky. (Dan, Sam, Hitch and the Dawk in that order in case you’re interested.)

Fact : internet enabled comment on blogs directly and via social media is a major source of miscommunication – an insidious spread of misinformed ideas. (aka The Memetic Problem). Apart from comic entertainment value – most are without value or with meta-value only or, more importantly, with negative content value, unless they can be editorially moderated. Life’s too short.

Weird : Sam reckons PZ Myers “shepherd of trolls” (Pharyngula Blog) to be odious. PZ is clearly on the side of (evolutionary) science in the god debates, so you might think an ally of Harris, along with the other three horsemen. But I’ve noted before the “baying mob” mentality of PZ and his commenters (similar to Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and many Guardian “Comment is Free” contributors.) Makes intelligent debate hopeless. The baying mob is odious – see the memetic problem.

As I say, I have a lot of respect for Sam, but I have taken exception to some of his “narrow” rationality – a recent example here. I am really intrigued as to the reality of Sam’s take on PZ. Must have missed a significant spat or irony here?

The Memetic Problem ? Sam says:

The Internet powerfully enables the spread of good ideas, but it works the same magic for bad ones”and it allows distortions of fact and opinion to become permanent features of our intellectual landscape.

I say, it’s even worse than that, because the ideas that spread more easily tend to be the inferior ones. Too simplistic, too reductionist, too comfortable fit with existing prejudice and fashion, etc. all make such ideas easier to communicate and receive and re-communicate, and “stickier” when received. Evolutionary fidelity and fecundity both benefit from simplistication of the message and its fitness.


Reminded by Marsha reading Hofstadter’s “I Am A Strange Loop“, that I never did record the Tabletop (or Theatre of Operations) metaphor for creative analogy … that is analogies that actually create things, things as interesting as humans and minds.

I mentioned it twice here and here referring to Hofstadter’s “Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies“, and I know I’ve demonstrated the Tabletop exercise in real life, but I’ve never recorded a description of it.

Scenario : Now is a point in time … everything you know up to that point. You have a decision to make – now. Your available options are laid out in front of you (on the Tabletop). Your decision is in reponse to the last action of the party you are in debate / dialogue / negotiation with. What next ?

The original point of the exercise was in fact to do with how humans created concepts as part of thought processes. However, it’s pretty much a model of any life decision, for any individual or organization … the question being, what next action is the best choice. The core point is that the “available options” laid out on the Tabletop in front of you are NOT all you will consider, even if they are the only available options in a purely practical – pre-defined rules of the game – sense. Your thinking process will invent relationships and analogies that exist in conceptual levels removed from the Tabletop itself, before making your choice. Your real theatre of operations is much greater than the Tabletop and most of it is invented in your head – created.

The example starts, as befits a Tabletop, with random cutlery and crockery, eating utensils chosen in turn by two people sitting across the table from each other. You choose a knife, I choose a knife / the same knife /  a fork / what ? Same object, same kind, same relation, same what ? Same by some created analogy, and you’re off … infinite levels of creativity. (In Fluid Analogies, these series of what-nexts start with simple number, letter, symbol, word, quine-series ad-infinitum.) The creative question concerns which next choice is “best“.