Everyday Entropy: an invitation to adventure

Diagram of an interaction
FMRI of a thought

A thought in your head is a physical thing.  You can see its physical structure in an FMRI image.  The FMRI image, however, is only information about the physical structure of the thought.  The thought itself is an array of active ions and electrical impulses.  It’s architectural and kinetic.  Your brain has to translate the thought in its image processing and language centres to create something that can be communicated, and without those translators working at full capacity, the thought itself is meaningless.  What comes out, then, the translated sense impressions of the thought, is an abstraction that you can write, draw, gesture, speak or try to remember, but it’s important to understand that the abstraction only exists in transmission.  Like a photon, the abstraction cannot be isolated from it’s origin and destination.  The abstraction has a surprising, almost magical consistency, even though the source and target are may be totally divergent and unknowable.  This is also analogous to the source and target of a photon.  The preservation and transmission of any given abstraction may require the sacrifice of a great many physical things, say, a book worth of paper, words and symbols, and those things may be physically indeterminable.  But pile enough ink on top of enough paper with enough repetition and physical redundancy, and the abstraction can be transmitted with surprising purity.  The great challenge of education lies in finding a set of abstractions that is worth preserving and transmitting with great consistency.  The trouble with the internet is that its abstractions are really cheap.  Computers give the impression of creating and storing abstractions in pure form forever, but the significance of the abstractions are dissolving, like objects frozen in space but fading away at the event horizon of a black hole.

Because an abstraction can be transmitted from one form to another and back again, and because it can be represented in many different physical substances, and still seem the same as it was when it was first conceived, the abstract transmission of the idea can seem like the real thing, while the vagaries of the physical idea in a real brain seems unreal.  The idea has to be translated into a transmissible abstraction before anyone can experience it, but this is analogous to the way we get information from physical particles.  We need them to interact with other particles and release force carriers, either real or virtual, so that a transmissible abstraction emerges.  Whether this is an image, an electromagnetic current or other waves or vibrations, it is the transmissible abstraction that we can observe, not the thing itself.  The abstraction is an attractive nuisance because it seems so pure and immutable, but no matter how brilliant and beautiful the abstraction may be, it only matters if it inspires beautiful ideas in the minds of the real people it touches.

This is the same informational paradox that bedevils ontology and epistemology.  That which is knowable is untrue, and that which is true is unknowable.  Essential information is not transmissible and transmissible information is not essential, but this isn’t a problem so much as an invitation to keep adventuring.  No matter how much is known, there is more in reality to discover.  Curiosity is not a vain pursuit.  Forget the pursuit of happiness and get on with the pursuit of curiosity.  We can find happiness when we are god damn good and ready.


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