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Wiener, Grammar, Action and Me

Imported from an old blog.

I've been reading a biography of Norbert Wiener. The title is the ominous Dark Hero of the Information Age. I'm not that far in but it's been quite interesting thus far, despite the sometimes stilted writing.

When he was ten (c. 1904) he wrote his first philosophical paper, described in the book as "a treatise on the incompleteness of all knowledge". His conclusion: "In fact all human knowledge is based on an approximation."

Wiener went on to lay most of the foundations for information theory, stochastic processes, dealing with feedback in electronic systems; all based on probabilistic statistics. He rejected Bertrand Russell -- one of his tutors and one of the authors of The Principia Mathematica -- within a few months of meeting. Russell said there could be internal completeness, Wiener said there could not, and Gödel eventually proved Wiener correct.

Wiener also happened to be a wildly depressed guy. When there was noise in his own personal information system or he was not getting good feedback, he was unable to produce his usually good work or generally interact well with his life. He experienced self doubt and confusion within that mirrored his belief that nothing was certain, anywhere or anywhen.

To what extent did one pattern lead the other? Where was the balance in the symbiosis between the perception of self and perception of the outer world. Wiener's later work informs views of "it's all one big system".

I resonate with some of what's going on here. My drive to create information resources that are accessible, referenceable and reusable is driven by a personal need to externalize noise in my own system so I can do (occasionally) good work and interact well with my life. I want to make stigmergic structures out in the environment that I and others can use as what amount to optimized external decision makers and information chunks.

Simply tossing information out into the ether doesn't cut it. For the chunks to be useful they need to be transparent, transportable, composable and authentic (in the Heidegger sense). Transparent means you can see what the information is for or about. Transportable means that the information survives being moved out of its initial context (carries, creates or refers to its own context). Composable means that the information can be effectively reused inline with other information.

To put it another way, the information is like Lego: it is a building block in a system whose grammar can be perceived. This block can go on this block in these numerous but constrained ways.

Information, here, is one word for many things: exchanges of knowledge, perceptions, tools and processes.

In many cases the perception of a grammar relies on expertise. In order for more than one actor to collaborate in an information system, they must share some level of experience in the domain and have shared language. If they do not already have or first build shared language they will waste their time arguing the grammar of the available blocks with little composition. Until there is shared language very little will get done.

So if found in a situation where shared language is too incomplete (as it always must be somewhat incomplete, see above) what are the tools to make more.

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