Communication is an interesting problem. For all but the simplest of statements and assertions, we find ourselves so easily adrift and lost upon a tide of ambiguity and uncertainty. This is of course as much a feature as it is a bug in the veritable software and logic of information, grammar and linguistic inflection that we live through and that just as much, if not more, lives through us.
Explanation of complex concepts is generally only verifiably true (or at least – factual) where and when we can reduce those concepts to the equivalent of an elementary arithmetic. What happens when we seek to perform such pseudo-mathematical concision and abbreviation in, and with, language is of course that we merely displace the implicit complexity and ambiguity of communication to another location, we incur an entropic cost of loophole and vulnerability which is nowhere as obvious (or as plausibly deniable) as when it manifests in, and as – for instance – legalistic frameworks such as constitutional or taxation law. These loopholes are always there and exist as much due to the endemic and enigmatic fallibilities and mischievously recursive curlicues of logic itself as by any irreducible uncertainty native to language, cognition and the complexities of information transmission as communication.
I find that attempting to communicate advanced concepts through the relatively primitive building blocks of vocabulary, nuance and metonymy provides a fascinating challenge and problem-space to explore. It is all the more intriguing in that the most interesting entity, artefact or system to explore with words is probably (and perhaps inevitably) the act of communication itself. A conceptual art of seeking to capture the meaning of elusively complex and reflexively self-replicating patterns of sentience, cognition and conceptual communication is that simplest logic of one mirror turned to face another and through which an acuity of parallel planes exponentiates virtual depth towards infinity. There is, however, only one mirror and it manages by some beautiful impossibility to envelop itself, to leap out of naked structure into flowing rivers and dancing colours (or are they flames?) of meaning. How this occurs is often-enough approached reductively, systematically and mechanistically – a valid enterprise but I suspect it is necessarily also always only half the truth.
There is no authentic pointy-end or substantive conclusion to the vanishingly small narrative and bootstrapped metaphor expressed here. In attempting to capture that ephemeral infinity of unbounded paradox and systemic mischief that we all might feel is implicit and intuitively present behind the dancing shadows of meaning and syntax that pass into, through, and manifest as us, we might also think that this should (or at the very least – could) be an entirely explicable theorem. But it is not, and this is for that reason also how you can invent something, anything at all – really, out of nothing and emptiness. It is an interesting problem.
Information systems in biology and culture seek autonomous self-replication as a matter of emergent complexity and the iterating reproduction of a shared cognitive grammar in (and as) technology, language and culture. It is not a long bow to draw to assert that Facebook and friends possess an inadequate sophistication of understanding regarding the ways in which energy and information-processing systems autonomously self-replicate and reproduce themselves.
Viral memetic (and information-cultural) events are an example of runaway self-replication that in atavistic recall mimics cancer – a runaway self-replication of adverse entities. A conjecture: large corporations such as Facebook that “facilitate” social and cultural communication are themselves biased towards their own commercial self-reproduction at an axiomatic or foundational level and are consequently unable to act in a broader social interest. Indeed, the production of antagonism and difference generates attention, dissonance and “useful” entropy from which the subsequent interest generated provides commercial benefit.
How to rewrite a core business model when to do so invalidates the central reason for the success of that company in the first place?
Melancholy is always there as a fact of human experience. It is a psychological and emotional fact, as much as anything else incurred by the facts of physics and logic which infuse our world with structure and pattern. Material culture is in many ways a visceral response to the endemic entropy of life and the binding and unifying function of that culture is always offset by an awareness that nothing lasts, that change is inevitable and that for this reason emotional discomfort is a rule rather than an exception. Every generation reinvents angst but it is only ever really just a new interpretation of an ancient ennui and sentient in the relentless presence of decay, loss and that very special absence that time always brings.
For all of this (perhaps entirely justifiable) distrust referenced in the article above, these shared communications platforms remain spectacularly popular. Is a core psychological requirement of continuous socialisation and cognitive novelty the (social media) trump card over distrust and ethical abhorrence? Even where the participant observation in social media systems generates frustration and discomfort it still provides that reflexive distance and difference by which an aspirational individuation and narcissistic self-validation occurs. Disagreement and distrust provide apertures of opportunity for psychological, subjective self-definition in ways at least as (if not more) certain as do agreement and trust; in fact – most ideological assertions (online or elsewhere) possess a non-trivial investment in antagonistic self-definition, of defining one’s self in opposition to an Other.
It is quite probable that one aspect in the statistical success and far-reaching consequences of the ongoing efflorescence of irrationality, falsehood and inflammatory rhetoric so virulent online is that ideological or ethical negation provides more ways in which a message might self-replicate whereas unproblematic (and verifiable) truths or unsurprising (ideologically neutral) assertions provide fewer methods for memetic self-propagation, message self-replication. That information which is inflammatory possesses more potential and (virtual) kinetic vectors of effect. In sum – the methods and channels of self-definition as against, or in dissonant opposition to, an assertion or notional fact exceed in possibility-space those of agreement and positive resonance. Negativity (and conflict) proliferates because there are more channels of possibility and probable instantiation than there are for peace or agreement; social media provides an avenue of expression for this. It is not in any sense a new psychological symmetry but it most certainly is a cognitively-extended technologically-mediated expression of this pre-existing phenomenon.
There are far more possible (i.e. probable) disordered states than ordered ones – individual and distributed intelligence merely capitalises on this with the characteristic heuristic efficiency of existential opportunism and human intelligence. Ideological turbulence, media distrust, fake news and the hyper-inflating bias towards successfully self-propagating inflammatory rhetoric in (or as) social media is one instance of a broader principle through which life and intelligence negotiate and harness or exploit entropy in information and energy processing systems.
The successful self-replication of information patterns in a (cultural) medium is implicitly biased by the most efficient methods through which those messages can be encoded and communicated. At a second-order abstraction of logical encoding and communication, the successful transmission of cultural or cognitive information is facilitated (through functional compression) by a qualitative value-systems dimension.
High-ranking Universities may generate more readily-adopted concepts for precisely the same underlying reason that the global information and communications media system is awash with celebrity gossip, sports news and inflammatory ideological rhetoric. The key selection factor for successful pattern self-replication in a transmission medium is the extent to which the information content of that message also (reflexively) supports the propagation of the integrated or gestalt information system represented by the networked transmission medium itself.
Physics and biology developed these solutions billions of years before cultural systems, Universities or strategic academic tenure arrived.
The primary measure in the success of any message or persuasive aspiration in a mass communications context is the extent of the ongoing self-propagation of the gestalt information content, bundle or pattern represented by that message. Brand association with emotive, controversial or inflammatory issues is a method to rapidly attract popular interest, media buzz and to effectively influence message uptake and memetic self-replication.
The accelerated, recombinatory hyper-inflation of an abstract information and communications space is attributable to the ways in which the system as a whole (and across, in and through its many instances) biases its own self-reproduction. This is a principle of exponentiating recursion and self-reference: the extent of the success of the self-propagation of a message in an information network becomes the extent of the success of the self-propagation of that message; an essentially recursive and self-gravitating tautology similar to the notion of someone being famous merely for being famous. The value of popularity garners more popularity and even negative publicity or inflammatory reactions serve to further replicate that message. Studying and understanding this mechanism allows for the cultivation of leverage in any competitive transactional context.
Human minds are also self-propagating patterns of information and, as such, are foundationally, cognitively vulnerable to manipulation and influence. We constitutively exist as complex patterns of information and energy, the primary purpose of which is to seek to both directly and indirectly self-propagate those systems of information and structured energy replication. Biological systems and cultural technologies (of varying degrees of sophistication) may superficially appear to be arbitrarily separate or isolated; at a deeper logical and functional level they all share the same underlying bias towards systems self-replication.
Our own essential nature only avails itself of analysis in ways which lead us to question some of our most intimate and closely-held assumptions. You are fundamentally not who you think you are and neither am I but a self-conscious acknowledgement that we may actually be other than that which we have always assumed (or been entrained to believe) we are is of little assistance in navigating the actual embodied turbulence of our lives.
Effectively articulating the logic of this particular problem-space is endlessly problematic.
Context: Climate Disaster Is Upon Us
A core human psychological trait of small-scale tribal herding may work against the kind of global organisational unity and cooperation required to cultivate substantive industrial and economic change in the limited time available.
On one end of the behavioural and cognitive spectrum: the scale of the context and the consequences may be an order of magnitude beyond the narrative aptitude and comprehension of both the individual and the collective (i.e. cultural, social) minds with which emergent biological and deep historical processes have equipped us. Denying the existence of an unintelligible reality makes a gloomy kind of sense from that perspective; people cling to narratives they can understand and to which their reflexive neurophysiology or personal experience entrains and predisposes them.
Another, equally troubling but related, issue is that of a probable disassembly of existing large-scale narratives (such as they are) of international cooperation and global responsibility when faced with unrelenting environmental entropy. It is something of an endemic and pathological characteristic of our species to seek solace in simplistic abstractions and defensive tribal tropes when confronted with insecurity and uncertainty.
It is not all necessarily doomsaying, though. A key takeaway may be that creatively articulating an effective and persuasive global narrative on this topic has become more important than ever before.