Home > anthropology, computation, consciousness, cosmology, language, philosophy, science > In Three D: Data, Drama and Deity

In Three D: Data, Drama and Deity

November 21, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

The words semaphore and metaphor are interesting to look at in the context of defining information and significance. Semaphore refers to a ‘bearer of signs’ (like a naval signaling flag), and also in programming to control access to shared resources. In both cases, the sense is of information which is not only an encoded text, but one in which the message pertains to a live event in real time. The semaphore is used to solicit attention to receive information as well as to inform.

I’m tempted to connect the prefix sema- with the etymologically unrelated semi-, as signs can, in some sense, be thought of as ‘half’ of a feeling. The signal provides a functioning form (ordered process of publicly available presence), while the interpretation of the signal provides a private experience of sensory significance.

In the pursuit of Strong AI, computer science has generally assumed that intelligence is, or can only be, a kind of entanglement of semaphores. Concepts are built from the bottom up as bits of data being stepped through a formal process of computation. The theoretical continuity between this ‘semaphoric reckoning’ with human intelligence hinges on the presumption that ‘complexity’ is a quality which is objective and autopoietic. Personally. I do not think that we can presume that, as the nature of any pattern is contingent upon pattern recognition. If we see a strand of DNA as a collection of individual atoms repeating in meaningless sequence, it need not be considered ‘complex’. If we see it instead as a single molecule, or as a recipe book for all life forms, then it would be very complex. I see it as a major problem, in light of the fact that the two phenomena are completely different depending on how we scope our attention to them, to assume that in the absence of any pattern recognition at all there would be or could be a difference between simplicity and complexity. If there is some principle of general aesthetic coherence which makes that determination, then we should name it and make it a requirement in order to have a completed physics.

On the other end of the spectrum that I am laying out, is what can be called metaphor. Where semaphores essentialize the literal and initiate unambiguous communication, metaphors essentialize the figurative and invite the interpreter to use the symbols to unlock their own experience. The semaphore points to the instrument of communication and the location of the transmission in space and time while the metaphor points through the instrument, deriving experiential significance non-locally through time. Semaphoric communication is scientific and mathematical, pulling attention into the public physic, while metaphoric communication is artistic and poetic, loosening attention into the private psyche. The significance of metaphor cannot be located within the text of a communication because it is drawn from common experience. The same fairy tale has a different set of meanings when it is read by a young child versus an English professor.

Taking this comparison to the ultimate extreme, the top-down metaphor can, in addition to seeing through the literal words that constitute it, implicate awareness itself. In contrast to this, the bottom-up semaphore, implicates automaticity – the mindless permutation function of repeating quantic forms. Data refers only to the literal process of ferrying and storing positive logic – additions superimposed on top of a void. Poetry, by overheating signs with subjective entropy, invites a promiscuity of association that, in its resonance and circularity, conjures meta-experience. It revers to ourselves, and to human experience in general. The poem is illogical negativism – it cuts meaning out of a layer cake of a priori human sympathies.

This ties back into another of my favorite dichotomies; that of superstition versus what I am calling substitution (or hypostition). The superstitious mind sees through the text of the world to see the face of God or the Devil behind every mundane coincidence. The psyche is too animated and profuse so that all of nature is read as supernatural and the low end is lost all together. Logic becomes confused and self-fulfilling. Fear and joy dominate reason. Every publicly extended signal becomes a privately intended message and the credibility of the source of the message collapses into naive acceptance or reactionary denial. Pathological denial and acceptance plays into the opposite mental extreme as well. The substitutious mind reduces all message content to the mere functioning of messaging devices. The mind which is attuned to this sub-natural level sees in all experience only the logical expression of simple facts. Even consciousness itself is deconstructed as an entanglement of semaphores. From this view, the poetic and aesthetic truths of the universe are unavailable, and a rigid formalism of reason dominates personal feelings.

It would seem that these two poles are evenly matched – the substitutious semaphore and the superstitious metaphor could be equally valuable and costly. Further consideration reveals that they are not completely symmetric, however. The difference between the poetic and the digital are only visible from the poetic facing side. The digital is effective because it can substitute – it emulates from the bottom of a particular substitution level of granularity. Even Planck scale is a scale that bottoms out with the minimum bit depth for measurement of public physics, rather than experiential privacy which cannot be measured reliably. I submit that it cannot be measured reliably because experience cannot be substituted. Like the top-down metaphor (which I now use as meta-metaphor), consciousness extends from the absolute in a way which is unrepeatable and unprecedented, even as it repeats over and over again.

Between the bookends of sub-phor and super-phor is the phoric range of ordinary experience. Many people do not spend much time contemplating the mysteries of information science or phenomenology, and so live in the more down-to-earth realm of the ordinary. Ironically, rather than cancelling out the mythic and mathematical extremes, the mid-range of awareness is perhaps the more fertile range. Games and sports take on fantastic import, and ordinary communications become soap opera-dramatic. The wide open marketplace of diurnal experience is spiced with both art and science, but the main products are significant in a completely different way. Rather than seeking the infinitessimal/instantaneous or the ultimate/eternal, the presentation of ordinary life seeks fortune and fulfillment personal choice. It contains vast opportunity and vast limitation which make us feel our lives to be both incredibly important and a complete waste of time all at once.

  1. Joe Rouse
    December 16, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    x -2 = 0

    X = 2

  2. Joe Rouse
    December 21, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    The lack of any response suggests Algebra is not controversial.

    • December 21, 2013 at 2:38 pm

      Why would algebra be controversial? Consistency does not mean universality. If X is a puddle of water drops, then X – 2 water drops is still X. There are a lot of unacknowledged ontological assumptions which are required to prop up mathematics. The lack of response reflects only a lack of context of the comment.

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