Common Sense Academy Routs Info Tech, 97 - 3

David Cowles

Jul 26, 2022

"Imagine that the Borg Collective and Jean Luc Picard had a baby…"

According to Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, et al., we only think about 3% of what we think we think. Come again? Only 3% of the thoughts we think we think are really our own thoughts. The rest (97%) consists of memes we’ve memorized over the years as part of our ‘acculturation’.

97% of what we think we think is what we call Common Sense. The ‘common sense answer’ to any question is whatever answer is most likely. Common Sense is nothing if not ‘trendy’. Overall, only 3% of what we think we think is Information; the rest is Common Sense (Noise). So, 97 to 3 - Wow! I once coached a basketball team that lost a game by this much – or at least it seemed that way at the time.

Roughly speaking, Information is the difference between what is and what might have been. Therefore, the Information Content (IC) of any event (including those ‘events’ we call ‘communication’) is the difference between what happened and what was expected to happen.

On average, 97% of what we think is what we expected. Only 3% is novel, fresh, unanticipated. So, in an average sentence, 3% is Information, 97% is Noise. Of course, Noise is not entirely without IC; that content consists of confirmation that what was most likely the case is in fact the case. The more likely it is that x will occur, the less information is generated when x does occur. Noise is not a state of Zero IC but a state of Minimal IC, the least IC possible in a given situation.

Communication requires both a ‘sender’ and a ‘receiver’. Communication occurs only to the extent that the sender and the receiver are synchronized. Think of a radio. It is only a source of Information when the receiver is synchronized with the transmitter, i.e., when they are ‘on that same wavelength’ (i.e., station).

There are many ‘synchronizing’ agents at work in our lives: language, culture, shared experience, etc. Add one more to the list: the rate at which Information is communicated (sent and received). Communication only occurs when Information is being sent…and received…at the same pace. In our relentless human pursuit of Information, we would like to communicate as much information as possible in as little time as possible.

Common Sense suggests that we can achieve this goal by increasing the size, frequency and velocity of the information packets sent. But Common Sense would be wrong…as usual! These steps will not increase the volume of information communicated; they will decrease it! Instead of information flowing freely (laminar flow), it clogs the receiver (turbulent flow).

Have we stepped through Lewis Carroll’s Looking Glass? We are certainly living in a ‘backwards’ world, that much is certain. It turns out that Common Sense works to minimize the Information Content of every conversation; and that’s no accident! (Headline: “Mind Blown!”) Evolution (genetic, epigenetic, and cultural) works to maximize the global communication of information by minimizing the IC of every specific conversation. Huh?

Information is novelty; Common Sense abhors novelty. That's why it’s called Common. Common Sense sacrifices Information in pursuit of Intelligibility. The less Information I transmit (per packet, per second), the more readily that information will be absorbed by the receiving party.

If you want to see what the world would be like without Common Sense, try reading James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (FW). This ‘novel’ is designed to eliminate every vestige of Common Sense from the text. Every word, every letter, requires our full attention. We can anticipate nothing. FW maximizes IC but makes the reader 100% responsible for receiving it. Ok, but ask yourself this, how many people have read FW from cover to cover…and understood it?

Two somewhat more accessible writers whose work is still ‘IC dense’ are Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound (Cantos). Many authors (myself included?) use language as if it were a wave and the readers as wave-riders. The goal is to deliver Information in a sequence of pre-measured packets at a pace designed to optimize absorption and retention. “It’s a good summertime read,” is considered praise when, in fact, it refers to a dumbing down of the world.

Sorry, Rodin, I’m just 3% thinker, 97% thought – thought by the collective we call ‘humanity’ via the medium we call Common Sense. Are you familiar with Star Trek: The Next Generation? Imagine that the Borg Collective (97%) and Jean Luc Picard (3%) had a baby: I am that baby!


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