More on Nagel, and Bats

I previously cited Nagel’s What is it Like to Be a Bat (What is it Like to Be you) but I want to bring it up again.

This might be related to my visit to the Heatherwick’s Vessel at Hudson Yards yesterday, which is in a way a dramatization of this point.

The structure is really just a shell, very weak in utilitarian terms, but very high in experience (quality, bat-ness).

I have previously argued (aggressively) against the reliance on efficiency as a mean for long term innovation, and I am going to recruit Nagel’s point to my benefit here.

A Martian scientist with no understanding of visual perception could understand the rainbow, or lightning, or clouds as physical phenomena, though he would never be able to understand the human concepts of rainbow, lightning, or cloud, or the place these things occupy in our phenomenal world.
The objective nature of the things picked out by these concepts could be apprehended by him because, although the concepts themselves are connected with a particular point of view and a particular visual phenomenology, the things apprehended from that point of view are not: they are observable-from the point of view but external to it; hence they can be comprehended from other points of view also, either by the same organisms or by others.

In speaking of the move from subjective to objective characterization, I wish to remain noncommittal about the existence of an end point, the completely objective intrinsic nature of the thing, which one might or might not be able to reach.

Thomas Nagel, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”

On Listening to Meaning

The fact that more of us are listening to podcasts, morning audio briefings (I personally like the FT’s) and other audio content reminds me of the comments on encoding and decoding.

Digital content (in the micro as a written word, and macro algorithmically packaged) is abstract of any meaning (in the Shannon, binary sense of the word). The meaning is down to the recipient to make. If I could not read, didn’t understand the topic (say in a specialist piece) or lacked context I would loose the full scope of meaning.

While some of the later expertise problems exist, audio carries human meaning much much better. Intonation, emphasis, the way guests sound, are intuitive for us to understand and color meaning with.

There is a lot less mediation in an audio message, because the message and its meaning are teleported as is, and not tempered with by machines.

Reminder on Complex vs Complicated

Complexity is a deep property of a system, whereas complication is not. A complex system dies when an element is removed, but complicated ones continue to live on, albeit slightly compromised. Removing a seat from a car makes it less complicated; removing the timing belt makes it less complex (and useless).

Complicated worlds are reducible, whereas complex ones are not.

John H. Miller & Scott Page. “Complex Adaptive Systems.”