Monday, April 12, 2004

Information Wants to be Coherent

The term "fog of war" refers to the fact that it's never possible for anyone to truly know what's going on.

So begins an article from Stephen den Beste that looks at how information regarding war is dissemenated to the civilian population back home. He procedes to give a primer on how to read the news and actually come away with a semblence of the truth. His key observation is, "You have to look at a lot of different reports in order to figure out the true picture." While I think he means it as a criticism of the journalists writing the many different reports, I feel that he hit on something more fundamental.

No one is ever going to have the whole story on first read. I feel, however, that all of the information about the story is already available, and awaits assembly, some basic dot-connecting. The difficulty is that the dots for this story are mixed in with all of the dots from other stories and no one has bothered to number them. (I'll put this tortured metaphor out of its misery now and head onto another one)

The way the news and blogosphere are now is similar to the fable of the Blind Men and the Elephant, wherein several blind men attempt to describe an elephant by touching specific parts of it. When asked what an elephant is, they can not agree and fall into vigorous argument. Whether limited by a small amount of information or by philosophical blinders, reporters and bloggers give facts and opinions derived from a set of data that are far from comprehensive.

I could imagine in the fable that a wise blind man might have listened to each of his compatriots and considered that if each of the men were honest in his beliefs, then it would be possible that each was describing an aspect of the whole, and that the elephant was a totality of all reports. While the image of a combination of pot, ploughshare, blanket, etc., might seem ridiculous, the assembly would still be closer to the truth than any one impression.

That is why I spend so much time considering the differences between the ideologies of left vs. right, Democrat vs. Republican. Merely having all of the views is not to have all of the information, because there is information in what report matches with what viewpoint. The blanket, ploughshare and pot would be an accurate description of the elephant only if one knows where each impression belongs. Similarly, if I know the values and premises of the reporter/blogger in relation to my own, then I can add his/her report into the data set in the proper place. Optimally, all of the data that actually describes the event (as opposed to not describing the event, ie mistaken or false reports) will be included and the fullest possible sense of the event can be reached.

That's the plan anyway, stay tuned to see if it works out.

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