Information poverty, information overload

In many of my previous posts I have talked about the importance of critically analyzing our actions (this, I say, is the only way to progress towards good).  Today I am going to instead look at the circumstance in which we find ourselves when it comes to actually processing our environment.

We are actually amazingly good at predicting the kind of effect that our actions will have, at least on a small scale.  We can often tell how individuals, small groups, even large groups will act and react.  We have a fairly good understanding of how things will move, of natural forces, and many other ways in which the world changes.  However, as much as we try to exert control on the world, much of its behaviours are beyond us.

Its a toss up for me whether our circumstance should be described as informational overload or informational poverty.  We are completely surrounded by information.  There is almost no end to the supply of sensory data available to us.  Most of it, however, we cannot use in a meaningful way.  Our raw experience uses enormous amounts of processing power.  We naturally compress our experiences into usable information.  We transform enormously complex experiences into bits such as ‘I need to be at work by 10:00’, or ‘its probably going to rain today.’  In compressing information like this we lose a great deal of it.  We do not really have another option, because we simply do not have the resources to process our raw sensory experience.  The activity of science is, stripped down, the activity of compressing information into comprehensible pieces that can actually be understood, while losing as little information in the process as possible.

What I believe this implies is that we should be cautious of thinking that we have more control over the environment then we do.  In a lot of circumstances we have only the roughest of models available to predict how our actions are actually going to impact our environment.  I would tie this in to my overarching theory of humility by saying that there is always more work to be done in finding better ways to process the immense world of information available to us.

Let me know what you think, thank you for reading,

Ryan Workman

via Blogger


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