Sunday, November 8, 2009

Information systems, ambiguity, diversity, grammar and the Divine

In any information system, there is a direct relationship between complexity and risk for error. Another way to think of it is that diversity requires ambiguity. Imagine you want to attach meaning to a signal. The only signal is a continuous monotone.


A supercell thunderstormImage via Wikipedia

So you have one possible meaning or message for this signal. That is it. Because the signal has no variation in tone or duration or anything else, it has a very low information content. It could stand for something that make take 100 years to say, but it can only stand for that one something. The upside is that no matter how much interference you have, if even part of the signal is received, the full content of its meaning is received with zero miscommunication. Let's change it up, so that it is still continuous but now we have two possible tones. We have increased the potential information or meaning conveyed slightly and increased a risk of miscommunication slightly. Now let us add 100 new tones. We now have many more potential meanings, more information content, but also more chance of being misunderstood. We could also add diversity and allow for new kinds of variation by allowing the signal to be non-continuous and differ in length of duration. We could add more by allowing the different signals to change meaning.

We can also phrase it this way: You need ambiguity in order to have diversity. And this isn't just true for communication. It is true for every system based in information (and can we think of any that is not?). For example, it is a prime feature of biological evolution and quantum theory. It is also true for discussing the Divine. When we refer to the Tao, or Shunyata, or the Ground of Being, there is the idea that it is the foundation of existence itself. That is is ineffable because it is the source of all potential. This makes perfect sense that the Source of phenomena would, from the perspective of the phenomenal world, appear to the be the ultimate in ambiguity and indescribability

Staying with the communication analogy, if we open the system too much -- if we allow too many signals to change meanings too often -- we will be overwhelmed by the vagueness, also referred to as openness, and things will be too random to makes sense. We need to have rules that allow us to attach and retrieve meaning from the signals. These rules, called grammar, provide limitations, and hence structure, to all information systems. The more complex the system is, the more nuanced the grammar needs to be. If we are thinking in a cosmological sense, we can also say that meaning is the pattern of connections existing between and that which is allowing the existence of various phenomena. What we call meaning is often our attempt to interpret these patterns and our assumption that they can or should be interpreted. As an example, science could be compared then to studying the grammar of nature.

Taking it back to an attempted discussion of the Divine, one aspect correlates to ambiguity and the "space" or potential necessary for (a diversity of) phenomena to exist. This is the part that is beyond analytical comprehension and cannot be described. Another aspect correlates to the grammar and allows for coherence, allowing for a non-random existence. This is the part that can be broadly observed by the qualities of existence/being. It is still beyond our full comprehension or detection, but it does correlate to logic. Both are necessary for the full mystery and coherence of God.

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