Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Cloud of Unknowing

The world is badly broken. The problem is a simple one: humanity has begun to assume that all difficulties can be overcome, all answers can be found, given enough cerebration and enough data. This is why we invest huge amounts of land, money, energy and hardware in storing enormous archives of data, most of which will be redundant, out of date, trivial, or impossible to convert into information.

The reality is sobering. We will be expending all of those resources because we think we should keep our stuff, our work, the unblessed fruit of our hands and minds, the debris of our data transactions and online interactions. We have overvalued the products of our thinking despite the fact that they have create problems we cannot solve, or created answers insufficient to those problems.

When London grew too crowded and too corrupt, the only solution for its chaotic and filthy tangle was the unthinkable Great Fire of 1666. Totally gutting the medieval Roman inner city, it destroyed the homes of seven-eighths of all London's inhabitants. It was this destruction of existing constructs that instructed the development of modern London and the architecture of Sir Christopher Wren.

Imagine this: what if ALL humanity's electronic data stores, in all forms and formats, media and mediating devices, were destroyed at one blow? A tragedy? A disaster?

I would say not. I would say it would be a golden opportunity to discover exactly what humanity is really made of, and to rebuild anew. However, I am not so sanguine as to think humanity will do better. Rather, I am inclined to believe that we will do worse.

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3 Comments:

Blogger tfoo said...

thanks for discussing this topic. i'm inclined to think that few things are more horrifying that the idea of information loss. the idea that all videos of, say, an aesthetically-pleasing backhand made by federer might one day vanish without recovery, that information could be irretrievably lost in a black hole, that eternal return concepts could be true, that some form of the sisyphean myth might appear in our universe - all these things are horrifying because they suggest a lack of in-built "recovery" mechanisms on the part of the universe to conserve human labour and aesthetics. the phrase "the labourer is worthy of his hire" springs to mind. one hopes that human labour and aesthetics are intrinsic (and not peripheral) parts of the universe which will ultimately be conserved by it in the end.

Thursday, July 14, 2011 5:32:00 pm  
Blogger tfoo said...

hope you won't mind my posting another comment. the precise opposite to the information loss scenario mentioned earlier is what some call the "akashic records". this is essentially a universe with zero information loss. Eastern philosophies conserve not only information, but also souls through reincarnation. souls (not some, but all) would also be conserved in Christianity if "all" in Ephesians 1:10 really means "all". and i submit as humbly as i possibly can that that "all" needs discussion.

Thursday, July 14, 2011 6:50:00 pm  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

tfoo: All that is what the Good Book calls 'the pride of life'... of course we want all that conserved, but the point is that it is all ultimately of no necessary worth; philosophy fries no eggs and necessitates no akashic conservation. "There but for the grace of God" is a phrase that comes to mind.

Friday, July 15, 2011 12:23:00 pm  

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