Marks and Remarks
Food for the Mind and Eye

No. 0132, July 22, 2017


Facts, Sent and Received


Copyright 2017 by S.W. Paul Wyszkowski

     This is how intelligent beings communicate with one another: it starts with an observation, that is, with a perception of a change in the state of the universe, an event. The news of that event, as experienced by one of the intelligent beings, is the substance of a message to be communicated to some other being(s). What is actually communicated, however, is not the original event, not even the communicating being's experience of it. It is the recipient being's perception of the transmitted record of the communicating being's experience of the original event, as recorded in some distorting medium and transmitted through a noisy channel. (Think of the children's game of "telephone".)

     "That's awfully complicated," notes Prickles, our resident communications facilitator and, according to her birthday certificate, a hedgehog. Actually, this is a highly simplified description of the process. Nevertheless, it can be boiled down even further to a single sentence maxim: "What really matters is not what is said but what is heard" . "Exactly what I keep telling them," says Prickles.

     The recorded description of a being's experience of the original event is what we call a fact. A fact is the closest we can come to grasping what is actually the case. Note that what the recipient of a communication experiences is only a report of a fact. Typically, this report is interpreted and evaluated by the recipient in the context of available relevant facts and reports of facts before it passes muster as a rational basis for choice of action. This is the secret of the art of successful communication. Turns out it is a bilateral process - both the sender and the recipient have to do work to assure that the inevitable distortion of communicated facts does not exceed specified limits because that would render the communication useless for its intended purposes.

     "So," says Prickles, "perfect communication is impossible. That's not news in this fundamentally and necessarily imperfect world. But practical communication is another story." Indeed it is. As herein demonstrated.



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