Imperfect Information

I am by no means perfect. If your first thought of me is that I think that I am, you’ve mistaken my intent or, at the very least, my style. I think I’m probably wrong most of the time. I think you probably are, too. Why do I think this is so? Imperfect information.

In today’s world, we all have a constant stream of information coming at us from every direction. The information age is a terrifying and wonderful time to be alive. But in this powerful era of mass media and instant connectivity, information has, so far, become more commodity than instruction. Every piece of data we receive today seems to be selling us something.

Politicians try to sell a world view upon us, in exchange for support and power. Television tries to sell entertainment to keep us transfixed. Bloggers try to impress us with individual perspective and sagacious wit, in exchange for clicks and subscriptions. Social media “stars” vie for our attention and friendship. And I haven’t even mentioned commercials yet, whose sole purpose is to save our lives with drugs that will kill us or to save our lifestyles with goods that will thrill us.

But this information is incomplete. It uses selective facts to persuade us, to dissuade us, to beguile us, to distract us. And it works, or they wouldn’t try so hard.

On the other side of information is the endless data at our fingertips, for personal exploration. By recent accounts, we have entered the zettabyte era of the internet. What’s a zettabyte? Back in simple computing we learned that a bit is a binary digit and a byte is 8-bits. That’s equivalent to one character on a page. A gigabyte, a familiar term to most of us, is a billion such bytes. An exabyte is a billion of those gigabytes. In other words, a billion billion bytes. A zettabyte is a thousand exabytes. One thousand billion billion bytes. That is the equivalent, according to Live Science, to 360 centuries of high definition video. And, of course, the internet is growing exponentially. You’ll never finish it all, no matter how much you lounge this week.

But we do have access to all of it now, or at least most of it. Some of the information is kept on the Deep Net, beyond our sight. That’s probably for the best, because the stuff we don’t know is likely far more alarming than the stuff that we do know.

The stuff we do know, however, is preposterously imperfect. Even if we could sit around all day and just surf and dig and learn we’d never know, well, everything there is to know about, well, anything.

Imperfect sources of data fill our imperfect brains and form our imperfect world views.

It’s mind-boggling that any of us ever think we’re right.

But we do. I do. I have very strong convictions about a good many things. I’m one of those folks that loves to share ideas with others, even very strong ones. I love to argue debate talk about stuff. I even really feel I’m right about a good many of the things that I say. But I also know I could be wrong.

In religious terms, this means that there could very well be a God, or a bunch of them, though I don’t believe it. In fact, the universe would be a much safer place with one, great loving creator, and a richly more interesting place with a bunch of competing ones. That’s a universe I’d like to live in. I don’t think that I do, but anything is possible.

In political terms, this means that the trickle-down theory of economics may very well work one of these days, though it never has before. In fact, it likely never will because of the inherent self-interest of human nature and the inevitable corruption of power and capital. But I could be wrong. I have imperfect information.

And so do you.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have opinions. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hold them dearly to our hearts, and have strong convictions about them. It does not mean we shouldn’t debate them fiercely. What it does mean is that we should bear in mind that we don’t have all the answers. Anyone who says they do have all the answers is sadly misinformed, dangerously demagogic, or is trying to sell you something. For some current world leaders, all three of those are true.

There’s a thousand times a billion billion bytes of information out there and none of us have read it all. And a thousand times a billion billion bytes of information can’t cover everything we could know. Not even close. So without perfect information we are stuck sitting here, in our little towns on a little planet in a little solar system in a vast universe guessing every single day.

I’m willing to bet we’re mostly guessing wrong.

But what do I know?

23 comments on Imperfect Information

  1. Two things popped into my head while I was reading this post. One is relevant to the Deep/Dark web which you mentioned, and the other I’m not entirely sure why I thought of while I was reading your post but I did, and I think you’d like it, so I’ll link to it. The first is a podcast on the Deep/Dark web by comedian Dan Cummins. It’s great. Give it a listen if you have some free time. The second is a link to a TED talk by Sam Harris on AI. Love ya brother!

      1. Sorry, customers came pouring in and I had to sell actual things!

        Re-reading this entry, I’d say I was selling peace and harmony. So far, my PayPal isn’t filling up with funds from those sales. 😉

      2. Have you been watching Peppa Pig lately? The kids are singing a song of peace and harmony with their teacher about the nations of the world. Very idealistic but nice to hear.

      3. That is truly a cause worth pushing. If we could get that one to stick, we could change the world. My favorite insult is being called idealistic. 😉

  2. I feel like a bit of a third grader even attempting to comment on this, but here I go….It seems to me that there is so much information out there and so many ways to obtain it, that much of it must be spun, truncated or completely false. It is hard to know who or what to trust, apart from science (mostly..sometimes). I find that people (many of them in my own family) give their opinions with so much authority, it is as if they aren’t opinions, but fact. I have a lot of beliefs (not religious, that’s just not my thing) and opinions, but I don’t think I am right, I don’t think my opinions are facts, they are just my opinions. I think that it is really hard for most people to admit or accept that they are wrong, as if being wrong is the worst thing in the world, but they are very invested in being right. I think I am probably wrong most of the time and I am ok with that. I have a lot to learn and a lot to discover, and that is exciting.

    1. One of the true great methods of turning our opinions into “hard facts,” is presenting them with the sound of authority. In days gone by I was a fierce debater, and I took great pride in changing someone else’s mind through the sheer force of will, spit, and vinegar. Even if I didn’t actually think I was right myself. It’s a debate trick I learned early, and see employed a lot now (against me and others). When in a heated discussion I am tempted, at times, to employ that gambit again. I don’t. I try not to win arguments with nonsense, anymore. Turns out it doesn’t matter. If I can get someone to think exactly like me, it doesn’t change how many different ways there are to look at any one thing.

      Thank you for taking the time to read this, and to respond to it. Susan, you are a wiser than most of humanity if you understand, we have a lot to learn! 🙂

      1. Agreed, Joe! You and I are of like minds.

        As the saying goes, “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.” 😎

  3. As you already know, the fact that you realize we don’t have all the answers and you keep questioning things, puts you way ahead of more than half of the population. Great Read Tom! Ty for sharing

  4. When I read this it made me think of Pink Floyd “the wall” 13 channels of shit on my TV to choose from. I agree we have so much info at our disposal now its strange and exciting at the same time. But as people/society we the people have not been taught how to properly access and assess the info available. Hence there is a jumble of things that people read or see, believe or question, or not question when they really should! It’s a mess that I don’t actually believe we the people will fix. I personally think it will be the machines AI, machine learning, that will come to our rescue. Until then we will have misinformation and lots of people that have no idea what truth is because they don’t know where to look! I think this is good although my comment may seem a bit morbid!

    1. A little bit, yeah! 🤣

      The scary truth is that truth is subjective. Two otherwise fine-thinking individuals can take a jumble of facts and come to two entirely opposing opinions, based on those facts. Subjectivity is the problem. No, I take that back, subjectivity isn’t the problem, acceptance is.

      In the most mundane example possible, I offer this: yesterday, while texting a friend, she kept insisting that I was missing the best time ever, where she was, during the Super Bowl. I kept feeling like I had to defend my position of having a great time, too, in a completely different location. She would have none of it. Impossible. The time she was having was the best ever, so I couldn’t possibly be enjoying my day, too. Subjectivity. The eye of the viewer. Nothing wrong with either of us thinking we were having the best time ever, the disconnect comes when one of us (or, in many cases, both) cannot understand that the subjective opinion of the other is equally valid. In this case, both of us simply accepting the other was having a blast would have been the more valid point of being.

      Told you it was a mundane example. 😉

      My fervent hope is that mankind, through the use of cleverly designed education, starting very young, can learn to understand the objective view of subjective experience. Perhaps then we can stop battling each other over ideological differences, scarce resources, and Super Bowl party perceptions. 😎

      I think about that line in the Pink Floyd all the time; only now I’ve got 400 or more channels of shit on the TV to choose from.

      Happy Monday, Joe, thanks for the astute, objective comment. Bring on the AI!!

  5. Few people react that they dont know, but Actually they know, MOST people react that they know, but actually they dont know. Sir u belong the first one. And i would try to change myself into second one. THANKYOU so much for giving me the way to look at everything.

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