Truth Is Noisy

David is summarizing a correspondence theory of truth, and its function as a mirror of nature. Because this world-mirroring function of truth is scarce, we want to own it. Moreover, since the messy world is always changing, we tend to desire truths that escape change and contingency — eternal, syllogistic truth. This generates a deep alienation from the world, since the representations that constitute our formally “true” version of are abstract and insulated from the real world that these supposedly represent. [As David always says, “Live blogging. Poorly. Omissions, typos, mistakes. That’s just the way it is.”]
This corresponds in an interesting way to the broadcast culture that has developed in the industrial West: it broadcasts representations into our brain. One-to-many media conform to the characterization David gave of correspondence theory: broadcast power is scarce, it aims at universality, and so on.
In the information age, we can construct digital models; these externalize the representations of the world that we theorize.
That leads to conceptual confusion such that Ray Kurzweil proposes the Singularity, at which point computer-storage capacity advances to the point that representations of our neural content can be uploaded to digital storage media, and our physical embodiment becomes dispensable.
This all goes back to Claude Shannon’s information theory. The diagram he proposed

treats the medium of information as indifferent, and focuses on the contrast between message and noise. Noise is to information as “mere information” is to truth. Their outlook has been shaped by the function of information theory in transmitting commands under battle conditions (where real noise threatens to obscure real commands) and Shannon’s diagram takes the exceptional condition of battle communication and uses it as a model for the general condition. It’s a classic error: taking the exceptional as a model for the ordinary. David points out that the only time “the world” appears in the diagram is as noise, as the distraction, distortion, recalcitrant opposite of truth (or pure communication).
David notes that the Web is (in a sense) all noise, all difference, the opposite of Shannon’s “pure communication.” He points to the best source for learning about Sarah Palin: not just Wikipedia’s main page, but specifically the talk page that displays the discussions and evidences and rationales that justify the main page.
Although each instantiation of the Wikipedia tends toward homogeneity — the interactions among different-language versions of the Wikipedia provide for, and generate, the juxtaposition of different accounts of truth.
And in the end, this concatenation of difference is more truthful than the homogeneous universality of the broadcast, correspondence-theory version of truth. The truthful network is linked, persistent, open to all, open to everything [side note: the server at breakfast this morning invited me to “sit everywhere”], increasingly sympathetic, never complete.
With the correspondence theory of truth, difference is antithetical to peace; the netty version of truth provides for the heterogeneity that sustains peace.
(Speaking of David, he remarked during dinner last night that My Hundred Million Dollar Secret had sold about two dozen copies — of which, I may say, Margaret and I bought a bunch. Seriously, it’s a well-written, winsome narrative exploration of very significant questions in ethics. I recommend it to YA readers, to parents of young adults, to teachers of young adults, to teachers of adolescents who are hiply ironic enough to read stories skewed toward younger readers, and pretty much anyone else. Buy a copy, assuage David’s authorial disappointment!]

Survivor Linz

(photo by Joi Ito)

After a generous introduction from my Duke colleague Jamie Boyle (whom I just met last night), I managed to give a compressed version of the talk that I’d been gestating for a few weeks. David kindly and generously live-blogged it, in way that makes me sound more profound than I actually was; I prefer his version.
Annoyingly, I hit the “pause” button on the remote clicker for my presentation, and couldn’t get back on track without stopping and fiddling, so I had some awkward moments of distraction and semi-talking, semi-clicking, till one of the supernaturally helpful tech workers recognized what was going wrong and quietly intervened to remedy the problem and restart the presentation.

Weekend Update

Remember that observation about “atypical pre-flight anxiety”? It turns out that not only did I forget my passport (the first time), but I also neglected to pack my black clergy shirts. I did bring my blue striped shirt (I want to assure Margaret) which I will wear this morning, but my black shirts are hanging in my bedroom where I had left them prominently where I’d be sure not to miss them.
My panel begins in a few minutes; I’m packing up my stuff and wandering down to the Brucknerhaus to set up my presentation. Here’s my hotel-room view of the Danube:

Danube from the Arcotel

If you’re on European time, or an American insomniac, you can catch the webcast here. It’s an intensely professional set-up; I’d expect the stream will be very good. I mean, apart from what I’m actually saying.

Awake and Attending

And pretending to recognize more than one German word out of seven. It gives the presentation an evocative Dadaist tough: “Did he just say something was a sacrament? Oooh, he mentioned ‘authors’!”


After experiencing atypical pre-flight anxiety, after getting all the way to the check-in terminal and realizing that I’d left my passport at home, after hurrying back home and retrieving the passport, after very efficient passage through every security checkpoint, after spending the Dulles-Frankfurt leg sitting next to a jittery (but polite) neighbor whose twitching and elbowing ruled out good sleeping, after arriving at the charming little airport in Linz, I’m ensconced in my hotel and about to conk out before evening festivities.


I don’t like slime when it’s thrown by Democrats any more than when it’s thrown by Republicans, but this weekend Margaret and I had a frightening experience that Fred Thompson’s speech yesterday brought back to my mind. On Sunday, we ended up talking to somebody (it’s a long story) who warned us that Barack Obama had proposed legislation to the effect that parents could “abort” a baby for up to thirty days after birth. We expressed some skepticism, but the context made it clear that this was an occasion for pastoral concern, rather than forensics.
But when Fred Thompson suggests that Obama thinks that “protection of the unborn or a newly born baby is above his pay grade,” it sounds top me an awful lot as though there’s an unstated appeal to unconscionably vile allegations against Obama. I’d like to think that such rank, malicious falsehood were beneath the principles of Republicans, particularly those who promote themselves as “Christian” and “straight-talking” — but unfortunately, such Rovian tatics have worked for them before.