Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


What Is Your Perspective? (Part I)

The Noise is a man unfiltered, and without a filter, a man is just chaos walking.

We all have filters. They are what allow us to make sense of the vast, overwhelming storm of sensory input, information, thoughts, memories, and associations that assault our minds every moment. We ignore much of it and organize and categorize the rest. It's how we think. It's how we stay sane.

In previous post Memory, Like All Information, Needs Filters, I compared how two very different books both commented on the importance of forgetting, of the ability to filter out information, to select what is important and discard the rest, so as not to be overwhelmed.

From one book: In his short story "Funes the Memorious," Jorge Luis Borges describes a fictional version of S, a man with an infallible memory who is crippled by an inability to forget. He can't distinguish between the trivial and the important. Borges's character Funes can't prioritize, can't generalize. He is "virtually incapable of general, platonic ideas." Like S, his memory was too good. Perhaps, as Borges concludes in his story, it is forgetting, not remembering, that is the essence of what makes us human. To make sense of the world, we must filter it. "To think," Borges writes, "is to forget."

The other, a meditation on the nature of information and information machines, takes a technical, mathematical look at the nature of memory. From that perspective, it is not the acquiring of information that takes work, but the wiping it clean to make space for more that does so. It is forgetting that takes work, defining work in the scientific sense. As ever, it is the choice that informs us (in the original sense of that word). Selecting the genuine takes work; then forgetting takes even more work. This is the curse of omniscience: the answer to any question may arrive at the fingertips--via Google or Wikipedia or IMDb or YouTube or Epicurious or the National DNA Database or any of their natural heirs and successors--and still we wonder what we know.

Filters are essential. They are necessary and good. They are a consequence of our being finite and limited. They also determine and are determined by our perspectives. As the heading under my blog title above says, we are all situated in a certain time and place, formed and shaped by particular experiences. Life is the biggest filter of all in determining who we are and how we think.

And we are at the mercy of our filters.

In Truthiness Is Reality, I wrote of another book, including this: Each of us thinks that on any given subject our views are essentially objective, the product of a dispassionate, realistic accounting of the world. This is naive realism, though, because we are incapable of recognizing the biases that operate upon us. . . . The bias we see in the news isn't strategic. It's real. It's real to us, at least, and that's as real as it gets. . . . We all harbor a different idea of what an objective news story should look like. . . . we all want objectivity, but we disagree about what objectivity is.

We are not objective; we are the very subjective products of our perspectives and filters. Even admitting that, though, we like to think we are the masters of our filters, that we choose our perspectives as something we consciously and actively control. But that depends on the experiences and information we are fed--our sources, if you will--being objective themselves.

What if our sources themselves lack objectivity, come pre-filtered with hidden perspectives? The truthiness post talks about a book that explores this issue in terms of media and marketing. The video below explores it in terms of the web. Did you know that your Google is not my Google? That we all get different results based on who we are? That we get no choice in the matter?

As if we're not situated enough into our own particular perspectives by the very nature of our beings, our latest technology is working to entrench us even further.

Eli Pariser: Beware online "filter bubbles"
(9 minutes, 5 seconds)

A bit of the transcript, which is available in full if you follow the link above:

So Facebook isn't the only place that's doing this kind of invisible, algorithmic editing of the Web. Google's doing it too. If I search for something, and you search for something, even right now at the very same time, we may get very different search results. Even if you're logged out, one engineer told me, there are 57 signals that Google looks at -- everything from what kind of computer you're on to what kind of browser you're using to where you're located -- that it uses to personally tailor your query results. Think about it for a second: there is no standard Google anymore. And you know, the funny thing about this is that it's hard to see. You can't see how different your search results are from anyone else's. . . .

So it's not just Google and Facebook either. This is something that's sweeping the Web. There are a whole host of companies that are doing this kind of personalization. Yahoo News, the biggest news site on the Internet, is now personalized -- different people get different things. Huffington Post, the Washington Post, the New York Times -- all flirting with personalization in various ways. And this moves us very quickly toward a world in which the Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see. As Eric Schmidt said, "It will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them." . . .

What we're seeing is more of a passing of the torch from human gatekeepers to algorithmic ones. And the thing is that the algorithms don't yet have the kind of embedded ethics that the editors did. So if algorithms are going to curate the world for us, if they're going to decide what we get to see and what we don't get to see, then we need to make sure that they're not just keyed to relevance. We need to make sure that they also show us things that are uncomfortable or challenging or important -- this is what TED does -- other points of view.


The quote at the top is from the post Good Starts. It's from a book series in which thoughts are projected for everyone to "hear." All thoughts. Of everyone. The characters call it "the Noise." A lengthier, more complete--and very relevant--version:

And them's just the words, the voices talking and moaning and singing and crying. There's pictures, too, pictures that come to yer mind in a rush, no matter how much you don't want 'em, pictures of memories and fantasies and secrets and plans and lies, lies, lies. Cuz you can lie in the Noise, even when everyone knows what yer thinking, you can bury stuff under other stuff, you can hide it in plain sight, you just don't think it clearly or you convince yerself that the opposite of what yer hiding is true and then who's going to be able to pick out from the flood what's real water and what's not going to get you wet?

Men lie, and they lie to theirselves worst of all. . . .

I know what yer thinking: how can I not know if all day, every day I'm hearing every thought of the two men who run my house? That's the thing, tho. Noise is noise. It's crash and clatter and it usually adds up to one big mash of sound and thought and picture and half the time it's impossible to make any sense of it at all. Men's minds are messy places and Noise is like the active, breathing face of that mess. It's what's true and what's believed and what's imagined and what's fantasized and it says one thing and a completely opposite thing at the same time and even tho the truth is definitely in there, how can you tell what's true and what's not when yer getting everything?

The Noise is a man unfiltered, and without a filter, a man is just chaos walking.


And, yes, I realize I haven't named any of the books I'm quoting as sources. That's because I'm hoping you might be intrigued enough to follow the links to see the full posts about them in the hopes of leading you into the web of thoughts and associations informing me that is my perspective.


What Is Your Perspective? (Part II)


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