James Gleick *

Information is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom.

It is not the amount of knowledge that makes a brain. It is not even the distribution of knowledge. It is the interconnectedness.

Every new medium transforms the nature of human thought. In the long run, history is the story of information becoming aware of itself.

When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive.

3 thoughts on “James Gleick *

  1. shinichi

    When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive.

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    Every new medium transforms the nature of human thought. In the long run, history is the story of information becoming aware of itself.

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    It is not the amount of knowledge that makes a brain. It is not even the distribution of knowledge. It is the interconnectedness.

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    Information is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom.

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    We all behave like Maxwell’s demon. Organisms organize. In everyday experience lies the reason sober physicists across two centuries kept this cartoon fantasy alive. We sort the mail, build sand castles, solve jigsaw puzzles, separate wheat from chaff, rearrange chess pieces, collect stamps, alphabetize books, create symmetry, compose sonnets and sonatas, and put our rooms in order, and all this we do requires no great energy, as long as we can apply intelligence. We propagate structure (not just we humans but we who are alive). We disturb the tendency toward equilibrium. It would be absurd to attempt a thermodynamic accounting for such processes, but it is not absurd to say we are reducing entropy, piece by piece. Bit by bit. The original demon, discerning one molecules at a time, distinguishing fast from slow, and operating his little gateway, is sometimes described as “superintelligent,” but compared to a real organism it is an idiot savant. Not only do living things lessen the disorder in their environments; they are in themselves, their skeletons and their flesh, vesicles and membranes, shells and carapaces, leaves and blossoms, circulatory systems and metabolic pathways – miracles of pattern and structure. It sometimes seems as if curbing entropy is our quixotic purpose in the universe.

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    Vengeful conquerors burn books as if the enemy’s souls reside there, too.

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    We have met the Devil of Information Overload and his impish underlings, the computer virus, the busy signal, the dead link, and the PowerPoint presentation.

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    Everything we care about lies somewhere in the middle, where pattern and randomness interlace.

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    Evolution itself embodies an ongoing exchange of information between organism and environment …. The gene has its cultural analog, too: the meme. In cultural evolution, a meme is a replicator and propagator — an idea, a fashion, a chain letter, or a conspiracy theory. On a bad day, a meme is a virus.

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    With words we begin to leave traces behind us like breadcrumbs: memories in symbols for others to follow. Ants deploy their pheromones, trails of chemical information; Theseus unwound Ariadne’s thread. Now people leave paper trails.

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    For the purposes of science, information had to mean something special. Three centuries earlier, the new discipline of physics could not proceed until Isaac Newton appropriated words that were ancient and vague—force, mass, motion, and even time—and gave them new meanings. Newton made these terms into quantities, suitable for use in mathematical formulas. Until then, motion (for example) had been just as soft and inclusive a term as information. For Aristotelians, motion covered a far-flung family of phenomena: a peach ripening, a stone falling, a child growing, a body decaying. That was too rich. Most varieties of motion had to be tossed out before Newton’s laws could apply and the Scientific Revolution could succeed. In the nineteenth century, energy began to undergo a similar transformation: natural philosophers adapted a word meaning vigor or intensity. They mathematicized it, giving energy its fundamental place in the physicists’ view of nature.
    It was the same with information. A rite of purification became necessary.
    And then, when it was made simple, distilled, counted in bits, information was found to be everywhere.

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