Redundancy: Engineering vs. Miss Manners

1999 01 03
  1. First, there was this awful, horrendous crash. Scared the bejesus outta me. I mean it was monstrous, terrible. (Where’s my big chef’s knife?) Blind with fear, I nevertheless crept forward and screwed my eyes till I could see through their jitter. The cookie jar was in pieces, cookie crumbles everywhere. There was my ironing all over the floor too, and my iron, the ironing board in a heap. God help this intruder if I only had that knife! Then I hear a kind of mewling. And there’s this ‘itt’a-bitty cat on the cookie jar shelf. A teensy cat, fit in the palm of my hand. A ‘itt’a-bitty, teeny-weeny kitten!
  2. There was a crash. I was startled but it was just some pint-sized cat that had gotten into the house, onto the shelf, and knocked the cookie jar over: took out my ironing board and stuff on its way down.

The first statement is one hundred-odd words; the second, around forty. Don’t they tell the same story? How much information is present in the first version that’s absent from the second? What would your English teacher make of the redundancy of the first? (What would your English teacher make of my jumbled diction in the first?)

You’ve got two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, two lungs, two arms, two legs, two kidneys, two testes (or two breasts, two fallopian tubes …) … What do you need the second one for? You’ve only got one heart, one brain, one mouth, one liver, one stomach, one of each of the intestines, one penis (or one vulva/vagina), one anus …

The bridge says no vehicles over two tons: how come they built it to hold twenty? Couldn’t we have saved a lot of money if we’d built it to hold just the two?
Last week I sawed through half of the girders in the building: it still hasn’t fallen down.

What’s wrong with the questions of the last paragraph will be apparent, at least in part, to almost anyone. Is there anything wrong with the teacher’s red pencil on your composition?

There’s no one right answer to any of this. Though there are “right” points which are relevant. If you lose one of two working eyes, you can still see with the other one. Ditto lungs, kidneys … What if the driver of a three ton vehicle doesn’t see or ignores the sign? You give him a ticket, you make him pay for repairs; you don’t have to build a new bridge. Maybe the building is still standing after we sawed the girders, but will it stand in a storm? The architects and engineers design for double the need, then they double that again: they know that they can make errors. They also know that the construction company, knowing of the safety margin, will cheat on materials and workmanship. Or perhaps the materials vendors, also knowing of the margins, …

Moreover, there are synergistic elements: probably more than the smartest of us will ever see. Your two eyes don’t just give you a spare: they give you stereoscopic vision. There’s more to what’s seen with two eyes than what’s seen with one. (This point relates to a series of points in Chapter Three of Gregory Bateson’s Mind and Nature:

2. The Case of Binocular Vision
6. The Case of Synonymous Languages

Find the book and see his illustration of a theorem proved in algebra followed by the same theorem proved in geometry. There’s no “increment … of so-called objective information”: but there’s far greater opportunity to “grasp the relation which is being demonstrated.”

English teachers didn’t invent redundancy. It’s been an essential of evolution since the origin of life. I don’t doubt that a case could be made (or has been made) for redundancy being essential to the existence and evolution of the physical universe as well, before life took hold. Why more than one particle, star, planet, galaxy …? Why more than one form of energy? Why a
Diapason of forces?

But let’s look just at the usage-side of things for a moment. There is more information in my first version of the housewife (or -husband)’s experience with the intruding kitten than in my second if you allow phatic content to be part of information. Even the repetitions of degree of magnitude (of noise, commotion, or cat) convey the character of the situation. Is it excessive? That’s a matter of taste, of non-objective judgment. The crux is: do you think the narrative is efficient? (And to know if something is efficient, you have to first know its purpose(s).)

Don’t imagine for a moment that I’m tolerant of useless repetition. My girl friend is severely restricted to a single iteration when she wants to tell me that something went on and on. One statement: one; one iteration: two; I don’t need to hear three, let alone six. Two establishes the pattern. But I’ve often wondered how English teachers would fare if a passage from Shakespeare or Chaucer could be slipped in among the student compositions, the authorships concealed. Shakespeare regularly says things twice: once to show off his imagery and vocabulary; then again so the densest farmer, standing in the audience and eating an apple, will understand. (Naturally, he’s teaching both poetry and vocabulary as he does so.) (And I don’t mean he’s doing nothing more than showing off: just that it is also a show, an element of vanity unquestionably present.) (Chaucer uses double and triple negatives. Do they cancel each other as claimed? Does the third re-cancel? No, it’s negative, regardless of number: it means No, no, and more no.)

What would it be like if English teachers in the United States had the power that the French Academy has had for centuries? Would popular music be red-penciled out of existence? Would the Beetles’ “Love … love … love” have been stopped at the borders? (I must say that I wish the public would sanction most of it out of my hearing.)

Anyway, that’s my preamble to saying this:

There are redundancies at this site. More will come. In time, I’ll trim them as efficiently as I can. But I make no apology for them in the meantime. What? Do you tell your kid not to touch the hot stove only once? No, you tell him until he gets it. You tell him until you die. Or until he burns his hand off. (Then the stove will have told him, and he’ll presumably listen if he survives the burns.) (Several pieces on hard versus soft learning have been added since I wrote this.) (Meantime see my note at the end of my Society piece, “The Tower of Babel.”)

In the meantime, please see them as informationally efficient redundancies: multiple entrances and exits from the one path.

2001 05 31 I’ve since written a couple more pieces on hard vs. soft learning.
The origin is of course Bateson.

I see us as dead men walking: hair growing on a corpse. We blew our chance and we’re too self-besotted to see it. (If I’m wrong, then you do yourself no harm to ignore me (and my peers) in the endeavor of trying to replace our doomed wasi’ chu culture with one that might be sustainable.) (I don’t just want it merely to sustain; I want it to be “good.” I want to replace civilization0 I with Civilization1.) I choose my lessons strictly from those that I see that you don’t get. I’ll repeat them till you get them. Or till I die. Or till you burn more than your hand off.

I’ll add here something I’ve intended for my Motives file: do I expect to succeed? I did until I was fifty. I haven’t for the decade since. That is, I expected to be heard at some point, not just ignored. I expected to be admired by some, argued with by others, and slandered and perhaps crucified by the rest. For this decade though I’ve had a new mythology for myself and my work: I’m here, not to save you, but as one of God’s redundancy of tools to foil you on Judgment Day. “You morons, you simplton swine. I gave you everything you needed to live well and to live long: a bounteous planet that you’ve poisoned; fellow creatures that you’ve slaughtered; a golden goose that you killed to get one more gold egg instead of an endless procession of them; a moral code that you perverted. I sent prophets that you despised; a son that you tortured; then, science, a new kind of prophesy, that you treated the same …”

When it’s my turn to stand among those prophets, you may not see me in the throng. You may not notice the long-dead Arian heretics, the nominalists, the Albigensians, Bunyan, or the two German scientists who were driven from their field after discovering extraterrestrial fossils in the 1940’s … But I’ll be there. Not gloating, not at all happy: a minor failure in your grand catastrophe.

This is one of several modules that haunt me for rewriting. I’ll get to it. Meantime, the points hold.

Did a kitten really knock over a cookie jar? Cats are stealth predators; it’s dogs and horsemen who knock things over. Kittens are apprentice cats. Even a clumsy kitten, one doomed in the wild, isn’t likely to have the force to knock over a cookie jar. Though cats have accidents too. Maybe the cat that smashes your flower pot from the top of the wall did it deliberately. Maybe it’s a Tom who needed to rub against something. Maybe it wasn’t the kitten but something the kitten was after. Or something that was after the kitten. How did a strange kitten get on the shelf in the first place? Maybe the ironer put it there in a trance: maybe it’s the gun-totter who’s “strange.” The best language teacher I ever had gave us passages of gibberish German to emphasize the grammar alone. I couldn’t begin the piece with jabberwocky, but do begin it with absurdity: hoping to allow the redundancy to stand out.

Note the redundancies your web browser offers for navigation: to return to the previously visited file, you can click the Back button; you can pull down a GoTo menu; you can hit the left bracket key while holding down a control key; you can enter the URL on the address bar … At this site I additionally offer return to links, a series of directories, an index (presently replaced by a search engine) …

Synergy is a term from ancient Greek promoted into modern English principally (to my knowledge) by R. Buckminster Fuller. Bucky explained it to me (as I soon after heard him repeat to audiences of hundreds) as a dividend from studying whole systems. You can watch a lemming until you think you know it inside-out and still be unable to predict its migratory behavior. I add: if all you ever saw was two years olds, six years olds, and eight years olds, what would you know of puberty? Of parenthood? Of old age? Of war? Of politics?
You have to keep watching. And then watch some more.
2001 04 20 This note was written a month before the inception of the Macroinformation Project. Much more has been done on the subject under that rubric, with much more still to be done.

Be There: Judgment
I don’t doubt what God is going to do with you. Of course we’ll all already be dead. But God is the one entity who is supposed to be able to kill us twice. Or torture us after we’re dead.
Naturally, if you’ve perused much of this site, you know that I mean the above mentioned “mythology” as just that. If there is a Judgment Day and if it’s presided over by a god at all like the one we’ve known as Jehovah, then that Jehovah will very likely say words much like those I’ve attributed to Him.
Naturally also, the occurrence will not take place extensionally. The reality of all gods is intensional: not physical, not material, but abstract. (Do you realize the degree to which you are yourself intensional, abstract, imagined? The “I” has no extensional existence: we are deluded that it does by conventional acceptance of inbred confusions, protected, not clarified, by our institutions.)
You may also have noticed that I have a story of that name: Judment. What has not yet appeared at this site is my long history of ideas for Judgment Day stories. All of the remainder were to be included in my third novel, Dark Beacon, and though that novel was finished in a form that has an aesthetic completeness, much more was to have been added: till I ran out of resources (including patience). Now I’ve sketched a new version, as above.
Whichever god presides, I’ll be in the minority of saints and seers, prophets, rabbis, social designers … the great majority of us failures.
Now I raise a different question. What will the god then do with me? and the others who’ve failed to fix what’s wrong with man and civilization: our mental habits, our social habits, our commerce, our technology, our institutions and other systems … If the God Jehovah presides, and still somehow has power when no new offerings can be made to Him, the saints could be in as bad trouble as the sinners.
Shakespeare gives his Prince Hamlet reason after reason to delay executing the king, his uncle, whom he is convinced murdered the king, his father. One of his “reasons” is that though Hamlet doesn’t doubt that God wants him to kill Claudius, he’s not at all sure what God will then do with him, Hamlet, afterwards. After all, His law against killing is clear. Follow God’s will, then be cast into Hell for Eternity for it. If you follow His will, you disobey His Law.
God is famous for putting Abraham in a similar double bind. God has told old Abraham that he will father a multitude, presumably on his ancient wife. Sure enough, Isaac is born by the hitherto barren Sarah. Then God tells him to take that same Isaac to the mountain Moriah and to sacrifice him. Hey, what about your promise? Well, Abraham was the ideal civilized man: God tells him one thing: he believes it. God gives him a command that can only be seen as contradictory by any reasonable person, reasonable even by ancient standards, and Abraham proceeds to do it. Yours is not to reason why …

2006 08 17
Today I replace a reference I’d had here to the Spoon River Anthology with a link to a citation of the relevant inner poem. (Where do today’s Christians get their Protestant fiction that God rewards the just? Forget the New Testament, forget the Passion of Jesus: haven’t they read about Job?)
God tells me to follow Jesus. I do. Or I try my best. I succeed: in many of the same ways that Jesus succeeded: in being so far into the true core of things that my work is rejected (ninety-nine times rejected for one time revered), slandered, misunderstood, borne false witness … Finally, I decide that it wasn’t God telling me at all: it was the best part of my own inner being, that that’s how the true god tells us what’s right: seek the truth, seek it honestly, and follow it wherever it leads …

But Jesus didn’t save us. Those scientists in the ’40s failed to make us see the evidence that life is not earthbound, has not been earthbound since long before we made rockets … And now I haven’t saved us either. What would Jehovah do with us? the failed saints and scientists? Throw us into hell with the rest of you?

That seemed to be the justice that a committee of sophomore judges had in mind for a trial I suffered as a freshman. I’ve just reported it in a new cage to the section of my autobiographical narrative that deals with school. There I tell of being judged guilty of failing to stop someone else’s crime, even though I’d fought with him trying to stop him.

Will Jehovah punish the failures of saints? I don’t know and I don’t care. That’s not my business; it’s His.

If God has any proper business that is. I’ve already said (under god how I now believe that god doesn’t talk to us (except through the universe itself), that his judgment of us is continual, the judgment omnipresent: in the universe, in history, right now. One thing is for sure: it’s all intensional:
success and failure are abstractions. (Do the rocks know anything about it?)
Though it has extensional results. That is: if we fail from an evolutionary standpoint, other species will have the field. Cockroaches and crabs will inherit the earth.

Or, having found a biosphere, and made a garden, will we leave a cinder? Where the Boy Scouts formed just in time to show what bad scouts we are? leaving a place worse than we found it?

Sir Fred Hoyle’s great book, The Intelligent Universe, narrates that two young German scientists found meteorites in the 1940s which bore traces of what sure as hell looked like fossils. They sure as hell looked like fossils of bacteria!
Was there a reasonable inquiry into the hypothesis? Was the finding discussed in terms of possible contamination from earth as was a recent claim of “Martian” life found on a sample? Did the biologists and cosmologists rethink their own hypothesis that life originated on earth? Did they rethink their extension of that hypothesis: that life originated only on earth?
No. They were driven from their profession. Lucky if they got jobs as janitors.

What? Did you think scientists were nobler or more fair minded than Galileo’s cardinals or professors? N o body wants their paradigms shattered.

Me, Myself, & I
2016 11 21 A robot just phoned me, identified itself as a survey. “Answer Yes or No, did you yourself vote in the recent presidential election?” Me myself? as distinct from what other self? How many selves did the robot think I have? What does the extra “you” clarify? What in the situation was ambiguous?
Who should I complain to? If Trump’s own people called me, are they one whit smarter than this survey robot?
They’re all similarly rude: where does a robot get the right to harass me with illiteracies?

Also: Redundancy Surfeit

Thinking Tools


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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