Errors as we speak

Karthik Nadig

It is all about exchange of ideas. In this world of information exchange, we designed transmission mechanisms that are, in effect, error free. But, we have forgotten the most fundamental of transmission mechanisms that isn’t yet perfect. It took nature millions of years of evolution to perfect some of its technologies, and communication mechanism of humans, i.e., speech, isn’t one of them.

The Source: Information exchange, in any form, has two terminal components a Source and a Destination. Let’s, begin with the source. We are yet to figure out how information content is stored and operated on in the brain. But we sure don’t think with words, although, words do contribute, in part, in guiding the thought process. The problem appears when it is time to transfer the idea from our mind to any form of media tangible or intangible. One form of presenting our idea is with words and this is where conversion from abstract idea to words has to happen.

The Encoder: We convert an idea to words by selecting those which, to us, at that moment, are our best approximation to the abstractness of the idea. My friend, Tom Horton, calls it “bag of words”. We pick words, depending on the vocabulary and our meaning for that (based on visceral feeling we have for the word). Since our choice is an approximation, finally, our presented idea, after conversion, is an accumulation of approximation.

The Medium: Words can be transferred using a myriad of media, but I want to look at the medium we were born with. I believe that it is easily subjected to errors compared to other forms. Firstly, words have to be converted to sound, this happens by picking up a sequence of pulses which control the vocal chords. These sequences of pulses were learnt, which means another layer of approximation is introduced.  Then we expect the vocal chords to reproduce the sound and we have introduced another layer of errors. Secondly, the generated sound travels through the air (assumed to be speaking with someone in person), superimposed by noise, introducing a major layer of error. Lastly, the transfer is incomplete without reception. Ears pick up this sound, slightly obfuscated, and compares and picks up the words that have the highest probability of correctness, based on physical comparison of sounds, context and several hundreds of other fact0rs, etc.

The Decoder: Let’s face it; this is a real tough one. It is difficult to find someone who has at least one neuron that can fire, let alone find someone and get them to completely understand something by explaining it to them. As with the encoder, the words after being captured have to be transformed into the idea, or the abstract form. Since each person has a different visceral feel for words the transformation is never prefect.

The Destination: I believe that the destination for a transferred idea is reached when the intended person begins to understand the concept. However, each person thinks with physics of his own. The rules that govern the through process in each individual person is different, which brings us to a conclusion that each person understands the world differently. I conclude my rant here, that have patience when explaining things to others.

Disclaimer: I have not added any references to the claims I have made here because it is a rant. If you did learn anything from it, I beg your pardon, it was purely accidental.


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