Recently I was thinking about information.
How ‘real’ is our knowledge?
My thoughts on that went into many directions (as usual) but I kept coming back to something the writer David Foster Wallace said in an interview.
I came across this writer because several people mentioned him. The first time was a while ago, when someone advised one of his books to me. But because his books are not translated in Dutch, there is nothing to find in our library.
So I kind of forgot about it, until I read a quote from him:
I received 500,000 discrete bits of information today, of which maybe twenty-five are important. My job is to make some sense of it.
I thought this quote was very interesting and I decided to find out something more about Wallace. So I came across that interview and was very intrigued by what he had to say.
Art and literature
There were many things that caught my attention, but I especially liked the part where he compares literature with other forms of art. Here he answers the question what he thinks literature can do, that other things can’t.
There is something musical about it, because it has to do with the patterns of meaning that develop over time. There is stuff for me about reading that isn’t like looking at a piece of art, because there I choose how long I look and what I look at.
But in a piece of music or in a movie that flow is directed for me. I got no choice but to follow. With books it is weird. If I read a paragraph I like a lot, I go back and read it over again.
So I am trapped in time but I have more mobility within that time.
So in a way, he says that processing information is by relating it to your own world. I have the same. If I read something, I extract that information that resonates the most with me.
Does that mean that especially that part of the information is more important then other parts of that information, is it more real?
Well, I don’t think so.
Every part of a story might be important to different people. And if I extract some part of it, because I think it is important, it only means that it makes sense to me. It makes sense to me, because on some level I noticed the same. At some point and at some time.
It might not have been a conscious awareness at the time. Maybe it was a dream, maybe it was something I read. But most likely it was something I experienced. And that personal experience made me come to a certain conclusion.
Often it is a conclusion that is not exactly worked out, it is some undefined thought or feeling that does not make much sense on its own. But the moment you recognise that in the outside world it starts to make sense.
And with all those moments of awareness, a certain pattern arises, a pattern of meaning. Like Wallace says, that develops over time. A development in our individual lives, but also in the lives of others, if we all manage to share our insights.
The individual, freedom and consciousness
Near the end of his life, Wallace said something,
..true freedom means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience…
that very much relates to something said by David Bohm,
..the individual needs to have freedom to look at all the information and determine in his own way whether it is right or not…
and they both seem to suggest the importance of the individual in determining what is ‘real’.
But if that is how it works (and personally I think it does) that means that there is no independent reality. There is a reality, but the meaning differs from person to person. And the reality depends on a personal context. But if there is no awareness of your own consciousness, it means that you let your reality depend on the context of others.
Which comes back again to the importance of individual experience in the processing of information.