Monday, January 17, 2011

Depth - from Tor Norretranders

This is lifted from Edge:  The World Question Center


 There are many responses and this one jumped out at me as it correlates with an interest of this blog.  I snipped out some interesting paragraphs in order to prevent this post from being too long.

Science Writer; Consultant; Lecturer, Copenhagen; Author, The Generous Man and The User Illusion


Depth is what you do not see immediately at the surface of things. Depth is what is below that surface: a body of water below the surface of a lake, the rich life of a soil below the dirt or the spectacular line of reasoning behind a simple statement.
Depth is a straightforward aspect of the physical world. Gravity stacks stuff and not everything can be at the top. Below there is more and you can dig for it.
Depth acquired a particular meaning with the rise of complexity science a quarter of a century ago: What is characteristic of something complex? Very orderly things like crystals are not complex. They are simple. Very messy things like a pile of litter are very difficult to describe: They hold a lot of information. Information is a measure of how difficult something is to describe. Disorder has a high information content and order has a low one. All the interesting stuff in life is in-between: Living creatures, thoughts and conversations. Not a lot of information, but neither a little. So information content does not lead us to what is interesting or complex. The marker is rather the information that is not there, but was somehow involved in creating the object of interest. The history of the object is more relevant than the object itself, if we want to pin-point what is interesting to us. 
It is not the informational surface of the thing, but its informational depth that attracts our curiosity. It took a lot to bring it here, before our eyes. It is not what is there, but what used to be there, that matters. Depth is about that.

Most conversational statements have some kind of depth: There is more than meets the ear, something that happened between the ears of the person talking — before a statement was made. When you understand the statement, the meaning of what is being said, you "dig it", you get the depth, what is below and behind. What is not said, but meant — the exformation content, information processed and thrown away before the actual production of explicit information.

That is also the point with abstractions: We want them to be shorthand for a lot of information that was digested in the process leading to the use of the abstraction, but is not present when we use it. Such abstractions have depth. We love them. Other abstraction have no depth. They are shallow and just used to impress the other guy. They do not help us. We hate them.  Intellectual life is very much about the ability to distinguish between the shallow and the deep abstractions. You need to know if there is any depth before you make that headlong dive and jump into it.

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