We live in an information-rich environment, but our minds are still wired for an environment of information scarcity. It still hasn’t really hit us that in the last 20 years, we’ve experienced a transformation that is as dramatic for our brains as climbing out of the water and learning to breathe air was for our ancient fishy ancestors.
For the past year or so, I seem to have been unconsciously retooling my thinking and writing to operate in an information-rich environment. A big part of such cognitive ret0oling is learning to favor particular terms (or unusual redefinitions of existing terms), and deprecating older terms and meanings that assume information scarcity.
I figure it is time to get more conscious and deliberate about the retooling, so I am sharing the current state of my glossary. Proposals for new terms, or refinements of definitions welcome. I’ll edit this post for a while, and if people find it useful, we can try to figure out a more permanent home for it.
Very little of this is original to me by the way. I’ve credited people where I can, but a lot of this is the outcome of conversations with people I am not at liberty to cite publicly. So you can credit me for any substance here, and blame these invisible collaborators for any bullshit.
Related: I’ve wanted a CMS dedicated to creating shared glossaries for a long time, and even took a half-hearted stab at building one with a friend. I’d enthusiastically support any such effort.
Note: this glossary is in alphabetical order, without any cross-referencing. So you may have to skip back and forth a bit to get certain terms. This is also work-in-progress. Usual beta-state disclaimers apply.
Acting Dead: Pretending the world is less information-rich than it is. (Derived from Bruce Sterling)
Aestheticization: The process of creating a layer of superficial simplicity, harmony and normalcy as an aid to denial of underlying complexity, dissonance and strangeness.
Antifragility: (1) A property of a class of hypothesized things that gain from disorder (qualified paraphrase of N. N. Taleb) (2) The hypothesized longevity, intelligence premium and bullshit resistance enjoyed by a system with more metis than knowledge. (Derived from N. N. Taleb).
Arbitrage: Exploiting bullshit for profit.
Art: the process of creating information starting with bullshit.
Attention: contemplation of the truth value of data.
Authoritarian High Modernism: A formula used by cargo cults that have no Big Data capacity to create false justifications for acting dead. (Derived from James Scott).
Authoritah: Capacity for reality distortion.
Belief: Sincere acceptance of the truth or falsity of a piece of information.
Big Data: Data that is cheaper for a system to store than to sort into information, bullshit and noise (my modification of a definition due to George Dyson).
Bullshit: (1) Data (often a firehose) produced by someone who is indifferent to the truth or falsity of what is being said (my short version of of Harry Frankfurt’s definition in On Bullshit. See also, the Wikipedia summary). (2) Data that appears to contain more information than it actually does (my version, which I think is roughly equivalent). (3) Noise randomly tagged with truth-values to give it apparent legibility (4) Non-requisite variety.
Bozo: Somebody who emits a bullshit signal without being aware of it. Often, but not always, a consequence of Cluelessness.
Byzantine System: A system that can act with intelligence and creativity despite the presence of bullshit within it. Inspired by the notion of Byzantine fault tolerance in computer science. A byzantine system may be antifragile.
Cargo Cult: A system embodying a false consensus that bullshit is information, based on social proof among the Clueless. Cargo cults are social forms that emerge among those who act dead collaboratively.
Cluelessness: The inability to form true beliefs by telling information apart from bullshit.
Consensus: Shared beliefs among a number of independent actors concerning the truth or falsity of a set of data.
Creativity: The ability to turn noise into either information or bullshit.
Data: Any collection of information, bullshit and noise.
Data Science: Silicon Valley term for “statistics.” (orig. Jeremy Jarvis on Twitter)
Dimensionality: A measure of the amount of potential information in a data set.
Disruption: The outcome of a conflict between a cargo cult and a hunting party, resulting in the death of the former.
Diversity: The sum of the requisite and non-requisite variety in a system.
Death: Discontinuity in the information embodied by a system.
Ephemeralization: The natural conversion of signal into bullshit through creative destruction (derived from original definition due to Buckminister Fuller).
Extinction: Destruction of all systems embodying a particular set of information. Note that while information in the mathematical sense cannot be created or destroyed, embodiments of information in the sense of this glossary can be.
Falsehood: Information that is known to be inconsistent with the observed state of the world.
Favela: A system with significantly more Big Data than knowledge.
Favela Chic: Aestheticization of a favela. (derived from Bruce Sterling).
Firehose: A signal that ends up as Big Data.
Finite Game: A world view characteristic of a cargo cult (derived from James Carse’ Finite and Infinite Games). Embodied bullshit in motion.
Formula: A belief (or practice based on a belief) that cannot change as fast as reality can. Formulas are proceduralized bullshit and represent risk of ephemeralization. Formulas represent the closest the Clueless can get to knowledge.
Fragility: The condition of a system embodying a lot of bullshit.
Gothic High Tech: Consciously weaponized bullshit. (Derived from Bruce Sterling).
Gollumization: The impoverishment of a system through ephmeralization and weaponized attention.
Hipsters: A cargo cult of aestheticizers who mistake themselves for artists.
Hunting Party: An idealized group of sociopaths whose consensual beliefs are based in reality rather than social proof. Cannot be distinguished from a cargo cult until a reality test has taken place.
Identity: Continuity in the information embodied by a system, sufficient to uniquely identify it.
Illegibility: Information or bullshit that looks like noise to those outside a system, due to the presence of a large amount of metis. (Derived from James Scott).
Infinite Game: The world view characteristic of hunting parties (derived from James Carse’ Finite and Infinite Games). Embodied information in motion.
Information: Data that has been judged to be true or false through comparison with observed reality at a given point in time.
Innovation: (1) The transformation experienced by a system as a consequence of intelligently embodying the information in a signal while retaining its identity. A necessary condition is that the system must have requisite variety commensurate to the dimensionality of the data being absorbed.
Intelligence: The ability to separate bullshit from information. Editorial note: I came up with this after a Twitter exchange. @SameerPatel tweeted a Stephen Hawking quote, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge.” I replied with my 2014 translation, “the greatest enemy of signal is not noise but bullshit” which I then adapted into this definition.
Justification: Determination of the truth-value of data through comparison with observed reality.
Kool-Aid: Social pressure brought to bear on individuals to join a cargo cult by means of social proof.
Knowledge: Justified true belief about the truth value of information. (derived from Plato)
Legibility: the apparent absence of noise in data.
Lifestyle Design: Favela chic arbitrage.
Metaphysics: Bullshit that cannot be falsified and is occasionally useful.
Metis: A collection of formulas that work to maintain the identity of a system.
Noise: The component of data that is neither information nor bullshit and at risk of being prematurely discarded by Authoritarian High Modern systems seeking to create Gothic High Tech.
Pattern: Naturally occurring bullshit.
Pattern Recognition: The starting point of both intelligence and creativity, the separation of bullshit from noise, but preceding the separation of information from bullshit.
Program: A codified practice based on belief, with the potential to change as fast as reality. Contrast with formula.
Requisite Variety: The variety required in a system to absorb a signal of a given dimensionality. — Derived from concept proposed by Ross. W. Ashby (known as Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety).
Reality: That which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. — Philip K. Dick
Reality Distortion: Hiding reality temporarily behind bullshit.
Science: The programmatic practice of intelligence.
Secret: Something you believe that nobody else believes. Contrast with old definition based on information scarcity: something you know that nobody else knows. (Originally Peter Thiel, further evolved by Balaji Srinivasan and Chris Dixon). Holding secrets lead to socipathy.
Serendipity: Compounding and unexpected good luck that accrues to systems that do not act dead. Usually a consequence of continually discovering new natural data sets uncontaminated by bullshit, and therefore capable of being absorbed even by non-byzantine systems. Potentially evidence of antifragility.
Signal: Data moving from one system to another.
Sociopath: An intelligent and creative individual who does not drink kool-aid.
Software: A collection of programs and formulas that maintain the identity of a system.
Statistics: Weaponized pattern recognition. Statistics is neither scientific, nor non-scientific, but pre-scientific.
System: An agent (individual or collective) capable of holding data, beliefs about the truth or falsity of the data, acting on it through pattern recognition, statistics, metis, science and intelligence, and absorbing and producing signals. Cargo cults and hunting parties are human systems.
Smarm: (1) an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone…. a variety of bullshit. — Tom Scocca, On Smarm. (2) A form of acting-dead characteristic of cargo cults that imagine they are actually hunting parties.
Snark: Snark is often conflated with cynicism, which is a troublesome misreading. Snark may speak in cynical terms about a cynical world, but it is not cynicism itself. It is a theory of cynicism…The practice of cynicism is smarm. — Tom Scocca, On Smarm. (2) A form of acting-dead characteristic of cargo cults based on the belief that calling out bullshit and creating information are the same thing.
Social Proof: False justification that leads to false consensus on the truth or falsity of information, arrived at without truth value having been actually established. The collective, formulaic production of bullshit.
Technical Debt: Known bullshit that a system has committed to purging from itself.
Truth: Information that is known to be consistent with observed reality at a given time and capable of being unpredictably turned into falsehood by a change in reality in the future.
Truthiness: Smarmy bullshit. (My definition, based on Stephen Colbert’s).
Values: Unjustified justification procedures.
Variety: Diversity in a body of information that contributes to its dimensionality.
Weaponization: Separation of data into information and bullshit, and deliberate direction of the two signals at different systems (generally a hunting party and a cargo cult respectively), with the intention of creating serendipity in one system and zemblanity in another.
Zemblanity: Compounding bad luck that befalls those who act dead, leading to their eventual actual death.