How Description Leads to Understanding

Describing something with accuracy forces you to learn more about it. In this way, description can be a tool for learning.

Accurate description requires the following:

  1. Observation
  2. Curiosity about what you are witnessing
  3. Suspending assumptions about cause and effect

It can be difficult to stick with describing something completely and accurately. It’s hard to overcome the tendency to draw conclusions based on partial information or to leave assumptions unexplored.

How Description Leads to Understanding // Farnam Street

A Way to Discover

Blogging isn’t just a way to organize your research—it’s a way to do research for a book or essay or story or speech you don’t even know you want to write yet. It’s a way to discover what your future books and essays and stories and speeches will be about.”

— Cory Doctorow, “The Memex Method


The proposal introduces some specific use of language:

Microsolidarity is a set of practices for mutual support between peers. These methods bring us out of individualism and into a more relational way of being.

Most of this support happens in a Crew: a small group up to about 8 people growing trust in each other through emotional & economic reciprocity. Crews are always designed for intimacy, and may also produce an output (e.g. a software product or an activist campaign).

The Congregation is a space for Crews to co-develop in the company of other Crews. Congregations have less than a few hundred people, so they can be primarily governed through trust and dialogue.

Many Congregations could form an Assembly.

— Richard D. Bartlett, “Microsolidarity” (via bailey e. richardson)

Essential Properties of Experience

Intrinsic existence: Consciousness exists: each experience is actual—indeed, that my experience here and now exists (it is real) is the only fact I can be sure of immediately and absolutely. Moreover, my experience exists from its own intrinsic perspective, independent of external observers (it is intrinsically real or actual).

Composition: Consciousness is structured: each experience is composed of multiple phenomenological distinctions, elementary or higher-order. For example, within one experience I may distinguish a book, a blue color, a blue book, the left side, a blue book on the left, and so on.

Information: Consciousness is specific: each experience is the particular way it is—being composed of a specific set of specific phenomenal distinctions—thereby differing from other possible experiences (differentiation). For example, an experience may include phenomenal distinctions specifying a large number of spatial locations, several positive concepts, such as a bedroom (as opposed to no bedroom), a bed (as opposed to no bed), a book (as opposed to no book), a blue color (as opposed to no blue), higher-order “bindings” of first-order distinctions, such as a blue book (as opposed to no blue book), as well as many negative concepts, such as no bird (as opposed to a bird), no bicycle (as opposed to a bicycle), no bush (as opposed to a bush), and so on. Similarly, an experience of pure darkness and silence is the particular way it is—it has the specific quality it has (no bedroom, no bed, no book, no blue, nor any other object, color, sound, thought, and so on). And being that way, it necessarily differs from a large number of alternative experiences I could have had but I am not actually having.

Integration: Consciousness is unified: each experience is irreducible and cannot be subdivided into non-interdependent, disjoint subsets of phenomenal distinctions. Thus, I experience a whole visual scene, not the left side of the visual field independent of the right side (and vice versa). For example, the experience of seeing the word “BECAUSE” written in the middle of a blank page is not reducible to an experience of seeing “BE” on the left plus an experience of seeing “CAUSE” on the right. Similarly, seeing a blue book is not reducible to seeing a book without the color blue, plus the color blue without the book.

Exclusion: Consciousness is definite, in content and spatio-temporal grain: each experience has the set of phenomenal distinctions it has, neither less (a subset) nor more (a superset), and it flows at the speed it flows, neither faster nor slower. For example, the experience I am having is of seeing a body on a bed in a bedroom, a bookcase with books, one of which is a blue book, but I am not having an experience with less content—say, one lacking the phenomenal distinction blue/not blue, or colored/not colored; or with more content—say, one endowed with the additional phenomenal distinction high/low blood pressure. Moreover, my experience flows at a particular speed—each experience encompassing say a hundred milliseconds or so—but I am not having an experience that encompasses just a few milliseconds or instead minutes or hours.

— Dr. Giulio TononiIntegrated information theory, Scholarpedia

Honor it All

Now when I recite the word namaste, I think about it in this way: the light in me honors the light in you, AND the dark in me honors the dark in you; the pain, suffering, beauty, and brilliance in me sees the pain, suffering, beauty, and brilliance in you. All of it, everything. Not just the light, love, truth, beauty, and peace, but also the dark, madness, confusion, and chaos. I want to honor it all because all of it deserves to be honored. We, each of us, contain it all.”

— Sasha Tozzi, What I mean when I say the word “NAMASTE”