Casuistry, in Abandon, Spirals to Ultimetaquivalence. Introspection Spirals to, in Truthfulness, Rejection of the Yoke.

When to Decompose

To the two regular readers of my blog, whom I acknowledge to be my two current cruxes[1], don't fear! I have emerged from my slumber beneath R'lyeh! R'lyeh here standing in for the tasks which, by virtue of our cluttered society, similarly clutter up even the most industrious people's timetables, especially as summer arrives. Did you enjoy reading that previous sentence? I employed anadiplosis and metanoia. Or is it more accurate to say I combined the two to employ distinctio? Now, unless you reading are closely familiar with Greek-stemming rhetorical devices -- an affliction which deserves empathy and proper treatment -- you probably don't know what I just said. Perhaps mentioning terms which it's clear no one would expect a normal reader, even of this blog, to recognize, much less know more intimately, has annoyed you. That's a fine reaction; I'm not mad. In fact, I've carried out this entire elaborate setup to introduce today's post, which is on decomposition. Funnily enough, "discursion" would also work here and as the title of the post, but most people can understand what decomposition means intuitively: the opposite of composition, as in, breaking into constituent parts. Now, much of what I plan to talk about concerns word choice: what really is "precise language"? How much jargon is necessary? But I've talked so much on decomposition already because I think it encompasses the entirety of the issue: packaging that which is going to be discussed, written, talked, etc. about with the aim of advancing general understanding. I'm going to be tackling more decomposition for at least another two posts, anyway, so the name ought to stick.

[1] Maybe I'll post about this sometime? If you're interested, check out this LessWrong: Internal Double Crux[2].

[2] I'm unsure of how to insert footnotes into my posts organically. I plan to meditate on the issue before my next post, perhaps so I might implement a solution therein, but if you have ideas, please do reach out. There's an email on this blog's Home page at which you can do so.

New Sheriff In Town

No one who engages with a work intending to get something out of it will last long if that work doesn't communicate that "something" to that someone clearly. And while that "something" is context-dependent, it's generally a viewpoint, given how truth is relative. To deliver its viewpoint, perhaps a work ought to decentralize its ego? I say that tongue-in-cheekly, reference as it is to my last post[3], but it's also an avenue of serious consideration. My credo is clearly one of self-interest. What does it interest me that people can understand my work, except for the challenge making my work more understandable provides, which allows me to refine my ideas, turn them over more thoroughly in my mind, and ultimately present them with hollow aplomb? Nothing. Like I said, that model might lead people to turn away from my work, but I wouldn't know. I say this because, whatever the case with all this speculation, it's largely irrelevant on its face; regardless of whether a person operates on the traditional economic or unspoken humanistic market, they're forced to, in producing a work, communicate its central idea to a population of buyers and sellers, by whose largesse they live. The former is defined by the overlapping lines of the supply/demand curve, subjective values, etc. The latter is defined by the more aggregate and spiritual overlap of individuals' self-interests. These may be to "spend time productively" (learn something without learning something), impress someone ("), fit into a social group ("), or even actually learn something.

[3] I've clearly mastered at least one element of markdown. Two, even!, if you take italicization as an element in itself and not the bastard brother of the original mark of emphasis going back to Ancient Rome: CAPITALIZATION. Yep, I included that in a footnote. I know footnotes are supposed to be academic and dry, but many authors have done interesting things with them. Or so I've been told. I've read some novels with interesting footnotes, but the really (REALLY) interesting ones, like Infinite Jest, have dissuaded me by being completely unapproachable. Come to think of it, what exactly have I determined about works firsthand? By interrogating them myself? And what implications does my lack of direct interface with so many works have?! An exploration of that, and more, in my next post.

To return to the point, works which can't communicate their central idea to their audiences will fail to capture attention and thus purchases and sales. In a vacuum, I suppose you could extend this to "ideas which can't bare themselves can't propagate", though it makes the whole matter seem a bit overly sexual. Regardless, that communication is streamlined by either 1) locking in on an audience who, by nature, share some aspects of decomposition ("liberals" and "conservatives" being most prevalent in society right now); 2) locking in on a topic which is necessarily simple (e.g., unsophisticated fiction); or 3) by doing anything else. Within this third category lie things that are interesting in se. To avoid relying on accumulated indoctrination as with the first category, and to actually discuss something with substance contra the second category, works need to tackle complex subjects such that audiences can reasonably grasp them -- and beyond that, the commentary being made about them by the work, as well as the reconciliation (if applicable) of that commentary and the original subject. That's a tall order. First of all, it's impossible to capture all of life's nuance. Just to describe the simplest of things, you need to frame your scenario to such a degree it defeats the point of describing something simple -- forget discussing a bouncing ball, discussing a perfect sphere is hard enough.

While the project seems to sacrifice itself at the altar of diminishing returns, there's no reason to be fatalistic. Just because perfection is impossible doesn't mean improvement isn't a worthwhile goal. That said, the question ends up being: how does a work communicate properly? What does that entail in the formal sense? There are some criteria I think apply, and I'm going to tackle them in later posts as well, but in this one I hope to discuss terminology and in the next one I hope to discuss framing. Like the name of this post hopefully implies, decomposition-determination is a process one undergoes; it's a process because it's dynamic and fluid in nature, but also because it does come down to almost being a checklist, which betrays its arbitrary philosophical center[4].

[4] Enjoying these? When I say arbitrary philosophical center, I may sound like I've completely weakened my case here, but I would say that's untrue. Reality at its core lacks a non-arbitrary philosophical center, I think it can be agreed, as it generally has been since the existentialists. Furthermore, this being a subjective matter -- decomposition as a vehicle for interpersonal understanding, itself an intersubjective matter --, I don't much care to strive for a facade of objectivity.

Terminology

My insistence, for the entire duration of my blog, on using the term "work" rather than even "art" (inoffensive as that is) has come from a desire to distance myself from potential vectors of confusion, like aesthetics, when I'm just talking about literal works: products of work. However, the works on which I'm focusing when I say terminology are largely written, so novels, articles, etc. are fine examples to keep in mind. While in some ways paintings and melodies could be said to have their own terminology, again, those lexica are far beyond the scope of this post, so I'm effectively subsuming them into my discussion of written works.

The above is a fine example of the type of result I would hope my method of decomposition determination yields. Where terminology is concerned, I explored my motivations for choosing certain examples thereof, discussed some categorical differences, gave personal justification for ambiguity of information, and pointed to the central idea of this post, though I admit in an uninentional way I would have to codify further. I could also have delved more into the perils of aesthetics, but I can't be bothered. As an example of my process, the above helps to elucidate the goal of decomposition: understanding on the part of an audience. The audience of a written work, for example, need to see its central idea decomposed so they can grapple with it themselves, on the basis of each individual component, and internalize it as a whole they've made their own. The process of understanding is deeply individual; no person has ever understood nuclear energy, to the point of relative fluency[5], without investigating the underlying concepts. Without knowledge of what decay means, the subject doesn't make sense, even if you can recite verbatim an expert's summary of the entire cycle.

[5] Here meaning variable things depending on the intentions of the person: impact on a worldview, outlook, etc. insofar as nuclear energy represents scientific concepts which underly[6] reality; instrumental value in operating, maintaining, etc. nuclear power plants; knowledge for its own sake of the nuclear energy process to the point of general summary or beyond; etc.

[6] Assuming scientific realism, objective reality, etc. Funny how I'm already getting into framing, the subject of my next post.

While part of the equation is knowing the audience which you want to communicate effectively to, there are more parts which are independent of audience. Repeating definitions of terms constantly takes time and effort; it also kills any attention and/or enthusiasm for your work. Not defining terms properly renders your work incomprehensible. Now, this is where a balance has to be struck: you have to define necessary terms, but not get wrapped up in defining things as an end in itself; you have to make sure you define terms on your own terms (heh), lest resources/literature on those terms mislead audiences who seek them out; and you have to justify your terms' inclusion and definitions by pointing different things. These are your work's larger structure, your creative perspective (so audiences understand why you defined terms in-house as you did -- why is the common definition of "thorium cycle" inadequate for your purposes, or perhaps flat-out wrong?), and your considerations of your audience. These are what I did in my "work" vs. "art" paragraph, although to a microcosmic degree.

My reasoning for the three points of balance above is as follows. To the first point, I think the matter is self-explanatory: a life is finite. Furthermore, even if you only define terms once, introducing a topic with too many definitions is a terrible introduction, assuming such an introduction is even possible and won't collapse into worry over semantic minutiae. To the second point, the matter is again self-explanatory. It's your work, so you want to make sure your audience is given as many components of the relative perspective -- yours -- as they can be. To the third point, the matter is more complicated, but boils down to this: a reader will need to know everything here to decompose your work's central idea. They need to know it's a category three work and they're not being targeted for a specific thought pattern. They need to know the subject is complex. But beyond that, they need to know, as in science, what biases could have colored your project. What assumptions did you make about which terms to define and how to define them (especially compared to the literature)? How did you establish the following variables -- the underlying conceptual foundations of your work, the criteria by which you selected its audience, and the thoughts you engaged in while developing your work as a whole -- all of which constitute your "frame"? Terminology and framing are heavily tied together, but this post is already going to be freakishly long, so framing will come another day.

The Good

I use this odd multi-tiered, multi-layered system because 1) it's more natural to me, being an overly analytical thinker; and 2) it works to cover some of the effects of terminology I see abound. A good one: proper terminology saves time and effort. People can read your work and understand all the constituent pieces, as well as your central idea (assuming it follows from those pieces and is deducible from the whole). No one needs to scour the Internet or elsewhere for supplementary information. Another good one: proper terminology promotes truer, deeper understanding. Even without tying terminology to framing, just by being thoughtful with it, your work can play off the cascade effect which occurs when a person begins to comprehend something from the ground up: oh, so that's the quantum basis for fission reactions! I see how that relates to the runaway effect, and--[7]! In a similar vein, it can startle people into thinking metacognitively, to the point they re-evaluate their own personal terminology and thus conceptual lexicon. A final good one: proper terminology is good form. By giving you the tools to produce higher-quality works, you've increased your opportunity to self-create. If you're constantly ensuring your terminology aligns with your thoughts on the world, then communicating those thoughts, even just for your own benefit, becomes more accurate.

[7] Sorry to abuse the analogy so much.

The Bad

Of course, what would this post be without some discussion of how poor terminology, which I definitely feel is a categorical issue in the modern day, is bad? First off, the inverses of the points above are true when the inverse of their premise is true: your terminology is bad. When your terminology is bad, people need to expend more time and effort to understand your central idea, if they can at all; even after apprehending your idea, there's no flow, or even internal logic, to guide them to a holistic position; and you hurt yourself by not self-creating accurately and with challenging tools. Beyond all of these detriments to yourself and others, you pollute the wider discourse by fracturing people along semantic fault lines, stirring up pointless debates that take needless time and energy, advance partisanship and the rigidity of people's beliefs, and make coming to understanding almost impossible. And beyond even all of these things, a great impact of bad (or even poor) terminology is the endangerment of category three works themselves by pushing people into echo chambers which confirm their flawed decompositional methods (ideologies, e.g.) or associating works which handle complex topics with your own incompetence/malice. No excuse!

The Ugly

I couldn't resist that header name. Anyway, a clever reader might ask, "Why is this post called 'When to Decompose'?" and follow that up with an accurate indictment of this post as "barely describing decomposition at all, more trying to work as a how-to guide or a sales brochure". In the face of that fairly accurate description of this post, what inspired the title "When to Decompose"? Simply put, it's a reference to the Agrippan trilemma. In explaining a concept, technically you can decompose it unto infinity, stop at some arbitrary point, or define a term in relation to another in your explanation. In that sense, no explanation can perfectly describe an aspect of creation, in accordance with the fact that no aspect of creation can be knowable (a prerequisite for being describable). However, depending on your audience, there are some concepts all people understand personally; some pieces of circular reasoning we accept as a larger society (or collection of audiences); and even some tolerance for infinite chains of reasoning, at least insofar as no one will stop you from justifying something ab infinito, instead terminating their thoughts and nodding vacantly. So by accepting the paradigm of insufficient explanation, you can work within that to communicate meaningfully with people if you know, for each component of your work, when to decompose it, and then when to decompose its constituent pieces, etc. until you reach a stopping point as determined by your terminology and framing. That's the true power of this method.

- 9 toasts