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On Communication

If I want to tell you something, it must be something you know.

It must be something that I know that you know.

For you to know what I mean, you must know what I know about what you know.

And vice-versa. And so on.


The foreman who calls "log!" knows that the worker knows that the worker knows that the foreman knows that... and the worker brings the log.

The log is common knowledge.


What does it even mean to know something? Can you know something that hasn't been tested, hasn't been shared?

We often feel like communication is solely about "getting our point across," that we have an innate, perfectly formed idea that we are simply trying to make the other person see.

This is diseased thinking. Communication is a two-player game.


A true, perfectly formed idea in the space of ideas might be a point. Picture one blob in that space of ideas, perhaps blue, representing all the things I can think of. Picture a red blob for the ideas you can think of.

Picture now a monochrome blob for a thought I have had which I wish to communicate.

I tell you the monochrome blob.

You give me back the intersection with the red blob.

I give you back the intersection with the blue blob.

And thus we now have a monochrome blob which is contained in both the red and the blue blobs, and idea we can both mentally consider, an idea which is common knowledge. Through an iterative process, we have understood each other; but the original idea has been changed, has been specified!


Of course, the reality is more complex, since humans are able to learn. So the blue and red blobs might expand towards each other during the communication process.


There is no such thing as a perfectly formed idea. Communicating an idea successfully to someone will change it.

An idea becomes knowledge through its entanglement with the state of the world. It is its entanglement with your perceptions, with the way that you control, predict yourself and your environment.

By communicating, you are entangling that knowledge not only with your own life experience, but with the other person's.

Having said this, I realize that I am doing a terrible job of communicating, since I am not putting any effort in trying to entangle this with my reader's personal experience.


Entanglement is strength. Entanglement is robust.

Entanglement is scary. Entanglement is a little death.

Entanglement is love