Lecture to me

It surprises me how much of my personal preferences were shaped by graduate school. I actually really enjoy the academic seminar / journal format for communicating ideas, where the speaker has a prepared story-with-a-moral complete with abstract, introduction, and a chronological or conceptual ordering, conclusion and future works section.

I don’t know how this format originally came about, but I find that I feel mildly annoyed whenever people talk about conceptual things and fail to impart sufficient structure by, e.g., forgetting to include motivations or forgetting to indicate which tradition or discipline the ideas are situated in.

It’s not that I have a high regard for the truth value of formal disciplines. I know that there are many areas where formal understanding has a lot of catch-up work to do. It’s more about communication than it is about truth. There is a memetic version of the anthropic principle in play here – the truth of un-expressable ideas is epistemologically inaccessible / non-existent, and must not be allowed to affect the choices we make in deciding what to say.

Yes it is true that an infinitesimal proportion of the sum total of humanity’s knowledge has been captured and reduced and cast into axioms. Yes it is true that as an individual your happiness and prosperity will likely be determined by your knowledge of the very much non-universal idiosyncratic circumstances into which you are born.

In a world thus impossibly dense with local knowledge, however, it is still possible for truths to matter only because truths are the only way to communicate. The world of possible ideas is distinct from the physical world, but their (unusual? anthropic?) intersection is the reason that accumulated knowledge has the power that it does.

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