Continuing with the idea of information entropy as it relates to privacy, social media acts as a laboratory for these kinds of issues. Before Facebook, the notion of friendship floated on a cushion of consensual entropy - politeness. As the song goes “don’t ask me what I think of you, I might not give the answer that you want me to.”. Whom one considered a friend was largely a subjective matter with high public entropy. Even when declaring friendship openly, there was no binding agreement and it was effortless for sociable people to retain many asymmetric relations. Politeness has always been part of the security apparatus of those who are powerful or popular. Nobility and politeness have a curious relation, as the well heeled are expected to embody exemplary breeding but also have license to employ rudeness and blunt honesty at will. The haughtiness of high position is one of reserving one’s own right to expose others faults while being protected from others ability to do the same.
Facebook, while not the first social network to employ a structure of friendship granting, has made the most out of it. From the start, the agenda of Facebook has been to neutralize the power of politeness and to encourage public declaration of friendship as a binding, binary statement - yes you are my friend or (no response). Unfriending someone is a political act which can have real implications. Even failing to respond to someone’s friend request can have social currency. The result is a tacit bias toward liberal friending policies, and a consequent need for filtering to control who are treated as friends and who are treated as potential friends, tolerated acquaintances, frienemies, etc. Google Plus offers a more explicit system for managing this non-consensual social entropy to more conveniently permit social asymmetry.
Twitter has wound up playing an unusual role in which privacy of elites is protected in one sense and exposed in another. Unlike other social networks, The 140 character limit on tweets, which came from the desire to make it compatible with SMS, has the unintentional consequence of providing a very fast stream with low investment of attention. For a celebrity who wants to retain their popularity and relevance, it is an ideal way to keep in touch with large numbers of fans without the expectation of social involvement that is implied by a richer communication system. It gives back some of the latitude which Facebook takes away - you don’t have friends on Twitter, you have Followers. It is not considered as much of a slight not to follow someone back, and it is not considered as a threat to follow someone that you don’t know. In a way, Twitter makes controlled stalking acceptable, just as Facebook makes being nosy about someone’s friends acceptable.
Hacktivist as hero, villain, genius, and clown.
There is more than enough that has been written on the subject of the changing attitudes toward technoverts (geeks, nerds, dorks, dweebs, et. al.) over the last three decades, but the most contentious figure to come out of the computer era has been the one who is skilled at wielding the power to reveal and conceal. Early on, in movies like Wargames and The Net, there was a sense of support for the individual underdog against the impersonal machine. Even R2D2 in the original Star Wars played David to the Death Star’s Goliath computer while connecting to it secretly. The tide began to turn it seems, in the wake of Napster, which unleashed a worldwide celebration of music sharing, to the horror of those who had previously enjoyed a monopoly over the distribution of music. Since then, names like Anonymous, Assange, and Snowden have aroused increasingly polarized feelings.
The counter-narrative of the hacker as villain, although always present within the political and financial power structures as a matter of protection, has become a new kind of arch-enemy in the eyes of many. It is very delicate territory to get into for the media. Journalism, like nobility, floats on a layer of politeness. To continue to be able to reveal some things, it must conceal its sources. The presence of an Assange or Snowden presents a complicated issue. If they friend the hacker/whistleblower/whistleblower-enabler, then become linked to their authority-challenging values, but if they villify them, then they indict their own methods and undermine their own moral authority and David vs Goliath reputation.
Of course, it’s not just the issues of whistleblowing in general but the specific character of the whistleblower and the organization they are exposing which are important. This is not a simple matter of legal principle since it really depends on who it is in society which we support as to whether the ability to access protected information is good, bad, lawful, chaotic, admirable, frivolous, etc. It all depends on whether the target of the breach is themselves good, bad, lawful, chaotic, etc. In America in particular we are of two minds about justice. We love the Dirty Harry style of vigilante justice on film, but in reality we would consider such acts to be terrorism. We like the idea of democracy in theory, but when it comes to actual exercises of freedom of speech and assembly in protest, we break out the tear gas and shake our heads at the naive idealists.
Twitter fits in here as well. It is as much the playground of celebrities to flirt with their audience as it is the authentic carrier of news beyond the control of the media. It too can be used for nefarious purposes. Individuals and groups can be tracked, disinformation and confusion can be spread. David and Goliath can both imitate each other, and the physics of privacy and publicity have given rise to a new kind of ammunition in a new kind of perpetual war.
The debates on privacy which have been circulating since the dawn of the internet age tend to focus either on the immutable rights of private companies to control their intellectual property or the obsolescence of the notion of actual people to control access to their information. There’s an interesting hypocrisy there, as the former rights are represented as pillars of civilized society and the latter expectations are represented as quaint but irrelevant luxuries of a bygone era.
This double standard aside, the issue of privacy itself is never discussed. What is it, and how do we explain its existence within the framework of science? To me, the term privacy as applied to physics is more useful in some ways than consciousness. When we talk about private information being leaked or made public, we really mean that the information can now be accessed by unintended private parties. There is really no scientific support for the idea of a public perspective ontologically. All information exists only within some interpreter’s sensory input and information processing capacity. While few would argue that there is no universe beyond our experience of it, who can say that there is no universe beyond *any* experience of it?
Privacy is more of a problem for physics than it is for internet users. It is through the problems which have risen with the advent of widespread computation that we can glimpse the fundamental issue with our worldview and with our legacy understanding of its physics. With identity theft, pirated software, appropriated endorsements, data mining, and now Prism, it should be obvious that technology is exposing something about privacy itself which was not an issue before.
The physics of privacy that I propose suggests that by making our experiences public through a persistent medium, we are trading one kind of entropy for another. When we express an aspect of our private life into a public network, the soft, warm blur of inner sense is exposed to the cold, hard structure of outer knowledge. It is an act which is thermodynamically irreversible - a fact which politicians seem slow to understand as the cover-up of the act seems invariably the easier transgression to discover and prove. The cover up alerts us to the initial crime as well as a suggestion of the knowledge of guilt, and the criminal intent to conceal that guilt. The same thing undoubtedly occurs on a personal level as subjects which are most threatening to people’s marriages and careers are probably those which can be found by searching for purging behavior and keywords related to embarrassment.
As the high-entropy fuzziness of inner life is frozen into the low-entropy public record, a new kind of entropy over who can access this record is introduced. Security issues stem from the same source as both IP law issues and surveillance issues. The ability to remain anonymous, to expose anonymity, to spoof identifiers leading to identification, etc, are all examples of the shadow of private entropy cast into the public realm. There’s no getting around it. Identity simply cannot be pinned down 100% - that kind of personal entropy can only be silenced personally. Only we know for sure that we are ourselves, and that certainty, that primordial negentropy is the only absolute which we can directly experience. Decartes cogito is a personal statement of that absolute certainty (Je pense donc je suis), although I would say that he was too narrow in identifying thought in particular as the essence of subjectivity. Indeed, thinking is not something that we notice until we are a few years old, and it can be backgrounded into our awareness through a variety of techniques. I would say instead that it is the sense of privacy which is the absolute: solace, solitude, solipsism - the sense of being apart from all that can be felt, seen, known, and done. There is a sense of a figurative ‘place’ in which ‘we’ are which is separate and untouchable to anything public.
This sense seems to be corroborated by neuroscience as well, since no instrument of public discovery seems to be able to find this place. I don’t see this as anything religious or mystical (though religion and mysticism does seek to explain this sense more than science has), but rather as evidence that our understanding of physics is incomplete until we can account for privacy. Privacy should be understood as something which is as real as energy or matter, in fact, it should be understood as that which divides the two and discerns the difference. Attention to reveal, intention to reveal or conceal, and the oscillation between the three is at the heart of all identity, from human beings to molecules. The control of uncertainty, through camouflage, pretending, and outright deception has been an issue in biology almost from the start. Before biology, concealment seems limited to unintentional circumstances of placement and obstruction, although that could be a limitation of our perception as well. Since what we can see of another’s privacy may not ever be what it appears, it stands to reason that our own privacy may not ever be able to play the role of impartial public observer. Privacy is made of bias, and that bias is the relativistic warping of perception itself.
Commentary on Mathematical Musings post.
“I love, LOVE this entropy analysis of the objective/subjective (I’d love a whole post on entropy sometime.) but am a little confused. If the big bang represented private experience in its richest, lowest entropy significance state why does sense seem to grow as the Big Bang recedes ever farther into the past. We seem to be reducing entropy in the evolution of consciousness, not growing it.”
Great comment! Right, it’s convoluted but I think that it goes something like this:
The first experience is a bootstrapping of experience itself. By this I mean that the first signal (which would be a low entropy event) is the opening of the grand circuit of all future sensations and sensitivities which is the Big Bang. This frame of sense or presence (and it isn’t an abstraction, it has an aesthetic theme of solitude, solace, wholeness, healing, home, etc…Heaven in the Ch’ien hexagram sense) stays the same on its own essential level but constantly grows on its expanding existential-spatial levels. The BB recedes into the past only from the perspective of a participant within it, but on its own absolute level of the outermost frame/innermost hub, every point on the expanding wheel is eternally available (although maybe in an iconic form rather than a realized form…realization is like the shadow of the Absolute).
It’s hard for me to conceptualize still, but I think someone more mathematically talented could do it. The low entropy meta-signal of the Absolute opens the universal diffraction (Tsimtsum) which is the absolute high-entropy resource. Signals accumulate ever richer significance which pushes the entropy of the Absolute ever lower and its significance ever higher. The Absolute becomes more and more filled with grandeur and empty of uncertainty, but the emptiness is a floating floor, there is a conservation of entropy so that it is forever falling but never reaching absolute zero…which means that on the absolute scale, entropy is never decreasing at all.
Our human lives are microcosms of this. The self becomes more grand in one sense, accumulating layers of character through experience but suffering more from the weight of its own negentropic confinement by history in another sense. Likewise each experience gives us more insight into what is possible and who we are, which actually increases the entropy, gives us more freedom potentially, although usually with less opportunity to use it. This is something like what Milan Kundera meant by the Unbearable Lightness of Being - that Earth is the planet of inexperience, with each position we find ourselves in being fraught with only two unacceptable possibilities - life as eternal (and therefore meaningless) exercise, and life as unrepeatable (and therefore tragic and meaningless).
The Absolute would redeem this unbearable lightness, as it is both eternal and unrepeatable…a single unrepeatable meta-signal of possibility for expanding freedoms and deepening aesthetics…by means of modulating partial constraint on that signal.
Let’s see if I can simplify that. The Big Bang is not an event in time. It is still happening. It is like a clock which takes an eternity to tick even once. It would be misleading to think of it then as that which ‘represented’ private experience in it’s richest (lowest entropy, highest significance) state, but rather that it is the living presentation of experience in it’s richest state, and the state in which all publicity is dissolved. The appearance of the public is the same thing as the appearance of the private - it’s an inference. We see the world and the world is not us. In the frame of the Absolute, there is nothing which is not us, so there is no public-private split…but the experience should be more like what we know as private experience, because that is the ‘head’ end of the snake and the public ‘tail’ end is the tokenized, quantified re-presentation.
It could be said that we are reducing entropy in the evolution of consciousness - turning private feeling and being into public doing and knowing, but at the same time the possibility of collapse is conserved. The threats and uncertainties simply become more esoteric. Rather than having to wrestle resources from the environment directly, we now have to wrestle abstract financial resources from our own abstract systems of control. We are creating new entropies of the complexity of our interaction, which is mirrored publicly as the thermodynamic entropy being exported by human colonies in the biosphere.
I question the conception of awareness as a property of a subject, where “subject” seems to be conceived as something existing in the world, and which may have other properties as well. I find that whatever appears‹including anything somebody might be tempted to include in some concept of “subject” can be distinguished from myself as awareness of that something, whatever it is. So essentially “subject” and “awareness” have the same reference, even if not synonymous in common usage. “Subject” has the misleading connotation of seeming to refer to an entity or object of some kind, which leads to the usual confusion about the subject/object distinction. “Awareness” is less likely to be taken as referring to some entity; it is more likely to suggest a process or a space, which, though not quite right either, are much less confusing.
In my view the self is an appearance within awareness. As healthy adults in a waking state of consciousness, we have a strong sense of personhood which is not necessarily intrinsic to awareness as a general phenomenon in the universe. The multiplicity of subjects could emerge as a partitioning of a single experiential inertial frame, and only then, after having been temporarily isolated by modulation of sampling rates of attention, can a single narrative of attention perceive others as public bodies or private feelings.
The multiplicity of the brain is as much an illusion as the singularity of self. They are both expressions of the modulation of sequence through time and of consequence across space. Each cell of the brain has the same cell for a parent. They are all slightly different footprints of the same human life.
If we are trying to consider awareness itself, we must correct for our bias as adults who are awake and consider all states of conscious (infancy, dream, insanity, hypnogogic states, dementia, etc) as equally valid. In that case, the ‘I’ is not a particularly fundamental structure. The continuity of self is an important psychological feature of a human maturity, but in my understanding it is more promising to consider the fundamental unit of human consciousness in temporal terms. We are a lifetime. The lifetime is not merely built up from moments but recovered into each moment from implicit and explicit memory.
“Considered by another subject [,] ‘perception’ will be describable as ‘physics’ in operation - an exercise which still often makes use of a lay language of ‘objects’ for convenience but less and less so at the fundamental level.”
Exactly. Every phenomenon is defined internally as private facing feelings (sensory affects and intentions) and public facing consequences (unintentional motor effects). The feedback from the nesting of multiple layers represents the more fundamental levels seem increasingly material. Interior feeling and being is exteriorized as doing as a public body, and knowing about bodies in public space. In my own terms, exomporphia is the meta-multiplicity of endophoria; public bodies are derived from the nesting of private experiences.
>Maybe in fact although physics has traditionally been seen as a study of objects it is a really a study of subjects. (If you look for ‘object’ status in the equations of physics there is remarkably little, maybe nothing, that would fit.) There are no objects to study for the subject doing the studying, only the universe. But maybe physics is really an exercise in saying ‘if we considered the relation in which x is the subject relating to the universe, what would we predict should occur (as evidenced in my relation to the universe as subject)’. In this the metaphysical status of everything gets turned topsy turvy.
Yes, the ventriloquism of assigning one-dimensional subjectivity to an object within our own human (or technologically assisted human) experience not only turns the natural metaphysical orientation on its head, but in doing that, the ventriloquist necessarily becomes abstracted as an omniscient voyeur - a hypothetical non-being presumed to be capable of pure observation, but of course in reality can only be our best guess based on limited observation and experience.
>It may even be an exercise in inventing a hypothetical other universe (x-centred) in which ‘I’ have no separate existence. But because all such universes obey the same rules of progression in harmony of subject and universe, the prediction translates back into our own universe reliably.
It may be that the more fundamental layers are increasingly narrow in the difference between endophoric intention and exophoric extension. As human experiences, we have a vast gulf between our inner and outer worlds, but that may be local to animal experience. Other phenomena may really have more of a WYSYWYG footprint in the universe, or it may only seem that way to us because of perceptual relativity. Maybe a bit of both. The more primitive the phenomena, the more generic, universal, and public it seems. The more personal and proprietary the phenomena, the more it is associated with highly evolved traits.
“As we develop quantum computing, we may end up going further into the 10 dimensions”
I agree, and I think that the 10 dimensions will ultimate be understood as being channels of experienced sense. Rather than importing the narrowest channels of public-facing sense into our concept of privacy, I think we will meet eventually privacy halfway and see that feeling and being is actually fundamental while doing and knowing is derived. The wavefunction collapse is actually a public tokenization - a creation of position and momentum relations; scale, space and time. It is not a vacuum flux from which realism emerges, it is from the totality of privacy: unscaled feeling and being.
When we see red, we see
1) a molecular level sensation (frequency-wavelength-direction, momentum-intensity-amplitude)
2) a microbiotically stepped up rendering of that awareness (color, illumination)
3) a zoologically stepped up rendering of that emotion (focused image)
and finally with
4) an anthropologically stepped up cognitive attribution of that image (intellectual associations).
These are dimensions, or rather dimensionality is a reductionist skeleton of these layers of sensemaking. It’s all sense making. How could it realistically not be? Somewhere somehow something has to make sense of something or we couldn’t have this conversation, it’s just a matter of seeing whether it makes more sense to think that sense-making appears out of whole cloth from a blind, comatose universe after a few billion years, because of ‘complexity’ (which is impossible to define without arbitrarily scoping it as a complex whole rather than simple cause-effects on the next level down), or whether there could realistically be any universe without any inherent capacity for sense making and appreciation of aesthetic phenomena.