Wally Reimer

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The vagueness of words prevents us from achieving the collective intelligence we need to solve our social and political problems.

Words are vague and imprecise. Their meaning is as much a function of the listener’s connotations and experience as it is of the words themselves. Engineering has long abandoned words as the basis for their collaboration. Compare the progress of engineering in the last 100 years with progress in democracy where most collaboration is word based. How can we collaborate if we don’t share a clear understanding of the problem and proposed solutions?
Our mind has evolved over millions of years but words are a very recent addition. Our primary thinking is not word based but we need to translate it into words to make it conscious. Engineering thinking is object based so drawings and blueprints are a good way to represent it. Political thinking is concept based and we need to represent the underlying concepts before we translate them into unclear words. We have the technology now to use a richer deeper set of computer symbols to represent concepts as precisely as a blueprint represents a skyscraper. We have 7X24 access to computers and much of our collaboration already flows through computers but in word form.
I have labeled these proposed computer representation of concepts as conceptual objects. It is not obvious what these concepts are but I believe we can discover them and create the tools we need so we can collaborate much more successfully about social and political problems. If we can do this then we can begin to use many of the methods which make engineering so progressive. These include specialization, encapsulating complexity, incremental improvement, re-usability and asynchronous collaboration.
There is a white paper at http://www.scribd.com/doc/52522752/When-words-are-not-enough which explores this idea further.
Words are comfortable because they allow us to generalize but we can’t generalize when building important social and political solutions.

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    Jun 4 2011: I disagree - words are very accurate, even when their meaning slants slightly differently in different peoples' minds.

    I think that an inability to express oneself accurately, is related more to a limited or non-comprehensive vocabulary than the words themselves.

    The minute we define words so specifically that their meaning is unequivocal will be the day we will no longer be able to tell the difference between human and machine.

    It's sounds like you're talking about IngSoc..
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      Jun 5 2011: I can’t argue with any of the above. I agree that language is one of our greatest inventions. The vagueness and generality of language is one of the pluses which makes it so versatile and gives us poetry, literature and song. In Steven Pinker’s talk he points out the vagueness is necessary for social interaction.

      What I am saying is that language is not suitable for creating the collective intelligence we need to solve social and political problems. To create collective intelligence we need to communicate much more precisely. I use the engineering analogy because they have replaced words with very precise drawings and blueprints even though they still go home at night and read stories in words to their children. For political problem solving we still rely on debates in words and politicians have made an art out of using words to confuse and mislead. I believe we can represent the concepts of politics and social issues in a blueprint like manner and then maybe we can begin to see progress like we have seen in engineering.
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        Jun 5 2011: Mr. Reimer, I agree that words are some times inadequate to convey certain ideas specially complex and complicated ones. What is also difficult sometimes is the way our bias somehow prevent us from comprehending an idea being shown to us - we make judgments, we form our conclusions, we make generalizations, we defend our status, we close our minds even before understanding a novel idea.

        I believe we can contribute and translate the power of our different convictions into a common language of our common interests and solve our social and political problems. Maybe if a certain word is evoking too much bias, we can agree to make a new one.

        I have always imagined that there must be a way to make our communications more efficient and faster and I agree that this idea should be developed and implemented.

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          Jun 6 2011: I believe that words have less influence on us than we assume. The brain evolved over millions of years as an instant answer machine. We assess the input we get from the outside world, factor in all our previous experience, our likes and dislikes and “poof”, the answer is our position on the issue.The reasons are totally subconscious. The book Blink supports this view. We must translate the answer into words to communicate it to others.We like to think that with the right words we can change someone’s position but this is rare. Words are a very recent addition to our brains and they are a bit of a “rube goldberg” invention but to our credit we have milked every bit of utility possible from words.

          If we can develop a more blueprint like way to represent the underlying concepts about a political issue as I am suggesting with conceptual objects, then I believe that we can create what I call a conceptual map of the issue which would show all possible positions and debating points. With the computer technology we have now, all 200 million voters could state their preferred position in a form of democratic vote. We will have to develop a science of Positional analysis to determine how to get the most “common good” out of the results because it is not as easy as counting votes.

          I am assuming all legal positions are valid but concede that as per Sam Harris,s talk, some positions can be rejected on a “good for society” basis like his example of forcing women to wear the burka. Biases of course are always relative to our own position which we assume is right. There is no bias in the position of a group.

          I predict that we will slowly move away from words on a domain by domain basis. Science and engineering has already done so, politics and social issues will have to go next to be followed by education. Who knows, in several hundred years, words may just be a curious quirk of history.
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      Jun 4 2011: Taken as given that everything is unknowable, words give definition and enable humanity to achieve, live, interact, manipulate and exist.

      Words are the greatest power humanity holds for the above reason.

      They are inevitable in a material existence.
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          Jun 4 2011: Everything material is a distraction from the ideal, but such is reality..
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    Jun 3 2011: Hi Mr. Wally what a great idea to be aware of the limitation of language(words)in communication!