04.10, Monday 23 Jun 2003

Instead of saying that shouts get less audible with distance, let's define distance as the measure over which shouts get less audible. It's not just physical distances. The Copenhagen Interpretation is the vast distance between the quantum universe and the mechanical universe.

Distance is the half-life of causality. Quantum fluctuations evaporate and disperse in the isness; shouts get diluted in the atmosphere.

Causes have effects which transform and tranform continually, but never disappear. Gregory Bateson says that transformations are conserved. They can just be diluted, or thrown away into the environment. But what if you're on a satellite? This is Geoff Cohen's Lie of Modularity. Your computer code can't pretend the file on disk is nicely abstracted if when the hard drive spins up you get heat, a gyroscopic effect about the axis of rotation which is going to wobble the satellite. The system is the same size as the environment here. There's no room to discard side-effects - the transforms we don't want - away. Ditto code re-use. One person's environment to throw away side-effects is another person's system.

The universe has a good and fair, established solution to the re-use problem: distance. Side-effects are distributed equally. There are a huge number of orders of magnitude between quarks and people -- all of that is distance to mitigate against transformations the universe has so fairly distributed.

Distance is handy. We take it for granted. But now we're building cyberspace, the latest artifact from the virtual world, where feedback loops must be explicitly stated, we have to know what distance actually is and humanity's conception of it.

Meaning is local. It doesn't matter whether you're a kilometer from someone shouting or across the galaxy. In social network depictions it doesn't matter whether you're a friend four hops removed or five. The clustering of files in the 3d representations of the Linux sourcecode: there's meaning when files are very close together, they share a lot of definitions, but if two clusters are apart, it doesn't really matter how far.

Meaning isn't proportional to distance, it's a bell curve. Ray Ozzie said: "When I'm at 'McDonalds', am I in a multi-instance location?"

You are. Place isn't anchored to physical coordinates, any more than distance is. Place is a human concept, it's the size of that meaning curve, the full width at half maximum. Place is the FWHM of the meaning curve.

This is the state of humanity midway through the Holocene, this is how we relate to the isness. When we build new worlds, we shouldn't forget this currency.

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