Keying Into Fashion and Style for Knowledge Arrangement

We often have sound practical reasons for making choices that have no reasons by themselves but have effects on larger scales.

Familiar styles make it easier for us to recognize and classify the things we see. For example, we may choose furniture according to systematic styles or fashions.

We protect ourselves from distractions by adopting uniform styles. For example, if every object in a room were interesting in itself, our furniture might occupy our minds too much.

Societies need rules that make no sense for individuals. For example, it makes no difference whether a single car drives on the left or on the right, but it makes all the difference when there are many cars!

It can save a lot of mental work if one makes each arbitrary choice the way one did before. The more difficult the decision, the more this policy can save. And there’s a paradox:1

The more equally attractive two alternatives seem, the harder it can be to choose between them – no matter that, to the same degree, the choice can only matter less.

Thus, it is helpful to take recourse in rules of style when we’re fairly sure that further thought will just waste time. We should not abandon reasoning recklessly, but often, ordinary reasons cancel out, so it makes sense to use forms that lie beneath the surface of our thoughts – style, fashion, art – our “taste”.

When it comes to exchanging knowledge representations, you’re inviting your recipients into rooms you’ve curated – consider whether your arrangement of “furniture” there is adding value or distracting.

This post was adapted from a note sent to my email list on Machine-Centric Science.
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  1. M. Minsky, The Society of Mind. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986, p. 52. ↩︎