I had a long chat with a student at a Uni the other day, soon to graduate, as I gathered. We’d chatted before, but as is the case with IRC, mostly informal or very specific topics.
I tried to convince him of the existence of truly great software, in the sense that, depending on who sees the greatness of it and who just miss it, some software stands the test of time indefinitely because it cannot be improved or is enough in itself, or is great despite the test of time or how its environment has changed (think processor speed, texture resolution, and pixelshaders), because of some quantity that I tried to confer with him about, and try to find.
Without letting me finish a train of thought, he contradicted each piecemeal statement instantly, and countered each proposition that “this software is great in itself regardless of not topping the best-seller list” or such things as “why don’t use GIMP+Photoshop binds instead of Photoshop?” by explaining how software is made modular these days, with team members contributing their little part. Gee, thanks for the enlightenment.
Contradicting is fine, countering is fine. Nothing is better than a really fierce argument in order to advance ideas and reach conclusions. At least to me. I want people to say that I’m wrong, so that I can find the source of his or my mistake.
I gave him a dozen approaches to the central idea, that it’s not about who made it, but about the result. For an artist, the lines on the paper, the concept and the performance. For a musician, the sound waves, the emotions they evoke, and the idea presented through optional lyrics. For a programmer, the bytes of the complete program, the experience using it, the pixels on the screen. For all those, the resulting whole.
In a certain time period or environment, some people will worship the work of someone. When that environment ceases to exist, the works that approached the truth in some fashion are rediscovered, and everyone finds out what was the spirit of the times and what was timeless. There are numerous examples in the music scene of the nineties, when the sheer starvation for something that was at least decent elevated stars that are now considered, rightly, insignificant in every respect.
By denying entrance to any of my ideas, he never did understand this concept. I could not accept this lock-out, and could not understand how he could deny the concept just by prematurely objecting to, basically each sentence I said because I hadn’t proven logically each sentence before speaking it.
How sick is that? And how unproductive to any kind of intellectual progress, or any useful result of communicating at all? Reduction and logical proof can follow, but only if both parties will “hear all evil”, as made popular by the three monkeys statue.
Rather than conclude that all communication is pointless, I concluded that informal communication is pointless with some, and the best thing there is to get results, with some. Also, that being close friends to start with helps informal communication, since it prevents any misunderstandings. But talking about the same topic for 6-odd hours should at least in theory eliminate any chance of misinterpretation with anyone.
Email is time better spent. It’s an awesome “invention”, actually. :)
From this experience, a fear arises. Suddenly I see many scholars dissecting individual statements, be they from a superlative intellect or a creationist, and, like the troll that too often went potty on your favorite forum, failing and inanely refusing to see any multiple-paragraph message that is there and makes sense, but hacking it up into convenient chunks of nomatter for easy disposition without counterpoint.
I say, skip that shit. And try to get the whole message, or failing that, to find a fault of fact. This has taught me that I will.
Early, it came to me that intellectual ideas can’t be “transmitted” at all, but only created to an image of some likeness in the mind of the receiver; for some, an exact likeness. If the receiver is disallowing a picture to form, nothing will be transmitted.