Separating The Wheat From The Chaff

Wheat by ~HarelLoire
Wheat by ~HarelLoire

On my drive home this morning, I was thinking about my greatest daily challenge. This is an activity that consumes significant amount of processing power of my brain yet happens almost completely subconsciously without impacting anything else. It is like the markets – never completely understood, conquered, or tamed, yet having significant impact on our lives. All day long, when I read something, hear something, speak with someone, discuss a topic, answer a question or hear a response, I’m trying to determine the credibility, value, impact of what I’m consuming. I am hard at work trying to determine what is noise and what is information. Let’s say a concept is being explained very clearly and logically, does that mean it makes sense? What if someone writes with excellent vocabulary and perfect sentence design, does that make the writer credible? You are reading what I have written. Is this noise (discard immediately) or a thought worth considering for a bit. Am I smart? Can you trust the letters, words, sentences and paragraphs that I have crafted here? Reporters write millions of articles daily but how do you determine which is worth the minutes spent on reading?

There are many examples of what I’m describing. Even in a hierarchical relationship while we may comply with a request, we subconsciously either agree or disagree with it and in bad situations simply don’t care. A coworker raised a question about a requirement saying that we should poll others to see if we have captured the requirement correctly. That’s another example. Why am I paying any attention to this daily challenge? Could it be that those who are extremely smart or capable are able to separate noise from valueable information better than the rest of us? I wish I could devote a month or two to the analysis of this subject. The reason is that perhaps there should be a class in school teaching valuable lessons on separating garbage from jewels that are thrown at us from every angle every day.

Sometimes what we consider garbage in hindsight becomes obvious to have been a jewel. Is there any way to prevent the initial mistake or is this just human nature? There are also times when taking a message for granted is required for survival (hearing fire in a crowded theater – run then think). Because this processing is subconscious in my case, I cannot write my methods of separating communications but maybe if I pay attention going forward, I can report back my findings. Until then this activity will continue to remain one of my top daily challenges.

2 Comments

  1. I think the real issue that you touch on, but did not explicitly state was that there appears to be no truth. A recent article in Wired by Clive Thompson attempted to shed some light on the absurdity of all of the information we have available. He said that it increases ignorance. He named it Agnotology. I think that the problem is much more fundamental. We live in an age that is so permissive that there is no truth. That something is factual, is no longer acceptable, because someone else has the other facts. And when it comes to truth, we are often told that everyone has their own. While I would call myself a poor excuse for a Christian, I can look to the Bible for some semblance of guidance, and use faculties of reason to examine other ideas and facts that appear from day to day.

    If we are to accept what Taleb says in that we live in a world of great uncertainty, all the time, then there is room for truth, and the examination of things that are connected to those truths. But today, we are told with great certainty that everything is known, and that we can control everything. If that is so, then we have no real guideposts to draw upon. It is interesting to explore the role of risk and it’s development as a concept through Bernsteins book: Against the Gods. It looks at an acceptance that little can be controlled, and that through a monotheistic approach, risk was defined and seemingly quantified. Today we have no God other than money, and surprise, our risk management tools seem to be less complete and effective…but perhaps I am reaching here.

    I think the secret comes down to what Neiderhoffer has said on his site from time to time: good questions are the key to the value of information. If I look at Global Warming, and begin to look at the logic of the argument, then structure it in reverse, it makes no sense at all. I find this method tends to expose many facile arguments…perhaps even my own.

  2. Tristram – Thank you for stopping by and providing some food for thought. The word truth has so many meanings and issues I have postponed that one for sometime later in life. For now John 14:6 is sufficient for me. I am currently more concerned with the “wheat” that affects life and the degree of its impact.

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