Optimal amount of input

If you don’t get any outside input into your life, you’re literally an idiot, someone in your own little world. But if you get too much outside input, you become a bland cliche. I’ve written about this a couple times, and ran across a new post this morning from someone expressing a similar idea.

I first wrote about this in a short post on noise removal. After talking about signal processing, I wax philosophical.

This is a metaphor for life. If you only value your own opinion, you’re an idiot in the oldest sense of the word, someone in his or her own world. Your work may have a strong signal, but it also has a lot of noise. Getting even one outside opinion greatly cuts down on the noise. But it also cuts down on the signal to some extent. If you get too many opinions, the noise may be gone and the signal with it. Trying to please too many people leads to work that is offensively bland.

I returned to this theme in The Opposite of an Idiot:

An idiot lives only in his own world; the opposite of an idiot has no world of his own.

This morning I found a new post along these lines via Tyler Cowen. He links to a short post entitled We Can Read Without Learning at All.

We require the friction of other minds to buff away self-generated roughness. Few of us can polish ourselves. We are likelier to grow cranky and conspiracy-minded, mistaking brainstorms for insight while rediscovering what the rest of the world already knows. Had I read only the books assigned in class, I would today be only nominally literate. Had I read only the books that confirmed the thoughts I already possessed, I would remain marginally illiterate.

In our networked world, we’re more likely to have a plethora of low-quality input than to be isolated. There’s more danger of becoming a bland opinion poll than becoming a cranky idiot.

Living inside a partisan bubble may be the worst of both worlds: the blandness of herd mentality and the crankiness of isolation.

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