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Examine what is said, not who speaks." -- from BrowserUK's sig

by Sifmole (Chaplain)
on Jul 22, 2003 at 19:40 UTC ( #276896=perlmeditation: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

Ya know... this is something that occured to me the other day, when ruminating over BrowserUK's sig.

It seems at first obvious that the value and truth of something is in what it says, and so the speaker becomes irrelevant and any logical mind knows this and proceeds onward.

Then I thought on all those things that are written and remembered -- the vast majority are signed or attributted to someone. Even writings or quotes that are anonymous will often over time be linked to some sage individual who we all think may well have said something that insightful. So why have we settled on having things such as Authors, Editors, etc who we name instead of just letting the writing speak for itself?

The reason appears two-fold:
1) Previously experience regarding the value of a certain individuals writings or statements implies similar value in newly encountered postings. This allows us to prioritize potentially limited time, so we can read that which is more likely of value to us rather than wading the majority which isn't. The majority of things written are lousy, ill-informed, poorly thought-out, and even more poorly communicated ( I am sure this message itself is proof of this ). So knowing who wrote what is a valuable thing.

2) When reading something that violates a closely held ideal or concept, knowing more about who wrote something may well matter. Knowing that the author of a document which violates some closely, or even commonly, held concept informs the reader. Is it wrong that we more naturally tend to be more initially accepting of something written by a well-respected and proven informed author?

Just thoughts....

Comment on Examine what is said, not who speaks." -- from BrowserUK's sig
Re: Examine what is said, not who speaks." -- from BrowserUK's sig
by dragonchild (Archbishop) on Jul 22, 2003 at 20:00 UTC
    You said it yourself.

    "This allows us to prioritize potentially limited time, so we can read that which is more likely of value to us rather than wading the majority which isn't."

    Also, I would add to that the tendency to want to hear only that which reinforces one's paradigm. For example, I don't like hearing Christians preach. Why? I'm not Christian. I don't subscribe to their basic assumptions, so I can't even begin to enjoy the well-structured delivery or other artistic portions of the preaching. I'm also not a conservative, so I automatically tune out anything written by Maggie Gallagher or Ariana Huffington. But, I avidly read every scrap I can written by Ted Rall, a liberal author. Others do the exact opposite, for the same reason.

    I am a little curious - what value does this have to Perl?

    ------
    We are the carpenters and bricklayers of the Information Age.

    Don't go borrowing trouble. For programmers, this means Worry only about what you need to implement.

    Please remember that I'm crufty and crochety. All opinions are purely mine and all code is untested, unless otherwise specified.

Re: Examine what is said, not who speaks." -- from BrowserUK's sig
by Albannach (Prior) on Jul 22, 2003 at 20:18 UTC
    Well perhaps
    Nothing said in one sentence can completely cover a topic.

    I think your two points are valid, but a big factor in the relative importance of the content vs. the author is the type of information.

    • If you want recommendations on a good beer, you want to attribute more weight to those referals from people you know to have similar taste (hence the "people who bought this widget also bought..." lists frequently found on sales sites).
    • If you want to know the current temperature, you want to know the basis for the author's assertion, perhaps his/her location or reference.
    • If you seek a mathematical proof, then the author is truly irrelevant if you have the skill to read and verify the proof. If you just want a theorem then you might want to know where the author got the information.

    Bringing this back to The Monastery, knowing who the author is can give you valuable hints as to what your next move will be. For certain monks here, I am best served by assuming they are always correct (i.e. I will rarely have to backtrack due to failure in their information), for others monks I seek backup or other opinions, and for anonymonks I am left with whatever skill is evident in the presentation of the information, but I will usually seek more verification than if it is attributed to a monk I have prior experence with. Then there are the monks for which you must always look for the hidden text ;-)

    Finally, let's not overthink this - it isn't much different from judging the information you may get from a family member, cow-orker, pimply-faced kid flogging DVDs at an electronics chain, or a stranger in the street. All you need is critical thinking. You still have to ask yourself whether what you are hearing makes sense, whether there is any reason to check on it (e.g. the level of risk involved), and whether they have any reason to be dishonest. The only difference here is you can't (always) hear the stiffled giggles from the author who is typing.

    --
    I'd like to be able to assign to an luser

      The only difference here is you can't (always) hear the stiffled giggles from the author who is typing.
      That's it! From now on, I'm going to embed a soundfile in every post I make, of me chuckling at the answer.

      -- Randal L. Schwartz, Perl hacker
      Be sure to read my standard disclaimer if this is a reply.

        That's it! From now on, I'm going to embed a soundfile in every post I make, of me chuckling at the answer.

        You are probably joking, so I dare you to actually do that. No wait, I double-dare you! No, scratch that... I triple-double-dare you! ;-)


        You have moved into a dark place.
        It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.
Re: Examine what is said, not who speaks." -- from BrowserUK's sig
by hsmyers (Canon) on Jul 22, 2003 at 21:09 UTC
    I prefer to use the same approach I use in playing tournament chess. Ignore the player, ignore the player's rating---there is only the game. Or in node terms, there is only the content of the node, anything else is error prone and since I can quite easily screw up all by myself, I don't need to add to the problem with faulty technique.

    --hsm

    "Never try to teach a pig to sing...it wastes your time and it annoys the pig."
Re: Examine what is said, not who speaks." -- from BrowserUK's sig
by ajdelore (Pilgrim) on Jul 22, 2003 at 21:41 UTC
    It seems at first obvious that the value and truth of something is in what it says, and so the speaker becomes irrelevant and any logical mind knows this and proceeds onward.

    I would disagree with you here. It, namely this bunch of 1's and 0's that resolve themselves into language, say nothing in and of themselves. Meaning is created by the reader, and not the text.

    In short, there can be no single objective meaning. It is true that some nodes will be largely open in meaning, and others relatively closed, but context always plays a part.

    The identity of the author also plays a large role in determining the truth-value of a node. No node can be true in and of itself, but only through the acceptance of that node as true by those who read it. The identity of the author factors in to this determination.

    "There is no truth, only regimes of truth articulated with power." (Michel Foucault)

    That being said, none of the above is true.

    Beware the lurking post-modernist... ;)

    </ajdelore>

      At first, I didn't believe you. Then, I discovered your second to last sentence and decided that it must be true that I believed you.

      After about 20 minutes, I decided that my grand contribution to post-modernism would be the sentence "I don't know anything but that I like pie."

      I'm going to disagree with none of the above is true. In fact, (at least) one of your sentences is true.

      context always plays a part

      I remember a number of college late-night discussions on the usefulness of "If-Then" statements. Determining the validity of such statements is easy. However, determining the truth of such statements is a trickier proposition (pun intended). The context was what assigned truth or falsehood to a given statement.

      Because of that, we started to look at (but never actually did anything with) the idea that statements weren't the appropriate atomic unit of truth. Instead, maybe the atomic unit of truth is the thought, possibly broken out over many statements.

      Meaning is created by the reader, and not the text.

      This statement is not only true, but is (mostly) unrelated to the idea of truth or falsehood. Meaning is the concept(s) that is transmitted through the communication of the text. Meaning is the only thing that can be true or false, not a text itself. Look for the idea being represented, not the symbol which represents.

      ------
      We are the carpenters and bricklayers of the Information Age.

      Don't go borrowing trouble. For programmers, this means Worry only about what you need to implement.

      Please remember that I'm crufty and crochety. All opinions are purely mine and all code is untested, unless otherwise specified.

Re: Examine what is said, not who speaks." -- from BrowserUK's sig
by chunlou (Curate) on Jul 22, 2003 at 22:14 UTC

    A third reason is the basic human's inclination towards certainty, similarity rather than risk, unknown--which might not have anything to do with prioritization and time-saving.

    Someone might use calcultor rather than learning how to use spreadsheet, partly because he knows more or less for sure how much time it will take him to finish the job with a calculator, compared to spreadsheet he's not similar with.

    This name/fame/reputation-based mentality certainly extends to programming. Many people were attracted to Java and OOP by their reputation. A downside is, of course, many people blindly fit their problems into a famed methodology or tool inappropriately.

    This reminded me of the battle that some people really tried to prove Shakespeare was not Shakepeare, apparently due to the lack of evidence of his formal education. One of the most idiotic "proofs" of certain someone was Shakespeare was if you randomly pick a sentence from the writing of that certain someone, you can't tell if the sentence was or was not Shakespeare's. It's like saying this guy is the same person as that girl because you can't tell the different from the pictures of their lips.

    That's pretty much the same backward justification process some people use to retrospectively justify the use of certain brand name product or famed method by famed consultant. Associating yourself with someone or something well-known (even if hollow) rather than nameless virtuous is another inclination many people has. That's simply a self-righteousness factor.

    This basically brings us back in a full circle to what has been discussed a couple of times lately, know what we don't know or how we learn.

Re: Examine what is said, not who speaks." -- from BrowserUK's sig
by zby (Vicar) on Jul 23, 2003 at 08:22 UTC
    When you have the expertise to judge the post you don't need to read it - because you allready know everything in it. Ok that was a bit too strong, there are problems that knowing the answer you can easilly judge that it is right, but to come at the anser is quite difficult (although there is an algorithm to do that just look at all possible answers - and if one is right then take it). But I would argue this is the minority of problems we encounter in our life. Perhaps on a forum for programists this is a bit biased - quite often the answer can be directly translated to code and by running the code you verify if it was right, but still it does cover only a fraction of all discussions.
Re: Examine what is said, not who speaks." -- from BrowserUK's sig
by dws (Chancellor) on Jul 23, 2003 at 16:37 UTC
    "Examine what is said, not who speaks" is an ideal that invites us to ignore any pattern of behavior that the speaker has demonstrated in the past. I've almost always found this ideal to be unworkable.

    Through past behavior, a speaker demonstrates

    • Competence
    • Intention
    • Perspective

    all of which are useful to consider when holding up a new writing. When I'm pressed for time, I'll tend towards authors who've demonstrated competence and intention. (I can adjust for perspective.)

    An extreme, but common, example: If someone has a history for skillfully crafted trolling, should a new post from them be held to a different standard than one from someone who never trolls? The ideal answer is "No. Examine what is said, not who speaks". The pragmatic answer is "Yes, of course. We don't want to waste time on another flame war, so let's apply extra scrutiny to this new post, and ignore it at the first whiff of troll."

    I'll go with the pragmatic approach.

      Hmm .. you raise an interesting point. There is one local troll whose posts I look actually look forward to reading (perverse, I know). Occasionally they surprise, and I find myself reading a rational response.

      Likewise, one of my favourite posters here writes with unerring technical accuracy, but also with a very grounded, wry sense of humour. I look forward to reading those posts too.

      --t. alex
      Life is short: get busy!
Re: Examine what is said, not who speaks." -- from BrowserUK's sig
by demerphq (Chancellor) on Jul 23, 2003 at 20:17 UTC

    I like BrowserUks sig. And I somewhat know why he uses it. However i'd like to point out that its not really all that useful to take it out of context. Its unusal to be able to judge something on only the text. Take the expression "Fire!" If my friend walks up to me and says that ill probably hand him my lighter. If I hear somebody in military uniform yell it I will hit the deck (too late probably but WTF) If I hear some old lady shriek it in a movie theater i'll start heading for the exit.

    Anyway, I think abigail-IIAlbannach was right on in his response. (As usual. Sigh. :-)


    ---
    demerphq

    <Elian> And I do take a kind of perverse pleasure in having an OO assembly language...

    • Update:  
    Er, I goofed when I posted, and mistook Albannach for Abigail-II. The sigh got struck because Albannach doesn't post enough for me to sigh when hes right, even though he also usually is. (Thats a compliment, even if it does look bass-ackwards. :-)


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