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The problem with models…is getting stuck on just one

The problem with models…is getting stuck on just one

Alfred Korzybski, the father of general semantics, first uttered what must now seem like a well-worn phrase: “The map is not the territory.” And yet, I don’t think this view has yet been well-incorporated into human culture.

In a time when social media outlets are trying to sort what is “fake” from what is “genuine” or “true,” very little thought is being put into what we even mean by “fake,” “genuine” or “true.” Facebook, for example, has resorted to third-party fact-checkers, a mix of news organizations and fact-checking nonprofits. It is also hiring thousands of new employees to check what it calls “non-news” information posted on Facebook pages.

A lot of checking revolves around whether someone said or did what is claimed. That’s not too hard. The next level involves the effect of a policy or position. That’s more difficult since some of the policies in question aren’t in effect and even for those that are, it is always hard to trace cause and effect from a policy to a specific result.

Then, there are what I’ll call “model” questions. Some claims fit into one model, but not into another. So, it’s very important to know what model one is using. In physics what’s true in our everyday experience isn’t true in the world of quantum mechanics, the domain of the very small. For example, it takes time for information, say, in the form of electrical signals through a cellphone network, to travel from where I am in Washington, DC to a client in Eastern Europe. We notice ourselves overlapping in our conversation sometimes because of the delay.

In an actual experiment of quantum effects, electrons that were a mile apart influenced each other with no time delay, suggesting that information at this level somehow travels instantaneously from one place to another. It’s a weird result, but consistent with the theory.

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