Information – how much, is too much?

We live in a society where almost any question can be answered with a few twitches of a finger.

Did you know? The Great Pyramid of Giza, completed in around 2560 BCE, originally stood at 146.5 metres in height, and was incredibly, the tallest man made structure in the world for more than a whopping 3,800 years?

Image credit: shuttershock

No, neither did I, until I just googled it.

I’m a hypochondriac in remission. If you’ve ever run your finger over a lump and instantly wondered what type of cancer that is, squinted at the sight of an alien mole – glimpsed briefly as your crossed the threshold of a mirror – or, at feeling slightly under the weather, jumped on Google to self diagnose the affliction that’s going to kill you this time, you’re not alone.

With the near unlimited resource of the internet at our disposal, it’s easier than ever to become a DIY doctor. This is of course a good thing, right?

I went to the GP a few years ago to get a mole checked. The GP flicked her eyes at it and said “looks normal”. I said, “are you sure?”. She said “yes”. She turned to type up my nuisance visit. “How about this one?” I inquired. She peeked over from her computer keys – “looks normal”. She did a double take. I caught it. “Are you sure?”, I asked again. She could barely contain a sigh, as she wheeled her chair around for third look. “Hmmm… *dramatic pause* Yes.”. I wasn’t sold on her certainty. I left. I was frustrated. I felt slightly patronised. Why do the medical authorities make adverts to create awareness of skin cancers, and encourage vigilance, advising you to have check ups if you’re concerned, only to have the healthcare professional roll their eyes at you?

Am I overthinking?

I am living in Australia right now. There’s a hole in the ozone…

My partner was suffering from a consistent pain in her leg last year. She was experiencing a cramping sensation, throbbing and a “dead” feeling. She self diagnosed herself with a DVT – deep vein thrombosis, a potentially life threatening condition, where a blood clot forms in a vein, which, if becoming unlogged, can travel through your system and block the pulmonary arteries in your lungs, restricting blood flow. This is called a pulmonary embolism and can be fatal. I was sceptical, but she was sure. She would know how her body feels better than I could. So, we went to the doctors for a ultrasound. The technician was as dismissive and I initially was – my partner was 26 at the time, after all. Following a quick once over, the technician sat back presumptively, “Ok, you’re all clear”. My partner tilted her head to the side, with uneasy brow. The technician read her face. “I’ll recheck”. Sure enough, there it was, a blood clot in her leg. Not to place any blame at the technicians feet, but if it wasn’t for the internet, how long may it have gone misdiagnosed or missed due to human conditioning – to jump to assumptions – is anybody’s guess.

Access to information may well have saved my partners life, or at least much reduced the likelihood of a more serious outcome. However, for the technician, learned biases created preconceived beliefs, which almost led to an incorrect conclusion. That’s not surprising, we have spent our entire lives building up information to save time and bypass a cumbersome step by step relearning process, toward comprehension.

We are creatures of conjecture. What we don’t know, we fill the gaps in with our imagination. We often make judgements at the absence of information.

There’s a reason why stereotypes exist – could you imagine if cans of food didn’t have labels? We’d have to open cans at random until we got to the peaches. With labels, you still don’t know for certain that they’ll be peaches inside until you’ve opened it up – but you can assume. We label people too. Once you’ve read the label, you form ideas based on what you’ve seen. Now we have this information, we need a way to cut through it. Stereotypes are like can openers for people. They’re a tool to help you get to the contents quicker.

Image credit: shuttershock

We build stereotypes, not because they’re 100% accurate, but because they save time, meaning we can make more effective decisions, off the cuff. They say, “don’t judge a book by its cover”, yet, a blurb is placed on the back of it, precisely to facilitate that action.

“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”
Miles Kington

Information is everywhere. Everything is information.

If you break it down to the most base interpretation of the word, anything we see is information – that fridge in the corner, is where I store my food to keep it fresh and edible for longer because it keeps it cold. Fridges keep food cold. Cold keeps food fresh. Food needs to be eaten fresh, so we don’t get sick. I ate turned food and I pooped my pants. Being sick is bad. Put food in the fridge. Fridge. Refrigerator. Frij. Ruh·fri·juh·rei·tuh. That’s how you say it. Ok, got it.

You get the point.

It took a long time to get to this point, because it takes a long time to get to this point. We need all this utilitarian information to function. We are assimilating information from birth. The process never ends. If we didn’t, we’d be walking around confused, bumping into walls. Sometimes, despite it, we are still walking around confused, bumping into walls. It must help a little. In fact, it would be impossible to learn to walk. If by some magic, we made it to adulthood, we’d be rolling around on our backs with a puddle of sick pooled on our laps. That’s most pubs on any given day of the week – so maybe we aren’t as good at equating our modern information gain, with an across the board evolution in acculturational gentrification, as I’d given us credit for.

Lots and lots of accumulated information.

That chair is black, that fluffy dog is cute, this guy is rambling, not this again. All valid information. Oh look, it wags it tail when it’s excited, cool, who’s a good boy? Did you just assume it’s gender? This is a non-binary dog, I’ll have you know. Information is fluid too. Sometimes we learn things which we must unlearn. Information evolves with insight. For much of history, the general consensus was that the Earth was flat, with the first known philosophising on a spherical Earth being accredited to Pythagoras, in Greece, in the 6th century BCE.

Bust of Pythagorus, Capitoline Museum, Rome

You really get the point.

Information is fluxional

When Pluto was discovered in 1930, it became the ninth planet from the Sun. In 2006, it’s status was downgraded, as the rules on what defines a planet were delineated, to some contention. Poor Pluto.

Pluto, taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Religion has influenced the direction of governance for the entirety of known human existence. Until now (in most of the western world). Is religion just a code for behaviour? Collectively we need answers – reasons for being, reasons for doing. When we can’t find those answers in the tangible world, we look elsewhere – sometimes inwards, sometimes upwards. I think there’s an irony in proselytising on our source of creation originating from an other worldly being, based in a celestial heaven, considering that the new generally accepted belief, is an origin of existence in an otherworldly event, out there in the celestial realm, sometime around 13.8 billion years ago – the Big Bang theory. Earlier suppositions weren’t so far fetched, when you think of it like that. We just accept other people’s ideas so routinely, without proof. As the name implies, it is just a theory and may become as erroneous as religion has to many in the first world societies, somewhere down the line. Time will tell.

The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci

Let’s take this scenario. There’s two Jewish bakeries in your 1920’s nondescript Eastern European hamlet. If company A, buys company B, that’s means they’ll have market hold, product prices go up, because there’s no incentive to reduce prices against competition.

You’ll have to pay a bit more to get your loathe of challah in time for sabbath. Now, if you thought about why you’re paying more, you might be gloomy at the changing tides, and bark at the influence this new market dominance enables over the working class. How deep you go is up to you.

Image credit: Molly Yeh, The Food Network

Or, if you’re not that way inclined, you may pay the extra coin, and get on with your day. Ignorance of bliss, they say.

You, the poor bugger, have no idea about the scourge which is about to rip through the European landmass and out into the wider world, in the coming decades.

If you knew what was coming, would it help you feel less concerned about bread?

Obviously.

Would you be more concerned in general, than you were before?

Obviously.

So would you really want to know the future?

Sure, the obvious answer is YES! I’m packing my Torah, and I’m out of here. But, for examples sake, let’s imagine you couldn’t act or speak on it. Your body would continue to mime your fate, just as it would have been, but, you could only think and feel it.

Is ignorance bliss?

Obviously.

I worry a lot. If I’m not worrying about imagined ailments or looming death sentences, I pretty much worry about everything else. I lay in bed at night in a state of existential dread. I worry at that which I can’t control. I worry about ageing, both for myself and those I love. I worry about health. I worry about how to make the best out of the short time on Earth we get. I worry about money. I worry about not being able to sleep. I worry about being tired the next day. Inevitably, that makes it more difficult to relax. I worry about worrying too much.

I think people worry too much.

The news plays on our fears. Nothing good ever happens according to the news – just terror attacks, natural disasters and politicians throwing spears at each other. It’s depressing. My country, Britain, is very, very good at self-flagellation. We like to belittle, demean and criticise ourselves, preaching toward infinite imagined realities which contain our catastrophic fate, that in the end, become self fulfilling prophecies.

Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy in the film Anchorman

Listening to that drivel, day in, day out, can’t be good for anyone’s mental health. I worry about how invested, for example, my own father gets at the cheerless state of affairs.

Are we really doomed?

As they always have, do things just change? There will be better days, there just must be. Or maybe, today isn’t so bad after all?

I realised that when you turn the news off, the voices go away.

The sun still rises and sets, and birds still sing in the trees.

Simplicity.

That’s what feels good today.

Kookaburras don’t sing, they just laugh at you. This one stole my carrot.

I was having beers with friends in a bar in Paris one time, years ago. Early into the evening, our conversation crossed onto the table beside us and before you know it, the group was sitting at our table. The chat was open and flowing, somehow, to one of our new acquaintances, we must have looked like the type of people who wanted to know that he likes a finger slipped into his rectum whilst he’s having sex with his girlfriend.

How much information, is too much information?

That is.

Did you know? On average, there are over 3.5 billion Google searches per day. That’s 40,000 searches a second!

I contribute at least 15 or more to that, on a slow day, easy.

How many italics, are too many italics?

That is.

According to a study by psychologists at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada, on average, a person has around 6,200 thoughts per day. That’s from the beginning to the end of a single idea – which they call a ‘thought worm’.

If you take a lifetime of 80 years, that’s 181,040,000 wriggly little worms.

Image credit: planetnatural.com

We spend our entire lives building up this beautiful garden of knowledge, teaming with activity in the soil. We learn all this stuff, and then we die. In the end, it can’t help us to outsmart the inevitable.

If you could know the moment of your death, would you choose to?

The Japanese have some poignant words and expressions. Yūgen 幽玄 is a part of Japanese aesthetics. It means “a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe and the sad beauty of human suffering”.

Imagine credit: Lesly/Fotolia, Brittanica.com

The more I know, the more I think, the more I appreciate, yet the sadder and less content it can make me. It’s difficult to process the enormity of wonderment and the conflict it induces within.

If you connect to the concept of Yūgen, you may like my post The awareness of things.

I don’t know if I’d be happier with less awareness – less information. Sometimes I think it would be easier.

So, where are we now?

Well, I suppose the answer is ultimately, entirely subjective and depends on the person and context.

Personally, whilst I continue to absorb foundational and functional information involuntarily, I will endeavour to stockpile as much perceptively provoking material as I can, in the short time we get, in a effort to make it as worthwhile as possible. At the same time, reduce the white noise, by switching off to that which does not improve my resting condition.

Tending to the garden.

Thank you for reading – I hope you enjoyed it. Maybe you didn’t – that’s ok too. I’m learning – it’s all new information.

I’m going to use the word twice more – you’re being triangulated. You’ve been warned.

When it comes to blogging, how much information, is too much information?


What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Seeing as you’ve got this far, that’s probably you! Reach out, drop me a message and let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!

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