Communicating with binaries and spectra

To communicate, it's convenient to code information in words and numbers. Words are discrete, so they're well-suited to expressing binaries: this is big, that is small. They're also well-suited to express finite partitions: microscopic, tiny, small, big, huge, enormous.

Thought is often tripped up by finite partitions: many things do not fit neatly into the partitions, or what's relevant about something might be only poorly expressible with the available partitions. So instead an adjective can be taken as pointing at a spectrum. This is bigger, that is smaller. This is 10 meters long, that is 1 millimeter long.

Thought can also be tripped up by spectra: again, what's relevant might be only poorly expressible as lying somewhere on the spectrum. What's relevant might be multidimensional, so that a one-dimensional representation requires a lossy projection. This weighs 2000 kg and is 10 meters long, that weighs 3 mg and is 1 millimeter long.

A description could be taken to refer to some region of a multidimensional space, or more flexibly, it could be taken as a gesture towards the space: "Think of this thing as situated in such-and-such a multidimensional space of features; what follows will describe how it is situated more specifically." This is big, that is small; you'll see what I mean.

Generalizing to multidimensional space might still not be enough. Described features may vary in time ("this is getting bigger"); may vary with context ("the star in the sky is small compared to the moon"); may have middling probability; may be modalized ("there exist possible worlds in which this is small"); may rely on assumptions; may have vagueness built in ("prototypical cases of this are small"); etc.

Thinking often wants to use words and grammar loosely, relying on the next mental moments to unpack words and propositions by continually consulting the referents of the words and propositions. Since thoughts are often easier to communicate in a metonymic / metaphorical mode, more complicated regions are often encompassed with simpler words like binaries or spectra, rather than a complicated phrase indicating the full field of possibilities. It's easier to say "This is big, that is small; you'll see what I mean.", than to say "Central members of this class appear to be likely to be greater in volume, as well as some other measures of physical size, than central members of that other class, assuming ambient temperature and pressure within such-and-such bounds around the temperature and pressure on the surface of the Earth.".

In everyday cases, the listener is usually prepared to unpack communications in that way. In less everyday cases, being prepared to unpack communication is more demanding. It is worthwhile to be prepared to unpack communication by consulting referents and by looking for salient and true versions of claims.

Another example:

  • Elements can be explicit or inexplicit.

  • Elements can be more or less explicit, less or more inexplicit.

  • Elements can, for each other element, be more or less available to be related to that other element.

  • Elements can, for each other element, for each mental context, for each way of relating, be, over time, more or less available to be related in that way to that other element in that context.