Wednesday, 5 September 2012

STC: Fiction Anon.

I find it amazing how often I spend time on stuff that I don't write down. Remembering that I had spent some time on something, so I should write it down when I find time, is a singular pleasure. And here's what it is. As a technical writer I should belong to an organization like the Society of Technical Communications, or one of its sub-cults or covens. As a gamer I know that Standard Template Construction is the excuse used for why an army might field variations on the same model. As a sci-fi enthusiast I like the notion of imagining a world in which there is such a manual out there that would allow you to build anything.

Philosophically this is interesting, because taken religiously, by the Book, I can find the notion of the Tech-Priest less far-fetched. Why would someone worship technology? Mainly for practical reasons, because only serious application would allow a human being to assimilate some fraction of the In other words, the more complex the set of technologies, mastery becomes a task requiring fanatical dedication. Religion, Man's relationship with the Gods, is set the task of driving the revelations of knowledge that come from either deducing parts of the Standard Template, or finding the Coles Notes version left over from the previous human civilization.

The thing is though, that a manual is not a program, nor DNA. It's filtered through language. Most obviously through the prose, but also through the layout of the document, its features in style and construction that aids a better understanding of the process. In other words, through appeal to the idiosyncrasies of its audience, rather than simple rules of prose writing. Of course, you can try to broaden the utility of a document by including as many features as possible, but at the expense of over-designing it. I mean, good luck actually being able to use a universal manual if you ever happen to stumble upon on.

That's the point: If the Standard Template is a universal protocol, then you are limited in its use by your ability to apply those protocols. Knowing how the universe works isn't the same as building a universe from scratch, or explaining that to everyone. Even if you stick to the practical bits, then you have to deal with the economic bits, the scarcity in time, resources, and motivation. I count motivation as a scarce commodity because I believe it to be generated by novel use of the system that allows us to judge the risk/reward. In other words, the ability to judge whether you will be able to reach an object with a particular amount of effort can be extended for an organ of the Will, contra Ryle. But rather than agency being the result of invisible mental activities, it's a novel use of our brains.

Essentially instead of weighing a single course of action as good or no good, the comparative weighing of sets of actions, of thinking of alternative routes to the goal, and of ordering goals. Often, in goal-setting, a person thinks of something that they want, and works their way backwards in order to determine how they can achieve that goal, and at what cost/benefit, and at what risk. Which is to say that this is part of goal-setting, a tool for achieving your goals because the natural human capacity for goal-setting is pretty weak. Essentially it's a difference of walking between goals, and moving through goals, in that instead of satisfying them and finding new goals through boredom, we  give ourselves a suitably lofty goal, perhaps upholding a principle, or getting that sweet, sweet crack.

So we have this ability to imagine, to think, to plan and to dream. No imagination is as vivid as that which provokes a visceral reaction. Even thoughts are cast in the press of the letters we learned as children, or in the voice of an instructor for those who learn by listening. Learning is also doing, by physically exploring the space in which a task is to be performed. No matter how we try to cast it otherwise, thinking is a physical act.

It's not a wholly novel use of our brains, but one that should have us consider what degree in which features do our minds differ from those of other people and animals, rather than in what kind.

I like to think of thinking and feeling to be variations in the mix between propositional elements, and the motivational elements. Of course, I also think that writing a manual worth reading for its own sake increases the utility of the document by making it interesting to the user, thereby motivating them to use it. Or simple motivating them to become aware of its contents. Not everybody wants to make do with religious zeal in the labour-force.

Which brings me to my point that I'm amazed at how some things look when I write them down. It's like I'm in an institution explaining to people that I'm perfectly fine, and then handing them hand-written notes that I furiously scribble down, in all-caps: "HELP ME, I'M STUCK IN A SANE PERSON!"

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