Saturday, April 23, 2011

Relatively speaking

Recently, a commenter on a blog post at another site complained bitterly that he could not read the yellow-mauve-and-white-on-black presentation of a web page to which the post had linked. I myself could make out the text, but reading it was hard on the eyes. There are a lot of websites in the internet that are tarted up in this way.

One could speculate about the motives of the authors of such websites, and whether they are at all aware that there are "accessibility" aspects to web design. But over time I have found it more efficient and productive to take unreadable things at face value, and simply not read them. Given the amount of text in the world that is clamoring for attention, I rejoice at every badly designed website I encounter, and every badly written book - in each case one less thing to deal with !

It is an extravagance to posit that there must be substance behind appearances. The principle I apply here is: if less is more, than nothing is most to be desired. In terms of biological evolution, rejection is just the flip side of selection, but it's algorithmically simpler. How to weigh the criteria for selection from a large set of alternatives is a difficult problem, and requires goal-directed intelligence. In contrast, all you need to reject something is a garbage can (in case you need it later on after all).


Ø said...

How to weigh the criteria for rejection from a large set of alternatives is a difficult problem, and requires goal-directed intelligence. In contrast, all you need to select something is a container (to keep it in).

Stuart said...

Hmmm. There does seem to be symmetry lurking here, empty, in the formally attenuated sense that to reject something is to select the complement. But I am assuming three things: that rejection is random, that selection is not random, and that the cardinality of the set-theoretic result makes a critical difference.

If rejection and selection are both understood as random actions, then of course they are to that extent equivalent. But suppose that you are in a shoe store and select a pair of Nike tennis shoes to buy. In the usual sense of "select" you have not made a random choice, but we can ignore that for the moment. The crux is, once you walk out of the store in your Nikes, you have forfeited all the Adidas, Puma etc. brands that were on offer, not to mention those $800 Italian horse-leather business shoes in which you would have been the toast of the next Oberwolfach conference.

In other words, you will have shod your wad on a single pair of shoes. You have to live with that cardinality 1 selection. In contrast, my approach is usually to enter the store, fret indecisively for 15 minutes over what's on offer, then walk out without buying anything. I have rejected selection itself, thereby saving money, and I still have the whole cardinality > 1 gamut to choose from. There is useful asymmetry in the fact that although you must deliberately select rejection, you can willfully reject selection.

Stuart said...

The shoe store metaphor illustrates the Buddhist practice of renouncement in order to achieve nirvana. A Buddhist wants not to have something now and the rest later, but instead to defer all choice indefinitely. In this way he can spend eternity gloating over every precipitate action that he didn't take.

Ø said...

It may be better to go barefoot when following the Buddha.

Stuart said...

If followers of the Buddha go barefoot, then there are no Buddhist shoe stores, and my analogy falls to the ground.