Bodhi Season 2020 Begins – Imperfect Information

Most information is imperfect to some degree. This is a slide depicting the broadcast of events from various entities of an enterprise ecosystem. The main point is that the quality of all those events is questionable to some degree. It’s important to note that this image is just a naively idealized estimate of the quality of trustworthiness attributed to the various entities. As they say, your mileage will vary.

Welcome to the Bodhi Season of 2020! Today is December 1, 2020. Bodhi Day itself is next week Tuesday, December 8, 2020.

Ringo once said to me, “I think because things change.” I know Ringo well enough to not question his choice of words. We think, we are creative, and we are rewarded with the ability to admire and appreciate the beauty of our creations. We are driven by curiosity, hunger, and even those pesky frustrations.

A Universe of constant change is the engine of the wonderous world in which our consciousness lives. A prime part of that engine of change is imperfect information. Meaning, practically all information upon which we make decisions is flawed.

In this crazy year of 2020, the year of Covid-19 and the election controversies, haven’t you been surprised at least a few times about what you were certain to be true ending up being wrong? Our physical brains have only so much capacity and it’s easy to overload with noise. Noise at a firehose rate undermines our Zen.

Even if we’re somehow able to cull out the noise, assume positive intent from everyone, and turn off all biases, we still don’t know the measure of the trustworthiness of information we take in. The Universe is a complex system where nothing is certain.

The image at the top of this blog is a slide from a presentation on the “Internet of Things” I gave years ago. It depicts the quality of information conveyed from entity to entity throughout the ecosystem of an enterprise. Events are broadcast from entities (those black, gray, and white boxes) and consumed by others. Rules such as, “toilet paper is delivered” or “travel to Europe is restricted”, is broadcast to entities interested in that event.

Each entity consists of three classes of information:

  • Black part of the box – A chunk of data is purposefully closed to us or beyond our comprehension. It’s the unknowable, incalculable.
  • Gray part of the box – Another chunk isn’t necessarily hidden, but it’s still hard to consume – the gray area of imperfect information. We know the question but can’t get an answer. It’s the unknown, but calculable enough that we can take a guess.
  • White part of the box – A usually smaller part of information is freely open to us – illuminated, fully reflective information. However, although that white part is open to us, it could still be unintentionally obscured, unknowingly incomplete (what we don’t know we don’t know), or outdated. So it’s still imperfect information.

For example, take the Partners box in the image. The proportions of black, gray, and white are intended to represent that an enterprise’s Partners have some level of privacy (black), are relatively open about some things (gray), and are transparent about a fair part of its information (white). Contrast that to the Vendors box just below Partners. Vendors would be less open about information.

The point of the image above is to illustrate the source of the complexity that underlies impermanence, the emptiness of innate form, which is core to Buddhism. It arises not just from many moving parts. but from the inherent imperfection of information. There’s only good about this. Complexity is the very quality that keeps all that we observe in motion, presenting new opportunities, unraveling to reveal new insights.

The Zen practice of keeping an empty mind and focusing on the present is precisely about handling the complexity of the world. Our empty mind allows us to fully take in the Now. The instant of Now is when information is at it’s maximum reliability.

Meditate on this lesson of imperfect information over the next seven days of meditation. I probably won’t post anything until the weekend (December 5, 6) since I’m pretty busy at work this week. I’ve also posted a few other blogs over the past few weeks to meditate on for this Bodhi Season:

Faith and Patience and Wabi Sabi,

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

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