How Literal Should Extropian Posts Be?

From: Lee Corbin (
Date: Mon Aug 20 2001 - 21:00:45 MDT

Olga Bourlin writes

>>> I wish the store managers who stayed up nights thinking
>>> about ... their supermarkets... would also come up with
>>> some ideas about how best to treat farm workers. I wish
>>> the "immense concentration of knowledge [taking] place
>>> in the minds of a few people [with]...incentive to improve
>>> the quality of the stores" would develop some incentive
>>> to improve the quality of [farm workers' lives].
>> ... What possible incentive would anyone have to lie awake
>> at night thinking of the best way to treat farm workers?
> You know, Lee, after reading your replies to some posts for the last few
> weeks, I note that you tend to take what people write very literally.
> Speaking for myself, I often take poetic license in trying to impart the
> essence of what I am trying to say - sometimes what I write is meant
> figuratively, not literally. In your reply above, you are asking about
> "what possible incentive" would a person have to lie awake at night thinking
> about ... farm workers? I was simply suggesting a "looking at the forest"
> approach to your inspiring story about heroic supermarket marketeers.

Well, I had begun by speaking literally about the supermarket manager
who literally did think on and off all day long (and conceivably even
for a while after he or she retired) about improving the supermarket.
You seemed to respond in turn. That is, I interpreted your remark to
mean, literally, that someone would also dwell on the problems of the
farm workers to the extent that they might also keep thinking (on and
off) all day long and even unto bed about the issues. So I asked you
what incentive people would have to do that. Hal Finney responded by
pointing out that we would expect the growers to have such concerns
(provided that certain conditions were met). I don't quite see how
I was being overly literal. And if I was, then so perhaps was he?

I do not think that you are alone in resorting to imagery and metaphor
to attempt to communicate your ideas. It seems to me (though I could
be wrong) that I also write at a level that employs a number of means
of accurate communication. Sure, some misunderstandings do occur. My
favorite is when I'm asking a question to obtain information, but since
perhaps the tone of my post has been critical, this is taken as sarcastic
or rhetorical (I have since learned to always make it clear when I am
just asking for information).

But someone else not long ago was accusing me of being overly literal,
and I wonder if perhaps there is some truth to the allegation that
some of us indeed too heavily emphasize literalness when our object
is clarity, but please do recall that almost a thousand people may be
lurking the list at any one time, and lack of clarity often receives
swift punishment. My style has also prompted people on two occasions
to ask if I was an AI, and on one occasion to seriously ask if I was
a quadriplegic (so unworldly my posts had evidently waxed). Does
anyone have any guidelines, observations, or useful suggestions on
the topic of literalness?

Being too "literal-minded" is a fascinating psychological phenomenon.
I've met a few people in my life that struck me as so, and I found
that I simply could not hold an intelligent conversation with them.
So it's actually quite interesting to hear that I (and possibly
some others) are seen by some as too literal-minded ourselves.

Lee Corbin

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