Comment flagging, civil disobedience, God etc. and information theory

Just saw a comment on IC that my Facebook-trained mouse scurried to ‘like’ only to be disappointed as usual. There’s no ‘like’ button. Since I never use the ‘flag as abusive’ button I thought I would use it as a ‘like’ button. I would simply declare once that a flag from me indicates that I liked the comment and from then on everyone would know the convention. Of course even before you finished the last sentence you realized that this is an idiotic “idea.” For one thing, how would the readers know that the flag is from me?  This obvious objection reflects our brains intuitive way of saying, “A simple on/off flag doesn’t have enough information capacity to carry the message.”  You can’t fit two gallons of doogh in a one gallon jug! By the same token you can’t fit a two bit message in a one bit flag. Most of us know what doogh is, but what is a “bit”?

One bit of information is the answer to a single “yes/no” question. If you ask a question that can be answered with a single “yes” or “no” then the answer you get carries one bit of information. In the case of the ‘flag as abusive’ transformation to a ‘like’ flag’ I’m one bit short: Is it flagged (we already have this)? and is it from Ari (We’re missing this)? Notice that it doesn’t matter if the answer is “yes” or “no,” ; the bit still gives you information. Why? Because if you ask someone on the phone if she is naked or not and she truthfully says “no,” then you know that she is dressed. A ‘no’ answer to tails is the same as a ‘yes’ answer to heads. 

We were pretty smart in quickly figuring out the information capacity of a comment flag, but are we as intuitive when it comes to larger amounts of information. For example take a special game of 20 questions where you have to guess an integer number between one and two million. Does your brain immediately jump up and say, “Olaagh, there’s not enough information in 20 yes/no answers to always nail down a number between one and two million?” I will leave this as a puzzle for the reader to figure out what is the maximum number of manghool or non-manghool objects you can choose from when playing a fair game of 20 questions. Meanwhile on to civil disobedience.

IC members have been asking for a ‘like’ flag since Mossadegh appeared on the cover of Times. Similarly Iranians have been demanding civil liberties for even longer. In the case of the IC “abusive flag” an act of civil disobedience would be for a large enough number of people to start using it as a ‘like’ flag thus rendering its information content useless. Readers and admin wouldn’t know what the flag meant anymore. Of course, this would seriously inconvenience IC citizens who use the flag for its original purpose. Also it may annoy bloggers who take more offense at the possibility of a flag meaning “sucks” than can be made up for by the possibility that the flag means ”fantastic”  So I am NOT recommending like-button activism to IC members, just illustrating how a single bit can make a difference even in protest movements.

What are some examples of bits outside the world of offensive comments, computers and politics? Well, the Universe is reallly nothing but bits of information. How does the Moon know the Earth is there so that it can revolve around her. If you took the Earth away, the Moon would fly away in a straight line. So the Moon must somehow be getting information from the Earth.  What sort of yes/no questions is the moon asking the Earth all the time to keep its orbit? To exist means to interact with whatever else is in the Universe, so existence relies on the bit to…well, exist. Recently there’s been a lot of talk in the media reducing God to a particle found at CERN. I’m not of the Higgs particle religion. Worshipping the higgs belongs to the jaheliyya because the higgs itself relies on the bit for its existence. So the Bit is the True Religion and its Earthly manifestation is the ‘flag as abusive’ bit. Call me Bitollahi! 



Image: Portrait of Professor Fazlollah Reza, leading expert in information theory, by artist Kamran Khavarani.

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