Money Talks

“Money talks’ because money is a metaphor, a transfer, and a bridge. Like words and language, money is a storehouse of communally achieved work, skill, and experience. Money, however, is also a specialist technology like writing; and as writing intensifies the visual aspect of speech and order, and as the clock visually separates time from space, so money separates work from the other social functions. Even today money is a language for translating the work of the farmer into the work of the barber, doctor, engineer, or plumber. As a vast social metaphor, bridge, or translator, money-like writing-speeds up exchange and tightens the bonds of interdependence in any community. It gives great spatial expansion and control to political organizations, just as writing does, or the calendar. — Marshal McLuhan


I am tempted to pick some nits and ask whether money is better seen as a storehouse of work as a metaphor or as a symbolic representation of work. Is it a medium of exchange or of communication? Does that distinction matter? The non-reality, the symbolic-value-only of money is not so obvious until the symbolism fails. I’ve got a 100,000,000 mark note from the days of German hyperinflation. It’s just paper, a storehouse of nothing.

Rose, Rose, Rose

> “a medium of exchange or of communication?”


All of these are syntactically interchangeable:
A medium is a medium is a medium.
Exchange is exchange is exchange.
Communication is communication is communication.
A medium is an exchange is a communication.


(I have a feeling this will cause an anti-post-mod rant.)

I wonder if technology is primarily metaphorical rather than literal. A computer is a symbolic engine. But what seems odd to me is that networked computers result in a kind of literalness or tribalism.

My thought is that a stratified organization, such as citizenship, requires a metaphorical leap; I am a subject of this country; I exchange certain rights/responsibilities for certain rights/responsibilities where as a family (tribe) requires no leap. This is my mother, because I came out of her body.

There is something organic about digital goods (you are more likely for instance to get typos right out of the author’s addled brain rather than in a mass produced book that is handled by editors / typesetters / compositors / strippers / printers / binders) and so maybe networked computers are fundamentally different than stand alone engines. Different in that the relationship between objects becomes the dominate form of classification (or function) rather then their purpose as symbol-crunches.

I am not being clear. But I think this dovetails with William James’ Radical Empiricism. Wasn’t he too practical to be a Pragmatist?

So a network is primarily literal rather than metaphorical. I wonder if this is true. The problem then with networked computers being that it is essentially an oxymoron or paradox. A literal metaphor sounds like faith.

Gold Bricks Do Not Equal Newspaper

> A medium is an exchange is a communication.

Voice 1:

Well, not quite. To some extent the exchange of information and the exchange of value are equivalent, but not quite. If I give you 1,000 gold bricks, I give you a lot of value (and a pretty severe transportation problem). If I give you 1,000 daily newspapers I give you a lot of information but not much value (value in the sense of being immediately, physically exchangeable for others things of value).

No amount of money will cause knowledge missing from my brain to spontaneously appear (but admittedly most information can be bought for the right price [but not yet the whereabouts of Hussein or bin Laden]). Similarly, information does not immediately and directly become wealth (although certain kinds of information can be fairly easily transformed into wealth).

So, to me a “medium of exchange” means something like currency (the symbolic representation of work) and “medium of communication” means something like a newspaper (the symbolic representation of thought). Currencies can be hard (e.g., gold) or soft (e.g., paper money) and communication media likewise can be more or less direct (a tight piece of journalism vs. some airy piece of performance art).

Even the “symbolic representation” part differs for these. Money is the symbolic representation of the value (as in cost) of work, without regard for the value (as in social utility) of work. I.e., a hundred bucks earned saving a life spends the same as a hundred bucks earned selling drugs to kids. Money abstracts the meaning of work to pure purchasing power, stripping it bare of semantics. The whole point of money is that the value is completely abstracted away from the process of how the value was created.

I suppose one could argue that some kinds of current performance art is designed to abstract away semantics as well, leaving only the process of art behind. Whether there is any content at all left after such abstraction is a matter of possible debate. Sending two people into a city, each carrying half a tuba, with the assignment that when they meet they are to reassemble the tuba and play a single note could, I suppose, be called art of a sort, but I must confess a total bafflement as to the point. When I am told that the pointlessness is the point, I respond that “that’s my point” but probably pointlessly.

Personally, I often wonder whether it is possible for art to have real meaning in the absence of religious belief or political repression, but that’s my profoundly logical side showing – the side that causes me to feel that there are only two kinds of mental processes: logic and gibberish. I have yet to see a good logical argument in favor of the meaning of gibberish (excuse me, mysticism. or artistic rapture, or …), but then that’s to be expected, isn’t it?

A key question is, “what is the source of truth” (or, minimally, “of meaning”) in statements. I am of a belief that truth in statements consists only of correspondence with physical reality. “Snow is white” is true if and only if snow is in fact white. One can also argue that truth consists of correspondence with the mind of god, although how one is to determine the mind of god seems impossibly challenging. A most feeble remaining option is that truth consists of engendering feelings of truthfulness. This last seems to me so hopelessly indistinguishable from hallucination as not even to warrant attempted refutation.

Gold Bricks are like Newspapers, Money Talks

> Bogus

Voice 2:

Apple and oranges. Of course newspapers aren’t literally gold (unless they are both virtual) in which case they are both digital and pretty much the same thing; I think this ability of the digital only to signify is at heart the crux of a melting together of the metaphorical and literal in the digital medium; there is a tension inherent in the commerce of information. Unlike gold, digital information can represent anything because it mimics synaptic connections (where I think we process meaning). And networked digital information, then, has the additional intrinsic feature of exchange. Gold can only be exchanged through an external system assigning value (or meaning) to the gold. However, they are an essential similar as symbolic tools, or media.

I keep thinking of McLuhan’s externalized nervous system. This always seemed painful to me. He seemed sort of ecstatic about it.

My line of thought here isn’t a literal comparison of gold and newspaper and communication but rather that they are mediums of exchange and operate in the way metaphor operates; that is metaphor transfers meaning; gold and newspapers also transfer meaning; my contention is that metaphor provides the primary cognitive glue to digital information and that through an analysis of similar metaphorical systems — money, barter, nationality, the alphabet, calculus, etc. an understanding of the use of information technology can be developed; what is information and how does it work. The concepts of knowledge (as in knowledge management system) or data (as in database) are meaningless without the data having significance. This significance, I think, can only be transferred through metaphor.

You’re return to logic and math is at heart a reliance on metaphor, I think. However even “=” is not an absolute. I equate “=” and “to be” as having similar symbolic functions.

This sounds a bit like Clinton, but “to be” has some problems being parsed correctly in the English sentence. There is some confusion whether “to be” is declarative, meaning literal equivalent, meaning the same thing, i.e., water is liquid; or metaphorical in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money). The same symbol is used.

(In fact there is a movement to create a form of English with that has striken “to be” and all of its forms from the language. [Just a note: this seems really nuts.])

My thought here is that “to be” in the context of “a medium is an exchange is a communication” (using the general rather than the specific “a newspaper is gold is a metaphorical one and stronger than a simile).

One of the hostilities leveled against deconstructionist (the ugly step-child of semiotics, I think) is the idea that it was intent on destroying the object of a signifier, essentially leaving behind the brittle words of a “text” like a honeycomb with the honey sucked out. Aside from being no fun, work that derives from this tends to echo with emptiness and nothing really being said, but bad work is bad work. A recent good example I think is the movie Adaptation. But it did drive my mother nuts. She felt it was self-indulgent (always an odd charge I think against a work of art, which I think means she felt excluded from the party somehow like being invited but not liking the music, maybe?)

I think my interest here in the application of metaphor to information seems like it might be aiming for a similar negative goal. It isn’t; rather I am interested in a functional application of information. Information does work — this is clear — but how does it work?

This is your statement: “Snow is white” is true if and only if snow is in fact white.

Snow, of course, isn’t white, but depends on the frequency of the reflected light, which in turn depends on the light source, the texture of the snow, etc. Whiteness itself is a name — unless you mean pure light. Whatever color light bounces off the snow still has to interact with a human retina which must transfer this information into the visual cortex, etc. Where it enters a physical system of synapses, neurons, and chemical transmitters that finally assign a value to the light: white. I am not disputing the physical world, but rather I am disputing what I take to be your insistence on breaking the world into the physical and nonphysical.

Meaning and consciousness are physical process occurring in our brain as real and visible as snow. In so far as syntax too is rooted in the physical structures of our brain — which they are — semantics operate under the same laws and in the same realm of reality as any other physical process which is in Newton’s world rather than in any airy performance art or deconstructed world. Yet, to understand these laws we must engage then in a similar process undertaken by the semiotics. If computers are symbolic engines — then an understanding of the operations of signs and symbols will provide clues to how they work.

“There is not a conjunction or a preposition, and hardly an adverbial phrase, syntactic form, or inflection of voice, in human speech, that does not express some shading of or other of relation which we at some moment actually feel to exist between the larger objects of our thought.” — Henry James in Psychology: Briefer Course.

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