Monday, December 30, 2013

Rules on getting information

One of the rules they teach doctors is not to order tests on patients if they will not use the results. Lets think about other rules related to the gathering of information.

Think of a patient who has either health problem A or health problem B. If he has A, then a treatment exists that will cure the problem. If he has B, the treatment will not cure the problem, but will do no harm. There is no treatment for B except what an old friend used to call "the tender elixir of time". There is a test which costs about the same as treatment which is pretty good at establishing whether the patient has condition B. Clearly, a doctor should simply prescribe the treatment and not the test.

If there is a distinction without a difference, don't bother to make the distinction.

If you need to understand something, the more direct the experience, the better the information you get is likely to be.

Reading is dangerous. Be careful getting information from books. Be especially careful getting information from books that are based on other books that are based on still other, earlier books.

When reading, remember that words change their meaning. I was thinking about the biblical word "begat". Once there was only one way an author or reader could interpret the word "begat". Now we have that traditional way, artificial insemination, in vitro insemination, and for some animals, cloning.

When reading translations, remember that words in a source language do not always carry the exact meaning that the reader of the translation infers. There are shades of meaning that can be learned with experience communicating in a new language, and that can be clarified by questioning someone who is truly bilingual, that are not conveyed in written translations.

When reading translations, remember that mistranslation is not unknown. (I loved reading "English as she is Spoke")  I remember a friend who thought it would be wrong to read Dostoyevsky translated into English, but did not read Russian. So he read Dostoyevsky translated into Italian, which he had learned as a second language. Translations of translations of translations are likely to have more errors than single translations. Old translations of translations are likely to have changes in meanings compounding mistranslations.

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