0497 – adjust the resolution of your map to suit your quest

I’m tired and a little drunk but I feel like I should get a word vomit out pronto because I haven’t done one in a while and I’ve been sort of procrastinating on it. I like that I’m getting better at listening to my own inner voice about what I should I should not do. To be more precise, I’m getting better at hearing my inner voice. Learning to follow it is still a bit of a stretch, but I’ll get there.

What does an inner voice mean? Some people use mystical terms like God or ntalk about having some sort of divine passion or inspiration or something. I’m not sure it’s all that magnificent– or rather, if it’s magnificent, it’s magnificent subjectively, not objectively. It ultimately still stems from the bag of chemicals that we identify with.

I was talking to my wife a little about this, and we were talking about things like taste, and “resolutions”. In this case, I’m talking about resolution in the digital image sense– a high-resolution map versus a low-resolution one. And I’m thinking about a post I read on Ribbonfarm about how different people have different resolution maps of the same territory. For instance, to me, there are primarily two kinds of wine– red and white. And I suppose champagne is a kind of white wine. I think. And that’s good enough to me. To a wine snob, there might be hundreds of different kinds of wine. She has a higher resolution map of wine than me. And any time two people with different resolution maps of reality interact, a decision has to be made– should we use the lower resolution map, or the higher resolution one? Using the low-res map requires the person with the high-res map to compromise and give up their cherished nuance and distinctions. It requires a bluntness that they will probably find cringeworthy. Using the high-res map requires the person with the low-res map to increase the resolution of their map, or otherwise develop some sort of system or heuristic for navigating the higher-resolution map. This is tedious and tiresome, and it requires a lot of effort.

So how do we decide? Usually it’s a matter of power relations. So for example if my boss insists that I use her higher-res map to think about something, then I’m going to have to suck it up and add more nuance to my low-res map. If I fail to do this, she will notice, because perhaps she wants “1.4433” and I gave her “1.4”– good enough for me, totally wrong for her. The 0.0433 is irrelevant to me, but it might be a world of difference to her, or to anybody else who sees things from her point of view, who uses a map of equivalently high resolution. And this is recursive all the way down– a person used to 1.4s will balk at a 1.4433, but a person who operates in the realm of 1.4432987653 will cringe at the bluntness of 1.4433. And so on.

When you have a lower-res map than is required to achieve a particular goal, it’s obvious that you have no choice but to increase your resolution.

But what happens when you have a higher-res map than is required? Here it gets a little tricky. Professionals understand that this is the nature of work, and that they’ll often have to ship things that they’re personally dissatisfied with. This has taken me a long time to internalize, and I still haven’t figured out the most optimal vocabulary to think/talk about it. This is part of why I’m writing about it, to be clearer in my own thinking about it. (That’s right, I’m increasing the resolution my map of “the distinction between low-res and high-res maps”. So meta.)

Chances are, when you have a high-res map, you get attached to it. Because it probably took a lot of work to develop it. As a wine snob, you get personally offended when a person says, “but aren’t there only two kinds of wine?” Hans Rosling, for example, has a very high resolution map of the global population, and he gets violently offended when people say things like “oh, there’s the developed world and there’s the developed world”. To Hans, there are many, many different categories in between. (And reality, of course, doesn’t even give a fuck about our categories. Reality is an endless continuum. Reality is the territory itself, and all maps necessarily fail to map it perfectly.)

I find myself thinking that there are at least two possible outcomes when you have a higher-res map than the situation “requires”.

1. You can acknowledge that the situation really does function fine with a lower-res map (and to do this, you need a separate, related map of “when is it okay to use a lower-res map?”, and you then have to define precisely what ‘okay’ means)…
2. You might realize that a higher-res map is actually better than a lower-res map for this particular situation. For this to happen, the higher-res map must provably be able to achieve a better outcome than the lower-res map. This requires being sufficiently precise about the desired outcome.

Sometimes using a higher-resolution map is completely second-nature– that is, you make nuanced calls and judgements without having to think about it, without having to allocate additional resources to think about it. If you can measure 1.4433 in the same time that someone else takes to measure 1.4, then you should always do that. But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the objective is to move fast, to use resources nimbly so that you can move on to the next thing. In this case, even if you can go to 1.4433, it makes sense to go to 1.4 or 1.43 and then move on to the next thing. This is something I still struggle with– developing a better top-down view of the overall war, so you don’t burn yourself out building elaborate battle plans for a single skirmish.

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