Overcoming the Amygdala Part 101

Data, data. Data, data, data…

Everything seems to depend on data, and we seem to be surrounded by it.

What exactly is ‘data’?

According to the dictionary, data is the plural of datum which means simply ‘a piece of information'. It’s a mid-18th century word, from Latin, literally ‘something given’, from dare ‘give’. But that ‘something’ could be just about anything: a fact, a picture, a moment, an experience, a person, an activity, an opinion… anything that can be ‘given’.

In fact, how we determine what a ‘datum’ is to us is very interesting: we do so subjectively. A datum is anything that we care to define as a datum. So, for example, a datum can be a fact, like ‘It’s sunny today’, to a picture (the trees outside the window), to a moment (brushing your teeth), to an experience (driving to work), to a person (your boss) to an activity (a football game) to an opinion (your friend thinks ghosts aren’t real). All of these things are presented to you, given to you, and you define them as individual ‘items’. You can break them down into smaller data — each individual tree, the halves of the football game, your boss’s habits, and so on — or group them together — ‘what happened today’ or ‘2020’ or ‘people I know’. You can combine or deconstruct them ad infinitum.

The point is that they are there, they happen, they exist, even imaginary data that have being only in your imagination.

If you were a robot, all these data would flow into your recorded memory banks without comment or significance — but, as you’re human, each datum is assigned a degree of meaning. Your daughter’s face has more meaning than yesterday’s newspaper; your interview with your boss has more significance than the fact that you have run out of toothpaste.

How do you assign significance?

Significance is assigned based on projected ideals.

Your daughter’s face has more meaning for you because you project an ideal relationship between yourself and her onto it; yesterday’s newspaper has little meaning because you don’t project much onto it. Your interview with your boss, likewise, is against a backdrop of projected outcomes from you; your lack of toothpaste barely registers by comparison.

A robot would simply scan and record, according to its programming — no significance would be tagged, unless it has been assigned to tag such-and-such significance by its human programmer.