Of the Eternal Importance of Clowns

Information is not meaning. The first is the vessel which transports the second. An example? “Waka doko jenerico” is information. It isn’t meaning. At least not to you. Nor to me really. These are three words I just came up with. “The car is dumb” is information. It’s also meaning. That we know however. But the interesting point is why “Waka doko jenerico” represents information. That’s because it is a difference. In the continuum of time and space, in the universe of events going on, it is a quirk that modifies the once prevailing status quo. A world with “Waka doko jenerico” out there is different from a world without it.

Same for a world with the Big Bang compared to a world without the Big Bang. Yes, the Big Bang is information. Same for a gene mutation. And these other examples instruct us as to what information actually is. It isn’t only a difference, it’s a difference that makes a difference. Meaning is useless in both of these scenarios. Whether there is meaning or not, a gene mutation, which represents a difference in the gene sequence, will lead to a difference in phenotype and, maybe, to a different feature in a given species.

  1.  For millions of years, gene mutations had no meaning since they were not perceived or understood by any species. Even ours. It is only after we decoded the genome that gene mutations became meaningful. Because, finally, they were perceivable. But that is not enough for information to have meaning.
  2. The information needs to be readable by the recipient. Having not been able to decode and read the genome, there was no way our ancestral selves could ever reach the meaning of a mutation.
  3. And the information also needs to be understandable. It has to be coherent with the comprehension grid of the information recipient.

These are the three conditions for meaning to emerge. So a CD with Bach’s symphonies on it, sent into space and found by an extraterrestrial will probably be meaningless since she/he, though able to perceive it, won’t be able to read it. She/he has no CD player. And even if she/he had, the question remains whether his grid of comprehension will allow him to understand what the content of this CD is about. Especially if there's some Rihanna songs in there ("you da one, you da one ...")

A CD player in that case, just as the proteins that transform DNA into other proteins, are revelators of the information. They are the elements that make it readable. They reveal it. As it is for the clowns of our world. What ?!

Enter the Heyoka (The Holy Fool):

In ancient America, Indians were a highly advanced, deeply sustainable society. They would not kill more buffalos than they needed to feed their tribes. They understood their impact on the world around them. But every society, just like every system, however virtuous it is, will not last, without an effective feedback mechanism. And that is what clowns do. Clowns provide feedback in their own way. The Indian clowns were called Heyokas and were perceived as sacred.

Typically, on a very hot day, the Heyokas would put their warmest cloths on while they’d walk naked on a very cold day. They would laugh when something sad happens and weep when something good occurs. They were contrarians, helping people to constantly remember there was another side to every story. They used their imagination to reveal the difference. Their actions were differences that made a difference. Heyokas were pure information. Whether the Indians always understood their actions and saw meaning in them is unsure. The Indian reality was surely modified however as a consequence of the actions of the Heyokas.

Clowns are ... Important ?

In many ways, society has a debt towards those who imagine:

  • Sci-fi writers push progress forward. They open a world of possibilities through their stories. The nuclear bomb, skyscrapers, submarines … were all imagined and detailed by science fiction writers way before they were actually invented (Thank you Yasser Bahjatt)
  • Clowns (and humorists in general) fix the present by criticizing it
  • Historians imagine the past. Indeed, however precise they get to be, there’s always some improvisation involved. And that is how they are able to reveal our societies’ past.

The future, the present and the past can be seen as meaningful because the people gifted with imagination take them from simply perceivable to readable and hence understandable. That is to say, a political election (clearly perceivable by all of us) is seen differently once a humorist starts criticizing it putting forward the ridicule of the candidates’ messages. What he did was make that ridicule, though it’s always been perceived, readable and hence understandable. One can see Don Quichotte as a more modern Heyoka and Comedians as nowaday's Heyokas.

What are you getting at ?

We owe clowns, sci-fi writers and historians much more than we think. One might think all they do is reveal something that’s there and give it some meaning. Only that’s the interesting part: If not revealed, meaning will never come into existence. It’ll never emerge from information. It’ll stay there, hanging, not as a hypothetical possibility but as an unexploited potential of evolution. The gene mutation won’t ever lead to new humans, the Bach symphony on a CD will remain unheard and the credibility of the ridiculous candidate will remain unquestioned.

Difference unleashes evolution. Different is beautiful. You are beautiful