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A Lucilius Parable: A Day's Work - Part II
February 10th, 2022
Dedicated to Micle, connect with him on twitter @MicleMihai
Looking at the etymology of the word ‘coherent’ it means for two things to stick together. A contradiction feels uncomfortable because two things are being squished together that don’t belong together because they don’t make sense together. Coherence arises when things that make sense together, stick together. Or in the case of human thought and speech, it’s when we place words and ideas in a sensible order.
But at what level do we run our validation test for what a ‘sensible order’ is? For example, there are plenty of nonsensical sentences that make grammatical sense. Take for instance this one:
“Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.”
Grammatically there is nothing wrong with the sentence. But as to what sort of coherent thought it’s meant to inspire - that’s another question. How can something sleep furiously? Let alone an idea? And how can it be colorless and green?
So taking the simple concept of a sentence, there’s at least two lenses through which we can judge coherence. There’s grammar and syntax, and then there’s actual meaning, which is what we’re usually concerned with. Interestingly, we can have sentences that make sense which are not grammatically sound, so it may seem that syntax and grammar are perhaps arbitrary - but this of course depends on which ruler we are using to judge coherence!
Let’s zoom out from the single sentence and examine the following two sentences as a pair:
The following sentence is false.
The previous sentence is true.
Each sentence is sensible on its own - not just grammatically but semantically. However, when paired, we have a sly contradiction which is anything but easy to resolve. But the point here is to illuminate another level where coherence can be determined. If we zoom into each sentence, we have coherence. If we zoom out, suddenly coherence is destroyed. Unless of course we are using syntax and grammar as our ruler, then coherence is maintained. So again, it depends on the ruler we use to judge coherence.
This process of zoom can continue outward, to paragraphs, pages, chapters, and whole shelves of books and bookcases.
And then of course we can jump out of the world of words and thoughts and examine the galaxy of action. One particularly old proverb pops up: Actions speak louder than words.
What’s interesting is that much of an individual’s behavior is consistent and coherent, but with many people, that coherent behavior isn’t coherent when placed in conjunction with the words such a person says. Actions speak louder than words because it’s a person’s actions that are more likely to effect the world, not their words.
Another axiom needs to be mentioned here: Walk the Talk. Which simply means, do what you say you will, or: make sure your words and your actions are coherent.
Imagine a person who has virtually perfect coherence between all the things they say, and also with all the things they do. What sort of person emerges in the mind? Is this an angry person? A depressed person? Hopeless? Or is it easy to imagine this person as calm - at peace?
Now we perhaps get to why coherence has any value or attraction. What does it mean to be a coherent person, with a coherent message and coherent actions?
While every person operates with some level and contamination of contradiction, the desire and drive for coherence is simple: it’s authentic and genuine, and most importantly: it’s the one thing that inspires trust, because honesty operates on rails of coherence.
It’s impossible to trust someone who has little or no coherence, no matter which level we are talking. Generally, with people comfortable with lying, there’s coherence in the words they say, but the coherent reality they spin up with words is totally incoherent when mapped against their actions on a long enough timeline.
As a species, our one true superpower is our ability to cooperate - especially as strangers, and in order for this to occur, there has to be a significant amount of trust, or, coherence. A desire and drive to be coherent inspires trust in others, raising our communal power of cooperation, further increasing that we’ll be able to help each other achieve the sort of tomorrow that all parties are hoping to make a reality.