Noise Helps Signal! LO2726

Jim Michmerhuizen (
Sun, 10 Sep 1995 20:37:26 +0059 (EDT)

Replying to LO2604 -- was Anonymity in Meetings
[...Subject line changed by your host...]

Mariann Jelinek <> wrote:

> I found Michael McMaster's comments on the value of "noise"
>especially striking. In struggling to write about how groups jointly shape
>their cognitions and reading communications and perception theory, it's
>notable to me that "noise" is like "beauty" - in the eye (ear) of the
>beholder. [...snip...]

[...abbreviated quote of Mariann's msg inserted by your host...]

An article in last month's Scientific American suggests an interesting
metaphor for this, or for something like this. Signals and background
noise; under some circumstances, the noise can help, rather than hinder,
the detection of the signal.

The phenomenon was named "stochastic resonance" by the people who first
looked into it. The examples given in the article set me to thinking
about analog continuity and digital discontinuity; one of the homelier
examples was I think a marble in an egg carton, being randomly jiggled
until it pops out of one compartment into another.

In connection with some group-think sort of meetings I have conducted
in the past, I was asking myself why I feel so uncomfortable with written
"agendas" and predetermined outlines and whatnot. And it hit me that
one thing we humans do best is exactly the extraction from noise that
the article dealt with. I personally like to let a meeting begin with
desultory "noise" talk. The signals that represent what _must_ be
talked about will be in the noise. How could they possibly _not_ be
in there?

The written agenda is problematic not because it is written but because
it is written by _one_ person. It is not an immediate experience by the

In an extended sense, we need some noise, even when there is a formal
or defined focus to our meeting, to be a constant reminder of what our focus
is leaving out. Without that noise, our focussed attention would eventually
delude us into imagining that nothing outside our focus could even _exist_.
It's the noise that teaches us humility... .

     Jim Michmerhuizen
     web residence at
. . . . . . . . . .   Actions speak louder than words   . . . . . . . . . .
 . . . . . . . . . .        but not as clearly         . . . . . . . . . .