Friday, November 27, 2009

The perils of binary communication

'There are two kinds of people in this world - those who divide everything into two and those who don't', said Robert Benchley. The latter category of people will have a tough time getting some information out of me.

There are two broad strategies to get an answer from me:
  1. Divide the universe of possible answers into two groups and ask me to choose one. Divide the chosen group into two and ask me to choose one and so on till you reach the correct answer.
  2. For all the possible alternatives, ask me a question with a yes/no answer and I will blink yes for the correct alternative.
But what happens if I am not given all the alternatives? For instance, someone once asked me how many wickets India had lost that day. He then gave me the choices: 1,2,3....10. I did not blink for anything so he became confused. The problem was that India had not lost wickets that day. How was I to indicate it if I was not given the alternative 'zero'? Hamstrung by Jaya's absence, I had no option but to wait patiently and hope that the person realised that he had missed something.

There may be some occasions when somebody will be adventurous enough to try to find out my answer by dictating the letters. But most probably, he will be unaware of all the intricacies involved in communicating with me and will soon encounter some roadblock. He will be successful only 'so far as his labors extended' as Dupin said in The Purloined Letter.

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