The Reader/Author Transaction Model

A very interesting reading tip from Bret Victor, compiled on this page in the sidebar:

Carver Mead describes a physical theory in which atoms exchange energy by resonating with each other. Before the energy transaction can happen, the two atoms must be phase-matched, oscillating in almost perfect synchrony with each other.

I sometimes think about resonant transactions as a metaphor for getting something out of a piece of writing. Before the material can resonate, before energy can be exchanged between the author and reader, the reader must already have available a mode of vibration at the author’s frequency. (This doesn’t mean that the reader is already thinking the author’s thought; it means the reader is capable of thinking it.)

People often describe written communication in terms of transmission(the author explained the concept well, or poorly) and/or absorption (the reader does or doesn’t have the background or skill to understand the concept). But I think of it more like a transaction — the author and the reader must be matched with each other. The author and reader must share a close-enough worldview, viewpoint, vocabulary, set of mental models, sense of aesthetics, and set of goals. For any particular concept in the material, if not enough of these are sufficiently matched, no resonance will occur and no energy will be exchanged.

Perhaps, as a reader, one way to get more out of more material is to collect and cultivate a diverse set of resonators, to increase the probability of a phase-match.

My brief thought: I wouldn’t be so pessimistic as to say there are no times no energy is exchanged in a reader-author relationship. I think there’s always a chance to learn something new.


(via Jason Kottke)

One thought on “The Reader/Author Transaction Model

  1. I wonder if, with a stretch of imagination, extend the argument to what we’ve been reading about the SECRET and the Law of Attraction and how everything is ENERGY and vibrations, and the more we are IN-SYNC with the universe, the more likely we attract what we want, reduce dissonance, and live happier. What do you think.
    BTW, I really enjoy your blog.

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