Rhyme and Meter are Error Correcting Codes

Any electrical engineer will tell you: the two ways to overcome noise on a channel are using energy to boost your signal, and adding redundancy on the channel. Energy makes the signal louder. Redundancy allows receivers to better deal with loss. Shakespeare didn’t have electrical amplifiers, but he did have ancient, error-correcting code technology known as meter and rhyme.

The predictive processing model says that when we’re hearing a story, our brains are making predictions. Our meat-computers try to predict the next words we’ll hear. This prediction process is core to how perception works. If the story we are being told is expressed in rhyming couplets, the search space shrinks.  It is easier, computationally, for any predictive processing system (human or silicon) to listen to rhyming couplets than it is to listen to freeform text.  If you are speaking without any amplification – say, in a shakespearean amphitheatre – then the use of rhyme and meter serves as an error correcting code. Rhyming helps your audience hear. It’s easier to make out “what that guy said” when it has to rhyme with the last sentence.

In addition to aiding the transmission of a story from teller to audience, the use of rhyming couplet also facilitates memory. After writing my post on the Golden Rule, I kept thinking about this idea of communication between versions of myself. I started thinking of my memory as being a communication channel that different versions of myself use to talk to each other.  Searching your memory for a story to recall is like listening in a noisy room. If you know the story is written in a rhyming couplet, it’s easier to recall the story exactly.

So, in the spirit of this post, here’s a rhyming couplet about why this matters:


The knowledge that we’re primates nearly overturned the world.
Please use it as a template for this URL that you’ve curl’d.
“People are computers”, sounds insane, I know, it’s true.
Please consider that emotion as a clue from you to you.

The border between genius and insanity is fractal.
All language is a code, whether english, french, or haskell.
You process streams of data just like machines that you know.
Self-knowledge is the fastest way your consciousness can grow.

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