I’ve decided to write a post about meaning because it is the essential driver of human behaviour. We are meaning-makers, story-makers, and if we do not know “what it’s all about,” we will not move into action. At the same time, the creation of our meaning is complex and sophisticated.
Some definitions are needed. Data refers to patterns within energy transmission. Information refers to a measurement of a signal (data) between a sender and receiver, from point A to point B. For data to become information, the data must be perceived by someone; information requires both data and perceiver. Information is a derivative of consciousness; it is not the same as meaning, and in fact, information has nothing to do with meaning.
Meaning is the fit between self and non-self; if the perceived data relates to who we perceive ourselves to be (the fit) or in some way challenges who we are, we make meaning of the information. I’ve previously talked about how we do this, the TIC process, as one of the major limitations of meaning. We translate (T) the data in to something we recognize, we interpret (I) the data on the basis of our existing filters (preconceptions), and then we corroborate (C) the data by checking the significance, the fit, with an existing group we trust.
Another way we create meaning is if the information interests us. Davis in That’s Interesting! proposes that social theories (at least) are interesting because they challenge the underlying presuppositions of the reader, potentially altering both the common sense and the scientific view of reality. For me, this is an interesting idea in itself as it leads me to ponder what happens when the presuppositions are firmly held, as in the conflict between the environmental movement and the deniers of global warming.
Obviously there are all sorts of ways in which this process of meaning-making can go sour. One of the major ways is that in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it. This limits meaning! We bypass much of what we might actually need to know because of too much information. For me, it is a form of trauma, leading to overwhelm and apathy.
And we respond to it in the many ways associated with acedia:
- we become fearful of overwhelm (“It’s too much.) This is especially true when we approach the issue of global warming. There is so much information and the information is so painful to absorb, we give up.
- we become lazy (“I’ll look at it tomorrow.” “Somebody else will fix it.”)
- we become self-righteous, especially if our corroborative group is also in denial. At its extreme, we actively sabotage by creating dis-information.
Even more frustrating is the nature of information dissemination. I’ve just been reading about Edward Bernays and the manipulation of Public Relations. He was the key figure in the early-mid 20th century responsible for the massive increase in public propaganda following the Second World War — advertising.
Bernays sold the myth of propaganda as a wholly rational endeavor, carried out methodically by careful experts skilled enough to lead “public opinion.” Consistently he casts himself as a supreme manipulator, mastering the responses of a pliable, receptive population. “Conscious and intelligent manipulation,” “invisible governors,” “they who pull the wires which control the public mind,” “shrewd persons operating behind the scenes,” “dictators exercising great power,” and, below them, people working “as if actuated by the touch of a button”—these are but a few expressions of the icy scientistic paradigm that evidently drove his propaganda practice, and that colored all his thinking on the subject. The propagandist rules. The propagandized do whatever he would have them do, exactly as he tells them to, and without knowing it. [Propaganda Quotes]
In reading this, I’ve also been aware of the changing parameters by which people engage in modern thinking, highly illustrative of both how information is transformed into meaning (especially via the TIC process), and the relationship between power and knowledge. An attendee at a recent Flat Earth Convention discusses just this theme: “those in power control what is considered to be correct and incorrect knowledge.” It fascinates me that a conference on the “reality” of a flat earth exists in today’s complex world! I wonder what else I am missing.
Two areas of changing parameters are most obvious to me:
- the whole of the consumer industry with its so-called advertising processes. I like to think that originally advertising was meant to inform (perhaps my naiveté); now I simply see it as propaganda and manipulation.(my meaning).
- the hidden algorithms that underlie many processes that presume to offer me choice: online filter bubbles that act in ways that provide information based on my previous choices. These occur in the hidden background of many well-known websites, and essentially restrict my corroboration to what I have already chosen.
Give all this, what do I trust? And, what to do?
One of the maxims I am using these days is: Be at peace; come back tomorrow! By this, I do not mean “I’ll look at it tomorrow” or “Someone else will fix it.”
I actually mean I’ll do what I can today and be at peace with what I have done! And then see what tomorrow offers for me to explore and do, again peacefully.
Another interesting idea for me is how to disappear in this digital age. There are certainly people who want to disappear, and there are also people who specialize in this process, especially when it is legal to do so; I also imagine many processes by which people disappear for illegal actions.
Next post, I’ll give some updated information about global warming — the primary intention of this blog is to challenge the human issues that drive climate change.
I hope that this additional information will help you to make greater meaning in your life!