Week 2: What is meaning?

Sense Making concepts from 20160124
New facets collected from reader comments and Week 1.5 post

2 Overview ball 20160124Thank you for commenting on my project and learning along with me! Your notes inspired new insights and those made it onto the ball this week, along with the insights from my ‘lexical analysis’ in the Week 1.5 post. Between these two sources, this week we essentially focused on common-sense understandings of “sense making,” which is great. This is a robust concept in our language and it bears probing.

**Click here to jump straight to the 2-minute recording of the current status of the ball (skip watching me build it, below).**

This week, the cutting and pasting went very smoothly–until I came to the facet “meaning.” There is a sense in which “sense making” is “meaning making.” But I don’t know how to articulate what that is or where “meaning” comes from. Philosophers of language debate what “meaning” means all the time! And sociologists, religious scholars, and other academics often join the mix. But what do you think? What is ‘meaning’? Where should I place it on my ball?

9 thoughts on “Week 2: What is meaning?

  1. yes! well. i saw the second video before this one. This is a necessary introduction! i thought I understood the process sorta. but needed this to “make sense” of what you were doing… For me it IS an abstract process.. and looking forward to learning with you.. ONward to re-watching the second video now…

  2. A quick question, given the changing nature of the ball: what do you take its status to be, vis-a-vis sense-making? I know that you said earlier in response to Gana that use of it is an “assumption” that highlights the embodied nature of sense-making, but what does this assumption amount to? Is the ball a foundation? A boundary object? An integrator? Scaffolding that will eventually be taken down when you have made sense of sense-making?

    1. Hmm, I think the ball amounts to a conceptual framework in the sense that it constrains the possible ways I can think about sense making. It forces me to fit sense making into the geometric concepts appropriate to a sphere, e.g., surface area, diameter, sections (aka “facets), and then to use these features as metaphors for conceptual relations. I may eventually abandon the ball in favor of another object or metaphor if I start learning too many things about sense making that do not fit the ball framework. In analogy to the 6 blind men and the elephant, I currently think this part of the elephant is like a sphere, but in my explorations, I might find large parts that are not at all spherical in which case I’ll have to subsume my sphere into something else. The question will be when to stop exploring.

  3. I increasingly appreciate this project as it parallels some things I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ve lately been trying to make sense sense-making as part of how people (even adults) learn. Whatever I see/hear/read has to somehow makes sense to me before I can actually use it in my work. Sparing the details, my immediate point is that I have a growing appreciation for this project as it dawns on me that it relates to something I am trying to do already. As I join this week’s conversation a little later than a couple of the others, I am already enjoying it. I see you acknowledging the shape itself. The was also on my mind.

    For years I’ve had tucked in the back of my mind the notion that exposure to new knowledge may spark concern, and then potential action (a concept about how education may lead to behavior change). To put it more simply: I have lately been thinking of “meaning” as perhaps part of the “so what?” as we go from “what?” (data/information), to “so what?” (importance/discernible patterns), to “now what?” (what actions make sense?). Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless offer those three questions essentially as a way to help walk people (perhaps more consciously than normal) through the “Ladder of Inference” introduced by Chris Argyris and further developed by others (http://www.liberatingstructures.com/9-what-so-what-now-what-w/). (Note: on the ladder itself, “meaning” even precedes “assumptions”?)

    What I especially LIKE about the sphere is that it is not a linear “ladder”. The direction is in no way fixed. With a sphere, I find it especially easy to imagine information coming in from one direction, being “made sense of” by someone, and prompting any course of action depending on who made sense of it, and how. I think that meaning is largely personal, and is strong when it relates to other experiences that you may be focused on, or feel strongly about.

    Another relevant point I notice about what you’ve tacked onto the sphere is “compelling explanation”. The word “compelling” seems also to relate meaning to potential action.

    1. Nathan, I’m glad this is useful to you, too. Yes, I understand the “so what” phase as adding meaning to data to get patterns and personal significance. Interesting to consider if we make assumptions based on meanings, or if we make meanings based on assumptions. Maybe both. For example, if I say, “This linear pattern in the data means temperature is increasing,” I guess “linear” is a meaning (of the data) and “increasing” is a meaning of the linear pattern. The assumption is that “linear” correlates to “increasing.” So it’s a meaning sandwich: (data) meaning–assumption–(pattern) meaning. The Ladder of Inference just renames the second (pattern) meaning as “Drawing a conclusion,” which seems to be a fair way of thinking about it.

      This makes me wonder which level of meaning do we have in mind when we talk about “sense making”? Maybe sense making is the entire Ladder of Inference, so it’s the meaning sandwich, plus all the other stuff.

      BUT, should we even think about sense making as a Ladder? You raised the point of liking the ball because it is exactly not like a Ladder. Ah, but I see what you’re saying: sense making as a whole is like a sphere. But maybe the parts of sense making are like a ladder? I think you’re right about the whole being non-directional as far as environmentally or socially non-directional: data could come from anywhere and action could go to anywhere. But sense making does seem to be logically directional, as in a movement from non-sense to sense, or even motivationally direction, as in paralysis to action, which is why I (sort of) like this idea of sense making as a ladder. In fact, the use of “compelling” seems to imply a direction. But maybe what you’re differentiating is a fixed directions vs. a non-fixed direction, not the presence/absence of any direction. I can see that. Maybe what this means is if we zoom into one facet of the ball, e.g., the logical facet of sense making, it is very linear. But if we zoom out, the entire process of sense making is non-linear.

      And what I’m also seeing is that you are taking the metaphor of a ball very seriously: that the ball is like the process of sense making, while I was thinking that the ball is like the concept of sense making. These two are very different. I wonder how this matters to me making sense of this, and which frame of mind is more useful for the task?

  4. hello out there! been thinking about your ball. Just a little input. To me sense making is making connections because… Learning is based on patterns.. and building on previous knowledge, right? sooo sense making to me is a form of learning. therefore. making sense is a continuation of building patterns, inroads into the mind.. concept upon concept.. a series of “aha” moments. Which leads to new pathways in the brain.. actual neurological links that increase knowledge.. Somewhere in Facebook land recently.. IQ tests have surfaced which i (yes) i took and of course reminded me of IQ tests from long ago. It seems that linking patterns… and recognizing patterns that dont FIT! the previous patterns are signs of high IQ. (interesting, cuz I have thought about this before). Inability to recognize and disect patterns… (or is it a lack of interest or concern… “who cares anyway”?) indicates lower IQ. hmmm. so again… sense making to me is realizing that things (concepts, skills, subjects, etc) learned make sense when that subject or skill aligns with what has been learned in the past… Well, That makes sense to me! AHA! simple connections made with past experiences and past learned patterns… if it dont fit it dont make sense. Basic.. and probably you have alluded to this already.. thanks for letting me wander here. AND who cares? well the ones who God has given the interests to.. If you have an interest, then you care. Could be an interest in cooking, electronics, automotive repair, retail, health, philosophy,,, Everyone has an interest in something.. does that mean you have a lower IQ because you dont care about recognizing patterns? that is weird … to put that “label” on anyone.

    1. Lynne, I think you are exactly right on with all of this. I replied to Michael on the Overview post that sense making seems to be about fitting a new pattern with what you already know. And your insight about being able to see patterns because you care to see them is, I think, profound. It is one of the key insights Esther Meek notes in Loving to Know: we must love the subject of our knowledge in order to know it. I think this is what all of the “geniuses” who have made discoveries or great advancements have had in common. Maybe that is why their IQ was so high: maybe IQ is a measure of love. But a pretty poor measurement, as it doesn’t capture love for hands-on skills or animals or health or whatever is not “analytic thinking.”

      Meek says, perhaps controversially, that this is because the subject will not reveal itself to you if you don’t love it; just like a person who will hide their true self if they don’t feel you love them. Do you think that’s true? That patterns reveal themselves to you (i.e., not that you find them)?

  5. hmmm. patterns revealing themselves to you?? I am not fond of putting human functions on inanimate objects or subjects.. ie. patterns having the ability to “reveal”… no.. i dont agree.. I think we open the nut and extract the meat. A person does that. A brain does that. not the subject matter. We open it climb the ladder.. get to the top.. or to the bottom of a subject. and yes I agree Making Sense is a facet of learning. There are other “in-between” steps in learning.. Where Information may NOT make sense til we get through the process..then… AHA! it does make sense when connecting all the dots.. yeah?? Like we say… ” THAT makes sense now! Now I have all the information and I can see how that works!” Bits and pieces add up!

    1. So, do you think sense making is the last step of learning? Or is it maybe that sense making is a synonym for learning because they are both names for the process of coming to understand something? Maybe both, depending on how we use the word?

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