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Meaning and Context

In "How meaning stuck ...", an online essay some years ago, David Weinberger mused about existentialism and Heidegger and the sources of meaning. The core point:

... We are not free to create any old meanings that we want. Rather, we each are thrown into a world not of our making that has a set of meanings (enacted by language) that we are powerless to change. ...

Further, those meanings aren't arbitrary. They express a long history of thought, practice and language. The meanings of the things around us are ways things show themselves to us. We always—almost always—encounter them with a particular project or plan in mind. The hammer shows itself to me as a thing for hammering when I'm hanging a picture, as a paperweight when the wind is lifting my papers, and as a spinner for Spin the Hammer when coeds are in the house (I was 18! It was 1968!). Those meanings are not eternal and universal, but Heidegger critiqued the assumption that only the eternal and universal are real. And that was enough to get me out of my funk: Meanings are not merely my choice, they are in the world at least as much as they are in my head, and they reveal something true about the world.

One more Heideggerian point: Meanings only make sense within a dense web of meanings. Hammers can only have meaning as carpentry tools if you also know about nails, wood, ecosystems and economic systems that turn trees into lumber. ...

And, in the context of "knowledge management":

... First, knowledge isn't everything. Meaning counts for at least as much. Second, what things mean—what they are to us—depends to a large degree on what we're trying to do. Attempts to permanently fix meanings to things, and attempts to identify knowledge as if it were valuable free of your context and projects, are misguided. Finally, we have less freedom than we think we do. Dreaming it doesn't make it so. We are thrown into a world—and a business environment—not of our own making.

^z - 2017-06-24