Balancing and Qualifying

Or, Meaning, Knowledge, World-view and the kitchen sink

I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time, but it’s very difficult to express something I think is so fundamental and important. It’s like defining information architecture (let’s not go there today…).

What do you stand for? After many years of debate, angst and soul searching I’ve concluded that I’m just a confused human being. As humorous as that may sound, it’s an important conclusion. Very little is clear in my mind, but the things that are in fact clear, are irrevocable truths to me. They are the things that I stand for. Two of these things stand out and are the things I’ve been meaning to write about. The first, is that Balance Is The Ultimate Goal and the second is that Qualifying is Bad.

I wish the humor in “balance is the ultimate goal” and “qualifying is bad” was obvious at first glance, but it isn’t and that’s why I’ve wanted to but had difficulty explaining this.

We spend our entire lives being pushed in different directions, and we make lots of efforts to find what we trully love, and excell in what we do. It’s hard. It’s fun. It’s easy. It’s miserable. And it can only be all these things at the same time (and more) because everything balances everything else out; it happens despite of ourselves. I strongly believe people ruin their lives when they attempt to skew the balance (for better or for worse).

I know I do it all the time. It comes in the form of the “if only” syndrome, where you think that if only you did X, then everything else would be possible. The problem is that X absolutely does not address every aspect of your life. It can’t. One thing can’t answer all problems and questions; it is balance – a little of X, some Y, lots of Z and so on – that makes life work.

So if this fundamental truth is as straightforward as that, why isn’t it simple or easy to achieve balance? That’s because of another fundamental truth, which is that qualifying is bad.

Qualifying anything happens almost automatically for everything we do. Evaluating, comparing, judging and classifying are primary functions of our cognition. It annoys the hell out of me when people say “don’t judge”. Sorry, I can’t, I’m a human being! I can restrain my urge to express what I think (be kind, be rude, etc), but I can’t stop myself from thinking, from qualifying the world. If this is true, then why IS qualifying bad?

Qualifying something means imposing your world-view and understanding of meaning upon that which you are qualifying. Everything you know and are informs your qualification of things. “That comic book sucks”, “Wonder bras are the best invention ever”, “This theory is brilliant”, “SIGIA-L is dead”. Qualification happens across a spectrum (better < - > worse), but is often reduced to binary values (good/bad) – and that’s what inherits the qualification with a negative connotation. Note that the process of qualifying can’t be qualified itself. The outcomes of that qualification however, become artifacts in the world and will inevitably be qualifiable. Qualifying (it’s output, not the process) is ultimately ‘bad’ because it doesn’t support the initial principle that balance is the ultimate goal.

If your world-view (your understanding of the world) and your notion of meaning differs slightly from the next person, their qualification of the same thing will also differ. We can only go on without strangling each other over disagreements because we learn to compromise – and compromise means to be satisfied with a close-enough notion of your qualification.

So it all comes down to meaning. During the IA Summit, David Wienberger talked about knowledge and it was nice to hear him revisit notions of ‘truth’ and ‘knowledge’ in their classical phylosophical interpretations. The biggest dicotomy is meaning and truth – He spoke about how there is “one” knowledge, the knowledge that exists in the world – like an absolute truth – but if an individual’s world-view is an interpretation of the world, knowledge can be interpreted differently, thus meaning becomes a personal value. If meaning is a personal value, there is no “truth” or true knowledge but many ‘knowledges’; there are facts (and artifacts) in the world and there are general agreements (compromises) around them.

This is such a crazy discussion, I love it! We can talk about this from a number of other perspectives, and hopefuly we’ll be hearing more from David Wienberger with his upcoming book Everything Is Miscelaneous. I’m fascinated, however, by his difficulty coming to a conclusion. Everything I read and heard from him latelly has touched on how hard it’s been to meet the artificial deadline to have this book completed – in which he has to answer his initial question: “What’s up with knowledge?”.

My heart goes out to David Wienberger. I’m affraid it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to come to a satisfactory conclusion (for oneself, much less for everyone) because, very simply, there is no truth about knowledge and meaning (in itself, and also because there is no authority to define it). And that a conclusion about what something ‘means’ does not implicate the original question is answered (specially if there is no authority nor truth!). Maybe the final chapter in his book won’t have a conclusion, but will make the knowledge/meaning/truth conundrum explicit. Maybe it will shed some light into the double bind, mystery and paradoxes that addresses the question. I can’t wait.

Anyway, I just wanted to throw all this out in the world because it’s been sitting (or jogging around) in my brain for too long. And it was getting lonely and atrophied. Call me crazy, but call me something!