Sunday, June 29, 2008

Construction of Meaning

The answer may just leap out at us from the tables and graphs of evidence. We may find it somewhere in the pages of transcripts.

But whether you believe that meaning is something that exists out there in the world, or whether you believe that meaning is something that only exists when there is a thinking being thinking about it, meaning is something that will only emerge through a constructive process.
If a pattern is not immediately apparent in a set of data, that doesn't mean that the pattern is not there. The pattern may only become visible through a process of rearranging and reviewing the data many different times and many different ways. And this process of rearranging and reviewing the data requires mental effort to create different possible explanations.

Sherlock Holmes said to Watson: "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, HOWEVER IMPROBABLE, must be the truth?" What is hidden here is that the construction of the improbable theory is no simple task. Holmes continues: "We know that he did not come through the door, the window, or the chimney. We also know that he could not have been concealed in the room, as there is no concealment possible. Whence, then, did he come?" Whence the other alternatives? We must look at the world--look at the crime scene, if you will, and look for other possibilities. These do not simply jump out at us in an obvious fashion--we have to seek explanations--stories that explain the data that we see. That explanation may be partially generated through looking at other sources, but there is a large element of this that is the individual imagination--the attempt to construct a hypothesis that fits the data at hand.

To some extent we can maybe see how this is a sort of gestalt experience: when we see four dots arranged in a square, we can see the whole square--we see the dots as related. With our data, the gestalt image may not jump out until we have created the right framework to appear: we must do constructive work in our minds just to create situations in which gestalts can appear.

But we may also want to see this as a process of creating a fiction of sorts. We look at our work as a whole as telling a coherent story--or at least that's a common expectation for a dissertation. If we practice the creation of different fictions--of alternative explanations or alternate hypotheses--we may find that some of these fictions will serve us well when we find that our data works with the hypothesis and the hypothesis has useful suggestions for future research and theoretical development.

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