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Qualifying, Analyzing and
Interpreting Signs

By now, it should be clear to you that all situations and all symbols are potentially ambiguous.  But if almost all symbols are ambiguous and all words are symbols, then how do we ever know what anything means?                     

Good question. We know what symbols mean in the same way that we know what our experiences mean--because we understand them based upon the situation in which they're used. As with experiences, we call situations that contain symbols matrices. You'll remember that in general terms, a matrix (matrices is the plural form of the word) is a situation, substance or object within which something is contained. In the case of symbols, a matrix is everything in the universe except the symbol itself1. Besides containing everything in the universe, a matrix is also the container of a more specific situation surrounding the symbol that we refer to as the context.

In the specific case of language, a context is the setting of words and ideas in which a particular word or statement appears.  In more general terms, a context is the overall situation in which an event occurs.

Let's use the word lime as our symbol in question.

The words A..is a citrus fruit make up the context of the word lime in the sentence, "A lime is a citrus fruit."  The matrix of the word "lime" consists of its context together the myriad factors that might impact the context. According to Albert Upton, author of Design for Thinking, these factors include such issues as the identity of the person who utters the sentence, the time and the place of the statement, and "everything else in the universe--including the moon, stars and galaxies."

Different senses of the word lime become possible when the word is placed into a matrix. From the perspective of matrix, we can identify other contexts in which that same word means something entirely different. Say, for example, we select a context involving chemical substances. The likely interpretation of the word lime in such a context is "calcium oxide" rather than "citrus fruit". By including the overarching category of matrices in our quest for meaning, we are able to grasp ideas and concepts at a much higher level. 


When an ambiguous symbol is placed into a context of other ambiguous symbols, the matrix becomes necessary for interpreting meaning. For example the word "lime" appears in the following context: "I'm a lime specialist." Now the word and the

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