Thoughts on the dilemma of interpretation

Here’s a thought I had:

It seems, to me, that there is increasingly becoming problems of interpretation of things.  By “interpretation” I refer to giving an explanation or meaning to things and events.  In other words, interpretation is the “making sense” of things.

I tend to think that the problem of interpretation is a somewhat serious problem as unity in interpretation is unity as a people.  In short, the less we interpret alike the more divided we become.  It seems to me that what we need most, nowadays, is unity as a people and the problem of interpretation is only going to add to that.

Interpretation is important for a number of reasons, such as:

  • It gives meaning to things
  • It provides unity
  • It is a means for authority

Science, which often professes “truth”, is largely failing as an interpretation as has religion.  The proliferation of interpretations, as a result of social media and such, are only contributing to the problem.  The fact is that almost any interpretation can be dis-proven or an alternate interpretation can be found.  Its almost like any interpretation is becoming redundant and useless.

THE MYTH OF SCIENCE

It seems that much of so-called science is not science at all.  To me, the bulk of science is doing nothing but reflect what I call the “popular interpretation of information”.  What this means is that what is considered “truth” is often nothing but a reflection of the popular interpretation at the time.  Because of this, the “truth” changes from time to time.  Its not science, its “popular interpretation”.  I sometimes speak of this as “pretend science”.

Not only that, each new interpretation almost always is supported by studies and apparent scientific “proof” to support it.  This shows that what constitutes “proof” is a matter of interpretation, not science.  In short, what and how you consider something as “proof” depends on how you want to look at it.  If you accept it as “proof” then it becomes “true”.  The effect of this is that the “interpretation becomes the proof”.  This is why everyone has “proof” of their “truth”.  This, of course, is not “real science” but its generally claimed to be and most people seem to accept it as such.

All this is a reflection of how a person wants to interpret the “facts” or “findings” of research and studies.  What this means, basically, is that science is not as scientific as it may appear and is professed.  It seems to me that the question, nowadays, is no longer in scientific method, tests, research, or studies but in the question of how all this information is interpreted.

It seems, to me, that the only “real science” is found in some chemistry and physics.  Everything else, really, is largely dependent on interpretation.   I consider it as “real science” because it has these qualities:

  • Testing is done in a controlled environment
  • It can be measured
  • It can be replicated

Most fields of knowledge do not display these qualities.  In fact, in many fields of “science” none of them can be demonstrated.  In this way, we see that “real science” is a limited area of knowledge.

Schools of thought

A lot of science, and knowledge in general, have become a matter of “schools of thought”.  This, really, refers to different ways to interpret information.  It shows how some people interpret one thing one way and another thing another way.  This is even seen in some areas of chemistry and physics.  It runs rampant in the more “vague” fields like psychology and economics.  And, of course, every school of thought has its “proof”.

The fact that there are schools of thought show these things:

  • Science does not come up with the “ultimate answer”.
  • There is a problem of interpretation.
  • That how one interpretes plays a significant role.
  • That there are differences in interpretation.

It all shows that science is not as “sure” as it claims.

“I AND I”

It seems, at least to me, that a lot of “pretend science”, and knowledge in general, is what I have begun to call “I and I”.  This means “Inquiry and Interpretation”.  This is a process that entails the seeking of a “missing element”.  In other words, its a seeking for something that isn’t obviously there.

There are a number of forms of how this “missing element” may appear:

  • As information or a “knowing”
  • A way or style 
  • An awareness
  • A transformation of some form

Science is generally trying to find the former.  The other forms are seen in other forms of knowledge.

We must remember that discovering the “missing element” is not the end of the matter as it still has to be interpreted.  This points out that inquiry tends to give information or “known things” but it does not, by itself, interpret them.  That’s a whole other process.  Sometimes, though, they are so closely related that one quickly blends into the other.  My experience, though, is that there are usually these two distinct stages.  Because of this, there is an ability for each.

Inquiry

Inquiry is the means or method of looking at something.  To be more precise, it means looking at something with a missing element with the intent of finding that missing element.  In this way, it is looking at something with a purpose.  This tends to make a person look deeper into things, to find out what’s “behind” it or to discover what one cannot see.  As a result, inquiry has a “peering into” quality.

Inquiry often takes this format:

  1. A missing element – a need, question, or unknown which needs a solution
  2. The “means”  – a way of coming up with the solution
  3. Realization – understanding the solution

An interesting point is that a person must be aware that something is missing as well as the realization of the solution.  This shows that inquiry is very much based in a “sense”.  This reveals that a lot of inquiry is not something one “chooses” . . . it comes from necessity.  This “sense” can be unconscious or conscious.  That is to say, it does not have to be overtly conscious.  In many cases, people inquire without consciously knowing the reason why.  This is a very interesting point.  In the same way, a person finds a solution consciously or unconsciously.  In other words, a person may find the solution without knowing it!  I think this happens a lot more than one would think.

The realization appears a number of ways:

  1. Intuitive
  2. Experiential
  3. A process or method

Most inquiry, in my opinion entail all forms, in one way or another.  The more of a “sense” it is the more intuitive and experiential it is.  The more abstract it becomes the more it becomes a process or method.

I’ve seen a lot of people who think a process or method is what makes it “science”.  What they are saying is that “procedure makes science” which I don’t believe is true.  Its like saying that anything done with a procedure makes it “true”.  Many forms of inquiry, all over the world, involve means of a process, method, or procedure but its not the same as science, nor does it make it “true”, nor does it come out with the same solution.  This means, more or less, that “procedure does not automatically make it science”.

There is, oftentimes, a skill in inquiry.  I tend to think that many people don’t know how to inquire.  As a result, its often haphazard and erroneous.  In fact, I often feel that many people they do what can be called a “pseudo-inquiry”.  Some of the ways this appears include:

  • They basically repeat what others come up with as if they came up with it.  This is often what “learning” is . . . they discover what another person discovered.  In short, learning about it is their discovery!
  • They casually look at things and do not look at things deeply or seriously.  Things are given a “quick glance”.
  • They easily jump to conclusions or solutions.  This is often done without great thought.
  • They expect instant or easy answers to appear as if out of nowhere.
  • They base things on “first impressions”.  In short, there is no inquiry.

The result of this is an often quick and shallow solution.  In many cases, though, this is enough but in other cases it is horribly inadequate.  Some inquiry needs to be deeper and entail more to it.  This is why, I suppose, that inquiry, in its many forms, often becomes a “specialty”.  There develops people like philosophers, people who experiment, and such who take inquiry more seriously.

In addition, there seems to develop, in many societies, people with an “inquiring character”.  They have qualities such as:

  • They spend a lot of time inquiring
  • They use their experience  help them inquire in the future
  • They do a lot of reflection and thought on what they do

My experience is that they may or not have a defined process or method in how they work.  The best “inquiring character” are people who do this naturally, as part of their natural tendencies.   That is to say, they don’t do it because something like school, or their job, teaches them to do it or makes them do it.  A school or job can help the “inquiring character” develop in some people, though, as it can give a means or framework for it to develop.  But if a person does not have the natural inclination and are taught to do it then it often becomes mechanistic and they soon rely on process or method.  In some cases, this is done almost exclusively.  They “pose a question” and then use a process or method to find an answer.

Inquiry comes up with material but the material needs to be interpreted . . .

Interpretation

In my opinion, the manner of interpretation has nothing to do with science or “truth” as some great abstract concept.  That is to say, interpretation is not to create some great “concept” or “idea” as if it were written in stone.  It seems, to me, that interpretation revolves around what I call “relevance”.  This is the quality that makes things important to you and your condition.  In many was, relevance determines the direction, path, and truth of interpretation. 

Relevance primarily consists of taking “bits and pieces”, coming from the inquiry, and making a sense out of them that fits you and your situation.  But, in so doing, we discard other things or not even notice them altogether.  In this way, relevance only uses a small portion of what is there before you.  As a result, other people, with a different relevance, will see those things you missed and come to other conclusions.  In other words, interpretation is taking various facts and information and organizing it into a manner which makes it relevant to whoever is interpreting it.  Its because of this quality of relevance that makes everyone come to different conclusions even though they are looking at the same thing.  Science, and scientific method, also reflects this quality of relevance.  This is because science is taking facts and fitting it into a form that fits the relevance established by the condition of science.  In so doing, it also takes “bits and pieces” from the big picture.

Examples of things that affect interpretation include:

  • The person.  A lot of interpretation must be relevant to the person and have meaning to that person.  If it doesn’t then it has no value.  In this way, a person often gives value to what is relevant.  
  • The society The social culture, situation, etc. often determine what is relevant and, accordingly, how things are interpreted.  Society often determines what is relevant.
  • A condition.  Various conditions, or situations, often determine what is and what is not relevant or the way in which it is relevant.  For example, a newly discovered medical fact may be relevant, in different ways, to business (who may use it to market a new product), a medical specialist (who may see more into its meaning), or a general practitioner (who will use it to guide diagnosis or give advice), or an individual person (who may use it to be live more healthy).  Conditions often determine the way things are relevant.  

So we can see that the relevancy of interpretation rests on many different qualities.  The above qualities vary from place to place, person to person, and typically change through time.  In this way, relevancy is ever-varied and ever-changing.  Since interpretation is a matter of relevancy it means that interpretation is also ever-varied and ever-changing.  This means there will never be a “one” interpretation because there is simple no “one” condition of relevancy.  In other words, always expect that there will be different interpretations in any situation.

There are a number of qualities needed in interpretation:

  • The “information”.  This is the “facts” that need to be interpreted.  They are like building blocks that must be put together in a specific way.  This “putting together” is the interpretation.  In actuality, the “information” used in an interpretation is actually made up of “bits and pieces” coming from all the “information”.   We only use the “information” that is relevant to our condition.  
  • The background of the interpretation.  Any interpretation is based on a person, or persons, who have an already existing “background”, such as a culture, previous education, established attitudes, experience, etc.  These form the foundation for any interpretation.  Because of this, any interpretation a person, or persons, make is automatically somewhat biased due to their specific background.  As a result, there is, in reality, no such thing as an unbiased interpretation.  This basically means that the claim that “scientific truth” as not being biased is not correct, for example.
  • The motive of the interpretation.  The purpose, or reason, of the interpretation determines what is important and often determines the overall scheme of the interpretation.  In fact, the motive is often what makes things relevant.  In this way, we see another tendency of bias in interpretation for the motive dictates the relevancy and form of the interpretation of the “facts”.  This is not surprising as no one, as far as I have seen, interprets information without a motive.  To go even further, my observation is that even the noting of specific “information” is based on motive.  That is to say, when there is no motive things are not noticed as “information” and, accordingly, they are not noticed or acknowledged.  This is why many things go unnoticed in life . . . there’s just no meaning in it.  Once it has meaning we notice it.
  • An interpretation accepted as “truth”.  In life, we make many interpretations ranging from “vague” to “definite”.  Many of these are not “taken to heart” but are as if “hanging there”.  Perhaps we could call these “floating interpretations”?  But there is a point when these “floating interpretations” are considered “true”. Once this is made the interpretation becomes a “definite interpretation”.  As a result, the how and why one makes it “definite” is very influential in interpretation.  In many cases, it is dictated by the motive . . . once it seems to satisfy the motive it is now established as “definite”.

Oftentimes, many people have an already established point of view that is the background or basis of their interpretation.  In fact, in many cases, the interpretation is nothing but this established point of view restated in the “guise” of new “information”.   In this way, their interpretation is nothing but the established point of view restated in a new way.  This is often gives a similarity in interpretations by a culture, people, belief, etc. and why one can often tell where certain interpretations come from.

As with inquiry, interpreting takes a skill.  I tend to feel that interpretation takes an artistic ability, and is often comparable to something like poetry or art.  This means that skill in interpretation is probably seen less in people than in inquiry.

PROBLEMS OF INTERPRETATION

Nowadays, we’re seeing many problems with interpretation:

Too many ways to interpret

Nowadays, there are too many points of views and, accordingly, too many interpretations.  You can get a group of 10 people looking at the same thing and you’ll get 10 answers, all which “make sense”.  Some of the thing that have caused this include:

  • The breakdown of culture
  • The breakdown of belief
  • The influence of various forms of media (news, social media, etc.)
  • The opening up of the “world”

These really describe two qualities:

  1. The fall of our traditional-based interpretation
  2. The influx of other different interpretations

In these ways, interpretations are becoming undermined and usurped.  Nothing, really, is maintaining a constancy in interpretation that has any form of authority.

Media-based interpretation

The rise of media has created a new form of ‘pseudo-interpretation’.  Sadly, this media-based interpretation is starting to usurp a lot of traditional and practical interpretation in the world.  It is very lacking, though, and is not sufficient to offer wise and adequate interpretations.  This is because it has qualities such as:

  • It creates what seems like a unity by its prevalence
  • It is based in mass mentality
  • It attracts people by its “dazzlement”
  • It tends to lack a relevancy
  • It does not fit all conditions
  • It tends to offer a single explanation
  • It lacks common everyday sense

An effect of these is that it creates an illusionary “one explanation” for everything which it actually does not do.  Its like trying to paint the world out in one picture.  In some respects, media-based interpretation is worse than science in trying to create a “one explanation”.  This is primarily because of its ability to attract and “dazzle” people.  It appears, to me, to be comparable to a form of  “brain washing”.

I should point out that there are various forms that this media-based interpretation appears:

  • Commercialism
  • Various forms of entertainment
  • Social media
  • News
  • Education and schooling

Through things, such as these, the media-based interpretation makes its influence.  One see’s an absence of things like these:

  • A way of life
  • Religion
  • A belief system
  • Social structure
  • Morality

Things, like the above, are typically the primary source of interpretation in the world since the beginning of time and, with the media-based interpretation, they are absent.  This, I think, is a significant point.  In my opinion, what is happening is that we are basically exchanging genuine pearls for cheap plastic pearls because they are more easily produced.

The fragile condition of “unity of interpretation”

A culture, society, or people tends to create a “unity of interpretation”.  This unity tends to create an image of “ultimate truth” in that culture as everyone interprets the same way.  In this way,  the power of “unity of interpretation” is not in “truth” but in unity.  It is what holds many cultures, societies, and peoples together.  This unity creates security and belonging.

Unfortunately, this “unity of interpretation” is quite fragile.  Several things can easily upset it:

  • Some form of breakdown (such as social, religious, belief, political, etc.)
  • The intrusion of other interpretations (such as by foreign influence, new ideas, takeover, etc.

Any one of these can cause a loss of “unity of interpretation” that could even lead to the breakdown and fall of the whole society.  The “unity of interpretation” is a very precarious, fragile, and touchy situation.  Its easily disrupted and destroyed.  This is what we are seeing in the world today.

Overdoing research

In my opinion, research in many fields are becoming “overdone”, as I always say.   Some things have been looked at so many times that it has gotten to the point that it is nothing but “beating a dead horse”.  Everything nowadays is looked at from the same background, the same basic information, the same education, and the same point of view.   They often come to the same conclusions that can even be predictable.  There are really too many people doing research nowadays.  I wouldn’t be surprised that, in some cases, thousands of people are researching the same subject.  Over the years it could be 10’s of thousands and maybe even millions of people who are researching the same exact subject.  All these people looking at the same thing.  Just recently, I was at Dinosaur Land in Vernal, Utah, where I posed these questions:  “How many people does it take for a new theory to be developed?  How many hours of work is required for a new theory to develop?”  For any new theory to develop god only knows how many people look at it and the hours that is consumed by this must be massive.  I wondered if all the time, manpower, and expense to do this was worth it.  To make matters worse, most of these new theories are nothing but speculation anyways and it has no real impact on life, only people interested in dinosaurs.  Is all this really worth it?

I tend to feel that, in most fields, there is nothing much to discover anymore.  Most of it is “beating a dead horse”, as I said above.  Despite this, people are still doing research.  I sometimes speak of this as “forced research”.  Things that cause this include:

  • There are too many people doing research
  • People need to do research to pass a class or get a degree
  • Its part of their job
  • The success of science and the modern world has made research an ideal and so it keeps going on and on

In many of these we see that what motivates research is based on monetary and social causes.  We can ask this question:  “Is need motivating the research?”  In truth, I don’t think that need motivates many cases of research.

Because of ‘forced research’, a lot of research and studies are taking on qualities such as:

  • It actually states nothing . . . its a bungle of words
  • It glorifies details
  • It creates a pseudo-knowledge (such as the how everything originates with the aliens)
  • It creates endless different points of view 
  • Its a repetition of something earlier
  • It becomes a matter of “splitting hairs”
  • Its nothing more than an opinion that’s passed off as a discovery

The net result of all this is that many “new discoveries” are not the discoveries they seem to be.  In fact, many are not discoveries at all.  This has become particularly prevalent in the 21st century, in my opinion.

INTERPRETATION AND AUTHORITY

It seems, to me, that the issue is not about interpretation but, rather, the authority behind it.  As a result of this, the problem of interpretation is really a problem with authority.  Interpretation is really only a means for authority to manifest itself.  Without authority there is no interpretation.  In fact, the importance of authority in interpretation has been referred to above with “relevance”.  What is relevance but the demonstration of authority?  When something is relevant it has authority . . . that’s what makes it relevant.

In addition, the interpretation issues seems to be greatly influenced by the Christian conversion.  To make a long story short, Christianity is based in conversion which required people to have to reinterpret how they viewed the world according to Christian lines.  This was not done easily and people weren’t all that willing to change their views.  One of the ways people were converted to change their interpretation of the world is that it was done in the name of authority – God – which gave the new interpretation great authority.  This establishes a strong connection between interpretation and authority in western society.  In this way, the Christian conversion had great impact on the the interpretation issue.

When the Protestant Reformation came it caused a new interpretation which conflicted with the Catholic version, and its authority.  This caused further breakdowns in Christianity that, in effect, undermined Christianity and broke it down.  It still hasn’t recovered.

After the breakdown of Christianity science came in and offered itself as the “ultimate truth”.  Science has failed to maintain itself as a solution in the popular mind (that is, it works if you are scientifically minded but not everyday people).  Since science has broken down we’re back to where we started with the breakdown caused by the Protestant Reformation.

What seems to be filling the gap caused by a failed authority are the various forms of media accentuated by the opening up of the world.  This has created the “media-based interpretation” talked about above.  At the time, at least for some people, it seems to be a sufficient substitute for the failure of religion and science and authority in general.  But it, too, will fail in the end.  Sometimes, it seems as if we are all scrambling to find some authority deep down.  We can find substitutes, which are short lived, but can’t find any that’s long-lasting.

INTERPRETATION AS AN ARTISTIC EXPRESSION – INTERPRETIVE EXPRESSION

In many ways, interpretation is an artistic expression of ones self, as a people or individually.  It is through interpretation that one “paints an explanation”.  In this way, we see that interpretation is not a “truth” but an expression of ones self and ones association with the world, often laid out in an artistic meaningful way.  We could call this the “interpretive expression” quality of interpretation.  This fact has largely been forgotten by western society who tends to take the “ultimate” interpretation viewpoint founded by Christianity and its preaching of the great “truth”.  My observation, though, is that most peoples interpretation of things is a form of expression, and one that is, or can be, very artistic in form.  It is not a matter of it being “right” or “wrong”.  Instead, it is more whether it displays these qualities:

  • It expresses themselves
  • It expresses their conditions
  • It expresses their quality or style

It is things, such as these, that make an interpretation “right”.  Who cares if it is supported by scientific fact or other peoples point of view or beliefs?

Because of this artistic quality, interpretation has qualities such as:

  • A style.  This refers to a specific form or way in which it appears.  This tends to make it different for different people.
  • A unique meaning.  Each interpretative expression has a unique meaning to whoever expresses it.  That is to say, an interpretation is an expression of qualities found in a specific people or person and, therefore, are not “generic”.  This makes any interpretive expression unique, particular, and specific.
  • A “personal stamp”.  A deeper interpretation means that it has a deeper meaning to ones self.  This makes the interpretive expression more “personal” and meaningful that goes beyond the overt more “official” meaning.

Because of these qualities, its quite obvious that variations in interpretation are inevitable.  In other words, there will never be a “one” or “ultimate” interpretation.  Christianity tended to believe that it was professing the “one truth”.  This attitude carried over into science.  It has then carried on down to popular opinion and point of view as a general attitude in western society, knowledge, and science.  As a result, many people in western society tend to think that any knowledge they accept is automatically “ultimate”.  This attitude, in my opinion, has caused a lot of confusion, misinterpretation, and misguided acts by western society.

Much of the life of primitive people is in this realm of “interpretive expression”.  Their religion, way of life, beliefs, traditions, etc. are very much rooted in this orientation and gives it its unique quality.  But this expressive quality is something western society could never quite understand.  This is primarily because of the more “ultimate truth” orientation of western society which has made them forget this expressive quality.  In some respects, western society has become impaired because of the loss of this expressive quality.

THE QUESTION OF INTERPRETATION

All this seems to suggest, at least to me, that interpretation is not the critical issue nor is it as definitive as its made out as.  In other words, the fact that there are so many interpretations that “work” suggests that interpretation isn’t that important.  Over the years we have become very bogged down and lost in the “truth” of any interpretation, focusing only on its “truth” and nothing else.  This has, in a way, led us off the track in life.  I can remember, when I was a kid, the obsessive concern over the “truth” of interpretation was.  This obsession always mystified me but I, too, began to take that orientation just because everyone else did.  Over the years, though, I began to feel that there was something wrong with it and that it was not the correct orientation.  I now believe this to be the case.

PROBLEMS OF THE 21ST CENTURY

I can see some unique problems with knowledge and research in the 21st century.   These include:

  • A “cheapness” has appeared in knowledge.
  • Things are becoming “overdone”.
  • There are too many points of view
  • A problem of unity.

The net result of this is a loss in authority and meaning.  In some sense, knowledge is becoming “babble”, an endless this, that, and the other thing that has no real value or meaning.

A new reformation???

I often wonder if we may see a breakdown in knowledge similar to what happened in Christianity after the Protestant Reformation (1500’s).  When this happened we saw a number of things that appeared in the following two centuries (1600-1700’s):

  1. Loss – A doubt, a disbelief, or failed belief
  2. Breakup – The existing belief was dashed into many forms
  3. Replacement– Something new appears to fill the void of absent belief

More than likely, if something similar happens we will probably see the same traits.  Already, I can see these traits in society now.  Unlike the Protestant Reformation, where this happened rather suddenly, I would think that it is going to be more slow moving.  It may be so slow moving, in fact, that it may not even be noticeable.

Whether that’s true or not I cannot say.


Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Christianity, Christian conversion, Post-Christianity, and Christian influence, Education, learning, and over education, Modern life and society, Philosophy, Primitive society and people, Science and technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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