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On "The Meaning Formula"

the Emergence Explorer

Questions for the Week of May 29, 2006






these questions were based on the article
The Meaning Formula


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This Week's Questions


[posed by Ed D.]
  • Can there be Meaning where there is no Time?
  • What do you call Information that has had Time to develop Meaning?
  • How does this apply to learning? Does "learning" mean that we have assigned values for all three variables?

Do you know?



I originally intended to ask these questions about how being formally educated affects peoples' abilities to learn martial arts. For example, how would having a master’s degree, or a black belt, effect the person's ability to receive new information? Would the new information have more meaning to them because of what they already knew? Less meaning?

My thinking here was that at times, it seems that people with formal education seem to have a harder time learning than people without these degrees. As I began to go to work on this assignment, though, I could see that I have been blaming a person’s inability to see meaning in new information on their having a degree or on their formal education. Which brings me to my first question.

[Question 1] Can there be meaning where there is no time? For instance, if I=8 and T=0, would the formula look like (8 units of information) times (0 units of time) = (0 units of meaning)?
[Answer] The formula is M = I(T). Therefore, if the value of any of the three variables is zero, then the whole equation must be equal to zero. To answer your question then, if Time = 0 and Information = 8, then you are right, the Meaning would be 0 times 8, or 0.

Now think about what you just saw in the formula.

According to the Meaning Formula, can people experience Meaning if they do not experience Time? No, they cannot.

And what is the most common situation in which people experience of a this kind of "no time" situation? Reliving an injury with a "stuck clock." Which happens to be the structure underlying all under-reactions to violent life events.

Here, examples would be the shell-shocked solder on the beach, the man who cuts off a finger then calmly drives himself to the hospital, the rape victim who sees nothing wrong in dressing provocatively, etc. All these situations are examples of people whose inability to experience time causes them to be unable to experience meaning in a life event.

[Question 2] Ideally, degrees, whether academic or martial, would reflect great information over much time. Consequently, they would hold great meaning. For example, getting a degree might look something like, (I=8) times (T=8) equals (M=64). Conversely, when information is quickly disseminated, it seems that it often has little meaning. For example, it seems this is why so little is remembered from say, an hour-long academic class isn't it?

As I consider this, I realize I have had a wound in my picture of learning, in that my picture of learning has not included time. It seems I have incorrectly held the belief that if I did not grasp something immediately, that I was doing something wrong. In other words, I have expected all these years that I should get everything immediately.

Am I right as to what I am seeing?
[Answer] This is more a comment than an answer, Ed. Yes. You really seem to be grasping the concept here quite well. Know, however, that in order to fully realize this concept, you need to experience it over time.

My point? Per your own discoveries here, give yourself time for all this to sink in. Slowly. Gently. Mindfully. And compassionately.

[Question 3] Is this why you teach the principle, "augment don’t compete"? Does this principle imply that in order for information to have meaning, it requires the experience time? In other words, is this principle saying that new information can not have more meaning than information that has had time to... I don’t know the word, "mature?"
[Answer] To be honest, Ed, while I do see your point here, there is much more to this idea than what you have proposed. What I mean is, the idea that meaning increases over time requires a lot more than that the hands on a clock have moved. In fact, sometimes, time passing can decrease what something means to us.

The thing to know, of course, is, if time passing can decrease the meaning of things, how can the Meaning formula still be true?

The answer? The Meaning formula is not about some fixed, real world, literal values changing. It is about how these variables change within and relate to a person's consciousness. This explains why literal time can pass and yet, people who have not sensed information over time will experience no change in the meaning of something.

What I'm saying is, the formula applies only to peoples' conscious experiences of information, meaning, and time. Thus, it does not refer to the mere fact that in some cold, logical, literal sense, the values for these three variables have changed. For instance, imagine you have held onto a computer, thinking someone might need it. Despite the fact that this computer is many years old, it still functions well.

Unfortunately, like all technical things, time has eroded the technological value. So the question is, would time passing increase the meaning of this computer?

Probably not. Why not? Because our awareness of this time having passed would be very small, even if years of literal time had passed.

In other words, despite the fact that years had passed, our awareness of this time passing in relation to our awareness of having this computer would be very small.

My point? We are talking about a "consciousness" formula here, and not a "how valuable is the information literally" formula. Why not. Because nothing has a literal meaning value. Nor a literal time value. Nor a literal information value. All three variables are simply statements that describe the values we each experience for these three variables. Moreover, the whole value in this formula lies in knowing what it literally describes. It literally describes the relationships between these three variables and us. In doing so, they offer us a literal real world value for our own degree of consciousness. Not to shabby.

[Question 4] What do you call information that has had time to develop meaning? Mature information? Conscious information? Or just meaningful?
[Answer] No pun intended, but this would depend on what this information means to you. For instance, with falling in love, the meaning of the actual moment rarely changes if ever. We can, of course, lose our access to what this moment meant to us, for example, through divorce or through other painful life events. Even so, were we to have someone visually return us to the original experience of this moment, we would find the original meaning had changed very little. Moreover, this idea that falling in love moments do not change in value is true of all emergences, regardless of who or what you fall in love with, whether people, places, things, or ideas.

As to your question, "what do you call information that has had time to develop meaning?" The answer. I'm not sure we can call it anything in particular. Certainly, we would not want to call it something like "mature" information. Why not? Because all words have, in and of themselves, an inherent meaning to the observer. For instance, does the word, "mature" mean "better developed and more useful?" Or does it mean "old and conservatively fixed in time, as in, incapable of new learning?"

To be honest, Ed, choosing the three words I have used in this formula took me more than ten years. Even then, it has taken me another ten years to begin to write about these three words.

A lot of this time came from my need to develop a way to blamelessly describe just these three words. Imagine having to do this with every word you write? Holy cow! So about the word you have suggested; "mature?" Whoa! How the heck long would it take to define this word blamelessly? Know, however, that you are totally free to work on it. Who knows what beauty you might come up with. In fact, we would have a lot to gain here if you did succeed. Why? Because "mature" does have some pretty beautiful meanings already.

[Question 5] Can you really teach something to a person who does not know how to experience the beauty in "not knowing?" What I'm asking is, can people who cannot yet experience some particular information (I=0) see enough value in the process of learning about this missing information to find meaning in the search?
[Answer] Ed, the question you ask here is one of the most important we could ever ask. In fact, I see solving this question as holding the key to our helping people to reclaim their love of learning.

As for myself, I openly admit, I am a newbie with regard to understanding this question. So what do I know?

For one thing, I know that teaching people to love "not knowing" is the basis of quite a few spiritual practices. For instance, I see the blameless observation of one's not knowing as the essential gateway into Buddhism.

I also see the blameless observation of one's not knowing as the heart and soul of being a true teacher, whether you are teaching one of the logical sciences like biology and math, or teaching one of the art forms such as poetry or music. Even teaching things which require both such as mountain climbing would be included here.

Surprisingly, the theoretical answer to this question is right in front of us all the time. It lies in remembering that the essence of everything we learn in Emergence is the idea that "the wound is what you can't see." Along with the idea that the word "wound" as used here is simply a way to describe "what we do not know."

What this means is, theoretically, we could teach people to "love not knowing" simply by having them experience an emergence in and around not knowing anything. In practice, though, it is never this simple. Why not? Because we have Layers in our personalities which like to blame when we do not know things. This allows us to feel less pained by our own ignorance. And by our disconnections from the beauty in life in general, as in, "no connection, no disconnection," and "no disconnection, no suffering."

Of course, as Buddha taught, "no suffering, no life."

Then again, most of us prefer painlessness to suffering any day. And not knowing "we don't know" is pretty painless. No surprise we have a cliche in our language which states, "what you don't know won't hurt you."

In the end, what is the answer here? I believe it lies in realizing that most people will not learn to "love not knowing"; moreover, that we need to accept as valid their choices "to not know" over their "feeling the pain of not knowing." After all, there once was a time in which the main thing which drove us to explore emergence was a similar desire; the desire to help people to feel less suffering. Thus, even for us, the fact that we now feel impelled forward by a love of "not knowing" was more an accident than a choice.

[Question 6] Is this why I can love certain songs immediately, but then forget them over time, whereas, with other songs, I can start out barely even hearing them. But then, over time, they ”grow” on me to the point where I can hear them in my mind if I want?
[Answer]
Again, Ed, you have asked a very deep question here. Know I can not offer you a comprehensive answer here as it would very quickly exceed the space allotted here. What I will offer is that the essence of the answer lies in the way we define "consciousness."

What I mean is, while we scientifically define consciousness as I(I)/M, in words, we describe it as "the skill of picturing movement."

We could also state this definition as "the skill of picturing change." Here, the word "change" implies a focus more on personally measuring experience than on the simple experience of life itself.

Applied to your thoughts about songs then, if we hear a song over time but hear no changes in the way we hear it, then the meaning will decrease. Why? Because the "I" variable refers to the degree to which we experience the Information change. Thus, if we hear a song fifty times but hear little to no changes, in other words, no new information, then the meaning will actually decrease.

Know the idea I am referring to here is beyond my ability to explain clearly in the little space we have here other than to say, all three variables are simply measures of the degree to which we experience changes in the Information, Time, and Meaning of things. And the degree to which we sense the changes in the relationship between these three variables.

[Question 7] Would teaching workshops be more effective if they were designed to honor the necessity of time? For example, would adding two more workshops into the span of a month make these workshops have more value? Would focusing on only one slowly developed point increase the meaning as well?
[Answer] I answered some of this in question three, but to answer your question. Yes. Both ideas would potentially increase the effectiveness of a series of workshops. However, know that should people fail to experience changes in what they perceive over time, then their actual experiences of these workshops would be to decrease, not increase, the meaning of what is presented.

[Question 8] How does someone learn? Is it that we learn when we have values for all the variables ( I, T, and M)?
[Answer] Technically, yes. Learning requires we have values for all three variables. However, we can also learn that we do not know something, and this also qualifies as learning, albeit, not in the technical sense of the word, "learning."

What I'm saying is, yes, learning requires you experience values for all three variables. Even so, there can be value at times in realizing that you have no information regarding a particular event.

For example, let's say you have no visual information for what your father's face looks like in times wherein he is feeling angry at you. In other words, say you can not visualize his angry face. Thus, I = 0.

In a way, we can say that you have yet to learn what your father's face looks like when he is angry. And this is true. However, even here, you can still say you have learned something. You could, for instance, say that you have learned that you have an injury with regard to something you once saw in your father's angry face.

Of course, when we talk about learning in its true form, we mean learning what something looks like. Thus, learning you have not learned what something looks like is not really learning in the technical sense. However, since all learning requires we first "learn" that we do not know something, in a way, realizing we have an empty information variable does teach us something. Just not something visual.

Finally, know that what I've just spoken about is a heck of a difficult idea to grasp. Moreover, it can seem I am saying "not knowing" both is and is not learning. And yes, I am saying this. However, I am also saying that the meaning of discovering you "do not know" something is not visual. Therefore, it more resembles a "hole" than the lines around a hole. In other words, "not knowing" is like discovering the sine qua non of a square, while "knowing" is like discovering how to draw the line around this sine qua non. And while both qualify as genuine discoveries, for something to be useful in our world, we must learn to draw the lines around the hole. Otherwise, we cannot see the hole, and it remains potentially useful but unused.

[Question 9] Is "healing" the restoration of one or more of these three values? Is that the purpose of slowing things down so information can be digested in a manner that makes it more meaningful?
[Answer] Very insightful, Ed. Yes, in cases wherein we have too much information, slowing down the rate at which we experience this information can help us to heal.

In a way, this process would be better described as the process of slowing down the clock (time) rather than decreasing the information though. Thus, we could say that the information we take in is best described as "the amount of data we get presented with," while the time is best described as "the rate at which we are presented with this data." This means that the meaning we feel is best described as "our personal reaction to this data over time."

[Question 10] When a person has an emergence, do they get all three variables at once? What I mean is, does a wound represent the absence of I, T, and M?
[Answer]
The nature of all wounds is that they negatively affect our ability to experience visual information. This lack is simply the nature of human wounding. Know, however, that when I refer to peoples' "visual experience," what I am referring to is the sum of multiplying "the information we take in" times "the time we take it in for."

My point is, the meaning of an event is dependent on both these variables.

So what happens to us during an emergence? Or more to the point, what actually emerges in us during an emergence?

Two things. Either previously blocked information emerges, or previously blocked time emerges. Or both. This is why we call the two types of wounds from which we emerge, "blank screens" and "stuck clocks."

With "blank screen" injuries, we can process time passing but cannot process information visually.

In "stuck clock" injuries, we can process information visually but cannot experience time passing.

And while we cannot have both types of BLock at the same time, in some injuries, we can have an alternating sequence in which we alternatively experience both types of injury, again and again.

In all cases, the meaning we come up with for these flawed experiences is wounded as well. Why? Because the data we use to derive this meaning is incomplete. In other words, we derive the meaning for our wounds from incomplete data sets, data sets deficient in either information, or time, or both. Thus, even when our logic about "what we can see" is flawless, whenever we relive an injury, the meaning of this event is always flawed, because the data we base this meaning on is always flawed.

So what emerges in an emergence?

What emerges is the missing data, either the missing visual information or the missing time or both. This is why having an emergence leads us to being able to experience an almost infinite number of new meanings for this same event. Which is just another way to say, we become infinitely creative with regard to these kinds of situations.


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