Understanding Continuum


When we have enough parts of the big picture, then we have context



Context: weaving together or connection of words. Weaving parts into a whole so as to form a structure. - Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary

Context shapes our perception and interpretation of meaning. All information, and knowledge that we have comes to us immersed in a variety of contexts. In order to understand or communicate meaning, we must attend to the contextual clues attached to each meaning. (Shedroff, 2001)

Patterns and context are closely related. A pattern tends to create its own context rather than being context dependent to the same extent that information is (Bateson, 1988; Senge, 1990).

Context normally comes in three forms:

Thus, when interpreting data, we use explicit means, such as text, visuals, and experience; hidden context, such as gestures, clues, and hunches; and presentation to form and shape the information. When we tie strings of information together and add complexity... we form Knowledge.

Although we need context to fully form our information, too much of it causes noise:

Even with the radio era in full swing, one's senses encountered nothing like the bombardment of images and sound that television would bring—accelerated, flash-cut, disposable knowledge. For now, knowledge was scarce and therefore dear. It was the same for scientists. The currency of scientific information had not yet been devalued by excess. - Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick

The context axis (see the "Understanding Continuum" chart below) has a beginning and an end:

Thus, if you do not gather enough parts, you have nonsense. And too many parts coming in at once create noise.

More on Hidden Context

The search for clues to discover meaning can be quite creative. For example, a reader who does not know the meaning of a word may look for contextual clues in the surrounding text. These clues may be either semantic or syntactic. When using semantic clues, the reader tries to relate the word to other information or illustrations in the material. Semantic clues include comparisons and contrasts, definitions, descriptions, and the placement of new words near familiar words that help explain their meaning. A reader may also rely on syntactic clues—that is, the word's position and grammatical use in the text. For example, deciding whether a word is functioning as a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb can help a reader figure out its meaning.

Next Step

data information knowledge wisdom reflecting interacting doing absorbing context and parts context and connections context and whole context and join researching Context Understanding

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The Continuum of Understanding


Bateson, G. (1988). Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. New York: Ballantine.

Senge, P. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday-Currency.

Shedroff, N. (2001). “An overview of understanding” in Information Anxiety 2 by Richard Saul Wurman. Indianapolis: Que.