5. Selection, Organization / Matching (SO/M)

A schema for how we attribute meaning to objects ◆ patterns & models ◆ making sense ◆ interpretation and the outside world

— Terms —

  • Introduced:
    • instance
    • making sense
    • patterns and models
    • robustness
    • selection, organization / matching (SO/M)
  • Mentioned and should now be familiar (review if necessary):
    • code

— Chapter Abstract —


This chapter introduces the fundamental elements of converting data or code to meaning (interpretation): selection, organization, and matching (to patterns and models). It argues that these elements are in constant interaction, each affecting the other and argues against the stability of meaning. It opens the door to external forces (culture) to affect the SO/M process, thus also concluding that one’s interpretation (understanding) are not entirely one’s own but inevitably connected to the world. Put in simple terms, the overall intent of this chapter is to argue that how we see the world is influenced by our culture beyond the level that might be expected, and what the processes or influence that are involved might look like; that is, what we select to attend to, how we organize that, and how we attribute meaning to that are all bent by cultural forces, among other factors.

— Chapter Outline —

  • 5.1. Three elements of the interpretive process
  • 5.2. Selecting objects
  • 5.3. Organizing objects
  • 5.4. Deciding meaning by matching / constructing patterns and models
    • 5.4.1. Patterns
    • 5.4.2. Models and modeling
    • 5.4.3. Identification ⇄ Construction: the outside world and the disappearance of the interpreter

5.1. Three elements of the interpretive process

Interpretation occurs in response to the manifestation of data or *code, with the purpose of attributing meaning to it. It can be automatic or deliberative, exceptionally brief (milliseconds) or long (the span of one’s cognitive life). It can be rapid and simple or highly complex. It might end, only to be restarted. It usually achieves its goal perfectly or sufficiently, but there are times when the puzzle is never solved. In the case of “understanding” a book, the data is the *code in which the book is written and the understanding is an interpretation of the *code. In this course, we call this meaningfully converted *code—that is, the *narrative you construct in response to the *code and other meanings you attribute to the *code—the “text” or, more frequently, the “*narrative.” (See: “The author-reader-text triangle” figure, elsewhere.) We premise that the work in this course is founded on the basic principles of sensory perception: “understanding” incoming sensory data such as a visual object or a sound. Sensory perception is a highly complex cognitive process that activates neuron clusters in many different areas of the brain with these multiple processes coordinated by yet another set of neuron networks. At least for the purposes of this course (although I also believe this is broadly true), we will view the process of interpreting written or cinematic *code as following the same basic pathways.

We label these basic movements of interpretation as *selection, *organization, and *matching: *SO/M. The more standard description of this process that you might encounter is slightly different: “selection,” “organization,” and “interpretation.” Why I have changed the terminology will become clear as we precede.

In order to make it easier to distinguish these three aspects, they are sometimes presented as linear in process: the object or objects to be interpreted are selected out from other incoming information, thereby creating a focus of attention. Then, this information is organized in some meaningful way. Finally, that schematizing of the information enables interpretation (attribution of meaning: “that is a stop sign”).

This schema is helpful for understanding hierarchies and phases of the process but it is insufficient for our purposes. In this course, we will view the elements of interpretive process—*selection, *organization, *matching—as in intensely active, hermeneutic relationships with each affecting the content of the other, a process arriving at a series of interpretations and re-interpretations until an interpretation that “*makes (enough) sense” is accepted and concludes the process. To put it another way, we try various selection possibilities, organize them in a variety of ways, and see if the considered arrangement and conclusion *matches something we already know. Current scholarship suggests that we rely heavily on Bayesian probability colored with cognitive bias and pressed by practical needs to make efficient choices towards a “good-enough-for-the-situation” *selection and *organization. That is, we end the process when the level of certainty is acceptably sufficient for our needs or circumstances cause us to quit interpreting.

In this volume’s theory, *matching does not function like a silent judge observing the work of *selection and *organization, to deliver a final, conclusive meaning. On the contrary, known *patterns have an enormous influence on what will be selected in the first place, and how such selected objects will be organized. For example, imagine that I go to the movie theater to see a romantic comedy. I already anticipate, correctly, that the narrative outcome will be, on the whole, a happy one. This pattern is active even before I arrive at the theater, and it will influence what parts of the film stand out to me (*selection) and how I *make sense of the story as it develops; that is, how I organize the *narrative around known principles of *narrative progress for this genre—some confusion and misunderstandings along the way, but of the sort that can be resolved.

This fully interactive view of the elements of interpretation will be a theme throughout this course and play a dominant role in how we look for, and decide interpretive positions. My thoughts on this have developed over the years.[1]As a practical matter for the purposes of this course, my view empowers the role of one’s cultural group in interpretations, with the implicit suggestion that what you see and believe is more derivative from your cultural positions than your subjective sense of things would admit and that thinking independently of culture is exceptionally difficult and in some instances impossible. It is with that enormity in mind that I designed the interpretive method we use.

Having made clear my position on how *selection, *organization, and *matching relate to one another, that is, not a linear or even circular matter but with each continually changing the shape of the other in energized hermeneutic co-influence, with *matching appreciated as a fully involved arbiter, and (I think) Bayesian probability often or always short-cutting what would otherwise be a process too complex and time-consuming to allow us to survive in this world, I would like to make a few comments on each of the elements themselves.

5.2. Selecting objects

Without returning to the page, try taking a moment to recall the image of the stop sign. When I do this, I remember first a partially obscured stop sign hidden by a “tree.” The tree is abstract in my mind—I don’t remember the actual tree, just “big tree with leaves, dark green.” Do I remember whether it was trunk, branch, or trunk that obscures the sign? No, although I think it is leaves. I remember that there was an intersection, but I can say nothing of its details. I also remember the brake lights of a passenger car. Were there buildings in the picture? I think so. Were there people? Maybe two, very small.

It is the selection processes of the act of visual perception and later memory construction that has made my recollection take this shape. Here are my primary objects then:

  • very red, partially hidden stop sign
  • street heavy with trees
  • an intersection of some sort
  • a passenger car with its brake lights on
  • buildings in the distance, with two small figures walking uphill on the right and slightly top-of-center portion of the image. (I can’t place them accurately though. They move around when I try.)

You might want to pause for a moment and play a game with yourself, creating your list of recalled objects, then return to the photo and check your cognitive (and interpretive) completed reconstruction against the original code.

In my case, I am writing this paragraph about six weeks after writing the passages that used the stop sign and I have not seen the image even once since then. This has given my mind plenty of time to reshape the image according to the objects I had selected then and which I select now, when “recalling” (probably actually constructing from a variety of memory fragments) the memory of it. Because of its redness, I remember the sign the best. Also, I had been looking for a partially hidden stop sign image for this course for a long time, so of course the sign remains the primary object for me. However, I had been re-searching for an image because the original one (here) I had used in class was from the web I thought might be copyrighted.[2]

Shows a traffic warning sign partially hidden by green vegetation
Obscured warning sign (FHA)

As it turns out, my “leaves” in the image are from that original image, which I had misremembered as a stop sign. It is a warning sign and my mind had simplified that to “stop sign,” the most memorable of traffic warning signs. This original image was chosen and used by me about thirteen weeks ago. I have not viewed it since the day it was presented in class. As you know, the actual object obscuring the sign is the tree’s trunk. The key point of the earlier image (heavy vegetation that needs to be clearly away) morphed in my memory image into the green leaves of the big tree. Also, as you know, there are no buildings or people. There would be if I had driven two more blocks and taken a picture of the sign at that intersection. A generic or actual memory of what the street looks like from that vantage point, a view I have five days a week on my commute, has taken over my memory, substituting out this less familiar part of the road.

In this way, two key qualities of the *selection process have dominated what I end up keeping as the primary objects of this event: my motive, which was to find a partially obscured stop sign to use in this book, and object *robustness, that is, the striking aspects of the *code (here, the redness of the sign) and the vitality of the memories (here, another portion of the road has greater *robustness for me). If my motive had been as a city inspector reviewing parking conditions in residential areas I would have remembered more than the one car. I really did not care about the cars when I was fashioning how I would use the image, so my reaction when I looked at the image for these paragraphs was simply “Oh yeah, that’s right. There were cars. Maybe I can use that now somehow.” And if I had been looking for a specific car, I would have remembered that I whited out the two readable license plate numbers, concerned about privacy issues.

Motive and object *robustness (regardless of whether what is before us is image or *narrative) have powerful transformative influences on what we look at and so how we interpret the full scene (or narrative) before us. They will have profound influence on our initial selections. We cannot *select everything—we need to start somewhere, with a few things. But once this *selection is made, it initiates an investigative pathway that will cascade forward, leading toward other possible *selections but away from others so completely that their very existence is probably invisible to the interpreter.

Notice, too, that I have *selected out from the many possible objects not just one, but a few key objects. The point here is that, to establish meaning, we almost always must *select multiple objects and consider them collectively. Thus, besides *selection, *organization, too, is an essential element of the perception process.

5.3. Organizing objects

If *organization in the interpretive process was only like a messy desktop with various objects that could be moved around to create workspace and a sense of cleanliness and control, it might be achieved by simple placement of objects according to a few rules that can probably achieve whatever the organizer desires. But it is closer to little busy-body creatures that move around on the desktop, interacting with one another. This is because the process of *organizing is the cognitive placing of *selected objects into relationship with one another (or recognizing the relationships already manifest) to see what happens (what meanings are suggested) with that particular configuration. These relationships change or suggest what is the meaning or significance of the object or objects that have been *selected, which also then changes the relationship of that object to other objects. Thus, we *organize by trying out various configurations to determine significance and halt the process when we have achieved our goal or close enough to our goal for whatever purpose we have in mind. *Organization can be nearly instantaneous—”Ah, there is a stop sign at this intersection”—or exceptionally laborious, such as managing a large company. We use four schemas to give abstract labels to some of the basic possible configurations, calling them “*arrays”—*autonomous entities, *competitive multiplicities, *layered configurations, and *alternating contexts. (We will return to these later.)

In this view of things, “object” is a slippery term. We can explore how this changes by slowly developing a narrative scene. If I put a clean sheet of expensive paper on a tabletop I am not sure what comes next in the narrative, although the fact that it is not ordinary paper suggests some possibilities and eliminates others. If I add an expensive fountain pen to the scene, I postulate that a letter or manuscript or such is perhaps going to be started, and I postulate, too, something about the type of person who will do the writing. If I switch to a bluebook (the inexpensive type used in tests), pencil, and eraser these objects, collectively, afford me a high level of certainty that a test of some sort is about to start. While in theory there are three objects in question, these have been chunked together to represent “material for a test” and this becomes the object itself, measured now against speculations of time, place, and person, which are other objects. And if this happens to be the last test before graduation and a remembered day ten years later, the object is “that day I took the last test of my life”—itself an object that can be put in relationship to something else. For example, perhaps one’s son or daughter is about to take his or her last test before graduation. In the interpretive projects we complete for our course, we call this determined object an “*instance.” The term (albeit a bit awkward) allows us to define and share the same portion of the narrative for interpretation when working independently of others but with the intention of sharing conclusions later. By its name, it also reminds us of the limited nature of analysis—we cannot make broad conclusions about a culture based on a single “*instance” of something. Finally, an “*instance” implies that it is part of a larger dynamic, developing narrative and so guards against us treating it as a static item outside of narrative time.

In these ways, the content and boundary of objects, and their relationships, is fundamentally dynamic and ever-changing. However, since most perception is conclusion driven, the interpretive process is halted by the interpreter at any point where the goal is achieved according to what the interpreter decides is sufficient for the purpose. This is one area of tension in the classroom, where my standard of “sufficient” is beyond what the student wishes to determine is sufficient because our goals are often different: complex understanding versus sufficient understanding for effective action. In a rapidly changing world where swift interpretation, decisive action, and productivity are highly valued, ponderous interpretive processes are one of the first things to be avoided. Once we have determined it is a stop sign, we really do not need to reconsider the conclusion. However, if we decide the meaning of a book, in fact there is always more that could be thought, and, as the reader’s situation changes (other, different reading is done, one gets older, life events happen), the meaning of the book will almost certainly change.

So, while we talk about an object and its relevant contexts, since meaning itself is derived from context, the boundary between what is the object (the bluebook-pencil-erase set) and what is the context (that it is the last test) is not always clear and, further, a context can be directly incorporated into the object to repackage the “object + context” as a single object, to be measured against other objects (my memories of my last test now giving special meaning to learning that my son or daughter is about to take his or her last test). If we take seriously the proposition that meaning is derived from networks of relationships rather than a single entity with ontological independence—as poststructuralists have expressed it, “All meaning systems are open-ended systems of signs referring to signs referring to signs. No concept can therefore have an ultimate, unequivocal meaning.”[3]—then the issue of defining the final content of an object is neither useful nor possible, and boundaries are temporary, necessary delineations for a certain interpretive need, not fixed demarcations. This theoretical position has a powerful central position in our course, where my premise is that cultural influences radically influence interpretive outcomes due to the porous nature of the boundary of self/identity and how contexts are deeply involved, both consciously and unconsciously, in constructing or generating our identity in any given situation.

5.4. Deciding meaning by matching / constructing patterns and models

5.4.1. Patterns

By “*matching” I mean that the *selected and *organized incoming information (data or *code) is compared by the perceiver or interpreter to a vast storehouse of *patterns (and *models) that are known to the interpreter, who adjusts *selection and *organization until a meaning that meets the interpretive goal emerges. We recognize familiar faces this way.[4]

We deploy *patterns and *models created over time and stored in networks of affiliated neurons, erasing differences and supplying missing information. We construct and have represented cognitively to us “reality,” rather than actually see it. Our brain brings us the world, but on its terms.[5].

That goal will be, in its barest formulation, an interpretation completed and with enough speed and certainty (stability) to adequately meet the interpreter’s purpose. Conscious awareness of this process is not necessary and, in fact, usually is not part of the process. (Many aspects of driving a car, for example, are unconscious.)

*Matching enables inference about what is the missing information, contextualizes the *selected and *organized objects, and completes the process of attributing meaning, although how complete or finished that process is will depend on the situation. Meaning usually needs to be only sufficient, not thorough. (“I don’t know if that is pistachio or mint ice-cream. Doesn’t matter today. I like both. I’ll eat it.”)

Consider the below graphic.[6]:

An abstract image difficult to make sense of
Pattern matching

If I said this is a highly abstract representation of a common insect, you will begin to file through your knowledge of insects and their shapes and bring that to bear on the photo, but without much luck because this is not an insect. I tried to divert your brain towards an unhelpful set of possible *patterns for *matching. If I said it is a letter in the alphabet, you are likely to instantaneously (and probably unconsciously) conclude that I mean the Roman alphabet, not Chinese, Japanese, or Korean characters.[7]Having now narrowed down, dramatically, the possible *patterns you need to check the image against, it is not long before the “A” emerges. If you had found this “A” upon your first look, for whatever reason—and there are many possible reasons—you had found your way to the right *pattern very quickly.

The brain is a pattern-discerning, pattern-creating organ. The process of interpretation is one of positing possible objects and their *organization against available affective-cognitive[8]*patterns in the brain (from simple to complex—from what looks like clean water to typical endings of 11th-century Japanese fictional narratives), subtracting from, adding to, and adjusting the *selections and *organization until a plausible fit to known *patterns is found with the level of confidence necessary for the moment at hand: I can decide “Those are French fries” and begin eating them almost immediately but “Is this essay good enough to submit now?” is a more complex determination in a higher-risk, more ambiguous interpretive environment and it might take some time to achieve the level of confidence acceptable to decide the next action. When we decide the fit is “good enough” is highly relevant to us working interpretively in this course because our interpretive environments, being of cultures different from our own, may or may not be offering situations that *match known *patterns and if we decide too quickly to *match the event to something we know, we become inaccurate in our interpretation and, importantly, we fail to acquire new *patterns that will help us unpuzzle the objects and events embedded in that culture. In natural English we might say that “We remain stuck in our own beliefs,” for example.

5.4.2. Models and modeling

Fields of research have various ways of defining and using the words “*pattern” and “*model.” For this course, in terms of function, there is not much difference. Both are affective-cognitive objects that likely exist before encountering *code (such as a text) or sense stimulus (such as a sound) and have enormous influence of the interpretive outcome. Either can participate in this interpretive act with the interpreter aware of or not aware of its role in the interpretation process. Either can be derived from cultural group content (for example, red and white color combinations have a celebratory feel for Japanese whereas for Americans the combination is red, white and blue). So, in terms of the process of interpretation, these are of the same ilk. Both evolve through experiences and subsequent reflection on the success or failure of interpretive decisions. I like to think visually, so, for me, I “see” *patterns as “relatively non-complex, flat, static, and fairly stable” (like letters on a page) and *models as “complexly layered, fluid, and responsive,” (like the first draft of the curriculum of a teaching module)—but perhaps this is not all that useful a comment.

For this course, *patterns are closer to singular objects and *model are more complex arrangements of *patterns to create what is, essentially, a meta-pattern of some sort that comes into being more or less consciously or deliberatively. With this as a working definition, we are more often considering *models than *patterns.

*Patterns and *models can be *robust with powerful interpretive influence or weak, lending to only tentative interpretive decisions.

*Models can be constructed with a requirement for logic internally consistent within the *model (a person who is altruistic in something is unlikely to be selfish in her or his choices even when unobserved; a realistic novel will uphold the basic behavioral expectations of the physical world) or not (a person who is altruistic may well also be entirely selfish in some things—humans are not required to be consistent in their personality; a fantasy novel may treat the rules of the physical universe as flexible, even unpredictable).

For the purposes of our course, I would like to characterize *patterns and *models into these two categories:

  • definitive *patterns (what something is), and,
  • narrative *patterns (describing processes or time-progression in terms of why something happened or with a prediction of what will happen, or simply associating processes and states in sequences).

“That is the letter ‘A'” is essentially an act of definition—completing the partial information until it “*makes sense.” On the other hand, “That is a hornet buzzing around my lunchbox … and hornets sometimes sting” is a predictive *model that derives significance via a very short *cause-and-effect chain—a *narrative with a chronology of some sort.

This way of splitting *patterns into two major types follows a long tradition of classifying items as either—to put it in very casual language—”things” or “events.” In this course, culturally embedded *worldviews are one of our primary concerns and they are defined as *narrative patterns setting out “how the world works” both in terms of physical and social behavior. *Ethical values are also normative *patterns: they set out what shouldhappen (as in, what one or others should doin a given situation). *Common practices are also *narrative patterns: they describe what others usually think or do. We will return to these later.

This distinction is important to us because our primary work in this course is to construct *Theory of Mind (ToM) *models of characters within *narratives that are built upon the principle of culturally embedded worldviews and values. We check the cultural accuracy of our *models by deducing causes of the *thoughts, feelings, actions or reactions (TF/A) of the character, basing our judgments on the premise that events in a *narrative are intended (by the author) to “*make sense” to the reader and that, if we cannot *make sense of the *narrative, we have not yet constructed a culturally accurate *ToM for the *instance. Thus, our *models are almost all of the causal type—they are intimately involved in cause-and-effect chains or, to put it another way, time. That being said, these *models are deduced from a good basic understanding of the *narrative itself and such an understanding relies heavily on knowing the right defining *patterns for many elements of a *narrative, such as, as one example, that the ninth day of the ninth month is not just any day but, rather, carries significance for many East Asians and that perhaps this should be factored in (yet perhaps not, it will depend of the *instance of course).

Just to be clear so as to avoid a possible misunderstanding, “*model” is not meant to include the nuance of “what is ideal” or “what should be” or “advice for behavior” such as “Use this as a model for writing your essay.” Some *models are indeed engaged in ethical assertions and such, but the word itself, in the context of this theory, is not meant to suggest that *models have imperatives associated with them.

Finally, it should be noted that *patterns and *models can become a part of one’s repertoire of affective-cognitive interpretive tools of their own, through experience and association, or from deliberative acts of learning. That has already been stated. What I would like to add is that *patterns and *models, even if first consciously produced, can begin to have an ontological persistence on their own, whether that is the wish of the interpreter or not. In short, I wish to avoid suggesting that we are in full control of our *patterns and *models. On the contrary, I view interpretation as a constant struggle to navigate preconceptions, prejudices, thinking habits, persistent moods, false assumptions, and so on. In this course we take these on directly, sometimes successfully. Sometimes not.

5.4.3. Identification ⇄ Construction: the outside world and the disappearance of the interpreter

Importantly, *matching is not a mechanical process of simply comparing information to *pattern or *model. To achieve satisfactory *matching, the partial information is shaped and reshaped (*selected and *organized) in a series of hermeneutically driven hypotheses governed by many things but especially these: one’s interpretive goal, and the working out of the dynamic tension between *robustness of the *pattern in tension with the *robustness of the information.

*Robustness is a key word for this course and we will return to its implications later. For the moment I would just like to say that *robustness of *pattern can include the level of certainty we have of the knowledge (*pattern) that is deployed to determining meaning. That certainty comes from many things including deductive reasoning, inference, the number of competing possibilities, personal experience, a sense of how relevant others might think, and the quality of the “match” itself. *Robustness of information includes how complete and free of corruption the information is, including duration and degree of repetition of the information. Also, I all aspects of the *SO/M process can be and probably usually are affected by the interpretive environment itself–its “noise” level (interference, concentration level, competing cognitive needs, cognitive strength at the time of the process, and so on.)

The dynamism of *matching in its shaping and informing of *selection and *organizing phases, and vice versa (thus “*SO/M” as the formulaic shorthand), means that the *matching process might be described in some cases as “identifying” *patterns in the incoming information (accurately completing the octagonal shape of a partially visible stop sign) and, at other times, as “constructing” *patterns (seeing playful animals in cloud formations). In complex interpretive situations, the distinctions between found and constructed *patterns are blurred and might even be indeterminate.

That meaning can be attributed to objects as a result of *patterns that “are not actually there” (that is, constructed rather than identified) sits at the crux of the problem this course presents: two students with different cultural backgrounds view the same scene in a film and are both sure as to the thoughts, feelings, and reasons for the actions of a certain character but their conclusions are not just different in terms of coming down on different sides of a debatable point but, instead, entirely different with each not being able to “see” what the other “sees.” The objects have been shaped differently due to very different “ways of thinking” (cultural or whatever); that is, different *patterns have shaped the process and what seems to be “in” the film and obvious is actually a shape arising from object *selection and *organization influenced by different pre-existing *patterns: although actually “constructed,” meaning subjectively feels to have been “found” and is “there” for everyone to see because the *pattern-matching process including interpretive movements that operated automatically or in event with the interpreter not fully aware of the influence.

“Understanding” is not simply collecting or receiving information. It is a cognitive but unnoticed act of completing meaning via *pattern application. That constructed meaning except for complex or unfinished act of interpretation seems to reside in object—we know “what it is.” This can become a critical, decisive start-point for chain of further interpretive decisions, a process that subjectively presents itself as ensuing from “the facts at hand.” Our *pattern has possessed the object. “Understanding” a situation can appear to be based on “empirical” aspects of the object when actually those very aspects were placed there by us. In such a scenario—one that I think we engage in every day—it is easy to see how different ways of thinking (different *pattern databases, different choices in *matching, different interpretive chains resulting from different start points) can populate the cognitive space of different people with quite different meaning-bearing objects—the same *code is in front of us but our “texts” different, that is, we “see things differently” but each have confidence the difference is self-evidently there in the object, not our understanding of it. Each interpreter subjectively feels she or he is “just seeing” the situation but, in fact, in part, is seeing “data + themselves” in the objects they have constructed. The border between original object and chosen *pattern blurs or disappears entirely and interpretive prejudices gain an opportunity to prevail. “Cultural misunderstandings” arise. They can be difficult to sort out or adjust.

When interpretive outcomes include constructed components by individuals “on their own” do most interpretations settle on more or less the same outcomes because of the powerful influence of *robust information? Clearly this is not the case. Interpretive decisions involve more than analysis closely tied to the information at hand. Imagine two people crouched and shoulder-to-shoulder, with a cat in front of them who seems nervous, distrustful, back arched. One person says to the other, “Don’t put you hand out—you’ll get clawed.” This speaking person has actually experienced such clawing in the past. The other has not. Yet the second person believes the first (accepts the interpretation of the speaker). Why? Perhaps the person is thinking deductively, drawing on the *model: “Frightened animals, and people, can be unexpectedly aggressive.” Or, perhaps the person is extending knowledge deductively from a past experience when her dog or bird also did something unexpectedly aggressive when in a similar (apparently) mood. Or, perhaps the person has seen something online like this, or read something, or heard something. Or, perhaps this second person simply trusts the first.

All of these scenarios have this in common: most of what we know comes not from direct experience of that actual situation but rather by deciding similarities (not a neutral interpretive process of course) or learning from being of the world, which includes the multitudinous cultures which flow through all of us. This participation of the outside world, of others in their direct voices, or remembered voices, or simply imagined voice (“What would my mother say if she knew …”) is key to this course. This is where culture has the opportunity to shape interpretation. We look at different interpretations of narrative situations and ask whether a culture—via its worldviews, values, and common practices (with roots in history but ever-evolving)—has bent the interpretation in a particular direction.

Some might consider the following assertion to be too extreme, but it is the logical implication of the above: the world decides for us some or much of the meaning in our life—what we think we are “seeing,” what significance we think it bears, even who we are. These are all connected to webs of significances stretching dynamically across social groups as they are represented in affective-cognitive formations in our brain.

If interpretation is the result of an interpreter drawing on socially supported *patterns and *models, then in complex interpretive situations where the interpretive result obtains validity through social consensus of support or when the interpreter seeks such validation, the door is open for all of society to flow through the interpreter, shaping interpretive outcomes. High-order interpretation (constructing *ToM, analysis) can be said to be in active tension with a community of interpreters all considering the same certain object (such as a literary text) by acts of explaining to others what meanings and significance the interpreter attributes to the object after *SO/M processes, and why. Members of the community might also “see” what the interpreter describes, or not, finding the interpreters comments plausible, or not, based on whether they can recreate and agree to aspects of the interpreter’s conclusions. Further, this is more often than not no real event but rather a cluster of imagined events within the mind of the interpreter as she or he measures interpretive results against predicted reactions. That a dialogue does not, empirically, take place makes it no less real in the mind of the interpreter as subject measurements are paramount to concluding interpretations. In this way of looking at things, “insights” are interpretations relatively independent of the socially constructed knowledge environment while “group-think” is closer to a faithful representation of the attitude of a social group. From this, it should be is clear why I think culture can have powerful influence (conscious and not) on interpretive outcomes

Finally, although it might not necessarily be relevant to our course’s content, since, when all is said and done I have a Buddhist view of the self (that is, there is no “self”), the above interpreter-interpretation representation is, for me, reversed. That is, there is no interpreter. There are only interpretations that produce the emergent effect of an interpreting self. Identity is the shape of those interpretations. We do not need to debate the veracity of this view. All of us will find identity and a sense of self in the ways that work for each of us. However, this is a good indication of how powerful I think the influence of culture is on how we think and who we think we are. Culturally embedded *patterns lie at the very foundation of how we experience the world and move through it over time.

  1. My first encounter was via Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka philosophy of the non-essence of things and their co-arising and I later revisited this through the Huayan Buddhist school's subjective absolute positions of the inter-relationship of all things. (Soto Zen Master Dogen's chapter in his Shobogenzotitled "One Bright Pearl" was also, for me, a powerful metaphorical argument on this point.) I later was taken by Gadamer's very reasonable argument that the observer is involved in the observing experiment, and, later, was convinced by the arguments of semiotics and the more sophisticated postmodern formulation of meaning as residing only across networks—with Derrida probably the team captain for this, in my mind—as I encountered deconstructionist ideas being worked out and extended in later critical thought. These ideas converge in what I think interpretation is and how it is done.
  2. The original image was in Section IX, "Preventive Maintenance" of the Federal Highway Administration's "A Guide for Local Highway and Street Maintenance Personnel," with this caption: The warning sign (circled) is only partially visible in the spring. By mid-summer, it will be completely hidden by vegetation. See Section IX of FHWA, “Maintenance of Signs and Sign Supports - Safety,” U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, accessed October 26, 2018, https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/local_rural/training/fhwasa09025/
  3. Quoted in Ole Weaver, “The Rise and Fall of the Inter-Paradigm Debate,” in International Theory: Positivism and Beyond, ed. Steve Smith, Ken Booth, Marysia Zalewski (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 171.
  4. Neuroscience News, "Never Forget a Face? People Know an Average of 5,000 Faces," Neuroscience News (blog), October 10, 2018, https://neurosciencenews.com/facial-recognition-9992/.
  5. Odd fact: Because it takes us a while to coordinate and process visual and other sensory information because of its density and complexity, our brain post-dates our visual information to give us the sensation that we are seeing things in real-time. In fact, we are a bit late in our visual participation of the events of the "real world," by about 80 milliseconds. George Musser, "Time on the Brain: How You Are Always Living In the Past, and Other Quirks of Perception," Scientific American (blog), September 15, 2011, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/time-on-the-brain-how-you-are-always-living-in-the-past-and-other-quirks-of-perception/.
  6. A still frame from Ion, "Displaced," Short video, Vimeo, 2014, https://vimeo.com/80267143.
  7. In fact, I had wanted to use Chinese characters because there is so much graphic playfulness with them, for example the representation of "音" ("sound") at Shoko Mutsuki (@shoko121), "Oto [sound]," Twitter, Sept 30, https://twitter.com/hashtag/花文字睦月. Mutsuki's style is to elaborate the Chinese character to a degree where it is just barely discernable as the original character.
  8. Many learned patterns are tagged with some degree of emotional content by some not yet well understood involvement of the amygdala and hippocampus, which helps with the retention or retrieval of the item. For this reason, I am inclined to leave open the possibility of an affective component to much of our knowledge and so prefer the hyphenated term. See, for example, Gal Richter-Levin, “The Amygdala, the Hippocampus, and Emotional Modulation of Memory,” The Neuroscientist: A Review Journal Bringing Neurobiology, Neurology and Psychiatry 10, no. 1 (February 2004): 31–39, https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858403259955.


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Interpreting Love Narratives in East Asian Literature and Film Copyright © 2019 by John R Wallace is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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