The Times 1

    We are embodied agents, living in dialogical conditions, inhabiting time in a specifically human way; that is, making sense of our lives as a story that connects the past from where we have come to our future projects. That means that if we are properly to treat a human being, we have to respect this embodied, dialogical, temporal nature.
   -- Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity, 1991 (1)

    Time impacts on quality of life in two ways. First there is the personal value from the way in which we spend our time. Second there is the value that we add for others from our use of time. A car speeding along country lanes may be enjoyable for the driver but not for pedestrians fearful for their safety. When it gets stuck in traffic it is a waste of time all round.
    In conventional accounting, time is considered ‘productive’ if it is bought and sold in the market. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is calculated on this basis, regardless of whether that time adds or detracts from quality of life. Not before time, official statisticians are beginning to redefine the ‘productivity’ of time. (2)


Monolithic thought is (following Prusiner) the 'prion protein' of Mad World Disorder: dogmatism out-competes every other concept it comes in contact with; it substitutes 'program' for (thought) process; it takes its own operating principle as a given and places it in Latour's black box to remain unquestioned and unexamined. And, as the present struggle to enunciate an alternative concept -- call it multiplicity, or flexibility, or the manifold cognisphere, or the dialectic as you wish -- testifies, it sweeps up all language about alternativity and converts it to redundant pointers to its own homogeneity. (How diverse is 'diversity,' these days? How multi-cultural, multiculturalism? 'Alternate technology' narrowly escaped, by way of the acronymic backdoor, to become 'appropriate tech,' but who has seen any criteria of appropriateness beyond 'whatever works'?) When there is no way to refer to X, X ceases to exist; when reference becomes identified as the thing itself, what is, is, and the collapse of logical levels is complete (3)

This dogmatism goes by a number of names -- totalitarianism is one, but I call it objectivity as there is still an abiding sense that whatever humans are, they are not objects, and the dehumanization, the subjugation, the mediation of human relations is the principal concern here.

For instance, you may say that you 'trust' your car to get you to town on time, or, if pressed, that you trust the mechanic to have done his job properly. Now, what are the criteria here? Why don't we trust that we will get our business done somehow, sooner or later? Or that Joe did what seemed best? Because that puts the emphasis on human -- that is, variegated, inconstant, frail, arbitrary -- elements, when we 'need' to 'rely' on predictable, uniform, durable, standardized 'goods.'

The result, of course, is a corps of standardized people -- and a growing class of 'fit-nots' who are left bewildered in the wreckage of their traditions and cultural patterns.

A Fifth Dimension

Timeline  P<----   --->F
    What is the meaning of 'meaning'? The self-referential nature of the question makes it difficult to contemplate because any possible answer may change the question. The key is to arrive at a definition that not only describes our intuitive sense of what it means to mean something and corresponds with how the word is generally used, but also remains unchanged under its own definition. I believe I have discovered such a definition and it is surprisingly simple: meaning is identical to effect. (4)
The most profound crack, and thus the most difficult of perception as meaningful, in the authoritarian worldview is, as suggested in 8a21sem, time. Even the well-intentioned writer of the second prolegomenon is unable to incorporate experiential time in his concept of 'personal value' -- and the fundamental question remains unasked: is 'productivity' simply shorthand for being in a rush (and thus failing to consider the consequences of a decision - what the economist labels 'externalities')? If we thought through the busy-ness of commercial exchange, we might see that everything we really needed could be provided on a neighborhood scale. If Joe really did what he thought best, you might not get your car back!

To explore this so-called fourth dimension (deftly rotating the other three into the shadows), let's add a fifth, possibility (represented above in shades of color). In the (blue) past, possibility is nil: what's done is done, while in the (red) future, possibility is infinite (the gradations allow ambiguity in interpretation, however.) The idea here is not 'how long it takes' to go from past to future, but which way one looks at, or constructs, the present.

For instance, looking back leads to the concept of meaning just cited. Since one knows an 'effect' only after it has taken place (and obviously, after X as well), then the determination of meaning under its own definition is intrinsically an exercise in retrospection. Saying 'X means Y' can only 'mean,' 'X meant Y'; 'the present' stands as a mere end-point of the past; and 'learning' equates to memorizing someone else's X's.

Obviously, we depend on past experience to interpret the present moment, and there is no getting around that -- but meaning should not be a synonym for inevitability. The more completely a moment is the 'effect' of, or can be defined by, its antecedents, in fact, surely the less meaningful it is. By contrast, the forward-looking 'action causes choice' implies that meaning is a matter of potentiation and becoming: the more expansive the possible consequences, the more meaningful the act. The less committed one is to X's 'having to mean' Y, the more 'new' X's one experiences ; the more we are able to learn, to 'make (authentic) sense of our lives'; in short, to love. Is that looming figure a threat? a bearer of gifts? an illusion? a nightmare? -- encompass them all, and inherit the earth. (6)

Terms of reference

Metadata is a key new term for data warehousing applications. Though the term has some post-modern panache -- fitting nicely with terms like meta-theory -- at its core, the concept is quite simple. Metadata is data about data. Conceptually, metadata is similar to the foundation of packet-switched networks, in which data is dropped into packets, labeled and sent to their destinations. The information that forms the label, such as the address, the type of information enclosed and the number of packets in a transmission can be thought of as metadata. (7)
In these rigid, specialized times, this definition is perfectly adequate to Dr King's purposes, and no one expects him to take it any further. On leaving the warehouse, the vocabulary of 'data warehousing' is shelved -- to be replaced, perhaps, by a module of 'personal communications' terms, or of 'social interaction.' Who knows whether there is any conceptual relevance between such 'fields,' or any potential in 'translating' from one to the other? What practical use would it have to say, "Conceptually, metadata is the pattern of life"?

'Meta' is the heart of not just packet switching, but ontology -- our ideas of knowledge (where 'post-modern' philosophy makes its original, and strongest, case). Packaging the 'real world' in little boxes (definitions) may be a necessary step towards understanding and 'making sense,' but, in simple words, it is dysfunctional to try to array them side by side, as if 'terms' are ends in themselves, rather than metaphors for such ends. Reification leads only to utter ignorance and non-comprehension; 'bracketing out' the informational from the individual or from the societal is contrary to experience; that is, as a conceptual frame, insane.


(1) quoted at [Self Organizing Systems]
(2) [Indicators Update, 12/97]
(3) Try, for instance, to introduce 'consensual' decision-making within one layer of an 'official' hierarchical structure.
   Or to use the same language as both the object and the medium of critique -- without signalling the shift in logical level by burying the paradox in a footnote.
(4) Virian Philosophy, [The Meaning of Meaning and Life]. The article is incomplete, but see also ~/viruslex.html
(5) Strictly speaking, since the correlation is 1:1, I am only defining time in terms of possibility. Conceptually, on the other hand, possibility more readily has a 'fan' distribution, while time is synonymous with linearity. (Is 'the' future the median or the mode of the possible?)
(6) For more on the consequences of objectified time, see Doors of Perception 4, [SPEED] conference (Amsterdamn November 1996), especially [John Wood's] and [Susan George's] presentations.
(7) Elliot King, [Drill Down: Metadata Mayhem]

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