Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Contextual Mind: Context is the Chain of Association

Context is part of a polygon. Each vertex dynamically interacts with the other vertices.

Some say, content is the queen, and context is the king. Context is “the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect: You have misinterpreted my remark because you took it out of context. The set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.” (dictionary.com). So, it is about the context that gives something meaningful but isn't a context bound, aren't you limited by a particular perspective? Does the dime stop being a dime despite its many uses or does its meaning accumulate with each fresh perspective of the thinking perceiver? Would it be appropriate to summarize by saying that context aids us in understanding what's relevant and what's not?

Context aids us in understanding what’s relevant and what’s not. From a practical perspective, 'seeing' the context you are 'part' of, allows one to identify the leverage points of the system and then 'choose' the 'decisive' factors, in the attempt to achieve the set purpose. To clarify it, without any doubt, this example is always appropriate: when you have to cross a river, no matter being a good or not so good swimmer, the first thing that you are 'interested' in is the depth of the water, rather than its chemical composition; understanding the workings of a river, not just how wide the river is but also knowing its bends, where it is narrow, or where it is deep impacts trade routes, the transportation of people and goods. Also, if you are going to cross that river, you need to know what's in it. Abstractions of rivers--models of models, for example, can give you a general idea of a river but can lull us as well, it all depends on one's perspective and 'inner' structure. The 'constraints' could be identified and the previous experience in the area too, the context offers new opportunities, as well. Talking about development and the context relevance, maybe on the other side, you meet someone who likes to buy your boat - the commercial relationship. Or maybe you discovered a new route for crossing that river, the most effective known by now so that a regular service could be provided for the ones who want to visit the other side. Further contextual intelligence about the river: Shall you consider the river's particular characteristics, its personality. Are you aware of flooding, the seasons of the river, the melting of snow and ice that may feed a river, the animals that may live in the river like alligators or piranha, but also if the animals are protected? The surrounding human settlements of the river also differ, depending on the river. What is being dumped in the river and vented? Water treatment plants, power plants, or factories impact ecosystems. The surroundings create a context for the river in terms of whether you can drink from it, swim in it, or eat fish from it. Pretending a river is a river can be disastrous depending on the context of your own motivations and needs.

Context is the king, and the purpose makes the difference. Context is part of a polygon. Each vertex dynamically interacts with the other vertices. One vertex is cognitive perception. Another vertex is the expectation that there is more going on than just the image. Each vertex interacts with the other, changing as it interacts. Context is of utmost importance. The art and the science are in the creation of the context, which some people will perceive immediately. Teachers create contexts for learning. Scientists create contexts with criteria, stating that under these given conditions, this will happen or appear this way because of the very purpose. Causation is always within a context. For example, water is liquid under given conditions of temperature and pressure. We can create the context for business practices as well. Context can be altered with urgency or the perception of urgency. The motivation for change is not just because it would make work better. It's because of the need, the urgency, the competition, the acquisition of some new capacity that creates the difference between "should" and "is." There are theories and ideas that, when presented well, can inspire, but gets no traction in the application. Great ideas that work great in the context of a lab, but it can't be reproduced in "the wild." How many breathless science articles come out filled with the implications and possibilities of a certain new technological breakthrough, but we have yet to realize these possibilities. It is not possible yet, not possible because of the context--capacity, materials, expertise, scalability, audience or customer need, etc. Context matters because a system will interact with other systems that share or compete for the same resources.

Context is a chain of associations. It's like when you contemplate a work of art. You don't get the whole idea immediately. It has to grow on you, sometimes one piece by the other piece. The implications of its effects on the perceiver reach beyond the visual. It also triggers a chain of associations. You see it in another context, or you might see the influences of another domain colliding with the expected domain. Understanding a work of art and getting it is a learning process. It is a statement about how vision works as well as a demonstration of the perception of the form using only color--points of color--without a line. There is also a surprise in the paintings as well. That, instead of getting clarity as you get closer to the painting, the images become more vague, chaotic, almost meaningless. Instead, you gain visual clarity if you are further away from the painting. The role of context in developing a perspective of a system is that it may be a partial cause for many of the behaviors demonstrated by a system. The implication is that the model of the context could be useful in developing the perspective of a system. Another way to see the power of context is in the ways you can change the factors that create a context. Context needs to be split into two dimensions in terms of understanding the scope - functional and physical, and a third aspect (to assist planning. risk assessment, etc.) is to understand the environment in which the "something" will be developed and then operate.

For complex problem solving, understanding context is often the first and the important step in understanding - without it, you are working without any boundaries, or basis for understanding what you are doing. You always have to build a scaffold towards the solution so that capacity can be developed. Only then can the information be used the way it needs to be used, create the relevant context to make a more lasting solution. That's part of the allure of constructing knowledge. Everybody participates and has a stake in the solution.


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