Noesis revisited

IMG_0158 - Version 2Here is a sign I saw recently. It was in a public space and in a country where I had never visited before, but then again it was in a university hall, so I can’t really say that I was so culturally shocked that I didn’t comprehend it. Still, I took it’s picture, didn’t I?

I had a lot of contemplative time that day because I didn’t really speak the language in which most of the discussion was taking place, so although I could read the slides people were showing and sort of follow along, I also had time to let my mind drift. I looked at this set of images, and I laughed a bit to myself and resolved to take a picture when the next break came along. Then I got to thinking about Otto von Neurath and his attempt to use visualization to advance human communication, in particular to use images as a sort of universal language. One supposes it is from that impulse that we get the confusing array of icons on the dashboards of new automobiles today. The point is that even simple images, like those shown here, can be confusing.

That brings me back always to phenomenology and the notion of noesis, that humans perceive through ego acts, or, to try to put it more simply, we see new things always through a lens of those things we have experienced in our past. The reason I laughed (not quite out loud) when I looked up at this sign was that I read in my head “no cigarettes, no radios, and no hamburgers.” Well, why not? The cigarette is clear enough I suppose. But to my unfocused gaze that image in the middle looks like the kind of radio we all had when I was a teenager. You’d set it in the sand near your ear so you could listen to it but it wouldn’t bother the other people on the beach, the sound of the surf providing useful cover. And if that isn’t a hamburger on the right I don’t know what it is! Ok, with a large soda, but obviously no fries. Maybe this means “no carnivores”?

Well that’s the majority of my point I think, that we simply cannot take a simple notion of “concept” seriously as a concrete entity because there just is no such thing. All concepts, no matter how simple, are perceived along a zillion personal continua. Knowledge organizations can provide frameworks but precision will always escape us.

Which is why we need to move to faceted systems–not categorized systems, but true facets–that embrace contexts, because it is the contexts that mediate individual perceptions. A faceted KOS that permitted contextual entry first and conceptual second would allow users to gauge the parameters of noeitic mediation involved in a given search, or in a given set of assigned semantic concepts. Just for fun, here is the uncropped image. I admiIMG_0158t it isn’t the best example; still it shows a column, in fact the top of a column in an industrial strucutre with cinderblock walls and an airduct there on the ceiling–that makes it relatively clear this is some sort of public space, like a classroom, and that also makes it a bit more clear why those certain things are prohibited.

I know now that thing in the middle is a mobile phone, because they don’t want people chattering. The sandwich and drink on the right probably mean “no eating or drinking” (see, I did get it, after considering the context). Still, it would be more useful to show someone with a full mouth I think and that hash mark across it.

This was in Rio de Janeiro, by the way, at the recent ISKO Brazil conference held at Fundação Getulio Vargas: Portal FGV.

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Posted July 14, 2013 by lazykoblog in facets, phenomenology

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