Schlagwort-Archive: Metaphor

The image frame – the ideal metaphor for unknowingness

“And here I stand with all my lore,
Poor fool, no wiser than before!”
J.W. Goethe

We are torn between the worrying fact that most knowledge is hidden from us and the amazement that we do not know what we know. Intellectual capital and its links are in people’s heads, on storage media (e.g., on the cave walls, in stone and clay, manuscripts, books, microfilm, and PC files), in artifacts (e.g., objects, art, and architecture), and concepts of all kinds. Although authors describe circumstances to the best of their knowledge and belief, a lot is hidden between the lines. We are under the illusion that we can convey our knowledge. Withal the meta-model of language shows that we express our messages incompletely and interpret them distortedly. By means of a photo, this situation can be shown.

An image is invariably a flat representation of reality. However, the view through the viewfinder of a camera is so narrow that almost everything cannot be seen. At the same time, the meaning of the visible area is in the eye of the beholder. Those who understand the impossibility of comprehensive knowledge can better deal with the vagueness of “facts”.

  • Inside of the frame
    The frame results from the demarcating look through the viewfinder, regardless of the lens – even if the difference between a wide-angle and a telephoto lens influences the image expression. Surprisingly, we do not see everything visible, as unconscious filters distract the attentiveness – depending on our interests, feelings, mental models, and living conditions. Hairdressers look at the braid, sewers at the dress, and parents at the teddy bear.
    The same happens in other contexts. The larger a company, the more “image contents” are available. In 1995, CEO Heinrich von Pierer summed it up with the words, “If Siemens knew, what Siemens knows”. The stored contents are noisy due to redundant, mostly inconsistent data. And as if that were not enough – everything is in constant motion. To paraphrase an old saying: Knowledge is like rowing against the stream. When you stop absorbing new things and cannot forget, you fall behind.
    You have to learn to continuously update and keep available the existing knowledge that resides in storages and the people’s minds.
  • Outside of the frame
    The viewfinder acts like blinders. Everything beyond the frame is entirely invisible – even if we can extend our natural field of view with the help of an extreme wide-angle or a fisheye lens. In contrast to our eyes, which see most sharply in the visual pit (Fovea centralis) and perceive the rest blurred, albeit movements are noticed in this area, the optics provide no clues about what is happening outside the visual field. This makes it hard to see where the little girl is (see image above). Where is the child walking? In a forest? In a city? Between ruins?
    Similarly, we cannot see beyond our field of vision. Goethe’s Faust puts this in a nutshell (see above). Especially for people, who derive their right to exist from their acquired knowledge, it is unbearable that there should be something they do not know. And that even though we have known since the nineties of the last century the half-life of knowledge (i.e., the time it takes for acquired knowledge to be worth only half as much – school knowledge after 20 years, university knowledge after 11 years, professional knowledge after seven years, technology knowledge after five years, and IT knowledge after two and a half years). For instance, the knowledge of IT professionals is almost utterly worthless after ten years if they do not regularly renew it – what remains is many years of experience.
    You cannot avoid discovering and gathering new knowledge outside of your existing knowledge because that is the only way, you can compete.
  • With context clues
    Conscious examination of an image provides clues to the situation in which it was taken – for example, contemporary vehicles, buildings, clothing, or the film material used. However, in this age of post-processed photographs, we can rely neither on these clues nor on what we seem to see in the image. For this reason, it is always worth taking a look at the photo credits, if available, which describe the shooting situation – e.g., the time, place, or protagonists of the shot. For example, the little girl is at some point in time walking over roots through the ruins of a city in the Middle East.
    Similarly, we strive, for example, to enrich a report with sufficient contextual information. This is done with meaningful prefaces, footnotes, and appendices that provide context – though not enough for everyone.
    Providing a framework filled with content has the explicit intention of allowing the target audience to become informed. This can be achieved by enriching it with the preparation context. Reporting people to entrench themselves for reasons that are easy to understand (e.g., lethargy, convenience, l***ness) behind excuses such as saying, “It’s clear to everyone what it’s about.”, “No one needs that.”, “There wasn’t time.”.
    Always include a brief description of the context, as it makes it easier for those receiving the message to integrate it into their worldview.
  • Without context clues
    The viewers give a picture all the more meaning, the more room there is for interpretation. This is especially true for missing context indications. It stimulates the imagination as long as we do not know when and where a photo was taken without any hints of what is actually supposed to be shown. We can imagine an artistic picture of Little Red Riding Hood on her way to her grandmother – but where is the red cap, the food basket, and what for is the teddy bear. But we notice that the allusion to the fairy tale already creates a new context, pointing in this case in the wrong direction. The story behind a picture is less important than, for example, the aesthetic effect. However, even here, details about the genesis increase the enjoyment.
    Most people lack a description of the actual context of messages. This starts with the scope of treatment – the organizational and procedural classification, the description of the current situation and period, and indications of excluded issues. Since most reports are contaminated with outdated data collected at different times and meant differently, these weaknesses should be pointed out. Other clues would be who benefits or who makes money from it. It is hard to understand that we never (can) know everything. However, it is better to provide insufficient contextual information than none.
    Providing clues about the environment of the creation is essential to be able to convey a message more understandable.

Bottom line: Socrates already recognized it two and a half millennia ago: “οἶδα οὐκ εἰδώς” (loosely translated “I know that I know nothing”). It would be interesting to find out what he referred to – the facts inside or outside the “frame”. Let us assume, for simplicity’s sake, to both. Even though some people are uncomfortable because they consider it a personal weakness to say they do not know something, they must accept that there is an infinite amount they will never know – even within the frame they see. Eventually it is IMPOSSIBLE for us to say what could be found outside the picture. The context is mentioned in this post separately because it is a matter of meta-clues, which belong to the frame, inside AND outside. All those who can already comprehend this view have an advantage because they can conduct an undogmatic discourse. The others will sooner or later follow their everyday life attentively and eventually also let their rigid way of thinking go – better late than never. By means of an image frame, the actual picture, we can clarify this cluelessness. That is why the image frame, which separates an image from the context, is the ideal metaphor for unknowingness.

The tide – the ideal metaphor for far too much

We are perpetually racing around the sun at over 100,000 km/h. Simultaneously, the Earth is rotating on its axis at over 1600 km/h – and we feel nothing. However, the Earth’s rotation and the constellation of the sun and the moon regularly create perturbations that put the oceans into oscillation. Those who have visited the oceans’ coasts could observe the wave that is slopping around the world. The tidal range, the strength of ebb and flood, is additionally influenced by weather conditions. The water level fluctuates by up to 15 meters, depending on the region. And then there is the great flood – a story passed down in various cultural circles. The flood sets the starting point for a new time after everything undesired is flooded and disappeared in the water masses. The flood has become a synonym for far too much due to its abundance.

A closer look reveals some interesting points of view.

  • Term
    The Earth is covered by 71% water. These 1.4 billion cubic kilometers of water are kept in motion by the sun’s constellation and the moon. The tides consist of falling water, the ebb, and rising water, the flood. They alternate twice in 25-hours. In addition, the term flood is generally used for large water masses and floods of all kinds, e.g., information flood, image flood, mail flood, request flood, goods flood, stimulus flood.
    In a figurative sense, the term stands for far too much.
  • Trigger
    Floods are caused by constellations of the sun and the moon, natural disasters, and man-made influences. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, landslides, or heavy rainfall result in torrential water masses in a wide variety of places. In the Anthropocene era, humanity creates damage to nature by sealing soils with urban and road construction, plants, and industrial agriculture. It creates an imbalance that leads to ongoing climate change due to the Earth’s steady warming and climate shifting. Melting ice at the polar ice caps and significant glacial regions lead to rising sea levels that threaten megacities, such as Calcutta, Mumbai, and Guangzhou, as well as Miami, New York, and Tokyo.
    In general, floods result from far too much.
  • Strength
    The water level determines the extent of a flood. Since the height of the water level in itself says nothing, a reference point is required. In the case of water, we differentiate between mean water level, mean low water, and mean high water. The highest high water is the biggest value ever measured. Besides, historic flood zones are identified. Construction activity in these areas is risky. However, after long periods without flooding, this does not deter people from building houses and streets again in these areas. A frightening example is the Fukushima region, where houses were built in known floodplains and promptly deluged again. Dam structures protect vulnerable areas as long as they are high enough. However, sea levels are rising due to climate change, requiring more extensive dam installations – until the water can no longer be kept out. The habitats of more than 250 million people, especially in the East of Asia and along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast, are at risk of flooding in the foreseeable future. For the other floods (see above), levels still need to be established to speak of a flood.
    In a figurative sense, there is also a need for metrics for far too much.
  • Consequences
    The effects of a flood are not limited to the actual flooding but also include the long-term aftermath. While earlier floods were passed down through gossip, today, we see videos that show what happens almost in real-time. In 2004, the Indian Ocean earthquake, triggering a tsunami that claimed more than 220 thousand lives and was immediately in the news and on the Internet. As a result, drinking water sources were contaminated, 1.7 million people were left homeless, fertile farmland washed away, and entire swaths of land became uninhabitable. Within a year, an estimated $13.8 billion was allocated to rebuild the affected regions. Today, 300 fully automated, land-based monitoring stations provide an early warning system. Floods also threaten all types of technical infrastructure. In Fukushima, unexpectedly severe waves led to a super hazard and still radioactively contaminated landscapes in the Sendai region. In exceptional cases, floods also create habitat. The annual flooding of the Nile provided the fertile soil and moisture that this early advanced civilization needed.
    In the common parlance of far too much, floods overload and stress the people affected.
  • Meaning
    The flood has especially the meaning of far too much. This metaphor is applicable when something happens, is done or developed, is approaching, increases, or transforms. It overflows whenever the same thing keeps growing – e.g., phones are ringing incessantly, increasingly more emails arrive; decisions are requested more frequently; a message spreads virally on the Internet; a rising number of customers storm the shop; computer net use explodes; minor improvements challenge an overall system. The image of a flood is mainly used in different areas of communication – the flood of data that buries insights; the flood of informing needs that blur clear messages; the flood of demand that leads to a large number of offers; the flood of problems in which the fragmentation of interests drowns those who suffer. In most cases, floods are frightening. For this reason, the term should be accompanied by benefits: many requests are a sign of interest; mass decisions are a sign of momentum; massive amounts of data are a basis for expert analysis; multi-faceted problems are mastered with a structured approach.
    It is, in most cases, commonly true that far too much is better than too little.

Bottom line: The flood is a bad image that arouses fears with its far too much. The term can be found for thousands of years as viral memes in a wide variety of cultures. Most triggers lead to severe threats to which we can only react. In the end, a flood causes significant damage. With appropriate preparation and follow-up, these can be mitigated as much as possible and eventually overcome. The same applies in a figurative sense to the abstract floods of perception, thought, communication, and action, leading to fear and distress in those affected. This makes the flood an ideal metaphor for far too much.