Context

Article
 
 Editor
Díaz Nafría, José María  jnafria@uax.es
 Incorporated contributions
Díaz (09/01/09)
 Usage domain
transdisciplinary, communication theory
 Type
concept
 French
contexte
 German Kontext

“Context” stems from the Latin verb “contextere”, meaning ‘to weave’ or ‘to interlace’. In a figurative sense, it refers to the interlacing of the meanings contained in a text or, generally, in a communication, as well as in the circumstance in which this communication occurs (e.g. physical, pragmatic and cultural environment). It is this interlacing which enables specifying the meaning of what is intended to communicate. Although the meaning of ‘context’ in relation to statements is common, it is also applicable to the structure in which something is located, and without which it would be unintelligible or less intelligible.

A distinction can be made between situational context (or non-expressive context) and expressive context, in reference to the set of syntactically and semantically related expressions, which, at the same time, are articulated through deixis and modal indicators in the situational context. Furthermore, the situational context can be divided into: general (related to the communicational situation defined by the time, place and action within which the communication is framed), social and personal (defined by the relationship between the communicants in their social interaction, their attitudes, interests and their respective knowledge).

There is a great disparity in the analysis of context from the different notions of information: from complete oblivion (in the most objectivisable meanings of information, according to which information is entirely contained within the message) to central attention (in those perspectives for which information makes only sense in social frameworks or in the adaptation to the environment, and where the message is often regarded as a key to release the information contained in the context). It is ironic that, while in linguistics the importance of context was highlighted, and in physics the classical conception of the outside observer was lost, at the same time Shannon's Mathematical Theory of Communication defined information as a typical characteristic of the information source without referring to its context. Something similar can be said concerning the origins of the cognitive sciences in the 1956 Symposium on Information Theory, where the consideration of cultural and historical contexts in which cognitive processes are immersed was minimized. However, although we might speak about epistemological anachronism, it also has to be acknowledged that the discussion about the hidden variables in quantum theory was alive, and the project on the unification of sciences of the Vienna circle was still running; on the other hand, the so-called historicist turn, which would underline the importance of cultural contexts, was still far away.

Nevertheless, in the field of →cybernetics, the contextualization of information has been an intrinsic aspect of its theory from the very beginning, since it is in the pragmatic situation (in which the environment is involved) that information gains meaning as a fundamental means to pursue an objective. Even so, it is cybernetics of the second order that will stress its demand with regard to contextualisation, because, in order to survive, it is the regulatory structure of the system (underpinning purpose orientation) which depends on the eventual changes in the environment.

Likewise from the quantum physics point of view, information is –as stated by Mahler– a “contextual concept”, intrinsically linked to a “situation”. This situation is the dynamic scenario where an interacting system makes “decisions”, leading to a proper “information flow”. Therefore, in accordance with current physics, it cannot be said that information is encoded or conveyed in physical, elementary components; instead, it only appears after measuring. (v. →qbit; Mahler 1996). 

From the analysis of the semantic aspects of information there has also been a change towards a stronger concern on contexts: from the “ideal receiver” of Bar-Hillel and Carnap (1952), capable of assessing information in terms of a structure of atomic statements (in an almost formalised language), to the situational semantics of Barwise, Perry, Israel… (1980s and 1990s) in which information is not anymore conceived as a property of events but something essentially dependent on the context and the consistency restrictions between statements (→informational content). Here, it is also worth pointing out the proposal of Dretske that considers information in relation to a knowledge background and the proposal of Floridi basing information not on truth (as Dretske or the situationalists do, involving, in a certain way, a privileged view beyond any context), but on veracity, which entails the fallibility of the interpreter and the belonging to a temporality and a finite knowledge (Floridi 2005).

Although, as stated above, many of the information theories related to cognitive sciences show a reducing tendency to minimise the role of context, in other fields of social science, a number of approaches stressing context as an essential element have arisen. Thus, while under the cognitive interpretation the subject extracts information from the physical-chemical properties of the sensory stimuli, in the hermeneutic, historical, critical-sociological and Luhmannian approach, the reference and meaning only appear contextualised in a cultural world.

In →hermeneutics, understanding is seen as something determined by schemas of pre-understanding determined by the cultural context of the interpreter. In the historical approximations, information acquires the level of genuine historical phenomena (Brown & Duguin 2000, Borgman 1999) or endowed with an essential temporality, which is also concluded from strictly physical assumptions (Matsuno 2000, Lyre 2002).

In Luhmann’s →systems theory, there is not properly a transmission of information. Instead of a direct conveying process, the emitter limits him/herself to making a suggestion for the selection within the “offer of meanings” (Mitteilung), which defines a communication process in a specific, socio-linguistic scenario (Luhmann 1987). However, in Habermas’ critical sociology, the subject (or receiver) –although framed closer to a specific life horizon– has a reflexive faculty (or communicative competence, attained by virtue of being part of a certain social group). Such reflexivity eventually allows him/her to show the distortions, irregularities and censures that conditioning all factual communication processes (Habermas 1981). Hence we might say: Habermas’ contextual interpretation of information enables going beyond Luhmann’s “offer of meaning” or to move –by means of willpower– the hermeneutic life horizon.
 
References
  • BARWISE, J., SELIGMAN, J. (1997). Information Flows: The Logic of Distributed Systems. Cambridge, RU: Cambridge University Press.
  • BORGMAN, A. (1999). Holding on to reality. The nature of information at the turn of the millennium. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
  • BROWN, J. S. y DUGUIN, P. (2000) The Social Life of Information, Boston, MA, USA: Harvard Business School Press.
  • DRETSKE, F.I. (1981). Knowledge and the flow of information. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • FLORIDI, L. (2005). Semantic Conceptions of Information. In E. N. Zahlta (ed.) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philisophy. Stanford: The Metaphysics Research Lab [online] <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/information-semantic/> [accessed: 12/11/09]
  • HABERMAS, J. (1981). Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.
  • LUHMANN, N. (1987). Soziale Systeme. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
  • LYRE, H. (2002). Informationstheorie. Eine philosophisch-naturwissenschaftliche Einführung. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag
  • MAHLER, G. (1996), “Quantum Information”, en KORNWACHS y JACOBY (Eds.), Information. New questions to a multidisciplinary concept, pp. 103-118.
  • MATSUNO, K. (2000) “The Internalist Stance. A Linguistic Practice Enclosing Dynamics”. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 901, pp. 332-350.
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Lionel Mattes (18.06.2020, contribution elaborated within the Seminar "A Journey through Philosophy and Information" facilitated by J.M.Díaz at the Hochschule München)

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Decontextualisation

As it is mentioned in the clarification of contextualisation, the origin of the term means "to weave" or "to interlace". The prefix "de" also stems from Latin and means "down, away from, from, off" (Olivetti 2015). So from a linguistic point of view the word decontextualisation could be translated as considering something (e.g. information) in isolation from its usual context. If the letter sentence is conveyed to the meaning of context in hermeneutics, (Jadin 1994) it leads to the assumption that the information which is intended to be determinate in the meaning of the authors text, gets ruptured out of the weave surrounding. As a consequence, the determinate gist by the author gets distorted or even lost. As it is stated in the previous lines on "context" the "Mathematical Theory of Communication” defined information as "a typical characteristic of the information source without referring to its context". This definition can also be seen as a kind of decontextualisation of information. However, different scientifically and philosophical disciplines consider context as more or less important. In some ways decontextualisation can even be used as a helpful tool as stated by Oxford University Press (2020) decontextualisation can also be seen as: "A necessary condition for the development and application of abstract concepts". But in daily life decontextualisation affects every citizen with media access in a harmfull way: "As an academic practice, this is (decontextualisation is meant) criticized as suppressing a key determinant of preferred meaning" (Oxford University Press 2020).

References
  • Olivett, E. (2015) preposition "de" in: Online Latin Dictionary. [online] <https://www.thefreedictionary.com/decontextualization> [accessed: 18/06/20]
  • Jadin, P. (1994) Introduction to philosophical Hermeneutics. New Haven: Yale University
  • Oxford University Press (2020) Oxford Reference [Online]in:A Dictionary of Media and Communication <https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095706702> [accessed:18/06/20]

Ida Bergh (19.06.2020, contribution elaborated within the Seminar "A Journey through Philosophy and Information" facilitated by J.M.Díaz at the Hochschule München)

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Abstract

How people today interpret information could be from the context of a communicational situation that occurs, for example, in a text. However, are people interpret it similar, or interpret people differently. This text will, therefore, be about context and how people interpret the context different. Could the situation of the context have an impact on that. Then are they other philosophical theories that could explain why people interpret differently. Therefore will this text also mentions hermeneutics, which is to understand the problems of information and the understanding of the information and context.

1.    What is context? 

Context is described by José Maria Diaz Nafria (2009) in the article “context” as the meanings contained in a text or, generally, in communication occurs, and that could for example be a physical, pragmatic, and cultural environment. The article futher explains context its interlacing which enables specifying the meaning of what is intended to communicate. This explanation of the context and how it occurs seems like everyone will interpret and analyze the context alike. However, most of the people and would claim that people interpret context of something differently, and also according to the article “Art and Interpretation”, by Szu-Yen Lin, state the author that people interpret things differently, and also in his article mention the author that an author’s intention does not match with any of the possible meanings, and therefore will the context not be the same for others. Therefore would it be interesting to know if people interpret context differently, and how they interpret and analyze it differently, and then futher know if it affecting people when they get new information. How people interpret the context differently can depend on different things, as to how the context is presented, for example could the situation have an impact on how people interpret the context.

1.1  Situational context

Futher in the article “Context” by Diaz Nafria (2009), describes it about the situational context, which is two contexts situation which can influence people’s interpretation of context, and they are non-expressive context and expressive context. This situational context can futher be divided into general and social and personal. This means the general, as the place, time, actions, that happened during the communicational situation took place, and also the relationship between the communicants in their social interactions, their attitudes, interests, and their respective knowledge, will influence the interstation of the context. Therefore, have a situation of the context of a huge impact on how people interpret the context. 

Based on the knowledge that a person had before, is it another thing which has impacts of how people interpret and analyze the context, which could be similar to the situations, are peoples background. People's culture and religion could influence people how to interpret the context, which means the knowledge and preconceptions people had before. The knowledge and preconceptions people have before could be connected to hermeneutics., which will be mention later in the text. 

1.2  Analysis of context 

How to analyze the context, can vary because of which kind of context, this is something Diaz Nafria mention. Diaz Nafria (2009) futher states it is because of the different notions of information, which are from complete oblivion to central attention. This means it could be analyzed from the most objectionable meanings of information, according to the type of information which are contained within the message, to the perspectives which information makes sense in social frameworks, or adapted to the environment there the message will release the information which is contained in the context. This means people will analyze the differently and probably interpret the context differently, for example, could it be that the author of a text has another interpretation of the context, compared to the readers of the text. For example, the central attention in the text, which will release the information of the context, is something the author thought he has been showing in the text, but the readers missing that part, or just interpret it differently. Diaz Nafria (2009) also brings up another case, which is in linguistics the importance of context was highlighted, and in physics, the classical conception of the outside was lost. Therefore could the analysis of a context make people interpret and get another understanding of the context.

2.     Hermeneutics

2.1 What is hermenutics, connected to the philosopher 

Futher in the article “context” state Diaz & Capurro (2009),  that hermeneutics is the understanding and hermeneutics is a broad methodology. Because according to the two philosopher cybernetician Bateson and Plato, have these two different aspects. That Bateson state is by whom information is “a difference which makes a difference” (1972:459). Compare this statement with Plato´s, which is “the reason (of what is said) is an interpretation of the difference” Theatetus (“λόγος δέ γε ἦν ἡ τῆς σῆς διαφορότητος ἑρμηνεία”, Theaetetus: 209a). These two philosophers have different aspects of hermeneutics, and further connection could be with Hans-Georg Gadamer, which author Lauren Swayne Barthold mention in the article “Hans-George Gadamer”, she states that Hans-Georg Gadamer was leading continental philosopher of the twentieth century and he wanted to develop the hermeneutic philosophy, which is “the art of interpretation”. Gadamer’s work of hermeneutics has been an important aspect and his statement fits in different theories as well. However, Gadamer’s own claim about the practical relevance of his hermeneutics as, “The hermeneutic task of integrating the monologic of the sciences into the communicative consciousness includes the task of exercising practical, social, and political reasonability. This has become all the more urgent” (Philosophical Apprenticeships, 182).

Therefore are there different aspects of hermeneutics, but as Diaz & Capurro (2009) states, that this different statement refers to a problematic, rather than univocal process, also stressing a sense of effort. This is something different compare to the most common viewpoint regarding information, which futher leads to a causal and blind relation between information and the results in recipients. This further leads to that Diaz Nafria claims is the dominance of this viewpoint is information concerns, and for istance can this be observed in the automatic in information technologies. This can be connected to Pérez- Montoro (2008) which claimed that can might draw us away from awareness of the problems regarding the undercover of sense. That can be strengthened by Søren Brier, which stated: “information is not enough” (Brier 2008).

To summarize this part, are hermeneutics a broad method, with a different perspective, which can be connected to other theories and methodologies. However, these aspects has in common are the problems with the information and therefore want to solve the problem, and this will futher lead to the transparency of information.

2.2  Modernity and the epistemology of clearness

How people clarify and interpret the information with sense has not diminished with the advent of modernity, instead, it shows it that people are more open and sharpens conflict between the role of authority in counterreformation and all of the people’s accessible strive for clarity in rationalism. That are something Diaz & Capurro (2009) stated, and he further state, while the authority is a mediating warranty in the hardness of interpretation, is there another thing which is important guidance for the spirit: “all things which we clearly and distinctly conceive are true” (Descartes 2008, §4). This sentence could be a reason for people to interpret the information differently and get another pre-understanding of the context because the people will believe in what they think is the truth. Therefore, if a person think the information of the context is the truth during the situation the communication takes place, but then is the information actually not the truth. Then probably, will the person think the information, but it’s not, because of what a person think is true, will believe in that. 


Futher state Diaz & Capurro (2009) this topic of clearness will be dominant in the rationalist and enlightenment movement. This will give the foundings to epistemology, there sense and true will be the base of Locke’s semiotic theory, and this theory will have a big part of the scientific tradition, and especially in the Anglo-Saxon world (Copleston, v.5, §7.8). In Locke state Diaz Nafria that are two tendencies that are connected to communication modules of the Mathematical Theory of Communication. The first one is what already has been mention is the hardness of interpretation, and the second one is regardless of context, with the necessity to rebuild the speak-sense (Díaz and Hadithi 2009). According to the first one, conclude Locke his appraisal on general terms stating that: 


“[…] men making abstract ideas, and settling them in their minds with names annexed to them, do thereby enable themselves to consider things, and discourse of them, as it were in bundles, for the easier and readier improvement and communication of their knowledge […]” (Locke 1690, B.III, §3.20)


However, Diaz Nafria futher state that these general terms supporting knowledge and communication, but these parts are limited to general ideas which must be decontextualized: 

“Words become general by being made the signs of general ideas: and ideas become general, by separating from them the circumstances of time and place, and any other ideas that may determine them to this or that particular existence.” (ibidem, B.III, §3.6).


These thoughts that Locke’s theory of communication with bases of sense, true and clarify the information, could be connected to how people interpret and experience the information. Especially if people believe in everything they think is the truth, or at least the text state that. Because, maybe people believing in something they thinks is the truth, but then are there other factors, which states are not the truth. Are people willing to change their opinion, then they have realized that they thought was the truth is not, or are they going to believe in the new information. Have the structure of the context any impacts of that, for example, the situation or the pre-understanding.

2.3  Hermenutics in the digital era

Today are people living in societies whose political, legal, military, cultural, and economic systems, which are based on digital communication and in information networks and societies are there so-called digital divide (Capurro et al. 2007). According to Diaz & Capurro (2009), could this be a reason why hermenutics dealing with issues of interpretation and communication. This means hermeneutics has changed during the years, it has lost the academic interest, which hermeneutics had in the nineteenth century, and the meaning was more focused on humanities and the understanding of human existence. Vattimo, which is an Italian philosopher, has critics to the hermeneutics philosophy we have in societies of today, He states the metaphysics and the “weak thinking” we people having, and this can, therefore, relate to Turing’s halting theorem, basic to computational theory, as to Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. These theorems state there are some fundamental limits to our seeking after truth, which forces us to stand back from claims to truth of modernity, which already have been mentioned. According to these limits, people do not fully express their theoretical or practical conditions (Chaitin 1982). 

This leak of thinking that people of today’s societies have could be connected to how people interpret the information of a context, the pre-understanding, and also the knowledge they have. Because if people do not search for the truth and are just satisfied with information they just interpret, it will lead to different knowledge and understandings, which futher could lead to conflicts and influence other people differently. An example of this could be climate change which happened, and some people who interpret this information in a different context, because of the digital societies and do not search for the whole truth, they may not believe that climate change is for real.

Conclusion

To conclude this text, could I state the context can be intreptreded differently for people, even it’s the same context, would people intrepret the information differently. The factors of that could be the situation when a kind of communication occurs. Depending on if it’s non-expressive context and expressive context, then if it’s general or social and personal. Just based on example, the action it happend during the situation, will influence how the person will intrepret the context. Futher could the knowledge a person has, affecting how to intrepret the context, and that could be connected to hermenutics. Which are the understanding of the problems of the information and also the understaning of the information, which could be in the context. They are other subheadings implies the knowledge people had before, will influence how people intrepret the informantion of a context, for example that people thinks is the truth, that will people belive in. Then also have the mordernity not a big negative impact on how people inrtepret information. However, the digital of the societies have a big impact, which could be both negative and positive. This chapter, gives it more reason of how people intrepret the information of a context better. Example could be the digital socities people are living in today, and everyting people meets of today are different kind of context and information, which futher lead to it is up to everyone to decide what to belive.  

References 

Incorporated entries
Díaz Nafría (09/01/2009)
 
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