A Short Piece

Information Does Not Tell Us What It Means

Our ideology can make the meaning of information feel self-evident, but this is a mistake.

Photo by Roman Kraft

Information does not tell us what it means. Words do not give us their definitions. Facts do not force us to view them as evidence for a certain case. We decide the meaning of information, words, and facts, and yet information seems like the meaning is self-evident, that anyone would draw the same conclusions as us if they were trying to really think. If they draw different conclusions, it must mean they’re not thinking, that they’re ideologically driven, or worse, that they’re intentionally misunderstanding the facts.

The phenomenology of information contributes to tribalism. We do not experience fact x as perhaps evidence of case y, but as evidence for y. In this way, experience leads us to conclude that other people who were looking at x clearly would see evidence for y too. When they don’t, we can think they need their eyes or brain checked, and suddenly we can see ourselves in the role of needing to help them. We become saviors. That, or we can see the need to protect others from them, hence are extreme partisanship today.

Not only does the experience of information prime us for self-righteousness, but in the meaning of information often seeming self-evident, we are also absolved of personal responsibility. After all, it is not us that makes the information mean this or prove that — the information and facts do all the work. We don’t interpret, per se, only read. If the information means y, we can throw up our hands and say, “It can’t be helped!” Y must be done (how convenient).

Free of responsibility, if we proclaim that y follows from x, and y disadvantages some people, which makes them upset with us, in our minds, they will have no right to be upset. And the fact they are angry is further evidence that they need us; after all, it’s self-evident that x means y, and if they don’t understand that, then they really need our help.

Interpretation is unavoidable, but we experience our interpretations as just “reading” — we are phenomenologically self-deceived. Interpretation naturally strikes us as “what other people do,” but this is an illusion that we must actively fight. Otherwise, our ideologies are likely to get the best of us, all while freeing us of personal responsibility for being swept away. Intellectually, we will be a victim and, a savior, victimize.

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This is a short reflection inspired by “The Critique of Pure Observation” and “Self-Delusion, the Toward-ness of Evidence, and the Paradox of Judgment,” both by O.G. Rose. For more, please visit O.G. Rose.com. Also, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow us on Instagram and Facebook.

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