Only Things Which Have Irreversible Consequences Have Meaning
Minessence eZine #43 15 Oct, 2010

Keeping you Up-to-Date with Values R&D and Events—Paul Chippendale, Editor.


I recently saw an analysis someone had carried out on the most and least popular words in Tweets on Twitter. Looking at the list of words I was immediately struck by the fact that many of the words were just that, words. These words did not represent values (words which have attached emotional significance), they were just words. The distinction between information and data is: information = data + meaning. So the survey provided lots of data but little information.

Why is it that some words convey little or no meaning and others are highly charged with meaning?

Baroness Susan Greenfield says, "only things which have irreversible consequences have any meaning." When you think about this, it makes sense. If you do something, and you or someone else don't like it and you can completely reverse it (both the action and the consequences) so nothing at all has changed, then it has no significance in your or their life--i.e. it was a meaningless event. On the other hand, if you do something and it has significant consequences which can't be undone, the outcome has the potential to challenge yours and other's beliefs about the very nature of reality. However, it takes a lot before we'll change our beliefs. Just telling someone about the potential consequences of their actions is certainly not enough to trigger change:

        Many among us believe that learning is a simple transaction that occurs when someone with knowledge...communicates that knowledge to a receptive individual. The learner assimilates it and is thus able to modify his or her interactions with the world to accommodate this learning. Oh that it were so simple!
        Learning, in the final analysis is about changing minds. What we have learned about the world has been gained through a considerable investment. We are unlikely to modify these beliefs easily because we have a vested interest in them. We see the world through the paradigm filters that have been painstakingly built on the platform of our earlier experiences of the world.
        Thus, to begin with, we are unlikely to accept those new bits of information that we receive that are at odds with our current paradigms. If we have a construct that, to us, adequately explains our experience of the world, then we are unlikely to countenance a new construct that is at odds with our present rationalisation.. Hence, a major block to learning is merely getting the new information past our own individual paradigm filters. This is a difficult lesson for the rationalists to learn; they believe, rather naively, that the power of logic will prevail. When a person has invested time, and more importantly, emotional energy, in making sense of their personal reality, logic is not particularly persuasive! The intellect serves the purposes of the will in defence of current paradigms: "you cannot accept that which you cannot afford to know". It is only when the existing paradigms no longer allow us to deal effectively with the anomalies and inconsistencies in our lives that we surrender them up to a new and more effective paradigm.
        Learning is essentially about developing meaning structures that enable us to make sense of our world. It's about having maps which plot and explain our experiences...[Thus] real learning seems to occur only through experience. Knowledge derived from rational thought or through the observed or related experiences of others is not accepted into our domain of learning until we have tested it against our own experience. If it helps us make sense of our experience it becomes part of our embedded meaning structure. From such experiences we may abstract more general laws and theories which we continue to test against our experience. [Scott & Harker, 1998, pp. 91-92]

The worldview we create and maintain through this process has an associated set of values. These values are the filter which ensure we only pay attention to that which is important to us--that which matches our values.

Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook cannot escape these filters. Via Facebook and Twitter people will connect to others with the same values as their own. They are fabulous at connecting people with similar worldviews, but they can have little direct impact on changing worldviews.

Do you know which values are determining who reads your web posts, your Tweets, or anything else you are wanting to communicate to the world? These values can be made explicit, for example, at the request of RSA we recently analysed two items they have on the web. Read what we found:


Greenfield, S. 2010, (Video) The Future of the Brain,

Scott, T. & Harker, P. 1998, Humanity at Work, Phil Harker & Associates, Luscombe, Queensland.

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