What can Gadamer and Wittgenstein teach us about Big Data?

Hans-George Gadamer and Ludwig Wittgenstein

Hans-George Gadamer and Ludwig Wittgenstein

Firstly I would like to thank all those readers of mine who have been enjoying my series on Hans-Georg Gadamer. As some of you will know, this was quite an adventure in writing for me, since I decided to write an article after finishing each chapter of Gadamer’s classic Truth and Method. I did not know how well this would be received, especially as in the early stages of writing I had to be honest and admit that certain concepts of Gadamer still were not clear to me. But as I progressed, I received a number of messages of support, including one from Donald Marshall, one of the translators of Gadamer, who wrote to me saying:

Gadamer Truth and Method

It is wonderful to see how the course of your own career and thinking have led you to Gadamer.  I’m delighted that his ideas may hold the interest of someone with your kind of scientific background, and I hope his ideas may be useful in your own reflections.  This is truly how ideas come to touch diverse people and extend themselves into new areas—exactly what Gadamer was describing with the idea of “tradition” and “historically effected consciousness”.

For those of you who have not seen it, my six part series on Gadamer is here:

Exploring Gadamer’s Truth and Method: The Truth and Experience of Art

Exploring Gadamer’s Truth and Method: The Ontology of the Work of Art and Its Hermeneutic Significance

Exploring Gadamer’s Truth and Method: The History of Hermeneutics

Exploring Gadamer’s Truth and Method: Elements of a Theory of Hermeneutic Experience

Exploring Gadamer’s Truth and Method – Language as the Medium of the Hermeneutic Experience

Exploring Gadamer’s Truth and Method – Final Reflections

Ray Monk on WittgensteinFollowing this journey, I then set about to explore Wittgenstein, and before jumping into Philosophical Investigations, a masterpiece which some people consider to be the greatest philosophical work of the twentieth century, I decided to study some works by Ray Monk, a well-respected biographer of Wittgenstein. However, although I was meant to be writing a shorter three part series, my studies collided with the Strategy Execution Summit here in São Paulo, hence the final part in the series offers some reflections on Wittgenstein, strategy and innovation:

Exploring Wittgenstein: The Early Years

Exploring Wittgenstein: Transition

Strategy Execution Summit 2013: Ducks, Rabbits and Wittgenstein

What is the point of me telling you about these two great philosophers of hermeneutical and phenomenological philosophy? Hermeneutics, phenomenology and even the word philosophy are hardly the sexiest words on the planet (although they are pretty sexy to some of course). What we are talking about here is the study of meaning at the deepest level of reality. What is ‘meaning’, and how does ‘meaning’ relate to the very fabric of reality? If that is still a little too pretentious or obscure, let me now call on my good friend Gunther Sonnenfeld, who is articulating this philosophy and really putting it into practice, helping organisations, governments, businesses and indeed entire industries rethink the meaning of their purposes, goals, products and services.

Gunther has recently written about storytelling and big data, and he summarises his argument as follows:

– Immediacy and importance with information leave us, as readers and media participants, grappling over the choice of information we want to consume or with which we want to interact;

– Data isn’t ‘big’ so much as it is curatorial and relevant given a particular context or set of contexts;

Credit: Gunther Sonnenfeld

Credit: Gunther Sonnenfeld

– Normative methods for measurement (clicks, views, page rank etc.) don’t represent true or scalable value, and actually commodify the media market, to include ‘content’ and the creators of it;

– Discovery and serendipity (not filtering) are vital for critical thought processes;

– Stories are in actuality the predicates for markets and their growth; the question becomes how we look beyond the need to push content out into media environments and instead look at how storytelling is used to leverage cultural and business behaviors;

– We need to relearn how to think, and ask better questions, knowing that the ‘answers’ may not come to us right away or ever;

– Central or ‘meta’ narratives have been constructed over time to influence our perspectives of the world that often run in conflict with what we know to be true in our hearts; the choices we make (our freewill) can shift these perspectives and create new realities through personal and collective stories;

Source: Some Truth About ‘Big Data’, Agnostic Storytelling & Journalism

While Big Data may be a huge theme setting the agenda for innovation, social networking, journalism, e-commerce, smart cities and many other industries, current search technologies are just not cutting it. They are not delivering products which are in true authentic service to people, as opposed to ‘consumers’. If we just develop computer systems based on an analytical, mathematical, left-brain way of understanding people, we miss the opportunity to deliver meaningful services. We need a deeper level of understanding, one which comprehends meaning in complex systems, and for this reason Maria and I talk about ‘holonomic consciousness’. It’s why Gadamer talked about ‘historically effected consciousness’ and its why Wittgenstein developed his ‘language games’. We need to understand meaning.

Holonomic consciousness is a form of consciousness which is not so much talked about, but experienced, hence the fact that we felt the need to write our book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter less as a treatise, and more as a guide which if read carefully, will truly lead you into this deeper level of awareness, a dynamic way of seeing. It is possible to deliver competitive advantage through authentic and meaningful products and services, which are sustainable, both for the company and the planet. We really can shift from economics to holonomics.

HolonomicsMaria and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our friends who have been so supportive in our work, and we have been overwhelmed by all the support we have received so far. We really cannot wait for the launch next year, when we will be talking much more about these themes, and hopefully meeting many of you in person for what I am sure will be amazing conversations. Many many thanks from us both.

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Announcing our new book – Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter

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