How about this then!
I do believe that there is a “correct” interpretation of Hamlet, and also that we can select among interpretations and find the interpretation that is closer to the truth than its competitors. Of course, however, even if we someday find the “correct” interpretation, we have no way of knowing that we have found it. It is, I’m afraid, our fate to be able to find the truth, sometimes, but unfortunately always to be less than certain that we have found it.
I have been looking for some time for a simple quote which summarises the poverty of taking too strong a critical rationalist perspective and I finally got it this morning courtesy of my eternal protagonist and more recently friend Joe Firestone in a response to a series of intelligent posts (i.e. I in the main agree with him) from Michael Olsson on the ActKM listserv.
To set the context, some time ago Michael introduced the ideas of Brenda Dervin (who I consider the major figure on sense-making and whom I am proud to count as a friend) and Joe has been fighting back. All this as part of a major flurry of activity on the listserv which has ranged from the serious and deep to some incoherent drivel from a deeply disturbed modeler. In some ways this is a continuation of the debate over Bouillabaisse as it raises the issue of context in understanding what it means to know something and the application of knowledge.
Now in Joe’s statement we see both a false assumption and an unnecessary contortion of reason. Part of this is an over dependence on language and the meaning of language. Lakomski makes the point well when she says:
The model of the human mind has been assumed to be akin that of a symbol processor, a computer like engine that allows us to manipulate successfully a range of symbols of which language is deemed the most significant. This view of the human mind is very limiting because it assumes that what we know, and are able to know, is expressible in symbolic form only.
So what is the false assumption in the idea that there is a correct interpretation of Hamlet? Well Joe is assuming that the text of Hamlet exists in isolation from its performance (which would include a reading) and fails to consider the nature of a play (or other work of art) just as other people have failed to appreciate the role of recipes in the production of Bouillabaisse. Let me look at three personal example to make my point:
A very large part of what we know, and how we know it is fluid, evolutionary and context dependent. To constantly talk about validation in the sense of symbol manipulation is to impoverish human knowledge. Of course this does not mean that we cannot be objective. My experience of rugby and opera has subjective elements, but parts of it are also objective. But that is a blog for later in the week.
Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.
© COPYRIGHT 2023