by Kim Pederson…….
“The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.” This quote opens Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. In the initial paragraph of Chapter 1, he starts out rather biblically with this scielation [scientific revelation]:
In the beginning, nearly fourteen billion years ago, all the space and all the matter and all the energy in the known universe was contained in a volume less than one trillionth the size of the period that ends this sentence.
Our minuscule place in the massive scale of everything known and unknown, brought home by these few words, has always been something that makes it difficult for humans to put things into context and by doing so come to the mutual comprehension necessary for advancement, for progress, for enlightenment, for coexistence, perhaps even for continued existence. We need to put things into context to grok them fully. We need context for something to be significant for us, to touch us indelibly, to change us permanently. Headlines come and go. Images flicker in and out of our consciousness. Books, as I described in a previous blog, fade into oblivion. Without frequent contact of some kind that refreshes context, people disappear from our thoughts just as quickly.
In archaeology, for example, context is the place where an artifact is found. “A site, properly excavated, tells you about the people who lived there, what they ate, what they believed, how they organized their society” (K. Kris Hirst, “Context is Everything – What Does Context Mean to Archaeologists?“).
Context “comes from the Latin ‘con” and ‘texere’, which means ‘weave together.’ The implications for science are fairly obvious: modern research is about weaving together different strands of information, though, and data to place your results into the context of existing research” (Jon Tennant, “Why ‘context’ is important for research“).
In art and literature, “historical context is an important part of life and literature and without it, memories, stories, and characters have less meaning…historical context refers to the social, religious, economic, and political conditions that existed during a certain time and place…those details are what enable us to interpret and analyze works or events of the past, or even the future, rather than merely judge them by contemporary standards” (Grace Fleming, “The Importance of Historical Context in Analysis and Interpretation“).
In communication, “how we communicate changes based on who we are with, what sort of events are occurring around us, our opinions and beliefs, and where we are. Anything, from an empty stomach to bad weather, to an awkward situation, can form the context that defines our ability to communicate” (“The Importance of Context in Communication,” Study.com).
Like the universe, our lives are under no obligation to make sense to us. Rather, the opposite is true. It’s our obligation to make sense of our lives. So, how do we come to grips with the Parkland, Florida killings? How do we keep these kids and adults in our memory and create something useful, something good out of violence and death? Start here. Start with the names, pictures, and stories of the victims. Start with the context of those no longer with us. Start with these thoughts borrowed from David Halberstam: “This is who they are. And this is how they affect you. And this is what they mean to you.” Full stop.
Visit Kim Pederson’s blog RatBlurt: Mostly Random Short-Attention-Span Musings.