Chapter 11. Making Things Make Sense

Thoughts exchanged by one and another are not the same in one room as in another.

LOUIS KAHN

Language and “Sensemaking”

WE CAN ACCOMPLISH A LOT OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY WITHOUT HAVING TO CONSCIOUSLY MAKE EXPLICIT SENSE OF IT. We just do it. But sensemaking is a special sort of activity that brings another level of coherence with which we knit together our experiences, think about them, and understand them at a more abstract level.

When we consciously try to make sense of our experience, it is an expressly linguistic activity.[225] Like perception itself, language is enacted; it is something we “do.”[226] We communicate with each other to develop a mutual understanding of our shared environment. Likewise, as individuals, we engage in a dialogue with ourselves about the environment and our choices in it, putting the mirror of language in front of us to “reflect” on our actions.

The term sensemaking generally refers to how people gain meaning from experience. More specifically, it has been the term of art for several interdisciplinary streams of research and writing, starting in the 1970s, including human-computer interaction, organizational studies, and information science. Much of the academic work on sensemaking has been about how people close the gap between their learned experience and a newly encountered technology or corporate environment.

When we study nature and strive to understand its complexity, we use language to create and reflect on that knowledge. ...

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