Definition of Sense Making

What is Sense Making?

The dance of a living being actively engaged in and of an environment that eventually emerges from this swerve in the cosmos is one where information — effects that make a difference is always already of value — meaningful. 

Francisco Varela in the 1980’s put it so simply: “Living is sense-making.”

What Varela was getting at is that sense-making is not some special skill we have and can deploy in the right context like mathematical reasoning or swimming. It is not a brand of knowledge management. Rather — it is how we are alive whatsoever

Our reality — our world always already shows up as of value. We do not add value as an extra ingredient to reality — living is always already enacting a “value-chain.” 

Life rests upon some sense of value — an active process — that dance — this is the ever ongoing process of sense-making. As an inherent quality of all life — it is far more than cognitive, conceptual or narrative. 

Value begins as a difference that makes a difference. Value is always already enacted. To say that we “sense” is to say that we enact sense — it is a creative dynamic adaptive process of the co-shaping of environment and agent. 

What do we sense? At a fundamental level we dynamically (with an active environment) enact affordances ( a world full of opportunities for action). 

We are not creatures that sense/percieve a neutral world “out-there” of mere stuff — in-put — and then and only then give it value inside of our heads (subjectively). 

Our active dance of enacted, embodied, embedded and extended sense-making allows us to add to expand on our discussion of technology. We need to understand basic technologies (such as how we write or talk) are our environment— the medium that McLuhan described as “working us over completely”. Our sense-making is this dance. 

What we do with things— as a form of co-shaping is sense-making where things “… are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, & social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered…”  To alter slightly McLuhan's words we could say that any understanding of sense-making is impossible without a knowledge of the way tools and practices work as total environments…

What McLuhan did so well is connect technologies (as environments) directly to how we become specific embodied and enactive sense-makers — seeing them as both extensions & co-producers of human faculties whether mental or physical (the beginning of the emergence of meaningful skillful embodied activity). Technologies by altering our habits & practices — our environment — provokes in us new logics of meaningful sense perception & habitual action which transformatively alter the way we act, sense & think at an immediate level.

We actively make sense and engage directly in the world co-shaped in this manner perceiving directly what it “affords” us. Our world is never “the world” some distanced neutral world of physical stuff— it always already shows up as meaningful in a specific manner. This is what Heidegger terms the “disclosedness” of the world— it is always already there in a meaningful way for us.

See: Heidegger and McLuhan, in the bibliography.

For more, navigate to our complete list of articles on sense making for innovation.

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