Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Layers of Meaning

It is late at night, and I should be in bed, likely dreaming about what I am thinking.

I've been considering the fine art of communication, and dimensions of meaning in even the simplest media.

Years ago, when laser discs were still a pretty neat idea, I talked with a summer friend of mine who told me about the nearly infinite possibilities with laser media. For one, he said, they could one day take a two-dimensional disc, and instead, manufacture, say, a cube. Six sides of storage capacity, six times whatever a single side could hold.

This was interesting, to say the least, but he went on: current lasers in compact discs, he said, operate at a specific wavelength, or color. Suppose you had an emitter that could read more than one color? This meant that on a single side of a given medium, who knows how many visible light wavelengths could be stored? Same space, but if the disc were read with a red laser, the user might access an Encyclopaedia Britanica article on lemmings. Read that same disc with a blue or a green laser light, and the user could play the complete works of Twisted Sister. With yet another color, who knows?

Many different information, occupying the same space on a laser disc.

Well, times change, and now it appears the CD may be going the way of the 7" floppy disc and the 8-track cassette, so that concept will likely be forgotten entirely without ever seeing further research and development.

But the idea is still there. I do recall in the movie Contact there was a similar notion, wherein the extra-terrestrial intelligences contrived to transmit the data necessary to build a spaceship, as well as a "primer" to get humans up to speed on the necessary technology, layered in a segment of video intercepted from earth and sent back. Layers of information, seemingly impossibly occupying the same space, yet unlocked by different perspectives.

The written word, and even more so, the spoken word carries more information in it than what meets the eye.

Every word has a set of meanings. The evolution of the English language has all but guaranteed that every word has no fewer than two possible meanings, depending on the context. The context depends a lot on the arrangement of the words, as well as the "voice."

In spoken language, a basic idea is transmitted and received through a series of steps, each of which shades the meaning in one way or another: the transmitter forms an idea, then assigns words to express the idea. The transmitter then transmits the words carrying the idea via some medium, most likely voice. The voice, however, modifies the meaning somewhat, and is affected by a number of factors, including the transmitter's frame of mind, and its environment.

The idea is then received, which is again affected by how receptive the listener is. Through environmental factors, physiological limitations, and psychological considerations the idea is once again manipulated somewhat, sometimes distorted beyond the original intent, and sometimes taking on whole new additional meanings.

It has fascinated me, reading, performing, and observing performances of Shakespeare, how many levels of meaning I can glean from careful study of the text. Amazing still is the understanding that perhaps the meanings only go deeper beyond what I comprehend, or at least believe I comprehend, and have projected, based on my own unique experience and learning.

A basic understanding of any text, especially Shakespeare, is knowing and understanding the meaning of the selected verbage.

In understanding Shakespeare, one studies the context of the words to determine that much of the narratives are indeed poetry in the forms of analogy, metaphor, and allegory. It then becomes an issue to try to grasp the "whole picture" of a particular passage, to understand what the imagery of the literal text is supposed to convey.

Once the imagery is understood, themes are developed and interpreted. Abstract ideas emerge from patterns of closely associated images, leading the observer to begin to understand another meaning besides the literal action of the work. This too may depend on the unique experiences of the observer, as everyone has a different emotional attachment to the different images presented.

Beyond that becomes a venture into the quantum physics of literature, where psychology and spirituality become one, intermingled into a kind of unified field of thought. There is no distinction between events, or even ideas. All becomes one.

Would it be then that different writers might well be ultimately saying the same thing, even as one may describe the fall of a noble dynasty, while another describes the blossoming of a Morning Glory, and still another provides a recap of the day's traffic reports?