Interpreting, Eisegesis, & Exegesis

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The advent of digital communication has brought us incredible freedom to communicate.  And, at the same time it brings us searchable archives growing larger, faster, than any human can truly comprehend.

Tom Dirsa tells the story of how his professor used a line on the chalkboard, illustrating that it took from 1AD to 1492 to double human knowledge. Another line 1492 to 1865 to double again. Finally, a doubling of human knowledge every 5 years.

Thomas Fuller, in 2007, made another attempt to quantify human knowledge growth.  The annual growth rates of patent applications and academic publications suggests a doubling every 2.44 and 2.31 years respectively.  Alternative calculations suggest a doubling every 1.29 years!

It is important to distinguish between data and knowledge.

Data is simply raw information: think parking lot camera endlessly capturing video. Knowledge may be thought of as data components with defined relationships that can be leveraged.

Great. So What?!

Use of accessible knowledge demands that we think through what it really means.

Increasingly, even if the information we seek is only 5 minutes old, we must extract the proper meaning—frequently on our own.  We have all heard of, perhaps experienced, situations where ‘internet knowledge’ was used without thinking, only to result in embarrassment.

At the same time, the more connected we are the less time we waste duplicating solutions.  We are more likely to blindly accept the first ‘reasonable’ piece of information returned from a search query.

Some Big Words Now

As noted earlier, the increasing growth of current knowledge is mirrored by the same growth in archived knowledge. It might help to use lessons learned in Biblical archival research.

Explanation or interpretation of religious texts (increasingly used in discussion of contemporary texts, too) comes in two forms: Eisegesis and Exegesis.  Simply put:

Eisegesis is a means of interpreting content so as to support one’s own thinking, to support current events, or prove existing views.

Exegesis is a critical analysis where the true meaning is unveiled.  Exegesis interpretation considers context, language and customs at the time of writing, and importantly, an accurate understanding of what the author intended.

So Why Is This Important, Now?

Now, more than at any time in our histories, we need to pay careful attention to how prior work is interpreted.  Not only technical or religious, but also things like political policy, art, and more.

Political Policy?

jtpedersen_321 Ignite_question markIn the United States, one current example (circa 2013) is the debate over gun control.  At the crux of the debate is interpretation of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.

An eisegesis interpretation may be that the 2nd Amendment remains viable as a protection (or enabler) for the right to hunt animals.  By extension, there is no need for any form of semi-automatic weaponry…to go hunting.  This argument serves to support a belief that guns should be more tightly controlled.

An exegesis interpretation takes a look at what the authors’ thinking—at the time of writing—was.  At that time, concerns existed over excess government control (e.g. a King ruling without consent of Parliament, tyranny) and the disarming of state militias and individuals. (Visit link above to read more broadly.)

The solution, the 2nd Amendment, served to protect citizens’ right to have guns.  I personally find it very interesting researching for this article, that I have not encountered a single reference to ‘hunt’ or ‘hunting’ in the context of the Second Amendment. Consider the actual text as well as pieces such as

Documents on the First Congress Debate on Arms and Militia.

Art

A less politically charged discussion can be had when discussing Art from eisegesis or exegesis perspectives.

Who determines whether something is art, or not?  The artist? Or the perceiver?

An eisegesis interpretation would suggest that art is in the eye of the beholder.

An exegesis interpretation would suggest the determination of art is determined, at time of creation, by the creator, the artist.

Who do you think determines what is Art?

jtpedersen_321 Ignite_abstract Art? Or paint splatters on the floor?

Consider: A photographer is getting ready to do a photo shoot.  In preparation, he does a number of test shots to calibrate is equipment. One of the shots is incredibly over-exposed.

Later, someone happens to see the over-exposed image. It’s incredibly thought-provoking, draws forth an emotion from the person.

The photographer did not impart any special meaning or value to the test shot. It was simply a test.  No expectation of ‘art’ existed.

Yet the viewer, not knowing (or caring) of the original context (it was a throw-away image) declares the image is Art. Right? Wrong? The discussion focus is merely a picture. Yet the exact same argument can arguably be directly applied to all manner of contemporary content.

What do you think? Share you thoughts.

image credit(s):
Open Dictionary – Dora Pete
Question Mark – Melodi
Abstract – Zen Sutherland