Technorati href="http://www.technorProfile Thinking Nurse: Clarity, Fractals, Uncertainty and The Meaning of Nursing

Thinking Nurse

This blog will reflect my interests in learning disabilities, nursing, nursing theory, philosophy and politics and my general interests in the arts and literature. (Nursing is an art as well as a science!) Philosophy and nursing have been intrinsically linked since the days of Socrates, his mother was a midwife, and taught him everything he knew!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Clarity, Fractals, Uncertainty and The Meaning of Nursing

I found this 'flight of ideas' scrawled on the back of a photocpied article. I wrote it over a year ago, in response to a discussion on the 'Nursing Philosophy' email discussion group about the concept of 'clarity'.

One or two of my ideas have shifted since then, but I felt it was worth posting the piece, just to see what I was thinking about back in those heady days...

Clarity, fractals, uncertainty and nursing

I have been enjoying the discussion held here about 'clarity', a discussion I found interesting because it coincided with some of my own thoughts about uncertainty.

One contributor pointed out that it is possible to make a statement of apparently absolute clarity, but that to another observer, with another perspective, who demands definition of the terms, the statement can seem to be totally obscure.

The problem arises as words are broken down and their meaning analysed, because the very terms that are used as definitions may themselves be challenged and broken down even further.

Some philosophers (I.e. Frege) have sought to create mathematical models of language and meaning, trying to find a 'binary code', the most basic units of meaning that fit together according to rules of logic to eventually build up into units of communication.

One problem is that if such fundamental units of meaning were to exist, there is no reason why they should obey conventional rules of logic that govern higher-level language, any more than sub-atomic particles are governed by the same laws of physics as bricks and bicycles.

Meaning could be structured in a similar way to the fractal. However closely you look at a fractal, you find ever more deeply nested fractalising patterns, structured in layer upon layer of complexity. (It is worth reading Hofstadter's book 'Godel Escher Bach' for a deeper explanation of this phenomenon).

Fractals are deep expressions of uncertainty, it is impossible to predict whether a particular point at the edge of a fractal pattern will be one colour or another until the equations they are based on have been fully computed.

Similarly in language, no matter how deeply the terms we use are analysed and defined, there must remain areas of uncertainty, that could seem 'larger' and more complex than the seeminlgly simple expression that contains them could ever have suggested.

Putting words, grammar and meaning under a microscope becomes an infinitely frustrating process! - But perhaps we are looking in the wrong place. We are surrounded by a landscape of meanings that has been co-created by communities of human beings over centuries.

Perhaps meaning lies not in the words, but in the intersubjective process of exchanging words and meanings, one human being with another.

Sometimes far more clarity, complexity, meaning and beauty can be expressed in a poem, or in a short dialogue between a nurse and patient, than in reams of precisely written academic literature.

When I work with people with learning disabilities, I try to attend to what they say, and what they mean, and to express myself in ways that lie within their understanding.

This may not really be 'simplifying', but perhaps could be seen as working at a different level of complexity, in the fractalised structure of language, an attempt to relate, despite our different experiences and understandings.

Through such listening, and adjusted communication, somehow the need for connectedness is met, horizons touch and somewhere in this process of inter-relating lies what it means to be a nurse, and what it means to be a human being.

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