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The context we take into consideration is like the form of the question we ask.  The context determines and limits what we can understand about a situation, just as the answer to a question is helpful in direct proportion to the question being asked.

Either it be the situation we are trying to assess, or the answer we are searching for, the question arises either consciously or implicitly:


What is the scope being considered?


Another way of phrasing this is: how zoomed in or zoomed out are we?


A telescope is useless when trying to investigate the shape of bacteria, and it’s likewise foolish to try and investigate the form of galaxies with a microscope, but it’s quite easy in both cases to think you’re using the right instrument.


With questions, we need only ask: is this the right question?


With situations, we often do the same, by asking: is there more to it than this?


If something about the situation seems fishy, it may be that the context is bigger than we realize – there are more variables at play than we can see or access and they are influencing the situation in ways that seem invisible or magical.  This sort of thing happens all the time deliberately in movies, especially mysteries and thrillers, when the ‘larger picture’ finally emerges.  The context of the story suddenly changes, and we experience a sense of surprise as we realize how a bunch of things are actually connected – made obvious by a different scope, a new context.


With only one available context, it’s easy to have a gut reaction – an emotional response, and charge ahead with just that.  But zooming in and zooming out creates a variety of responses.  What seems like an appropriate response on one level might have terrible repercussions in a context larger than what we are considering, a larger context that naturally subsumes our situation.  Then the variable of our actions has the potential to extend beyond our considerations, ricocheting through the entire scope of possibility.  This is both encouraging, in that we probably have more effect than we realize, and also discouraging: our efforts rarely land exactly as planned.


Being careful about the context requires a careful consideration of the larger context and the whole scope in which we exist.

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Podcast Ep. 781: Scope

Tinkered Thinking

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