Quick, finish the following sentence. The color defined by the information given inside the box shown to the right is ______.
Before you can answer you must know that “nm” is the abbreviation for nanometer, and you must know that light reflected at a wavelength of 600 nanometers is perceived as color red.
But even if you know both of these things, an important question remains. Does knowing that light reflected at 600 nanometers is colored red equal the experience of actually seeing red?
It’s tempting to believe that it does. This is not the case however, and a simple thought experiment will illustrate just how big a difference there is between these two complementary, yet vastly different, methods of communication.
Assume you are a colorblind scientist. You understand the concept of color, but the color receptors in your eyes don’t function. As a result, when you look at a stop sign you cannot know it’s color unless you measure light reflected by the stop sign with a spectrometer.
You decide to study a close friend who can see color. You trace the process from the moment light enters your friend’s eyes and continues through the color processing parts of your friend’s brain. Over time you become able to exactly describe the color processing going on inside your friend’s mind. From a scientific point of view you know everything there is to know about seeing color.
You approach your friend with a report and announce, “This is what’s going on inside your brain when you see color.” Your friend is very likely to react disapprovingly by saying, “Sure that may be what is going on inside of my brain, but I am also actually seeing color. When I look at a stop sign, where exactly in that report does it show the color red?”
What your friend is requesting is an explanation for what Manna Groups calls basic and invariable meaning — the actual and ineffable connection of first-hand experience; in this case of seeing red.
What you, the scientist, presented to your friend, is not basic and invariable meaning. It is a translation of basic and invariable meaning.
This thought experiment clearly demonstrates that a translation like 600nm does not equal the basic and invariable experience of seeing red. The translation is complementary, but it is not equal. Something is lost in the translation.
There is a solution to ameliorate this situation, we call it Sculpture — the talent to develop messages, products, services, candidates, and causes which safeguard against translation loss.
The purpose of this document is to proclaim that messages, products, services, candidates, and causes built upon a translation will fail; they are exactly as effective as 600nm is to seeing red. Success can only occur when a message, product, service, candidate, or cause is sculpted to connect to the basic and invariable meaning stored within each of us.
Seeing Red (PDF)
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