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What is the purpose of ballast in language, life and branding?

Ballast in everyday use denotes something that adds weight, unnecessary additional freight, reduces the speed and so forth. We take our “excessive” weight as ballast, and companies often report that they have to get rid of some ballast to fit on the market. When speaking of ballast, we picture ourselves as an athlete, or runner, for instance, that has transformed all ballast cells into productive muscle cells. The logical conclusion: let us eliminate ballast in all forms as much as possible.

Sailing boat metaphor

But what about a ballast in a sailing boat? Their ballast represents some “extra weight” that gives necessary stability to the ship. Ballast counteracts lateral forces acted on sails by wind so that sailboat stays in manoeuvrable balance. The ballast pushes the sailing boat straight while the wind pushes it horizontal. So, in theory, the heavier the ballast, the more straight the sailing boat’s position, the stronger the wind’s force on the ship and thus higher speed as a consequence.

Not really, since at the same time, it is also true that lighter objects are faster than heavier ones. A boat with less ballast should thus be more lightweight and quicker. At least for a sailing boat, the ratio of ballast to total weight results from a compromise. There are many possible rations, but what stays an undeniable truth is that some ballast is necessary in any case.

Ballast in nutrition and genetics

There are other examples of the role that ballast plays.

In nutrition, it is widely accepted that ballast does not bring any nutritional elements (like proteins) but only helps the body digest faster. Ballast does not add energy but helps extract the remains of food. Ballast in food, in fact, allows us to remove the ballast from the body.

Ballast is something that lowers the quality of its vehicle (boat, body, …), but at the same time, the car without ballast could not perform its functions. 98% of the human genome is represented by noncoding DNA that does not encode proteins. Genes that do not express any RNS or protein we call pseudogenes or even junk genes, for they apparently do not add value. But even when it was discovered that such pseudogenes play a role in human evolution, it was estimated that only up to 25% of the human genome is critical, meaning in our terminology that at least 75% of the human genome is ballast. And what is the purpose of ballast in the genome: it reduces the risk of too fast mutations.

What is so interesting about ballast is that we know that it has a function, but the function is never revealed in full. Scientists still cannot comprehend the real value of ballast and are thus stumbling around this issue, like in This New Scientist article. If they started to search outside the fathomable world, they would understand that the only function of the stuff that has no function is that it has no function. So, it has an important function. This sentence is nonsense for western science, unfortunately.

Ballast in language, language as ballast

Buddhists would say that each word is a ballast on the path toward enlightenment.

Humans need ballast (redundancy) within communication for the emergence of sense. It would be naive to understand the last sentence as if: while talking, we produce sense (proteins), and then we produce some extra redundancy, ballast in the form of gibbering. We, in fact, gibber all the time while speaking; with this, we (sometimes) produce sense. Ballast should thus be understood as crucial in creating sense and change. Concerning sense each word is nothing but ballast. Nonsense produces no change. Change comes from the sense, from the ballast.

There is not more than one step from here to Platonism if we would take sense and ballast in this dualistic (western-like) form. But: if you understand ballast and sense as two sides of the Moebius strip (Buddhistic paradox), you come closer to grasping the relation between sense and ballast. We could say that sense is produced in a phase transition from ballast. The “functional” part of the human genome is a byproduct of genomes nonsense. The sense of language is nonsense (ballast) in the Moebius strip. We live in a Tower of Babel that consists of all possible sequences of letters. We have the privilege of evoking particular choices that flash out of the ballast as reasonable.

Ballast in brands

Understanding ballast in this sense tells us something about branding as well. At least this lesson proves what nonsense is to search for the essence of a brand or unique selling proposition (USP). The power of any brand lies in its interplay between sense and ballast, as described above. You never know which part of the brand story is “essential” and which serves only as a bridge from one point to another. You will soon find that those essences are nothing but bridges between other essentials. And so on. You start to appreciate brands as living creatures after you understand ballast.

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