Abstract / Concrete

Short                          -                       Long
Concrete                    -                      Abstract
Pragmatic                   -                      Ideal
Narrow                       -                      Wide
Small                          -                      Large
Separate                      -                      Unified
Many                           -                      One
Close                           -                      Distant
Specific                       -                      General
Fixed                             -                     Loose
Matter                         -                      Patterns
Part                              -                      Whole
Individual                    -                     Collective
Analogue                   -                       Digital
Deduction                    -                     Induction
Differentiation             -                     Integration
Analysis                       -                     Synthesis
Destruction                  -                     Creation 
Chaos                           -                     Order
Low                              -                     High
Hot                               -                     Cold
Body                             -                     Mind

At the top of the pyramid things appear to be still, an illusion. At the bottom we can see that they are moving, changing.

Top: no change
Bottom: all change

Thus, we find god at both extremes: above, and below.

Abstraction is the process by which we focus on the underlying constructs of data. As Boisot (1998) admirably demonstrates, the process of abstraction is focused on concepts, not percepts.

Percepts, “...achieve their economies by maintaining a certain clarity and distinction between categories, concepts do so by revealing which categories are likely to be relevant to the data- processing task” or information creation.

“Abstraction, in effect, is a form of reductionism; it works by letting the few stand for the many”.

[Dave Snowden]
'Cynefin, A Sense of Time and Place: an Ecological Approach to Sense Making and Learning in Formal and Informal Communities'

[...] the mind of limited capacity can survey the few and simple relations that lie within the range of its narrow sphere of action, and can handle the levers of these with much greater ease than the eminent mind could. Such a mind takes in an incomparably greater and richer sphere and works with long levers.

Thus the insect sees everything on its little stem and leaf with the most minute accuracy and better than we can; but it is not aware of a man who stands three yards from it.

On this rests the slyness of the dull and stupid, and this paradox: "There is a mystery in the minds of those who have none."

For practical life genius is about as useful as an astronomer's telescope is in a theatre.

[...] For the intellect is a differentiating, and consequently separating, principle. Its different gradations, much more even than those of mere culture, give everyone different concepts, in consequence of which everyone lives to a certain extent in a different world, in which he meets directly only his equals in rank, but can attempt to call to the rest and make himself intelligible to them only from a distance.

Great differences in the degree, and thus the development, of the understanding open a wide gulf between one man and another, which can be crossed only by kindness of heart. This, on the other hand, is the unifying principle that identifies everyone else with one's own self.

The connexion, however, remains a moral one; it cannot become intellectual.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, Volume II, p.145-6

Mice live all their lives next to the ground, building their nests and gathering their food among the roots of the tall grass and bushes of the prairie. Because of this, Mice never see things at a distance.

Everything they can see is right in front of them, where they can sniff at it with their noses and Touch it with their whiskers.  Their lives are spent in Touching things in this way, and in gathering seeds and berries to eat.

A Mouse Person would be one who saw everything close up, and whose vision would be limited to the immediate world around him.  

He would be a gatherer of things.  He might gather facts, information, material objects, or even ideas.  But because he could not see far enough to connect to his world with that of the great prairie of the world around him, he would never be able to use or understand all that he saw or gathered.

[Hyemeyohsts Storm]
Seven Arrows, p. 7-8

It is difficult for an adversary to see further than the dichotomy between winning and losing in the adversarial combat. Like a chess player, he is always tempted to make a tricky move, to get a quick victory.

The discipline, always to look for the best move on the board, is hard to attain and hard to maintain.

The player must have his eye always on a longer view, a larger gestalt.

[Gregory Bateson]
Mind and Nature, p. 239

Whether something is monolithic, binary, dialectical, or meaninglessly plural is a function of your distance from it.

When you're very close to something, all you can see is oneness, pure dominance by the thing of all others. For a baby, Mother's breast is the entire universe. For a fundamentalist, it's God.

When you're a bit further away, a tidy binary replaces oneness. There are men and there are women. There's East and there's West. This is the distance journalists live at. The world of journalism is always seeing small fluctuations in the relative positions of big, established binaries like these.

'Binary hopping' 

[...] it is clear what is the function to which Schiller attributes the highest value, divinity: it is the constancy of the idea of the ego.

The ego that abstracts itself from affectivity is for him the most important thing, consequently this is the idea he has differentiated most, as is the case with every introvert. His god, his highest value, is the abstraction and conservation of the ego.

For the extravert, on the contrary,  the god is the experience of the object, complete immersion in reality; hence a god who became man is more sympathetic to him than an eternal, immutable lawgiver.

From the abstracting attitude of consciousness, which in pursuit of its ideal makes an experience of every occurrence and from the sum of experience a law, a certain limitation and impoverishment result which are characteristic of the introvert.

[...] For the more the relation to the object is restricted by abstraction (because too many "experiences" and "laws" are made), the more insistently does a craving for the object develop in the unconscious, and this finally expresses itself in consciousness as a compulsive sensuous tie to the object.

[C. J. Jung]
Psychological Types, p. 91-3

[...] it should not be forgotten that, in the same measure as the conscious attitude may pride itself on a certain godlikeness by reason of its lofty and absolute standpoint, an unconscious attitude develops with a godlikeness oriented downwards to an archaic god whose nature is sensual and brutal.

[C. J. Jung]
Psychological Types, p.96

Human beings are capable of meta-abstraction: there’s the phenomena in and of itself - that complicated and multi-layered thing; and then there’s your representation of it - which is what you perceive, [and] is already abstracted, and limited, to a tremendous degree; and then there’s abstractions of that.

It seems to me that language is a thumbnail of images, that are a thumbnail of the reality of things. So if I say ‘cat’ to you, what the word does is produce the image of a generic cat - which is already a kind of abstraction - and then that’s attached to your understanding, so that you can generate the understanding that would go along, at least in part, with perceiving or interacting with a real cat.

So in some sense what I’m doing is compressing the information down to a tremendously low-resolution thumbnail, and then throwing that at you, and you decompress it into a low-resolution image, and then you decompress that into something that’s roughly equivalent to reality. That’s what you’re doing when you’re reading a book, for example. When you read the book you can conjure up images of the places that the author is talking about, and […] of the characters.

Intelligence in general seems to be whatever underlies the ability to generate those low-resolution representations, and to utilise them - to manipulate them in your mind [and] communicate them to others.

Your ability to abstract, and then your ability to manipulate those abstractions, seems to be at the core of whatever ‘intelligence’ is, and that’s what IQ purports to measure.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
'2015 Personality Lecture 18: Openness - Creativity & Intelligence'

Temple Grandin’s claim was that she cannot see ‘house,’ she can only see a house. So if you say to her something like ‘house’ then what comes to mind is a particular house that she’s actually experienced - she can’t take the next level of abstraction past that. [It] seems to be something like a deficit in generating a hieroglyphic image.

[Children] draw people with sticks and circles, [and it’s] unbelievably sophisticated - because those aren’t pictures, they’re hieroglyphics. The child automatically produces them, and that’s a proto-linguistic development. Some autistic kids can draw like Leonardo DaVinci, with no training whatsoever, and that’s partly because they don’t use hieroglyphics - they don’t really conceptualise the thing they’re looking at as an abstraction. They see nothing but detail.

If you’re training yourself to be a visual artist, you have to stop looking at the abstraction, and start looking at the thing. That’s very unsettling.

If you take your hand, for example, and you look at it, and you snap it out of ‘hand’ representation, it all of a sudden looks like some kind of octopus claw. And as soon as you see it that way, you can draw it. But as long as you’re seeing it like a ‘hand,’ you’re going to put a balloon, with four balloons on it, and that’s going to be the ‘hand.’

[Jordan B. Peterson]
'2015 Personality Lecture 18: Openness - Creativity & Intelligence'

In Barthes [...] criticism became what it has only rarely been, subjective and epicurean. Barthes wanted, especially in his last books, a sensuous relation to phenomena rather than an ethical discrimination of their qualities or consequences.

We can interpret pleasure as a more-or-less continuous satisfaction or, as in Barthes's writing, a momentary bliss: in his case it depends upon a savour, a glance, a phrase. In such epicurean forms it goes with the cult of the fragment, not the large-scale work but the sentence. Style appears as a flicker of eloquence; it accompanies the refusal to be great.

Judgement and discrimination are disavowed because they imply an aspiration to completeness which is distasteful to patricians. In judgement and discrimination the detail is chosen only for its representative force and never for the extractable pleasure it provides.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 125

People can identify a given action in many ways. Of particular interest is that act identifications vary in level of abstraction.

High-level identifications are abstract (e.g. becoming more cultured), lower-level identifications become more and more concrete (e.g. attending a ballet; listening to sounds and watching people move around while you sit quiet and still). Low-level identifications tend to convey a sense of "how" an activity is done; high-level ones tend to convey a sense of "why."

Although people drift upward and downward as circumstances change, there's also evidence that people differ in the levels they tend to maintain as they think about what they're doing. Some people report typically thinking of their actions in low-level terms; others typically think of their actions in high-level terms.

These differences are reflected in a variety of ways. For example, compared with high-level identifiers, low-level identifiers tend to be more impulsive and less planful or stable in their behaviour, consistent with the idea that they're especially vulnerable to cues implying different identifications.

[...] Emmons (1992) found evidence that people differ in levels of abstraction they characteristically use when reporting their personal strivings. Some people report strivings that are broad, abstract, and expansive. Others report strivings that are narrower, more concrete, and even superficial.

These tendencies are also reflected in moment-to-moment contruals of behaviours they're engaged in. When randomly paged and asked to report what they were doing, high-level strivers reported they were engaged in relatively high-level activities; low-level strivers reported they were engaged in relatively concrete actions.

[C.S. Carver & M.F. Scheier]
On the Self-Regulation of Behavior, p. 74-5, 79

A high-level identifier is akin to a frame, or a grand-narrative.

In the absence of high-level story, behaviour becomes more diverse. The story imposes sense on those things nested within it; it orders them, providing direction, or 'rules'; it erects boundaries and classes certain things as off-limits.

In its absence, anything goes.

God is the ultimate high-level identifier. For believers, everything takes place under the omniscient eye of a higher-power: no action goes unseen.

Another similarity between the Miller et al. (1960) statement and the Powers (1973a) model concerns the distinction between digital and analog processes and the idea that the two can work in concert within a system.

The Powers model is mostly analog in nature (i.e. both feedback and discrepancies are represented continuously and quantitatively). It deviates from that quality only at the program level, where behaviour is a digital process (i.e. a linear string of decisions).

In the same way, Miller et al. argued that "planning at the higher levels [equivalent to Powers's programs] looks like the sort of information-processing we see in digital computers, whereas the execution of the Plan at the lowest levels looks like the sort of process we see in analogue computers."

They went on to suggest that development of a skill is comparable to providing a digital-to-analog converter for the output of a digital machine. Thus, Miller et al. saw the two kinds of systems as compatible.

[C.S. Carver & M.F. Scheier]
On the Self-Regulation of Behavior, p. 76-7

The defining features of the human condition can all be traced to our ability to stand back from the world, from our selves and from the immediacy of experience. This enables us to plan, to think flexibly and inventively, and, in brief, to take control of the world around us rather than simply respond to it passively. This distance, this ability to rise above the world in which we live, has been made possible by the evolution of the frontal lobes.

To understand the landscape we need both to go out into the felt, lived world of experience as far as possible, along what one might think of as the horizontal axis, but also to rise above it, on the vertical axis.

To live headlong, at ground level, without being able to pause (stand outside the immediate push of time) and rise (in space) is to be like an animal; yet to float off up into the air is not to live at all - just to be a detached observing eye.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 21-2

Archaic                    -                     Being
Magic                      -                     Acting
Mythic                     -                     Images
Mental                     -                     Words

Under the assumption that we may so generalize, we suggest that many aboriginal cultures around the world represent (or approximate representing) the Other as a Firstness; in the Spenglerian tradition, and on analogy with such descriptives as Faustian and Apollinian, we choose to characterize such cultures as manifestations of the “Shamanic” soul, and to note that, for such cultures, the highest and most conspicuous art form is invariably dance, since it is the fleeting ecstasy of dance that most fully allows the artisan to approximate and to represent a state of Firstness.

[Steven Bonta]
'A Peircean typology of cultural prime symbols: Culture as category'

Aboriginals lived close to the unconscious realm, the realm of Dreaming, constantly dipping into it. Thanks to this proximity every (waking) thing was infused with unconsciousness, or 'dream consciousness.' The border between dream life and real life was permeable, ill-defined.

The sorites paradox (from Greek soros, a heap). Thought to have originated with Eubulides of Miletus (c. 350 BC).

If one grain of sand is not a heap, and at no stage adding one more grain of sand is going to make the difference between not being a heap and being a heap, how can it ever be that (by, for example, the time 100,000 grains are reached) a heap has come into being?

This results from believing that the whole is the sum of the parts, and can be reached by a sequential process of incrementation.

It tries to relate two things: a grain of sand and a heap, as though their relationship was transparent. It also presupposes that there must either be a heap or not be a heap at any one time: ‘either/or’ are your only alternatives. That is the left-hemisphere view, and sure enough it leads to paradox.

According to the right-hemisphere view, it is a matter of a shift in context, and the coming into being of a Gestalt, an entity which has imprecisely defined bounds, and is recognised whole: the heap comes into being gradually, and is a process, an evolving, changing ‘thing’ (this problem is related to the Growing Argument).

Failure to take into account context, inability to understand Gestalt forms, an inappropriate demand for precision where none can be found, an ignorance of process, which becomes a never-ending series of static moments: these are signs of left-hemisphere predominance.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 137-9

The essence of a sane mind, you may say, is to take shorter views, and to feel no concern about such chimeras as the latter end of the world.

Well, I can only say that if you say this, you do injustice to human nature. Religious melancholy is not disposed of by a simple flourish of the word insanity. The absolute things, the last things, the overlapping things, are the truly philosophic concerns; all superior minds feel seriously about them, and the mind with the shortest views is simply the mind of the more shallow man.

[William James]
'Some Metaphysical Problems', Pragmatism and Other Writings, p. 50-1

Elevated power increases the psychological distance one feels from others, and this distance, according to construal level theory (Y. Trope & N. Liberman, 2003), should lead to more abstract information processing.

Thus, high power should be associated with more abstract thinking—focusing on primary aspects of stimuli and detecting patterns and structure to extract the gist, as well as categorizing stimuli at a higher level—relative to low power. 

In 6 experiments involving both conceptual and perceptual tasks, priming high power led to more abstract processing than did priming low power, even when this led to worse performance. Experiment 7 revealed that in line with past neuropsychological research on abstract thinking, priming high power also led to greater relative right-hemispheric activation.

[Pamela Smith & Yaacov Trope]
'You focus on the forest when you’re in charge of the trees: Power priming and abstract information processing'

[...] learning to recognize and appreciate the domain of un-order is liberating, because we can stop applying methods designed for order and instead focus on legitimate methods that work well in un-ordered situations.

Tom Stewart references the case of a group of marines taken to the New York Mercantile Exchange in 1995 to be taught and to play with simulators of the trading environment. Naturally the traders won each time. But when the traders visited the Marine Corp’s base in Quantico and played war games against the marines, they won yet again.

What they realized is that the traders were skilled at spotting patterns and intervening to structure those patterns in their favor. The Marines, on the other hand, like most business school graduates, had been trained to collect and analyze data and then make rational decisions. In a dynamic and constantly changing environment, it is possible to pattern un-order but not to assume order.

In another case, a group of West Point graduates were asked to manage the playtime of a kindergarten as a final year assignment. The cruel thing is that they were given time to prepare. They planned; they rationally identified objectives; they determined backup and response plans. They then tried to “order” children’s play based on rational design principles, and, in consequence, achieved chaos.

They then observed what teachers do. Experienced teachers allow a degree of freedom at the start of the session, then intervene to stabilize desirable patterns and destabilize undesirable ones; and, when they are very clever, they seed the space so that the patterns they want are more likely to emerge.

In the ordered domain we focus on efficiency because the nature of systems is such that they are amenable to reductionist approaches to problem solving; the whole is the sum of the parts, and we achieve optimization of the system by optimization of the parts. 

In the domain of un-order, the whole is never the sum of the parts; every intervention is also a diagnostic, and every diagnostic an intervention; any act changes the nature of the system. As a result, we have to allow a degree of sub-optimal behavior of each of the components if the whole is to be optimized.

[Cynthia Kurtz & Dave Snowden]
'The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world'

Music and art come before language in human evolution, so human language evolves from abstractions. 

The evolutionary argument for this is it allows rapid exaptive thinking. The ability to rapidly repurpose things actually comes from abstraction. [You also] get higher empathy in abstraction than you do in the material.

Things like parable form stories for example provide better moral guidance than values or principles, partly because they define the negative not the positive. So an ability to understand or appreciate beauty is actually going to make you a much more effective decision-maker as a human than if you just confine yourself to material.

[Dave Snowden]
'EP11 Dave Snowden and Systems Thinking', Jim Rutt Show

Imagine reality as a series of stacked abstractions.

Let’s use an example: there is a factory floor level view of an assembly line with real parts and real workers, then there can be a process monitoring software abstraction of the same reality running on an operator’s computer screen, and then there can be a higher abstraction yet in the COO’s office where measurements from the real time process control software are aggregated.

Because the COO is looking from a higher plane of abstraction, he or she is likely to focus on weak signals that would only look like noise for the floor factory worker. 

Now I used a process control software analogy, but the same can be said about the mind. Some minds are sensitive to higher degrees of abstraction, and the more complex the environment, the higher the abstraction mental plane required.

Let me make one more point on abstraction and weak signals: the higher the abstraction, the weaker the signal! That is because higher abstractions operate at lower energy levels. In the factory floor example, it takes a lot less energy to run the software abstraction of the assembly line than the assembly line itself, and so, the higher abstraction means less brute force, more subtlety and thus less obvious signals.

This view of reality as a vertical series of stacked abstractions fits beautifully with the complexity which our brains and the world they function in share.

Emergence, the key ingredient of complexity, is precisely the mechanism that enables upward abstraction.

'Effective strategy in complex environments, or why a complex world requires abstract thinking'

In terms of psychotherapy, Grof found that the deepest source of psychological symptoms and distress reached back far past childhood traumas and biographical events to the experience of birth itself, intimately interwoven with the encounter with death. 

When successfully resolved, this experience tended to result in a dramatic disappearance of long-standing psychopathological problems, including conditions and symptoms that had proved entirely recalcitrant to previous therapeutic programs. 

I should emphasize here that this "perinatal" (surrounding birth) sequence of experiences typically took place on several levels at once, but it virtually always had an intense somatic component. 

The physical catharsis involved in reliving the birth trauma was extremely powerful, and clearly suggested the reason for the relative ineffectiveness of most psychoanalytic forms of therapy, which have been based largely on verbal interaction and by comparison seem scarcely to scratch the surface. The perinatal experiences that emerged in Grof's work were preverbal, cellular, elemental. They took place only when the ego's usual capacity for control had been overcome, either through the use of a catalytic psychoactive substance or therapeutic technique, or through the spontaneous force of the unconscious material.

Yet these experiences were also profoundly archetypal in character. Indeed, the encounter with this perinatal sequence constantly brought home to subjects a sense that nature itself, including the human body, was the repository and vessel of the archetypal, that nature's processes were archetypal processes an insight that both Freud and Jung had approached, but from opposite directions. 

[Richard Tarnas]
The Passion of the Western Mind, p. 427-8

Kohlberg's dilemmas, in the hypothetical abstraction of their presentation, divest the moral actors from the history and psychology of their individual lives and separate the moral problem from the social contingencies of its possible occurrence. 

In doing so, the dilemmas are useful for the distillation and refinement of the "objective principles of justice" toward which Kohlberg's stages strive. 

However, the reconstruction of the dilemma in its contextual particularity allows the understanding of cause and consequence which engages the compassion and tolerance considered by previous theorists to qualify the feminine sense of justice. 

Only when substance is given to the skeletal lives of hypothetical people is it possible to consider the social injustices which their moral problems may reflect and to imagine the individual suffering their occurrence may signify or their resolution engender.

[Carol Gilligan]
‘In a Different Voice’, Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 47, No. 4, p. 511-12

Requiring that all phenomena must be ultimately subsumable under a covering law betrays an ontological bias in favor of a deterministic, or at the very least, linear universe devoid of novelty and creativity.

Modern philosophy and science allowed no discontinuities or surprises because a deterministic universe excludes all forms of randomness and nonlinearity. Also, because philosophy's understanding of causal relations and explanation required that the explanandum be identified with the generalizable and repeatable, the object or phenomenon in situ to be explained first had to be lifted from its concretely individuated particularity so as to be so always and everywhere. 

Both of these requirements, in turn, presupposed a static or, at the very least, nonevolving (only developing) explanandum that a covering law could capture in all its essential features, always. Indeed, only this assumption makes predictability, the whole point of the covering-law approach, possible at all. As Hempel (1965) once noted, explanation was thought to be related to proof.

Given that what is surveyed is eternal and essentially unchanging, the survey's result should yield answers that are always and everywhere the same. Since no point of view or time is privileged, contextual features were dismissed as secondary and beyond the scope of scientific explanation. In a theme repeated since the time of Parmenides, the contextual and temporal were considered inexplicable because not fully real. 

By excluding contingencies and idiosyncracies, science left out the unique and the individual as well. 

The aim of modern science, therefore, was

“to so objectify experience that it no longer contains any historical element. The scientific experiment does this by its methodological procedure[s]. ... (which guarantee), through the objectivity of (their) approach, that these basic experiences can be repeated by anyone.... Hence no place can be left in science or philosophy for the individuating effect of experience. Modern science and philosophy thus (continue) in their methodology what they have always striven after. 

Experience is valid only if it is confirmed; hence its dignity depends on its fundamental repeatability. But this means that experience, by its very nature, abolishes its history.” (Gadamer 1985, 311) 

Covering-law explanations were even supposed to apply to reasoning about morals, as Kantian ethics illustrates. Perhaps reflexes such as the patella jerk or reactions like blinks approximate this kind of phenomenon, but the individual trajectories of hurricanes and Bénard cells emphatically do not. Nor does most of biology. 

Science and philosophy have had no room for individuals in all their novelty and particularity, and no room, as a result, for understanding or explaining individual human act-tokens as unique trajectories.

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p.218-9

There would be no need for hermeneutical explanation in a closed, linear, deterministic universe. But in an open, complex, world, a more expansive form of reasoning than the narrow, straightjacket rules and formulas of episteme allows us to understand why [people behave the way they do]. 

When we are asked to explain human action there is often no universal or lawful regularity from which to strictly deduce its parts and predict an agent's future course of behaviour. Because the dynamics are complex, induction won't do either; that logical technique searches for commonalities across individuals to formulate a lawful regularity from which future individual cases can then be inferred. 

But because complex systems, whether hurricanes or people, are embedded in time and space, unique circumstances and individual experience play a crucial role in their identity, their behavior, and in the way in which they must be explained. 

In the case of complex systems, as we saw, the devil is in the way differences and variations, not commonalities, hang together in a particular context, given a particular background. As information theory has always insisted, the differences make a difference. 

[…] I suspect that the current revival of interest in myth, the tales of Genesis, and storytelling in general is not unrelated to the perceived inadequacies of the received logic of explanation that modern philosophy and science have offered the public at large. 

But it is not, as some have suspected, that we find in myths and conversations a mechanism for coping [...] I have claimed that by relying on concrete, contextual and temporally grounded narratives and reenactments, myths and tales explain because they recreate the open, nonlinear dynamics of the real processes they purport to explain. 

By reconstructing a storyline that hangs together despite and because of many twists and turns, myths and stories respect time and origins; by emphasizing concrete, particular details they respect connectivity and correlations, that is, contextual embeddedness. They respect, in other words, the human being's sense of place, the importance of a particular temporal and spatial point of view in human life and behaviour. 

In contrast to the approach taken by science, human beings and their actions do not adopt “the view from nowhere.”

The idea that all reasoning must be prooflike is a fairly recent one, as we have seen: only a few hundred years old. […] We have therefore come full circle, it seems, to a much earlier understanding of what counts as explanation: to explanation as genealogical, story-like, and richly contextual. 

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, 241-2

Henceforth the complex and changing world of daily life would be judged unreal: the details of experience and change were just “stories," and stories were untrue illusions, poets the "mothers of lies." 

Philosophers and scientists thus usurped the bard's divine authority by substituting for the concretely and messily real the absolutely and abstractly Real. 

Despite his respect for the individual and the embodied, even Aristotle gave pride of place to the eternal and universal. Through philosophical and scientific reflection, thinkers were expected to dismiss the here and now, discard all indexical references, and tap into Universal Truth, which exists only in eternity. Parmenides had won.

Definition […] with its eternal unchanging definiens, aligned itself with the universal and general, with the eternal and absolutely true "one," which can only be so in abstraction from the profuse variation of contingent detail exhibited by the “many." Symbolic logic and mathematics advanced this trend away from time and context as their abstract notations put more and more distance between formal systems and the messy here and now. Newtonian science and covering-law theories of explanation followed in this tradition. And so for 2,000 years, the search continued for a perfect, that is, a universal, language (Eco).

But neither the universal nor the abstract explains the particular as such when that particular is an open, dynamical system far from equilibrium. 

Discarding the unique characteristics that time and context impress on natural phenomena in favor of universal and eternal essences, therefore, had an additional consequence: the very contingent details exhibited by the "many" - those idiosyncratic characteristics and vicissitudes that make each individual unlike any other - disappeared from ontology and epistemology as well. 

When time and context are banished, in other words, individuality is banished as well [...] Rehabilitating a narrative logic of explanation [...] will be necessary if we are ever going to pay more than lip service to the individual.

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p. 243

The alchemist or philosopher of the Arabian Culture, too, assumes a necessity within his world-cavern that is utterly and completely different from the necessity of dynamics. There is no causal nexus of law-form but only one cause, God, immediately underlying every effect. 

To believe in Nature-laws would, from this standpoint, be to doubt the almightiness of God. 

If a rule seems to emerge, it is because it pleases God so; but to suppose that this rule was necessity would be to yield to a temptation of the Devil. This was the attitude also of Carneades, Plotinus and the Neo-Pythagoreans. This necessity underlies the Gospels as it does the Talmud and the Avesta, and upon it rests the technique of alchemy.

The conception of number as function is related to the dynamic principle of cause-and-effect. Both are creations of the same intellect, expression-forms of the same spirituality, formative principles of the same objectivized and “become" Nature. In fact the physics of Democritus differs from the physics of Newton in that the chosen starting-point of the one is the optically-given while that of the other is abstract relations that have been deduced from it. 

The "facts" of Apollinian Nature-knowledge are things, and they lie on the surface of the known, but the facts of Faustian science are relations, which in general are invisible to lay eyes, which have to be mastered intellectually, which require for their communication a code-language that only the expert researcher can fully understand. 

The Classical, static, necessity is immediately evident in the changing phenomena, while the dynamic causation-principle prevails beyond things and its tendency is to weaken, or to abolish even, their sensible actuality. 

[Oswald Spengler]
The Decline of the West, p. 393

A Hellenic river-god is definitely understood as being the river and not as, so to say, dwelling in the river […] On the contrary, not a trace of this localised materiality clings to the elves, dwarfs, witches, Valkyries and their kindred the armies of departed souls that sweep round o’nights. Whereas Naiads are sources, nixies and hags, and tree-spirits and brownies are souls that are only bound to sources, trees and houses, from which they long to be released into the freedom of roaming.

It is as though the Faustian universe abhorred anything material and impenetrable. 

In things we suspect other worlds. Their hardness and thickness is merely appearance, and — a trait that would be impossible in Classical myth, because fatal to it - some favoured mortals are accorded the power to see through cliffs and crags into the depths. 

But is not just this the secret intent of our physical theories, of each new hypothesis? No other Culture knows so many fables of treasures lying in mountains and pools, of secret subterranean realms, palaces, gardens wherein other beings dwell. 

The whole substantiality of the visible world is denied by the Faustian Nature-feeling, for which in the end nothing is of earth and the only actual is Space. The fairy-tale dissolves the matter of Nature as the Gothic style dissolves the stone-mass of our cathedrals, into a ghostly wealth of forms and lines that have shed all weight and acknowledge no bounds.

[Oswald Spengler]
The Decline of the West, p. 404

Physics defines itself as the science devoted to discovering, developing and refining those aspects of reality that are susceptible to mathematical analysis.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with physics as such, but it is an inappropriate model for all consensible and potentially consensual knowledge.

[John Ziman]
Reliable Knowledge: An Exploration of the Grounds for Belief in Science, p. 28

‘In a sense, all science aspires to be like physics, and physics aspires to be like mathematics.’

In short, abstraction is itself a prime aim. This would mean that all studies must try to get rid of their particular subject-matter so as to reach the condition of mathematics, which is universal because it has no subject-matter.

They should try to stop talking about anything but universal forms.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.194

Liberals could not see that parochial attachments called forth an intensity of conviction unmatched by an abstract attachment to humanity as a whole.

If liberalism lacked “fervour” and “fanaticism” […] it was largely because it condemned all forms of tribalism as backward and unprogressive, demanding that they give way to more and more inclusive (and necessarily attenuated) allegiances.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.384

While number cannot be held in the hand, they are abstractions that can be grasped in the mind; they are the objects of thought that can be manipulated and moved around in a mental universe.

To the mathematician and scientist these mental objects exist through their interrelationships of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Otherwise they are without quality, and when we speak of them as "having value" we mean this only in the quantitative sense and not as referring to any intrinsic spiritual or moral value.

Within Indigenous science, number is a being - a living entity immersed in flux. To enter the world of numbers and sacred mathematics is not an act of abstraction but a sacred process. To understand the transformations of number, for example, is to seek a relationship with the dynamic processes of energies and spirits.


When we open the drawer we are not surprised to see sets of fish and steak knives, a bread knife, a carving knife, a paring knife, a chopping knife, and a knife for cutting cheese. To us, knives are knives, things used for cutting. We may use adjectives to distinguish between fish and steak knives, but we would never go as far as to ask our language to differentiate between the individual steak knives in a particular set.

But in a hunter's world all knives are individual. Each knife was made by a particular person. Not only will it differ from other knives in the way it looks, works, and handles, but it will share the spirit of the person who made it.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.163, 228

In the process of solving a complex problem by using a network, it is not necessary to have an explicit theory about the structure of the problem.

In conventional computational problem-solving such a theory is explicitly required in order to construct an algorithm that can be programmed. The construction of a theory therefore precedes all other activities.

When dealing with complex systems, however, it can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to construct such a theory since a large number of factors can interact in complex, non-linear ways. Theory construction under such circumstances involves large-scale reduction of complexity with a high risk of ending up with an abstraction that provides an inadequate model of the system.

Since a neural network implicitly encodes the relationships between large amounts of factors in a non-linear, distributed way, the need for a complete and explicit theory falls away.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.69

[…] the stage of financial capitalism did not place emphasis on the exchange of goods or the production of goods as the earlier stages of commercial capitalism and industrial capitalism had done.

In fact, financial capitalism had little interest in goods at all, but was concerned entirely with claims on wealth - stocks, bonds, mortgages, insurance, deposits, proxies, interest rates, and such.

It invested capital not because it desired to increase the output of goods or services but because it desired to float issues (frequently excess issues) of securities on this productive basis. It built railroads in order to sell securities, not in order to transport goods; it constructed great steel corporations to sell securities, not in order to make steel, and so on.

But, incidentally, it greatly increased the transport of goods, the output of steel, and the production of other goods.

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, p.212

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