In everyday living we function in all the aspects in a more or less integrated way, without being aware of any ot them. Whatever knowledge of the aspects we employ, we do so tacitly. Even though we might focus our attention on a single thing, we are open to and aware of the the context of that thing. For example, I might be trying to prune a rose in my garden, carefully because it is a rare variety, and getting ready for the visitors we are having tonight. My attention is on the rose and the pruning, but I am also awere of things around me such as my children playing down the garden or the state of the football match on the radio beside me, or I might also be aware that the visitors expected are experts on rose care and I want to avoid criticism.
Another example, when giving a talk (lecture to my students or sermon in church) I am functioning:
Note that I am just *doing* all this, not often thinking about any particular aspect of the situation as such, and often not planning ahead. It is rather like what the philosopher Michael Polanyi called The Tacit Dimension (1967), in which we make use of tools or knowledge without realising it; they become 'part' of us in a very real way. The knowledge about how I am doing each piece of functioning has been 'compiled' (using a computing metaphor) into my mind and I function without awareness of the details of what I am doing.
That is everyday functioning. And it is more successful the more we integrate all the aspects in what we are doing and go with rather than against their laws. It can be allied to intuition.
One important characteristic of this kind of thinking is that it is integrative. It integrates all aspects, and may be said to allow us knowledge of the whole, a holistic sort of knowledge, as opposed to abstractive forms of knowledge that 'parcel up' what we focus on. Many thinkers have recognised this, such as:
Explication involves the analytical and lingual aspects. Since functioniing in these is not absolute, explication can never be complete, so there will always be a tacit element. However, sensory-psychic knowing is particularly difficult to explicate (e.g. riding a cycle), so is much more tacit. So is pistic knowing. In these ways, we can see that Dooyeweerd accounts for the less than sharp distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge.
Lower abstraction might be used when I want to understand a situation, for example. Why, I wonder, is the rose growing this way rather than that? I reflect on processes of the biotic aspect, which qualifies the rose as such. But I might decide, "Oh well, it doesn't matter; what really matters is that it looks nice" (which is perhaps viewing the rose from the aesthetic aspect).
In a more complex situation we can use lower abstraction to understand the situation and analyse it. We discern which aspects play an important part in the situation and in the functioning of the various entities involved, and link them together. Mike Winfield's MAKE (Multi-Aspectual Elicitation Method) is useful here.
Thus lower abstraction can be useful in those kinds of 'research', such as action research, where we investigate situations rather than investigating laws of aspects. It can make use of theories that derive from higher abstraction, and it might derive 'theories' of its own, but these are more propositions about things and their connections rather than true theories, which arise from higher abstraction.
Higher abstraction, on the other hand, involves isolation an aspect from all the others (and from its context), and focusing our attention solely on that aspect. Isolation can occur of either the law- or the subject-side; only the former is abstraction. Isolation of the subject-side (entity-side) is what happens when I focus so intently on a thing or an activity that we forget the context, and it is usually detrimental. I might, for example, be so intent on the physical aspect of pruning (making the cut, the way the secateurs slice through material, etc.) that I forget the biotic aspect and cut the rose in the wrong place. Such isolation is often harmful, if allowed to occur in everyday living.
But isolation of an aspect occurs when I want to study and discover the laws of that aspect without my study being contaminated by other aspects: for example I want to study a chemical reaction in the test tube ( physical aspect) and believe that economic things like the cost of the reagants, nor biotic factors like what I had for breakfast, should not affect the outcome. So I isolate the aspect from all others (as far as I can). That is what is meant by higher abstraction.
Higher abstraction can yield a number of things:
It can do these things because the effects that we observe as we isolate the aspect is an effect that arises solely in response to the laws of the aspect we are studying (together with any earlier aspects on which it might depend, of course). So we can derive knowledge about the laws of that aspect. Doing this is the essence of science.
Notice, however, that higher abstraction studies, not types of entity, but types of law. Thus, under Dooyeweerd's view, a science is not of a type of entity but of the laws of an aspect. Therefore, for example, anthropology, the study of Humankind, is really a study of the aspects in which Humankind functions (all of them!) and is thus a multi-science. Dooyeweerd argues that there can be no 'science of human behaviour' as such, for similar reasons. This means that higher abstraction is closely related to the idea of a science. Science, in this view, consists of isolating some property of an aspect in order to study it and the laws relating to it. See "#science">below. Higher abstraction offers the depth of investigation required by science. One nice feature of this view of science is that it allows each science a measure of "#science.2">freedom.
A common version of this is technocentrism. Technology emerges from science, and thus retains some of science's tendency to isolate itself. When we apply or use an artifact of that technology we tend to deal with it on its own (isolated) terms, and thus tend to forget or ignore the various aspects of real life that impinge on and should direct our usage of it. It is no wonder, then, that around 90% of information technology projects are deemed to have failed! This can be understood more clearly by looking at the pitfalls in technology transfer.
From this example we can see a number of stages in technology transfer:
At the centre of the first step lies higher abstraction, and its isolation of a single aspect. The earlier steps depend on such uni-aspectual (or limited-aspectual) isolation for their effectiveness. But the last steps should be multi-aspectual, and there should be no isolation at all; all the contextual links should be open. Otherwise the aspects which are ignored will bring no benefits and often bring harm.
So, as we progress along the steps, there should be a transition from uni-aspectual isolation of higher abstraction to multi-aspectual integration of everyday functioning. Where should that transition be made?
In far too many cases it is made only at the last step. Those who develop the technology idea, the generic tools and specific artifacts, and those who sell them, all focus on the limited set of aspects of the originating sciences - and in many cases only a small subset of these: a part of single aspect from that set. It is assumed to be a responsibility of the final users to open up the aspects. "Let the buyer beware." No wonder what has resulted from science is often harm and problems. But it need not be so, if we make the transition much earlier.
If the specific artifact is created in the context of all aspects, taking them all into account during its creation, then its 'fit' is more likely to be better. If the technology idea and generic tools are developed in the context of all aspects, taking them all into account while focusing attention of the main aspect, then it they are more likely to prove easy to wield in the creation of the specific artifacts. (This, I now see, lies behind the concept of 'appropiateness' I tried to introduce to the knowledge representation community (Basden, 1993).)
So, the transition to multi-aspectuality should be made at least before the development of technology ideas. While it is unreasonable to expect it to be full everyday functinoing, it should at least be lower abstraction - focusing on an aspect but retaining all links with all others.
"To all of these speculative misunderstandings na´ve experience implicitly takes exception by persisting in its pre-theoretical conception of things, events and social relationships in their integral structures of individuality."
"Neither Kant, the founder of the so-called critical transcendental philosophy, nor Edmund Husserl, the founder of modern phenomenology, who called his phenomenological philosophy 'the most radical critique of knowledge', have made the theoretical attitude of though into a critical problem. Both of them started from the autonomy of theoretical thinking as an axiom which needs no further justification." [Twi.:6]
In order to radically question what could make theoretical thinking itself possible, Dooyeweerd chose (or was forced) to start from everyday experience.
Copyright (c) 2002 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.
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Created: 16 April 1997. Last updated: 7 February 2001 copyright, email. 20 November 2002 retitled from 'Three Levels of Functioning' to 'Abstraction and Everyday Life'. 7 March 2003 revamped the text of each level of abstraction, combining what was here with what is in thinking.html. 19 May 2003 inserted brief content in last two unwritten sections; a few other minor changes; label 'real.life' repl by 'richness'. 22 April 2005 link to everyday; rid email.