Entangled Categories

One of the obstacles in the way of creative thinking is the way we limit ourselves with conceptual categories. There are two most common habits are

  1. We put physical or constructivist constraints on conceptual (epistemic) tools.
  2. We associate categories within exclusive sets.

These habits can be quite subtle and nuanced, but they appear everywhere in our thinking. Take for example of # 1 – the categories whole  and part, inside and outside.  We almost always make the assumption that wholes are somehow physically larger than parts, and therefore assume that while parts can fit inside wholes, wholes cannot fit inside parts. When we work with complex abstractions, however, the road from parts to whole (and back again) is not so physical, and not so linear. Wholes and parts are neither logically necessary, nor always configured as nested sets, where parts conveniently stack inside larger wholes. Take for example, the entire history of paradigm shift in history. The next greater paradigm always comes through the lesser, more partial theory. Similarly,  the  transpersonal always  comes through the personal.  It is not difficult to prove that all abstractions work like this. Here is how the argument goes:

The higher the concept is abstracted, the more generalized and universal the concept becomes and therefore,  the concept must fit inside more and fundamental units of scale. 

Take for example, the property existence As a conceptual abstraction it is very very large, and therefore must fit into very small spaces — the tiniest spaces of them all! If we look for instances of existence, we must find them not only in galaxies, but also in atoms and quarks. The category life must fit inside the tiniest protozoan as easily as the giant sequoia. In fact, in process-oriented philosophy, ever since Charles Hartshorne, it is quite evident that the whole always comes through the parts.

The second confusion we have about the categories is the habituated way we associate them in certain sets.

Take for example, the categories complex, unity, and unique.  We tend to associate complexity with unity and sameness, and can hardly imagine a process where complexity actually grows with uniqueness. This is due to a strong developmental bias in our language and conceptual framework. We know from evolutionary biology, that the more unique and diverse an ecosystem is, the more complex it is, and vice-versa.

Uniqueness is not only more complex, it turns out it is also more indeterminate, and therefore, the conclusion we have in front of us, is that systems above a certain level of complexity (say non-linear) actually become more and more unique and indeterminate as they increase in complexity.

The more complex, the less standardized, the less reproducible, the less predictable, the more degrees of freedom. This disentanglement has profound implications.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you, Bonnie! Very happy and grateful to have found your blog! What a treasure! =) I especially appreciate your realization that the transpersonal always comes through the personal (and the way your post beautifully enacts this). Your post reminded me of Kabir’s saying: “All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop.” “Merging,” as I interpret it, is not “technically” accurate (it implies things IN relationship rather than dimensionings/presencings OF relationship, AS Is), but I feel Kabir’s poetic evocation is the “truer than true” that is Storying, or I suppose what you would refer to as a creative imaginary.

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