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The Modern Generalist
Errors Generalists Should Avoid *
Terms and Notes

Problems Explaining Higher Levels Using Lower Levels

Attempting to explain the qualities of a level of hierarchic material organization by way of the qualities of the lower level components from which that higher level emerged—In the development of one level directly from another, without intervening levels, the higher can be explained by way of the lower if all the relevant factors are taken into account—the lower level components and their individual intrinsic qualities, plus the qualities of the manner of their togetherness. The qualities of the higher level are the qualities of the group of lower level factors that together comprise the higher level. The nature of the group is based on both the nature of the components and the nature of their interrelations. The qualities of the components alone are insufficient to account for the qualities of the emergent group.


Attempting to explain the qualities of a level of hierarchic material organization by way of the qualities of a lower level general factor which also occurs at the higher level—A general factor can be used to aid understanding from one situation to another, as from one existential-pathway-development to another, or from an earlier stage of development to a later stage, or from a lower level to a higher. What is known about the qualities, roles, and consequences of a factor at one level can help to understand its qualities, roles, and consequences at a different level. Due to the more complex situation at the higher level, including the likely occurrence of the factor in a developed form at the higher level, it should be expected that the form of the factor at the lower level, along with its roles there, will be inadequate as a full explanation of its form and roles at the higher level.


Attempting to explain the qualities of a level of hierarchic material organization by way of the qualities of lower levels in situations in which there are intervening levels—This is often expressed in terms of explaining higher levels by the theories, laws, or concepts of lower levels.

In situations with intervening levels, higher levels cannot be completely, or even adequately, explained by way of the qualities of lower levels because of emergence. Both lower levels and higher levels are patterns of material organization. The higher level patterns are emergent from the lower levels by way of the various factors of development that play roles in emergence. It usually happens that an emergent pattern will have qualities that do not occur as qualities of the components from which the pattern emerged. The emergent qualities, novel to the existential-pathway-development that is occurring as a developing hierarchy of material organization, can then play roles in the emergence of further hierarchic levels. The more emergent levels there are, the more likely it is that there are emergent factors novel to the development of those levels. Thus, with the higher levels there can be many factors playing roles in the nature of those levels that do not occur at the foundational levels.

The explanation of the higher levels must include the nature, roles, and consequences of those emergent factors. Emergence at the intervening levels renders the factors of the lower levels insufficient as an explanation of the higher levels. The natures of higher levels cannot be directly reduced to the lower levels in cases where there are intervening levels.

For the purpose of this discussion, the hierarchic order of material reality has been treated in a simplified manner. It should be kept in mind that the organization of the material aspect of reality is complexly hierarchic. Not only do lower levels usually continue to exist within the hierarchic order, and continue to play their roles therein, higher and lower levels can interrelate with one another in various ways, both within a single complex hierarchic situation and between situations, across from one hierarchy to another.



Use of Abstraction in the Analysis, Discussion, or Description of Reality

A modern generalist should avoid abstractions. To discuss an issue, topic, or factor in terms of abstractions is akin to discussing Platonic forms. There is no reality referent.

Abstractions are concepts that do not refer to reality, that do not refer to that which exists. The Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines abstract as, “adj. 1. thought apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances: an abstract idea. 2. expressing a quality or characteristic apart from any specific object or instance ...” The term, abstraction, is defined as, “n. ... 2. the act of considering something as a general quality or characteristic, apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances.”

The problem with Platonic forms and abstractions, and with generalizations and types treated as abstractions, is that the attention is on the concepts rather than the reality referents of the concepts. The concepts are not the real thing, and can include error, or even be entirely fictitious. Without constant focus on the reality referents, the discussion of concepts tends to wander off into imaginative nonsense. Preoccupation with abstractions and concepts is an effective way to avoid the much more difficult discussion of the actual nature of reality.

One requirement of being a modern generalist is the prime imperative for the accurate analysis of the intrinsic nature of reality—look to the subject of investigation itself. Focus on concrete reality, specific objects, and actual instances. When a modern generalist uses a general term or talks about a type, the meaning of the term is the reality referent—all the cases, instances, occurrences of the factor.


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©2004-2006 Vincent Vesterby