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The Modern Generalist
  Universal Conceptual Model



Terms and Notes
  The Modern Generalist Universal Conceptual Model    

The Modern Generalist Universal Conceptual Model


The modern generalist conceptual model, and the techniques used to create it, are to qualitative analysis what math is to quantitative analysis. Factors intrinsic to the nature of reality are used as tools to explore, analyze, understand, and describe reality. These factor tools occur in two basic forms, the first being general patterns of organization that occur in space and in structure—patterns that establish the nature of the situations in which they occur. Second are the factors of connections in time—factors of origins, transformations, consequences, and interactions. One of these factors, development, is universal in that it is the pattern of organization within which all other patterns occur. Understanding development provides a universal conceptual model in which all factors of the nature of reality can be placed in correct relation to one another. This conceptual model powerfully enhances the accuracy of judgment by making explicit intrinsic deep structure.

In 1998 Edward O. Wilson said, “A united system of knowledge is the surest means of identifying the still unexplored domains of reality. It provides a clear map of what is known, and it frames the most productive questions for future inquiry” (1999: 326).

In 1988 the evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr said, “Twenty-nine years ago the physicist C. P. Snow vividly described the unbridgeable gap between the physical sciences and the humanities. If biologists, physicists, and philosophers working together can construct a broad-based, unified science that incorporates both the living and the nonliving world, we will have a better base from which to build bridges to the humanities, and some hope of reducing this unfortunate rift in our culture” (1988: 21).

Other researchers have been hoping for the methods of deep structure analysis that are being used to create the universal conceptual model.

In 2002 the mathematician Ian Stewart said “[W]e can hope to see the beginnings of a qualitative, contextual theory of dynamic pattern formation” (2002: 39).

Rodney Brooks, Director of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, is clear about his need for a more general, deeper mode of understanding.

The question then is whether there [is] something else, besides computation, in all life processes? We need [a] conceptual framework such as computation that doesn't involve any new physics or chemistry, a framework that gives us a different way of thinking about the stuff that's there. (Brooks, 2007b).


Maybe there's something beyond computation in the sense that we don't understand and we can't describe what's going on inside living systems using computation only...There's some other tool—some organizational principle—that we need to understand in order to really describe what's going on (Brooks, 2007a).

What Brooks is missing, and what Stewart hopes to see are techniques and understanding that answer the why questions. Not just what, not just how, but why do patterns form, why does computation work the way it does, and why do life processes behave as they do, sustaining progressive change over billions of years? The modern generalist techniques and the resulting universal conceptual model provide answers to Why?

There is one further situation that gives urgency to the need for a universal conceptual model. The serious problems we face in the world today, such as overpopulation, environmental degradation, resource depletion, the HIV epidemic, and social, educational, medical, economic, and political inequality, have a spread of sources and consequences that range from our geological and climatic context through all the levels of biological organization, from the cellular level through the levels of organism, society, and ecosystems. To solve these problems requires a breadth and depth of conceptual understanding that incorporates this entire range.

The universal conceptual model presented here incorporates all the sciences and humanities, and integrates them into a single sweep of understanding. It does so by way of their natural interrelations, their natural interconnections, by way of the manner in which chemistry emerges from physics, biology emerges from chemistry, psychology from biology, society from biology and psychology, and culture from psychology and society. Emergence is a form of progressive change, a creative form of change. It is one form of development (Vesterby, 2007). There are many forms or types of development, and understanding the ways in which they all interrelate to create the world we have today results in the universal conceptual mode. The model is formed by way of the connectivity that occurs with all these interrelating types of development. This paper presents the foundational forms of that connectivity.

Everything is not connected to everything.

Everything is, however, connected to something.

Things exist in space, and they continue to exist with time. Things connect with one another in space, and they connect with one another through time. Everything is connected to something adjacent, either in the three-dimensional place that is space, or sequentially adjacent in the continuously ongoing change that is time. There are the connections things have by way of direct contact with other things. Then, as something that exists continues to exist, as it goes through the change that is continuing-existence, it has both a connection to its history and a connection to its future, what it is developing from and what it is developing into.

The modern generalist mode of analysis and understanding uses the factors that constitute the intrinsic nature of connectivity to combine all aspects of the nature of reality into a single universal conceptual model. There are seventeen nearly universal fundamental factors that establish connection of one part of reality with another, and thereby provide the breadth and depth of the model. Those seventeen factors are: (1) continuity, (2) adjacent relation, (3) coexistent-sequential-difference, (4) sequential enhancement, (5) extensional development, (6) combinatorial enhancement, (7) consequent-existence, (8) continuing-existence, (9) noncoexistent-sequential-difference (change), (10) change development, (11) self-organization, (12) motion, (13) emergence, (14) contact relation, (15) cause, (16) coherent relation, (17) through-flow situation wherein the flow of energy alters the organization of matter and the organization of matter alters the flow of energy. These factors are themselves the functional tool kit of the mental model that when applied, reveal the foundational attributes and the connectivity of the system being studied.

Development is universal in that it played a role in every situation that ever existed, plays a role in every situation that now exists, and will play a role in every situation that will ever exist. The term development is used in the modern generalist mode to refer to sequential difference where there is a progressive increase in complexity. It can be as simple as the increasing amount of time that has occurred, it can be the increased complexity that results from the creation of a new level of hierarchy, or it can be as great as the complexity of a newly evolved species of animal. All of the fundamental factors of connection are either cases of development or are factors that play roles in development. Development is also intrinsically oriented by way of the directionality of the adjacent relation, and by the unidirectional nature of continuing existence, motion, emergence, and cause. Development thus provides a universal framework in relation to which all other factors of the existence, organization, change, and consequences of reality can be placed in correct relation one to another in the universal conceptual model. The organization and content of the model follows the organization and content of reality.

Click on following image to see full scale diagram.

This model is universal in that it includes (a) everything we know from below the subatomic level to the entire universe, (b) all known that has passed in time, and (c) all of the future that can be accurately predicted. It cannot all be experienced simultaneously, nor even be contained within one mind. It is not meant to be a model of that sort, but rather a model within which the mind can travel from one part to another by way of the factors of connection, by way of following the development. Because the factors of development are universal, they provide orientation, guidance, and facilitate learning as one leaves familiar territory and ventures into the unknown.

Material reality is composed of elementary particles, which are in large part organized into populations of interactive units, or into objects and systems. The main difference between these populations, objects, and systems, and between the various hierarchic levels that occur with them, is the pattern of organization of elementary particles that gives each of them its intrinsic identity. Each of these patterns of organization comes into existence by way of development. Each individual occurrence of a pattern is created by processes of development. A pattern comes into existence, undergoes changes, and has consequences that are due to its intrinsic nature. This occurs by way of the seventeen fundamental factors of connection in interrelation with diverse other factors that play roles in the intrinsic nature of the various patterns of organization. To understand why a particular pattern of organization exists, and why it has the particular qualities it has, it is necessary to follow the developments of its origin and transformation. To do this it is necessary to understand the intrinsic nature of the seventeen factors and their interrelations with one another. An analysis which omits any of these factors will result in an incomplete understanding.

There are two fundamental pathways of development. One is an aspect of the extension of spatial place, and is due to the difference from one part of space to another part. The other occurs as an aspect of the sequential nature of continuing-existence, and is due to the difference from one part of ongoing existence to another part. With the form of development that occurs with spatial extension, there is a role for difference, but not for change. This is extensional development. With the form of development that occurs with continuing-existence, there are roles for both difference and change—change development. These two foundational forms of development become interrelated when motion plays a role in a situation.

Factors of the Foundational Development of the Connectivity of Reality
In order to make use of development as a factor tool, it is necessary to explore and understand the core attributes of development itself. The foundational development of reality has six major stages, each of which has multiple lesser stages. Those major stages are based on (1) space, (2) continuing-existence, (3) matter, (4) motion, (5) contact, and (6) coherence. Several of the fundamental factors, such as emergence and cause, that establish connections from one part of reality with another originate with the lesser stages. At each of the six major stages of the foundational development of reality, some factors play contextual or constitutive roles in the occurrence of the factors that play connective roles.

1. The Existence of Space
There are eighteen aspects of the existence of space (in italics) that play roles in connectivity. Spatial place is immaterial, continuous, three-dimensional, extension. To exist as continuous extension is to have parts, (a) which are locationally different and thereby have intrinsic self-identity, (b) which are coexistent and adjacent and thereby occur sequentially to one another, and (c) which together constitute spatial coexistent-sequential-difference. Along a sequence of coexistent-sequential-difference there is a progressive increase in the amount of difference, which constitutes sequential enhancement, and the foundational form of extensional development.

The coexistent-sequential-difference of spatial extension is continuous. There is, then, an aspect of continuity to the associated sequential enhancement and extensional development. There are no breaks or interruptions. The existence of one part is connected to the existence of the locationally different sequentially adjacent parts. This constitutes extensional existential-pathway-development, an intrinsic quality of reality that provides a continuous pathway of exploration, and a foundational feature of continuous connection for the model.

If there is coexistence, there is relation, minimally that of distance and direction. The occurrence of relation as an aspect of a coexistence situation is an enhancement of the situation due to the combination of whatever is coexistent—combinatorial enhancement. While combinatorial enhancement occurs with the adjacent relation, it also takes connection beyond adjacent relation by way of mediated connection, wherein two things are connected through the role of something else (a) that is adjacent to both (a gate latch connecting a gate to the gate post), or (b) that is in some manner a relation between them (e.g. the space or distance from one to the other). Parts, distance, and direction constitute pattern of organization, a major factor of orientation of connective relations.

Three examples of continuously connected development that are due to the intrinsic nature of space itself are (1) the greater the extension, the greater the sequential difference, (2) with two lines extending from a single point, the greater their extension, the further apart they are, and (3) the surface of an expanding sphere increases faster than the increase in its radius.

2. The Continuing Existence of Space
There are eleven additional factors of connectivity (in italics) that are aspects of the continuing-existence of space. Space exists, and it continues to exist. Space continues to exist because it exists. Continuing-existence is a consequence of existence. This is connection by way of consequent-existence, the existence of something as a consequence of the existence of something else. Consequent-existence is a universal core factor of change development.

Continuing-existence is continuous, has parts, which are adjacent with sequential relations, and thus occurs as a form of sequential-difference. Each part of continuing-existence, as it occurs, is newly existent, with specific sequential location, occurring after the part that has gone before and before the part that will follow. This is sequential enhancement by way of creating new part.

Of continuing-existence only the current part exists, the past parts having ceased to exist and the future parts having not yet come into existence. The parts of continuing-existence are not coexistent, and are thereby different from one another, existentially distinct, with unique individual self-identity. The sequential-difference of continuing-existence occurs as noncoexistent-sequential-difference. Noncoexistent-sequential-difference is change. Change development is the progressive sequential-difference that occurs with noncoexistent-sequential-difference.

The continuing-existence of space is a consequence of the existence of space. The change, the noncoexistent-sequential-difference, that is continuing-existence is a consequence of the existence of space. The existence of space initiates continuing-existence. It initiates noncoexistent-sequential-difference. It initiates change. Initiation is the consequent-existence of change.

Spatial continuing-existence is the ongoing existence of space, of space itself, of what space is. It is the ongoing existence of the self-identity of space. Because it is simply a continuance of the being of space, each part of the change of ongoing existence develops directly from the prior part. Even though continuing-existence is a form of noncoexistent-sequential-difference, the parts are developmentally existentially connected because one part develops directly from the prior part. Continuing-existence is a form of change existential-pathway-development, and by way of continuance of self-identity from what has gone before to what follows it constitutes a pathway of connection.

3. The Existence of Matter
There are six additional factors of connectivity (in italics) that occur with the existence of matter. Matter is discontinuous, occurring as units of various sizes and compositions. Matter exists in space, which provides a place-to-be existential context for matter. A unit of matter has an occupation relation with the specific spatial place in which it exists, and distance, direction, and positional orientation relations with all other spatial place.

The infinite, extensionally three-dimensional, immaterial place of space is all the spatial place there is. To not exist in space is to not exist. There is a place-to-be existential-dependency relation between matter and the space it occupies. The occupation relation, place-to-be existential context, and place-to-be existential-dependency are all oriented relations of connection of extensional development.

Matter exists, and it continues to exist. Because to exist is to exist in space, to continue to exist is to do so with the continuing-existence of space. The continuing-existence of space provides a continuance-of-being existential context for the continuing-existence of matter. To not continue to exist with the continuing-existence of space is to not exist. The continuing-existence of matter has a continuance-of-being existential-dependency relation with the continuing-existence of space. Continuance-of-being existential context and continuance-of-being existential-dependency are oriented relations of connection of change development. Context, occupation, and dependency relations of matter with space provide orientation of understanding within the universal conceptual model.

4. The Existence of Motion
There are twelve additional factors of connectivity that occur with the existence of motion. Motion is matter passing through space. Motion has the same context and dependency relations with space as does matter, and because it is matter that moves, motion has an existential-dependency relation with matter. The parts of a motion, such as the first, middle, and final parts, occur sequentially and noncoexistently. The parts of a motion are different, existentially distinct, because they are noncoexistent—motion noncoexistent-sequential-difference. When it is occurring, motion is continuous and unidirectional. Motion is a form of change, with change existential context and change existential-dependency relations with spatial continuing-existence. As a motion continues to exist, the continuance of its self-identity initiates new part of change, new part of noncoexistent-sequential-difference, new part of motion. Motion initiates change by continuing to be itself. This is sequential enhancement by way of creating new part.

Because one part of motion is a direct development from the prior part by way of continuance of self-identity, the parts of motion are existentially adjacent to one another. This is motion existential-pathway-development. It provides the conceptual model a form of connection that involves changing relations.

There are two forms of change initiated by motion. First is the ongoing change that is the motion itself. And second, because motion is matter passing through space, motion, in a continuous and sequential manner, changes the extensional relations of matter with space, the occupation, distance, direction, and positional orientation relations. When there is a group of other units present, the motion changes the extensional relations between the units. The group of units and the relations between them constitute a pattern of organization, and when motion changes the extensional relations between the units, that pattern is changed and a new pattern emerges. Because motion is sequential in nature, and because the changes in extensional relations between the units occur sequentially, this foundational form of emergence is based on sequential enhancement. When a moving unit joins a group of units, and alters the composition of the group by the addition of a unit—sequential enhancement by way of adding units—the pattern of organization of the group is changed by way of the combination of the additional unit with the others of the group. A new pattern of organization comes into existence, a new pattern emerges, and this second foundational form of emergence is based on combinatorial enhancement. Emergence by way of sequential enhancement and emergence by way of combinatorial enhancement are both pathways of change and creation of material pattern of organization that serve in the conceptual model as pathways of connection.

5. The Occurrence of the Contact Relation
There are four additional factors of connectivity that occur with the contact relation. Matter is substantial. Something is-there. Units of matter in adjacent relation, that is, where there is no space between them, are up against one another—they are in contact.

Contact is an emergent factor. Movement of a unit in relation to other units results in emergence of new pattern of organization by way of sequential enhancement. It is developmental connection by way of emergence through sequential enhancement. The coming together of units such that in combination they form a group, a new pattern of organization and a new level of hierarchic organization, is emergence by way of combinatorial enhancement. It is developmental connection by way of emergence through combinatorial enhancement.

When motion brings together units of a group into adjacent relation, the contact relation comes into existence. Group and adjacent relation are organizational factors. Contact, while it is existentially-dependent on group and adjacent relation, is something more than organizational in nature. This is developmental connection by way of emergence through combinatorial enhancement that includes the role of substantiality in adjacent relation, resulting in the emergence of contact, a supraorganizational factor.

Contact is an extensional pathway of connection based on the supraorganizational nature of substantiality. It is also a required precursor factor for further developments of connectivity based on the direct interrelations of matter with matter.

In a collision situation, when a moving unit makes contact with a blocking unit, the moving unit pushes against the blocking unit. The moving unit loses some of its motion, and the blocking unit begins to move. A transfer occurs between the units by way of the push. The push causes the blocking unit to move. Cause is push, goes with the flow of dissipating energy, and is unidirectional. Cause is a form of developmental connection, is oriented, is a form of existential-pathway-development, and thus provides the conceptual model with another form of change connection—causal connection.

The collision situation is the development-of-origin of the open/through-flow situation. Here a flow of energy alters the organization of a situation and the organization of the situation alters the flow of energy. Matter in motion constitutes a flow of energy, and another unit in the path of the motion constitutes a primitive form of organization in that it has extensional relations with spatial place. In a collision, the position of the blocking unit is changed by way of the transfer, the through-flow, of energy from the moving unit to the blocking unit, and the motion of the other unit is slowed and usually deflected.

Open/through-flow situations are in large part characterized by the flow. To follow this pathway of connection—follow the flow. All the organizational factors will be found along the way. This applies from the existing fields and the elementary particles of physics, through all of geology, through biology from cells to social systems and ecosystems, to stars and their planetary systems, to galaxies, and to the universe as a whole. The flow of energy in relation to the organization of matter provides a dynamic map of the universe.

6. The Coherent Relation
There is a multitude of additional factors of connectivity that occur with the coherent relation. Matter bonds with matter, which forms coherent structure. There are a variety of ways in which matter bonds with matter from the forces involved with the joining of elementary particles, atoms, and molecules, to structural/mechanical connections, such as the dovetail joints at the corners of wooden boxes, botanical holdfasts such as tendrils, and moveable connections such as the knee joint and clockworks. All of these diverse types of connection are pathways of relation that provide understanding of the connectivity of reality. A particularly significant consequence of coherence is the tremendous development that occurs with through-flow. Coherence results in a virtually limitless variety of forms that redirect the flow of energy in diverse ways—with diverse reorganizations of the patterns of material organization. This consequence of coherence is critical to the development of the types of complexity that occur with geology and all the stages and levels of biological development from the molecular biology of the cell to ecosystems.


This paper introduces the foundations of a universal conceptual model that provides a way for the mind to achieve an understanding of the big picture. It provides a tool that can enable a specialist to explore beyond the boundaries of a particular discipline, and a way to participate effectively in transdisciplinary projects.

Brooks, Rodney. (2007a). “Beyond computation: A talk with Rodney Brooks,”

Brooks, Rodney. (2007b). "The deep question: A talk with Rodney Brooks,”

Mayr, Ernst. (1988). Toward a New Philosophy of Biology: Observations of an Evolutionist, ISBN 0-674-89666-1.

Stewart, Ian. (2002). “The Mathematics of 2050,” in John Brockman (ed.), The Next Fifty Years, ISBN 0-375-71342-5.

Vesterby, Vincent. (2007). “The Modern Generalist, Glossary,”

Wilson, Edward O. (1999). Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, ISBN 0-679-76867-x.



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