Conceptual systems and reality

Earlier I have referred to ideas about how what think about the world is not the world itself, how we will never know the world itself, and how the structures of our bodies, particularly nervous systems, are inseparabe from how the world appears to us.

Our nervous systems respond to experiences by forming connections across the various areas of the brain. These connections shape which thoughts appear in our minds by association with other thoughts or experiences.

The connections we form result from what activities we engage in. Thus, whatever we do leaves its mark on our nervous systems by creating new connections or strengthening existing ones. Repetition of engagement in situations of a fundamentally similar nature (be it a game of tennis or a business negotiation) is the key component in forming such long-lasting connections that produce our ability to perform in similar situations. In our mental experience, this appears as prior skills and experience that are applicable in novel situations.

This highlights why we need more thatn the literal meaning of knowledge, or its factuality, in order to know what to do in real life. How do we translate things we learn from books or in studies into real-life activity? In this process we have to find a way to use our formal knowledge in real-life situations in a pragmatic manner. In other words, we need to make things work and to solve problems, and only ideas that help us do that have lasting value.

Societal pragmatics and conceptual systems

In the modern society where people operate and co-operate in different professional roles, based on education and life experience that is not accessible to other people that we work with. In professional practice, differing fields of study are joined together by similar pragmatic aims.

For example, the medical staff in a surgery room includes people who would not be able to perform each other’s roles and do not have access to each other’s education, but are all engaged in the same operation with the same end goal. These differently educated people who are working on the same pragmatic purpose work on the basis of multiple, only partially overlapping representations of what is relevant in the situation shared by all. Multiple pictures of what we consider the same event exist in the minds of the participants.

It follows that the same physical real-world event, such as a patient suffering from a disease, is conceptualized by different conceptual systems by different people. From the viewpoint of societally available knowledge, we could say that there are multiple levels of analysis, or conceptual systems, that could be applied to the same event.

This is demonstrated in the biopsychosocial model of psychiatry, which improved on the previous biomedical model by including a wider consideration of the social dimensions of disease (psychiatric or otherwise). Though we may consider a physical disease consisting of causes, biological processes and manifest symptoms, it is nonetheless true that being sick includes consistent psychosocial features as well, including worry, stress, ramifications for professional life, and so on. Diseases cannot be adequately considered as solely biological processes, since they routinely carry predictable psychosocial components as well.

The disease process as well as its psychological, social and societal dimensions are conceptualized as hierarchically ordered levels of analysis. Which levels are relevant for you depend on what aspect of the patient’s situation you are working with. This may be the genetic or organ-system manifestations of disease, the stresses of being sick, or possibly a disability pension system that may need to cover people who lose their ability to work because of the disease. The fundamentally same disease appears in multiple spheres or levels of natural systems, which also reflect societal pragmatics. These are organized to cover each other hierarchically.

A similar kind of thinking on levels of analysis has been applied in other analyses as well. Peter Berger described religion as a sphere of society which encompasses all the others. While societal formations based on material pragmatics are interested with mutually exclusive goals and involves in- and out-groups, religious thought covers all of these at the most abstract and most immaterial level. Religion is not concerned wíth the pragmatics of, for example, manufacturing, legislation or education. By being the most abstract and most encompassing level of analysis, religious knowledge is fundamentally not in conflict with any of the other spheres of society.

A shared yet non-shared world

Across the different spheres of society, or layers of human activity, we are engaged with a physical world that we assume is fundamentally the same. However, the part of our experience of the world that is produced by external stimuli being filtered to ou consciousness by our biological structure differs according to the unique life histories. These include shared education and other widely available social knowledge each of us has accumulated. As the Dire Straits song ‘Brothers in Arms’ goes, “We have just one world, but we live in different ones”.

Spheres of society, a well as the members of such spheres, are unified by a shared education and usage of its associated concepts, just as individuals have a unique life history, that also makes how we see the world inaccessible to others. However, what gives form to anyone’s personal view of the world in the form of the language we use to describe it, is shaped by pragmatics – i.e. what activites we engage in, based on either individual choice or professional affiliation.

Nowhere in nature does there exist language without a person using it. How we use language is always tied to what we need or want, because those are our motivation to engage in and think about the world. As a result of those choices we get our priorities coded in our minds, our long-term memories and the structure of our nervous systems. The literal meanings of words and formal linguistics can never truly capture the historically unique experiences and purposes of the people who use the words.

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