Some Musing About Different Concept Styles

This is a bit speculative, and maybe not as precise as I’d like it to be, but I think there’s really something here to be aware of.  For example, what I’m going to say here might help people avoid needless conflict.

There seem to be these two major styles of thinking and conceptualizing and such.  Different ways of looking at things?

  • One, is to see things sort of all together, at once, a big continuous whole.  “Holistic“.  Certainly, this is how reality is, and I think people who use this method believe this to be a strength.  “Reality is complicated!”  they will shout (I think I’ve seen PZ Myers and/or others say such things over at Pharyngula).  See also this advocacy for “lawless science”.
  • The other is to identify precise variables.  “Analytic“.  This is a method that is nicer for analysis.  It in no way fails to account for the complicatedness of reality.

I think a lot of difficulty arises when there is a dispute between parties that use a different one of these styles. First, I think, because the two sides have difficulty understanding the other.  Second, I think, because they believe only their own thinking is correct, so surely the other must be wrong.

Yet I suspect that both can be used to describe reality with equal accuracy.  And it might be advantageous to use both, rather than just one.  Obviously I’m sold on the utility of the more analytic approach.  But I’m also writing a blog post which (on retrospect?) looks strikingly like advocacy for the holistic way of thinking.  If I had to guess right now, I’d say each is more efficient at different tasks, even though theoretically both will end up with equally accurate descriptions of reality.

Other possibly related things to check out:

What are things?

There’s different ways to say what something “is”. For example a hammer. You can talk about:

For hammers, like for many things, an intensional definition can be developed. In the case of hammers I think it would mostly have to do with its function, what we use it to do, and how it works.

See also:

Though usually, a ton of these ways of looking at the thing come together into a concept or “construct”.  Even degree or probability might go into the concept.  An ice cream sandwich might be “a sandwich” in some sense, but when someone says they are bringing you “a sandwich” you’d be rather confused if it turned out to be an ice cream sandwich.  And yet clearly the two have enough similarity in form and purpose that it makes sense to use the name “ice cream sandwich” rather than “ice cream mystery object”, as if it were a wholly unfamiliar shape.

See also: