“social” and “individual”


There is a mess with concepts of “social” and “individual”. Some clarification is long overdue.


Social Beings

    People are social beings – both attributes social and individual manifest themselves in every thought, in every feeling, in every declaration, in every action of a person. Even more, every group of people has similar characteristics: in each group’s agreement, in each declaration, in each action, attributes reflecting the society as a whole manifest themselves together with attributes reflecting specificity and integrity of this group.

    The society is a System of individuals and groups, which operates as a whole.

Theories developed in one place of it, move through the System, their variants are created, experimentation is being done with them, and checks against existing body of theories are performed. This is a perpetual process. 

The entire society is involved in processing information about events, creation theories about them, producing some generic theories, etc.   These theories are used by members of the society to make decisions. The decision-making process often stimulates creation of new theories and these new theories eventually go through the same process of refinement.

    The System of Theories developed by the entire society, is a phenomenally useful tool, because theories allow efficient decision-making. Theories and methods of operating with them present a major part of what we call the Mind.

    An individual Mind and the Mind of the society are so intertwined, that it makes no sense to analyze them separately.


Society’s Adaptation and People on Society’s Edge

    The society adapts to deal with ever changing circumstances and desires of people. It is interesting to find the part of the society, which watches for external and internal changes, and to find, which mechanisms the society uses to adapt to changes. It is reasonable to expect that there are special people who:

·        are especially sensitive to changes, and react to them quickly,

·        experiment in various directions to find potentially useful methods of adaptation to possible changes.

    It is difficult to do either one of these things. People are handicapped by the very treasure of the society - by the System of Theories, which the society develops to support decision-making. This System of Theories makes people somewhat “blind” – they do not see changes coming. Following is an explanation of this phenomenon.

    With every use of a theory comes experience of deciding, which factors are important and which should be ignored. This is not something, which could be taught, this comes with experience. Every form of knowledge, which could be passed along, is eventually included into the System of Theories. What is left - the ability to select important factors and ignore all others, is something else.

    When situation changes drastically, peoples’ habitual selection of important factors and ignoring irrelevant ones does not lead any more to an acceptable decision. In other words, experience of factor selection becomes a blindfold.

Special kind of people are needed to detect the moment, when some theories cannot be used anymore, and create new theories instead. These people have to be ready to question everything and ready to come up with a theory to describe anything, they should have own opinions, where the majority of people think that the issue is settled.

Fortunately, we have this kind of people; they are called “individualists”. They think that well settled theories and opinions do not limit their inquisitiveness and they do not hide this. They are the best candidates for that special social role of “society’s developers of new theories”. In a normally functioning society, one could see special niches allocated for this kind of people: scientists, artists, mathematicians, philosophers, etc. They function on the very “edge” of the society.

What they do routinely is extremely important for the society, hence they are decidedly social beings, but their thinking and behavior is unusual and they are often perceived as not social. This is contradiction, with which they have to live, because the society needs them exactly as they are.


Peculiar Blindness

    There is another form of “blindness”, from which we all suffer.

    It comes from the way we perceive the world. To perceive the world, we use our sensory organs and specific system of processing sensory information.

This system selects “relevant” information and discards “irrelevant” information. This system of “selection and discarding” uses something, we call here “basic images”. Most likely, that some of these “basic images” are embedded in our bodies, but we definitely learn and develop many of them.

These “basic images” allow conversion of the stream of information into a finite system of interconnected “images”.

Some information in the stream of sensory information cannot be converted with the system of “basic images”, because there are no appropriate “basic images” or there are no sufficiently developed mechanisms of conversion. This information is discarded, it is “filtered out”.

Note, that such mechanism is a necessity: it is impossible to imaging operation of essentially finite system, as our bodies are, without such mechanism of ignoring some of incoming information.

If some information is discarded, then what we perceive could be misinterpreted. For example, we could perceive an elephant as a bunch of shadows.

Fortunately, our ability to build more and more sophisticated system of “basic images” grows over time, and we detect more.

Some, full of hope, declare that the society as a whole eventually decreases related to this phenomenon “blindness” to nothing. However, there is no evidence for that.


Mitigating Blindness

    Just knowing about existence of mentioned above “blindness”, should be useful to keep thinking people alert, cautious, and diligent. In addition, using available time to explore is a useful way to mitigate “blindness”.

For example, one should explore during every instance of decision-making. Decision-making should be based on exploration in different areas of analysis:

·        situation at hand

·        goals of decision-making

·        theories applicable to the given situation and goals

·        ways to use these theories in a given context.

    This exploration goes in iterations, where that which was learnt on previous iteration is used in next.

    The process relies on work of other people. None has resources or time to do everything from scratch, one has to be able to use, what others provide – descriptions of similar situations, theories and various ways to apply them, description of limitations and preferences applicable to the given situation. One could say that entire society is involved in every decision-making.


One’s Social and Individual Sides

    Understanding of one’s social side is not easy. Social side is not seen, when one is obedient, it is not seen, when one sides with the accepted opinion of a collective, it is not seen, when one outright rejects opinion of a collective. It is seen, when one cooperates with others on any scale small or large.

    Hence, the way to discover and study social side of oneself is to cooperate with others. Perpetual cooperation is rather norm than exception. However it is hidden from view, and when it is visible, it is often interpreted as something else. What people see on the surface of relationships are various “artificial constructs”, which emerged, from misunderstanding of own nature.

    About one’s individual side nothing could be said. Psychologists and psychiatrists deal with problems of fitting into the society, hence they work with a social side.

Large variability of members of the society is, to some degree, just a manifestation of variability of the social side of people. The society needs this variability to provide “covering” of large number of variants of circumstances, when resources available to particular members of the society are limited.

This variability is not caused by variability of individual side, it is social.

It should be variability caused by individual side, but what is individual side is not known to anyone. It feels that individual side should exist and it should be influential and it should cause variability, but no one knows.

There is a silver lining to this universal ignorance. Every time one deals with another person, one has to understand that the thing, which one wants to change in another person, is not “individual” peculiarity, which is difficult to relate to, but that is “social” peculiarity. One should be able to relate to this “social” peculiarity, because one is a social being.

This observation provides a way to making peace with other people. In repulsive peculiarity of another person or a group, find something similar in oneself and use that common ground to change both – oneself and another, and to change the society on the way, at least in small measure.


Artificial Constructs

    One should be aware of important Artificial Constructs which we all use. To reach another, one often need to work around them.


Communication Theater

To communicate with other people, we create an appropriate to the case “persona” of oneself. These “personas” are just tools of communication. Since others do the same, we all participate in a kind of a “communication theater”. We appreciate this “theater” – there are many things we do not want to know about other people and even more things we do not want others to know about ourselves.

This “theater” allows smooth operation of civilized society. In the same time, it is an impediment to understanding our social nature. As a result, we know very little about each other and about the society as a whole.


Perpetual “Battle”

It seems that a default mode of interactions between people is caution and confrontation. Members of the society are engaged in perpetual “battle”. Boundaries between areas of exclusive control are set, where the “battle lines” stabilize.

We spend enormous amount of time and effort trying to change others and establish our control. We spend very little time trying to understand, who we are and what we want. It should be other way around, because we end up unhappy with what we achieve.


Fun of Living

This constructs, while needed in many cases, are standing on the way of Fun of Living. It would be advisable to become proficient in them, but one has to seek the opportunity to set them aside.

Alexander Liss 8/4/2019