Articulating Comprehensivity: The Comprehensive Design of Our Lives

10 March 2022 in Resource Center.

To better understand how we might practice our comprehensivity, our aspiration for comprehensive thinking and doing, we might examine how to clarify or make effective such desires. This resource attempts to imagine how we might practice our comprehensivity. In the end we might apprehend how we can articulate the comprehensive design of our lives.

Articulating Comprehensivity

According to Wiktionary, to articulate is “to make clear or effective”. Comprehensivity is our inclination to understand it all and each other. So by articulating comprehensivity we mean making our aspiration to understand it all and each other more effective and clearer. How can we better clarify and make more effective our efforts to build an ever more extensive, ever more intensive, and ever more integrated understanding of our worlds and its peoples? How can we better articulate our comprehensivity?

In the resource Humanity’s Great Traditions of Inquiry and Action, several possibilities were outlined. One was to let our life’s missions and objectives guide our comprehensive inquiry and action. Another was to pursue our current projects, interests, and desires as the guide for our comprehensivity. Alternatively, we could give a significant stretch to our perspective by exploring a new tradition outside our comfort zone. Or, we could explore one of the universalist traditions including synergetics, cybernetics, systemics, complexity, semiotics, cultural studies, world-systems theory, integral theory, wholism, consilience, mathesis universalis, universology, transdisciplinarity, pansophism, the liberal arts, Renaissance humanism, science and technology, or any of the mythological, mystical, magical, religious, or spiritual traditions. Finally, we could choose a randomly selected new tradition to guide our next phase of comprehensive inquiry and action.

How else might we articulate our comprehensivity?

One helpful model comes from observing children. Children are presented with behaviors, ideas, values, and artifacts from their culture by close relations and their network of child-care providers. Children learn the local dialect of a language, or perhaps several dialects from one or more language families. They are introduced to many traditions such as music, biking, games, sports, schooling, etc. As youths, we practice or play with these traditions. Some of them strike our fancy so we play with them more and start learning in depth. Sometimes we learn by observing. In general, we play with our cultural heritage as mediated through our close relations and child-care provider networks.

Gradually, we learn quite a lot about a lot of the different traditions that are important to our society. Over the course of many years we integrate all these experiences into our understanding of the world and how it works.

In this sense articulating our comprehensivity is trivial: each of us has spontaneously coordinated our comprehensivity from birth by engaging the sampling of our society’s cultural traditions that we were exposed to. As we become adults many of us narrow our focus to just a few traditions, just a few sources of new information, just a few spaces where we interact with people practicing different traditions. The broadly attentive comprehensivity that we developed in childhood becomes the well-defined but narrowly scoped comprehensivity of the identities and roles we assume as adults.

Through this ad hoc, subjective comprehensivity we become adults. Nevertheless, our worlds are so complex that the set of traditions learned in this ad hoc fashion often results in feelings of fragmentation, disorderliness, and incomprehensibility.

Can our dawning understanding of comprehensive thinking and doing suggest other ways to articulate our comprehensivity?

In the resource on Ambiguity, Contradiction, and Paradox, we learned that comprehensive learning alternates between breadth as the diverging, expanding, and contextualizing phase and depth as the converging, focusing, and clarifying phase. This realization can help us better navigate our explorations by wondering which traditions might provide us with useful context and which might better clarify what is going on in our situation.

Observe that even when converging in depth, it is necessary to be aware of the breadth of the scope of the relations we have under consideration. And when diverging we need enough clarity, specifics, and depth to assess the context we are scoping. In this way we may come to realize that all learning involves a complex intertwining of breadth and depth as we think through the stories, experiences, conceptualities, and behaviors that form the bases for any tradition. By asking whether we have an adequate breadth to contextualize our exploration and whether we have adequate focus on and clarity of the systems we are considering, we can tune the breadth and depth in our learning and thereby better articulate our comprehensivity.

How can the awareness of breadth as divergence for context and depth as convergence for clarity help us better articulate our comprehensivity?

In the resource on Chronofiles, we examined Buckminster Fuller’s practice of documenting in a largely chronological archive the news, reports, ideas, and artifacts that might inform our future comprehensive practice. By curating written and material culture, we organize the knowledge that seems most significant to us for better understanding the world. These reminders of stories, experiences, and traditions can help us find patterns, interrelationships, and ideas that might otherwise be too faint in our memories for formulating insights about how our worlds work. As such a chronofile of personal research records and curated artifacts is a powerful way to articulate our comprehensivity.

How might you better curate your written and material archives to better articulate your comprehensivity?

How else might we articulate our comprehensivity?

Initiative-Taking, Profession, Mission, and Vision

In general, we might think of our lives as a series of initiative-takings. All inquiry and all action can be conceived of as initiative-taking. To articulate our comprehensivity as initiative-taking, we might view some initiatives in our past as expanding or diverging for breadth while others might be viewed as converging or clarifying for depth. Looking forward, we might assess whether our next initiative should focus more on expanding our breadth to gather more context or whether our attention should focus more on an in depth examination to clarify one or more of the systems we are presently concerned with.

The society-directed approach to the learning of childhood guided the comprehensive articulation of our youth. As we gather experience, we organize memories, and better yet, chronofiles with their curated records and artifacts. Our accumulated experience with our archives-enhanced memory can help us reflect on what our next initiative might be and how we might approach it.

We might inquire as to how we best learn. We might examine our patterns of mistake-making. We could work at strengthening our skills in those traditions where we are weak. We may wonder what records and artifacts would help us better select future initiatives for the development of our lives? We could ask whether the conditioned reflexes, preferred conceptualities, behaviors, and beliefs that we have developed might sometimes contradict our other ideas, values, and desires. We could undertake a broad assessment of the accumulated knowledge of our lives. We might find that the accumulated knowledge in our inventory of traditions beckons us toward a particular next initiative.

How can we guide our initiative-taking to better articulate our comprehensivity?

Alternatively, we might choose one of the traditions that interests us and dedicate ourselves to guiding our initiatives using its approach. In this way we might choose a profession, identity, or calling, where we focus on this chosen art. With our current culture’s preoccupation with identity and career, it is likely that many of you have adopted this “choose one” approach for guiding your lives.

Those familiar with the business and non-profit traditions may choose to guide their lives by committing to a mission or with the even more inspirational approach of dedicating oneself to a vision. It seems to me that all these approaches, even the declaration of a life mission or vision, amounts to the choosing of one tradition to be your life guide. Yes, your choice might fuse many other traditions in an enterprising interdisciplinary synthesis or it might even scope out a new space between the already existing traditions. That is, it might be very broad or enterprising.

But the choice of a profession, career, trade, art, identity, calling, mission, or vision is just one tradition among many. Its scope is inherently limiting. When we limit ourselves to any one tradition, even if it is a tradition that broadly incorporates many others, we may lose interest in and might not seek out the full scope of possibilities for being human, we might not look for alternative ways of interpreting and understanding our worlds and each other, we might miss many options, many possibilities.

Nevertheless, choosing a tradition to be our guide in life may be a strength. Some people in some situations at some times in history should adopt a focused but limited guide for their lives. Even if your situation doesn’t “demand” a limited profession, there is a magic in the focus on a single tradition around which to rally one’s full attention. There should be no shame in choosing to strive for something more limited than the broadest comprehensivity imaginable. Such a choice still articulates one’s comprehensivity. It will have some breadth and some depth. It will partake of many of the epistemic virtues we have identified for comprehensivity (see the resource Comprehensive Exploration, Comprehension, and Collaboration). Such a limited profession might be one’s unique contribution to civilization, it might be very special.

However, in its broadest scope, the aspiration of our comprehensivity is to understand the world and each other. There is no way to guarantee that any chosen profession is the One true way. No tradition can guarantee our destiny. In order to survey the full range of alternative traditions of inquiry and action, in order to understand the vast majority of Earth’s billions, a comprehensively oriented explorer will need to engage, at least periodically, a program for learning that goes beyond whatever limits we may impose upon ourselves by vision, mission, profession, calling, identity, career, trade, or art.

While any choice we make for guiding our lives is a way of articulating our comprehensivity, it seems to me that we fail to fully articulate our comprehensivity unless we commit to continually diverging, expanding, and stretching to learn new traditions to further encompass our ability to understand it all and each other. We may be so committed to our profession that we only make time for going beyond its limits once a week, or once a month, or once a year, or once every time we have a mid-life crisis, but in order to articulate the broadest comprehensivity imaginable we must pay some attention to diverging beyond the limits of the traditions that we have chosen to profess.

How should we articulate or clarify and make effective our comprehensivity, our aspiration to understand our worlds and each other?

The Comprehensive Design of Our Lives

We have explored many ways in which we might articulate our comprehensivity. We looked at the ad hoc approach that our society subjectively imposes upon us as children. We looked at navigating our comprehensivity through regulating our diverging for context and our converging for clarity. We looked at how our memory supplemented with our curated chronofile archives of documents and artifacts can inform our initiative-taking. We looked at how our calling, vision, mission, or profession articulates our comprehensivity even though it generally limits our scope. We acknowledged that many people will benefit from such a limited comprehensivity.

However, it could be that what is most missing in our civilization is a conscientious effort to apprehend the astounding complexity of the whole world. Think of it: a civilization of nearly 8 billion people with access to some 7000 languages in nearly two hundred nations where we barely understand our neighbors let alone the peoples of Nauru or The Gambia. Our interconnected global communication, transportation, and socio-political-economy combined with widespread blindness of the nature and scope of humanity’s large inventory of traditions leads many of us to feelings of fragmentation, disorderliness, and incomprehensibility.

Unless we strive to understand the world more broadly, how can we expect to secure our knowledge by testing it against the approaches of other traditions?

Unless we strive to understand the world more broadly, how can we expect to form a more effective understanding of the ways of the world and its peoples?

Our comprehensivity first comes to us through the ad hoc and subjective learning we receive as children. As our memories and our chronofile archives fill with knowledge about various traditions of inquiry and action, we gradually acquire the ability to intentionally and objectively shape our comprehensivity by choosing our next diverging or converging learning initiative from the inventory of possibilities. This then is the next step in articulating our comprehensivity: intentionally designing our learning journey by composing step-by-step an exploratory path through the traditions of inquiry and action that we think might prepare us to create a more desirable future. In this way, we design our comprehensivity.

[The language of design and futures was introduced in the resources How to Create That-Which-Is-Not-Yet and How To Explore The Future (and Why).]

By objectively designing our comprehensivity and reflecting on our practice as comprehensive explorers, comprehensive integrators, and comprehensive collaborators, we shape our future. Since the traditions we learn provide us with our capabilities for inquiry and action which, in turn, provide us with a large part of our effectiveness in life, we might come to the dawning realization that the design of our comprehensivity is essentially the design of our lives.

Readers of the profound book “The Design Way” by Harold G. Nelson and Erik Stolterman, will learn that the first step in any effort to create a new reality is to design the design. That is, to map out an approach to the possible contexts and directions that may help us realize our intention to create the not-yet-existing reality that we desire.

We can profess one of the traditions we have learned about and make it the guide and the designer for our life. Alternatively, we can intentionally choose to explore a complex of traditions, some in breadth, others in depth, to try to forge a comprehensivity that we think might best suit our character and aspirations. Either way, designing our comprehensivity is an important way in which we design the design of our lives.

How will you design your comprehensivity? How will those choices affect the way you come to understand the world and its peoples? How will that affect the design of your life?

Our comprehensivity and its articulation might represent the most important design choice of our lives.

This essay was written to provide ideas in support of the 16 March 2022 session of “Comprehensivist Wednesdays” at 52 Living Ideas (crossposted at The Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society).

Addendum: 1h 29m video from the 16 March 2022 event:

Read Other Resource Center Essays

Posted by CJ Fearnley

Explorer in Universe.

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