The diagram offers a starting point for organising thoughts about the world of experience, the individuals place in it and perception of it and consequently what activities and actions might ensue. I have been impressed by David Abram’s argument that we should not let the scientific objective view dominate our viewpoint, but should start from a subjective, engaged standpoint. So my diagram starts with the idea of circumstance as the initial global realisation of what we perceive and engage with, or, more simply, where we find ourselves. it is always “provisional” -not “absolute”.
At the centre of the diagram is the self, for no one can really escape from their own individual embodiment. I’ve called the medium in which we exist “circumstance” for the very reason that this is where we find ourselves, always in a provisional cosmos: the “context” we perceive. Whatever at any minute the sentient thing that perceives is, it engages with circumstance through various agencies, media and modes of understanding and I shall divide the field of this multiplicity of interactions into three fundamental realms. They are Society, Nature and Craft.
For each individual, the “self” is the heart and hub of consciousness, including the internal imagination and reasoning, as well as observation, communication and corporal interaction with circumstance, as these evolve through experience and communication. As we can only really understand others through observation, communication (language and gesture) and emotions, it is a presumption that others are very much like ourselves, but also, in many ways probably quite different. Just as our understanding of circumstance is provisional, so also is the state of our personality, though the influence of habit creates a kind of stability and continuity.
While the individuals engagement with known circumstance is interpreted here as occurring within the three distinct but overlapping realms, Society, Craft and Nature, it is acknowledged that outside these realms lies the unknown, which for any individual may well be vast. It should also be appreciated that society and craft both constitute realms of human activity that tend to mediate our engagement within the other realm, nature–as we understand and engage with it.
Society is the collective network and hierarchy of our species. It includes what we normally think of as human relationships, communication and interdependence, but also includes how these have developed into institutions of governance, collaboration, exchange and competition.
Craft (some might call it technology, but it is here considered to be more than that) includes all artefacts created by our species to adapt the manipulable aspects of circumstance to meet our needs and desires. It is a short word for a broad-spectrum of activity that started with fire and axes and developed through agriculture into the currently diverse character of our arts, science and technology.
Nature, in its broadest sense is all that we perceive that doesn’t fall within the other two realms, but we usually speak of the natural world as comprising of those aspects of our environment that have an existence independent of the human will. Included here are nonhuman sentient creatures and the animate and inanimate cosmos we perceive.
As the diagram suggests these realms overlap and interact, not only with the self, but also with each other.
Accepting that the human self is the centre of this perception is acknowledgement of the real way that we engage with circumstance and our experiences. It is the intellectual discipline of science that places us on the outside of circumstance, apparently as a disinterested observer. This technique of thought, though valuable, does not define the totality of our engagement with circumstance. Mostly, our engagement is direct, sensual, physical, emotional; as well as rational and informed by received interpretations. Our reasoning, that we so much value as objective, is actually embedded in the historic and prehistoric circumstance that called it forth.
Now to consider some aspects of the interactions between the three realms:
The human individual can experience the overlap between nature and society, largely unaffected by craft. Generically this is the prehistoric condition of humanity as almost pre-hunter-gatherer, living in direct contact with (and at the mercy of) unadapted nature.
Though not entirely uninfluenced by craft, indigenous societies often demonstrate qualities of symbiosis and stewardship that have not been overwhelmingly determined by craft and that form the basis of an almost unadulterated direct engagement of the self through society with nature. While it might be said that craft emerges almost at the inception of what it is to be human–a creature that adapts nature to achieve it its goals–the enormous expansion and sophistication of craft that has happened during recorded history has made it very much more potent.
The realm of interaction between society and craft manifests the adoption of craft to serve human purposes and the consequent emergence of both culture and resources. Craft developed language and expanded knowledge, setting them to work on projects that served human needs and desires as society defined them for the individual and/or collective ‘good’. Craft developed under the stimulus of both governance and exchange to produce the fabric of culture and resources that we know and depend on today.
In different way, the human self experiences the interaction of craft and nature. It can be seen that, as craft developed from its primitive origins with artefacts that became more and more removed from the natural resources they were made from, the human self became increasingly removed from a direct engagement with nature. Also, in a physical sense, as craft became more refined and grew in scale, it became increasingly potent in its effects on nature through extraction, side effects and impacts. Craft increasingly overpowers more benign effects resulting from artefacts that were made primarily to serve human purpose, but which retained a complimentary interaction with the natural order. The effect can be so potent as to fundamentally determine how nature unfolds.
In a sense, these observations and this taxonomy only set the scene for an investigation and critique of the activities of self and society that may need development or correction. But a valid viewpoint is a valid starting point allowing a grasp of complex patterns of experience and behaviour.