visualizing a hierarchy of needs (issue 4)

This is The Ordinary, my attempt to notice the unexpected joy, value, and rigor of ordinary things. New subscribers, welcome!

What you can expect from me (almost) every Friday:

  1. A very ordinary quote

  2. A roundup of very ordinary reads

  3. A brief and very ordinary note

  4. A very ordinary visual

- Ammar


An Ordinary Quote:

Can you be well positioned in the wrong place? Or badly positioned in the right place?

Of course you can. Why?

Well, if you look at the dictionary definition you’ll see that “position” is related to posture whilst the roots of the word “situation” are to do with “site” or “place”.

So you could therefore have perfect posture (position) but be in the wrong place, or you could be in exactly the right place but have the wrong posture.

It has to do with what has just happened and with what you intend to do in order to continue […]

Pep Guardiola: The Evolution, Marti Perarnau

Some Ordinary Reads:

“The Marvel Symphonic Universe” (video): The guys from Every Frame a Painting claim that Marvel movies have lazy soundtracks. They re-edit various scenes to show how a more thoughtful approach to sound would have deepened our connection to the characters and storylines.

“Abandoning a Cat” (essay): Haruki Murakami remembers his father in roundabout fashion, starting and ending with the story of a cat. Along the way, he discusses war, honor, religion, guilt, courage, and cats.

“Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics” (book): Damn, this one is not for the faint of heart. Ludwig Wittgenstein sought to understand what math is — is it real? is it about the world? or is it non-referential, a stencil we place over reality? Very engaging, but also very challenging. It deepened my skepticism of Science and Data. I’ll be revisiting it soon.

An Ordinary Note:

hierarchy. From the Ancient Greek hierarkhia, or “rule of high priest.” Into Middle English by way of Old French and Latin.

Webster’s 1828 dictionary (considered the most fascinating English dictionary ever written) defines hierarchy as:

Constitution and government of the christian church, or ecclesiastical polity, comprehending different orders of clergy; as the hierarchy of England.

Of course, the word has come to mean something very different since then.

This casting of “hierarchy” implies that there is a central organizing authority. For convenience’s sake, we can call this type of hierarchy a “theist” one. There’s a Pointy-Haired Boss who is accountable for organizing information top-down and to whom information reports. Everything has its place in relation to the Absolute, to Truth.

Nothing wrong with this approach. It’s a useful and very direct form of communication and control.

But if there is a “theist” hierarchy, what does a “nontheist” hierarchy look like?

Instead of the big boss organizing everything, what if information self-organized? There’s no top-down arrangement. Everything is self-integrated. Phenomena position themselves based on their own tendencies and on the attraction-repulsion relation to the phenomena around them. There is no absolute truth, there is only truth relative to how things are positioned.

Two Hierarchies

And so begins … something that may not make any sense. I hope it does. Here we go.

Two Hierarchies, in two representations: theist and nontheist.

Do these diagrams communicate identical content and values? Why does the shape change meaning?

The theist triangle evokes a peak rising from a foundation, a triumph emerging from the climb, a finality beyond which nothing more exists.

The nontheist circle evokes an unending cycle, a heart cushioned by layers of growth around it, an origin from which everything swirls into motion.

Both shapes express a hierarchy. A hierarchy is a suggested sequence of attention. But the triangle and the circle imply different qualities.

The triangle pulls me towards arrival, achievement, goal orientation, order. The circle pulls me towards continuity, trance, roundaboutness, hidden meaning, chaos.

Despite their differences, both visual forms of hierarchy can work very well depending on who is using it (and why).

But symbols can be a very personal affair. I wanted a personal symbol to capture what is most important to me. So I drew the triangle and I drew the circle.

The two symbols communicate different atmospheres and textures. The placement and ordering of concepts changed depending on which shape I was working with. I hope you can sense that, too, when viewing this rather dull visual.

One of them feels wrong. The triangle is missing something.

Hierarchy and Atmosphere

Nothing is devoid of atmosphere, of interrelationships, of intuition, a thread of relativity, not even the coldest most rational logic or most abstract concept. And the triangle (in this case) exudes a form of absolutist rationality that I don’t think suits the problem at hand.

To illustrate: what are these two images of “forest” communicating? Which one represents Truth more faithfully?

Image result for scientific forest

What is the essence of what I’m trying to remember about my values? Is it accomplishment? Or is it continuity? Am I trying to achieve something discrete? Or am I trying to embody something eternal?

The circle in this instance feels right.

An Ordinary Visual:

From Nicky Case’s awesome “We Become What We Behold”: