Hierarchies: Intro
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Introductory Remarks

We live in the world and encounter many different things; we observe different events, while participating in various public and private activities. All that is somehow organized and we feel it, even without too much care for explicit regularity. There are different ways to describe this universal ordering of things and happenings. Generally, we compare the explicit diversity with some intuitive commonality, inventing the appropriate terms for the both, within each special activity. Eventually, we come to the universal paradigms applicable to any activities at all. Thus, the structural approach summarized the achievements of formal science by the beginning of the XX century. However, its insufficiency has become evident within a few decades, and the systemic view was to complement structural research, reflecting the development of automated control devices. Here, I suggest complementing the structural and systemic approaches with yet another universal paradigm, which I conventionally call hierarchy.

The basic idea follows from the common word usage. In many practical cases, things are not only interconnected or mutually transformed, but also distinguished by a certain level, as compared to other things. Structures and systems of different level can coexist within the same experience, and the terms "hierarchical structure" and "hierarchical system" are widely used to refer to such "vertical" ordering, along with many other terms (like "tiers", "stratification", "subordination" etc.). One comes to similar ideas considering development, which is usually pictured as directed from lower-level forms to some higher level formations. Still, there is an obvious mutual dependence of the different levels, and they can only be the levels of something, together constituting a whole. Neither structural nor systemic approach can explain this kind of integrity. So, let us denote it somehow (for instance, as "hierarchy") and proceed with studying its universal laws and possible implications.

Of course, in this context, hierarchy is far from the original Christian etymology of the "sacred order", going back to the mythological cosmology of the first primitive societies. Since the relations between the levels of thus pictured cosmos were unknown, they seemed to be imposed by some supreme force, deity, and such an order was quite logically called sacred, hence hierarchy. This idea would not admit any freedom in interpreting the God's prescriptions, and the term "hierarchy" has become static, denoting mainly hierarchical structures, rigid sets of pre-defined levels, with fixed relations between them. This made the levels absolutely separated from each other, with no change possible, and the very existence of such levels remained a mystery. No wonder, such a picture has always been used by the ideologists of the ruling class to justify economic and social inequality.

To avoid undesirable associations, one could take a different name, or even introduce some neologism. Examples of such linguistic exercises can be found in the literature (e.g. "heterarchies" of E. Eliseyev). More often, however, the specificity of the idea was attributed to some other categories (like "structure", "system", "integrity", "totality" etc.). To stress the objective development of any stratification, I would rather use the term "idiarchy", from Greek idios (own) and arhe (order, dominance), which could be translated as "the natural order of things". However, too much artificial language may also be misleading, and I retain the old word "hierarchy" just stripping it of any mystical connotations. No term is perfect, and any understanding requires a will to understand.

Here, I only outline a few aspects of the hierarchical approach without delving in details. A lengthier discussion can be found elsewhere, but one can hardly be comprehensive enough treating a subject that, by its very nature, cannot belong to any limited domain. Hierarchies are all around us, but we have yet to grasp their universality. This is only achieved in practical activity, recreating the world, transforming it from nature to culture. Meanwhile, a piece of philosophy might come useful to provide a preliminary working framework.

I do not need to invent everything from scratch. Hierarchical approach naturally continues the historical line of understanding complexity, and numerous hints can be found in the literature, starting from the cuneiform inscriptions of Ancient Mesopotamia up to the most recent multimedia books. It may be strange and a little embarrassing to observe how people cannot grasp the hierarchical ideas, inventing, instead, cumbrous and clumsy conceptualizations to explain something quite obvious from the hierarchical viewpoint. We are ready for the whole, but the minds are not yet flexible enough to put together the scattered pieces. Hopefully, these pages will contribute to the universality of the human thought.