Hierarchical Activity

Hierarchical Activity

Every time the world is reflected in itself, this is an act of reproduction, and conscious activity is an indispensable component of this general reflexivity. Since every individual thing can represent the whole world, the reproduction of individual things follows the same lines. Thus, the uniqueness of the world finds its counterpart in the simple reproduction, with something reproduced as it is, just keeping on; this aspect (or level) of existence is called being. On the next level, being becomes represented by the variety of the possible states of the same thing, so that reflection takes the form of motion, transition from one state to another. A higher level of reproduction admits changes in both the thing's being and its ways of motion, provided the thing remains qualitatively the same; such extended reproduction of a thing's existence is known as development.

A similar hierarchy can also be observed in life and conscious activity. Considering the recurrent reproduction of nature and subjectivity

... → OSOSOSO → ...

we distinguish the objective (OSO) and subjective (SOS) aspects of the same infinite chain, that is, the parallel reproduction of the object and the subject through each other. In simple reproduction, this is nothing but the conservation of material culture and spirituality, which is different from being on the level of existence by its active character: any balance must be broken and restored many times to ensure cultural stability. In reflection, this corresponds to the interplay of consciousness and self-consciousness, individual psychology and sociality.

In a wider context, the reproductive aspect of activity refers to the incessant expansion of the subject-object relations: more objects are involved in activities of more people, and what was born as rare and difficult will gradually become quite common and simple. Thus, any modern musician has technical skills that, just a couple of centuries ago, only belonged to the most talented few; similarly, the bright mathematical discoveries of Leibnitz and Newton have become a very basic acquirement for a modern student. Applied to an individual (or a group as a collective subject), this active expansion becomes education and socialization; finally, inside the subject (both individual and collective), a complex inner motion is related to communication and self-communication in the course of several coordinated or competing activities.

On the level of extended reproduction, both the object and the subject develop their inner hierarchy in accordance with the development of the hierarchy of activities, virtually reproducing the hierarchy of the world. The relations between different activities thus become reflected in the inner organization of each activity.

The inner development of the subject is different from mere education, since it requires self-education, reflection, personal attempts and discoveries. Primarily, this is a kind of activity, with the subject being both its object and its product. Spirituality cannot be taught and learnt; one has to build it by conscious effort and will. Sometimes, this is a painful process, since it necessarily involves a critical assessment of the world and a deliberate call for change.

Actions and operations

A full-fledged activity is a potentially infinite chain of transforms

... → OSO'S'O" → ...

All the arrows (links) in this scheme are qualitatively different, but, for a while, let us put aside any explicit distinction. Since the product of activity has been lifted in this cycle, the sequence may seem arbitrary, devoid any particular direction. However, the product is implicitly present all the time; subjectively, it become the motive of activity. People are hardly ever aware of their real motives, while they are engaged in an activity that is yet underway. It is only post factum, reflecting upon the results and consequences, that one can guess what stood behind all that. One's motivation is closely tied to one's social position, that is, to one's place in the whole of cultural development. This cultural influence could be said to lie above any individual activity, and above the subjective experience, thus forming the sphere of the superconscious.

However, on the conscious level, an activity is carried out step by step and is represented at any time by finite units like OSO' or SOS'. In other words, one's activity proceeds as a sequence of actions and communicative acts. In general, an activity may unfold itself in quite different sequences, which are all subjectively equivalent, as they are attributed to the same motive; that is, they have the same sense. An action starts in some objective situation (O) and leads to a definite result (O'); subjectively, it is done for some reasons and directed to a specific goal. Due to the universality of subjective reflection, the activity thus actualized will influence the objective situation, becoming one of its levels.

Actions OSO' can be further contracted (folded) into operations OO' apparently requiring no conscious control at all. Operations could be considered as highly automated acts ready to be taken from the subject and passed to some inanimate machine. For the subject, operations are performed on a level below conscious experience, they are subconscious. This how consciousness is complemented by the two kinds of the unconscious, which are both necessary for the development of subjectivity. Any action is implemented as a sequence of operations, and this is what this particular action means for the subject, within the current activity. An operation included in some conscious action is called meaningful; it is said to be performed in some active context. This is how humans differ from machines; for the latter, there is no attribution of operations to any conscious action, and all operations are equally meaningless. Even the most complicated computer systems still need programming.

Obviously, the same action allows many alternative implementations, hence changing its meaning from one activity to another. The embedding activity will constraint the possible implementations of the actions. Conversely, the same operation can be included in many different actions, but the compatibility of an operation with all kinds of actions is regulated by the current activity. Like an activity is a hierarchy of actions, an action is intrinsically a hierarchy of operations which can be unfolded in many ways. But any hierarchy admits hierarchical conversion, transition from one hierarchical structure to another. An operation is understood as the most elementary (folded) kind of a conscious act; attempts to unfold an operation result in an overall reorganization of the hierarchy, with the formation of a new operation level and the former actions unfolding themselves in large-scale activities. This dynamic reorganization of the hierarchy of activity is only possible within the universal reproduction cycle, and hence it is culturally determined. On the other hand, the cyclic reproduction of the culture gives a natural measure of time. Thus, an operation is subjectively performed in no time, and corresponds to the abstraction of a point, representing the discrete side of human behavior; on the other hand, an activity represents behavioral continuity, being essentially a process with a definite direction but no marked beginning or end. An action is the unity of continuity and discreteness: it is limited in time (one can complete an action and get a result), but not dimensionless and syncretic like operations; the idea of a segment of a real axs comes to mind. Operations can be thought of as single moments of the pure (subjectively infinite) duration represented by an activity, while an action occupies an intermediate position between these extremes, spreading in time from the beginning to the end. Obviously, any time units are associated with certain kinds of actions, and we evaluate the duration of an activity comparing it to another.

Inner and outer activity

In the course of activity, its object, subject and product become hierarchical. In simple reproduction, they unfold their hierarchies in appropriate hierarchical structures, so that, in any action, the subject transforms the hierarchy of the object into the hierarchy of the product, thus functioning as a hierarchical system. In extended reproduction, the world develops new forms and aspects of its existence. This leads, in particular, to the growth of the inner hierarchy of the subject.

as a mediator between the object and the product,


the subject has to play two complementary roles, being both the consumer of the object O and the producer of the product P. Denoting these two aspects of the subject with S and R respectively, we obtain a more detailed scheme of activity:

O → (SR) → P.

This scheme can be interpreted in the sense that both the object and the product are represented in the subject with some inner formations, one somehow linked to another to ensure the integrity of the subject. But, as a universal mediator, the subject will also mediate the links between its inner hierarchies; this leads to the unfolded scheme of inner activity:

O → (SCR) → P.

In other words, every act of outer mediation is necessarily complemented by some inner mediation, reproducing any outer behavior in the inner organization of the subject.

Formally repeating this derivation, one can obtain more elaborate mediation schemes:

O → (S0 → (S1C1R1) → R0) → P,
O → (S0 → (S1 → (S2C2R2) → R1) → R0) → P,
. . .

Of course expansions of that kind are only applicable to a limited number of special cases, since they do not account for an essentially nonlinear character of activity; picturing the hierarchy of behavioral acts as a simple succession is only acceptable as the simplest approximation. But even in this linear picture, there are different ways of unfolding the hierarchy of inner activity, and the resulting schemes will depend on the chosen model (that is, on the range of phenomena under consideration). For instance, regrouping the terms in the above schemes, we could use them to illustrate the growth of one’s knowledge and skills:

O → ((S0S1S2) → C2 → (R2R1R0)) → P.

This is an obvious oversimplification, because, in real activity, the inner mediation C will also become hierarchical, to match the hierarchical structures in S and R. Still, such simplified schemes could be quite practical when the psychological issues are of minor importance.

Yet another approach to the origin of inner activity is to consider the process of the immersion of certain components of outer activity in the subject (interiorization). Thus, the scheme of reflexively mediated outer activity,


can be formally rewritten as

O → (SOSOS) → P.

Lifting the objects in the inner mediation, we obtain

O → (SSS) → P.

In this form, the scheme still represents some (folded) outer activity, only hiding their products from the sight. When this reflexive form of the original activity is common enough, it becomes represented in the subject S by some inner motion, a sequence of inner structures rather than public roles. Thus we obtain once again

O → (SCR) → P.

Of course, the growth of inner hierarchy of the subject is impossible without the corresponding development of the object and the product. In particular, this means that the acts of consumption OS and production S → P become indirect, mediated by the products of the subject's activityactivity (as the representatives of the corresponding activities):


where T and T' stand for the instruments and tools. Distinguishing the objective and subjective sides in these mediating products, we obtain

O → (ot) → S → (t'p) → P,

or, after hierarchical conversion,

(Oo) → (tSt') → (pP).

That is, along with the growth of hierarchy in the object and the product, a part of the outer world becomes included in the subject extending its material implementation and thus developing an inorganic body, in addition to the initial physiological base. In its ultimate development the subject will embrace the entire world, and culture will be identical to nature.

In the chain of actions performed by the same subject


with intermediate products P12 and P23 , one can explicitly indicate the inner activities involved:

O → (S1C1R1) → P12 → (S2C2R2) → P23 → (S3C3R3) → P

Depending on the cultural situation, this reproduction cycle will fold in many ways. Thus, if products P12,23 are of the same kind as the object O (being its aspects or features), the inner structures S1,2,3, C1,2,3 and R1,2,3 will become the levels of hierarchy in S, C and R, respectively:

A similar hierarchical structure must also develop in the object O and product P, and the scheme will then describe simultaneous transformation of reality on different levels. This ability is an important consequence of the universal reflexive character of conscious activity.

Alternatively, the object O and product P can remain the same representing a definite cultural area. In this case the scheme will describe a reflexive activity resulting in the growth of an inner hierarchy:

In this case, S2 will be qualitatively different from S1, reflecting the very process O → (S1C1R1) → P12, rather than its result, and hence accentuating the subjective side of activity.

The two above interpretations constitute the complementary aspects of the same cultural process resulting in the accumulation of ever more complex forms of activity and their reflection in the very organization of the culture.

Cultural hierarchies

The hierarchical organization of activity implies a hierarchy of products, as well as an inner hierarchy in any product. Culture is the universal product, embracing all the aspects of the world that have been influenced by conscious activity. That is, in the most general sense, culture is the only product of the most general subject known as the spirit. According to the principle of integrity, culture will manifest itself in many special forms, and the hierarchy of these forms restores cultural unity. The uniqueness of culture in general is thus broken up into many separate cultures that have to reflect and penetrate each other in conscious activity, along with the assimilation of the material world, nature.

Since culture is virtually coinciding with the whole world, it is as diverse and inexhaustible. Considering its different aspects, one will find appropriate categories and schemes. Still, like all things in the world, each specific culture must combine its material and ideal aspects synthesized in cultural content. as for material part, culture can be understood as the variety of all the material things produced by the society as a collective subject. This material culture is the primary aspect of culture in general, which allows us to judge about the activities of people by their traces in the world.

The ideal aspect of culture comprises all the relations between people and things that are indirectly built in the material culture, or imprinted in the products of reflexive activity. This hierarchy of the modes of activity constitutes the current mode of reflection.

The cultural content is the unity of material culture and the mode of reflection which characterizes the type of culture, its basic features, the principal directions of its organization and development. This is what we call cultural formation. Every society historically develops through a sequence of cultural formations. Minor changes in the material culture and the mode of reflection do not lead to a different quality of life; however, gradually accumulating, such changes will provoke a revolutionary transition to a different cultural organization.

Each cultural formation is characterized, first, by the type of material production (socio-economic formation) and, second, the type of people's involvement in cultural processes (the type of ideation, historical formation). This gives yet another dimension in the hierarchy of culture. Quite often, the transition to another cultural formation does not equally affect all its aspects; within a single socio-economic formation, one can observe a sequence of historical formations, as well as economic reorganization does not necessarily mean a drastic change in people's habits and ideas; this discrepancy can sometimes grow to a manifest contradiction, up to the brink of counter-revolution.

As the universal product, culture is the unity of nature (universal object) and spirit (universal subject), and hence it will also reveal its objective and subjective qualities, developing the corresponding hierarchical structures. Thus we come to the distinction of cultural experience (culture as an object) and spirituality (culture as a subject). The unity of the both characterizes the productive core of the culture, the history and future of the conscious reorganization of the world, which is called praxis. In philosophy, the word “practical” has little to do with pragmatism, it refers to praxis as the only way to achieve or establish anything.

The category of cultural experience is related to the current mode of life and the usual ways of making things and using things. This is how people live and what they do. On the contrary, praxs refers to historical development, reorganization of people's life and the whole cultural experience. Spirituality preserves the active character of universal mediation, mediating also the transition from experience to praxis. In diathetical logic, this implies that spirituality will exhibit two opposite aspects: the experiential side is called tradition, while the practical orientation could be called the level of culture, or culture in the narrow sense, as an expression of a high degree of spirituality. Tradition is very important for culture, but not enough. A well cultivated person will be able to go beyond any tradition if this is required for the practical assimilation of the world. This gift is commonly known as creativity. Culture is thus understood as the unity of tradition and creativity. as usual, the categories in this triad can be considered as separate entities, as the mutually reflected aspects of something, or as the levels of some inner hierarchy.

[Philosophy] [Unism]