Hierarchy of mediation

Hierarchy of Mediation

When an object M mediates the link between some other objects: X → M → X', it turns its different sides to the objects X and X'. For X, it manifests itself as a specific object MX , that accepts the influence of X and is transformed under its influence; for X', the same object M appears to be a quite different object MX' , acting upon X' and transforming it. This means that the mediator M must be able to behave in that different ways. Typically, this implies the existence of some inner structures S and R, that represent the reflection of X in M and the ways of M influencing X', respectively. In the philosophical language, it is said that the necessity of simultaneously being two different objects MX and MX' is the dialectical contradiction in M that leads to its transformation and development. This development is to follow a number of universal stages: syncretism, analytical separation of different aspects, and then their synthesis on a higher level.

In the simplest case, the two aspects of the mediator are often merged with each other and inseparable. The same thing in the same time accepts influence and transmits it to another thing. Such syncretic reactivity could be expressed by the scheme X → (SR) → X' . One could model this with the operation of composition of two set mappings X → M and M → X', so that some element x of the set X is first transformed into element m of the set M, and then m is transformed into element x' of X': x → m  → x'. The element m is in the same time the image of x in the mapping x → m and the original of x' in the mapping m → x' . The image of the whole X in M under such a transformation is denoted as S = M(X), while the original of the image of M in X' is denoted as R = M–1(X'). In general, S does not need to coincide with R; that is, the mediator M can not only mediate the relation between X and X', but also influence X' on its own, as an independent object, regardless of any mediation.

Further development leads to the separation of the two sides of the mediator, so that accepting the influence from outside and influencing other objects become effectuated by distinct structures in M : X → (S → R) → X' . Now, the projection S of X into M is different from the prototype R of X' in M, and there must be some inner motion to transform S into R. On this level, the designations S and R already refer to the (states of the) respective subsystems in M rather than to the different aspects of its existence. However, at this level, the transformation of S into R is still immediate, either rigid or random.

At a higher level, the connection of S to R become internally mediated by an internal structure C, so that the inner motion in M would reproduce the entire act of mediation:

X → (SCR) → X' .

The mediator M becomes a complete system, with input S, output R and inner state C. This is how any object can be unfolded in a hierarchical stricture. Obviously, repeating this logical scheme, on can get deeper in the core of the mediator, discovering a hierarchy of inner mediations:

X → (S0 → (S1C1R1) →  R0) → X' ,
X →  (S0 → (S1 → (S2  →  C2  →  R2)  ®  R1)  →  R0)  →  X' ...

In every particular study, one has to adjust the level of consideration to the practical needs, keeping in the mind that a different approach may be required in a different situation.

It should be noted that all the levels described can evolve on any level of reflection: in inanimate matter, in biological systems or in conscious beings. The meaning of the schemes will be different, depending on the type of mediation. The scheme of inner mediation S → C → R only says that reflection of the external world transforms into an outer action through a material process that is localized within M if the level of distinction between the inner and the outer is properly chosen.

The logic of inner unfolding complements the already described logic of expansion through assimilating a part of environment:

OMO' ,
O → (om) → M → (m'o') → O' ,
(Oo)  → (mMm') → (o'O') .

The distinction between the two logics is relative, depending on the context. On the lower levels of the hierarchy of reflection, inner unfolding prevails, while the conscious subject develops almost all of its inner hierarchies through outer expansion.

Inanimate world

As the unity of the world implies, all the levels of mediation must exist on the physical level, for consciousness to be able to originate from it. However, the randomness of mediation characteristic of this level will assimilate the higher levels of mediation to the lower, so that syncretic mediation would dominate in this turn of the hierarchy.

There are numerous examples of syncretic mediation in physics, chemistry and any other sciences about the physical world. For instance, in mechanical devices, one can consider their parts as rigid, transmitting any motion from one end to another in no time. When you turn a key in a lock, and your effort is transmitted to the lock mechanism, to open or close the lock. Or, in a mechanical watch, one gear turns another through a number of intermediate gears. In all these cases, the changes in the interacting bodies themselves are negligible, and it is only their motion that will visibly change. Similarly, in the thermodynamics of the ideal gas, or in hydraulics, the medium serves to convey energy and transform it from one form to another. There is no distinction between the parts of the medium, it works as a whole. Similarly, in chemical reactions, water, or other medium, can simply carry one reacting substance to another, without being involved in the reaction itself. In catalysis, the intermediate agent first binds the incident substances, and then releases them in a different combination. In inanimate nature, this kind of mediation does not much differ from mechanical transport of the reagents, the catalyst only serving to put the molecule in the suitable position for reaction.

Systems of any complexity can be built from such elements. However, in nature, all the combinations are random, and therefore rather limited in both their scope and complexity. It is only through human activity that the majority of the possible inanimate systems can be produced.

In the physical systems built from syncretic elements, the elements themselves do not significantly change due to their involvement in the system. According to the general principle of the hierarchical approach, such external complexity can also, on a different level of hierarchy, manifest itself as inner complexity. Thus, in quantum electrodynamics, one finds a that a photon, while transporting the electromagnetic interaction from one electron to another, interacts with electrodynamic vacuum, producing virtual electron-positron pairs, that instantly disappear, but influence physical interactions. In atomic physics, an atom can be directly ionized by ultrashort-wave radiation; the same result can also be produced trough first absorption of a photon with the atom excited to an autoionizing state, and then emitting an electron, thus discharging excitation. This sequence is different from mere cascade reaction, a chain of reactions that do not depend on each other; in a virtual reaction, all the intermediate products do not exist for the observer, and one reaction channel cannot be separated from another (which is known as quantum interference). Rather complex inner hierarchies can arise in that way. Nevertheless, for the external world, only the final outcome matters, and the overall syncretism of the physical level is never violated.

Organic life

Unlike the randomness of physical interactions, life is the realm of necessity, implying quite definite sequences of mediations for each organic form to keep its existence as a living thing. Organic life is based on chemical cycles, chains of reactions that repeatedly produce nearly the same combination of substances in state in a similar state. An organism consumes the necessary building blocks and energy from the environment, and returns the wastes into it. This is resembling catalysis in chemistry, with the difference that the organism itself changes in that metabolic process, grows, matures, ages and dies.

On any level, an organism is not detachable from its environment, passively depending on the supply of the necessary materials. The organism reproduces itself, provided there are favorable conditions, but it does not reproduce the conditions themselves. It is only in a symbiosis of many organisms (ecosystem) that the reproduction of different organisms can form a relatively stable cycle, supporting all its members.

In the most primitive forms, one finds organic mediation as the syncretic unity of simple irritability S and spontaneous activity R: X → (SR) → X' . However, most organisms develop special organs (sensors) for accepting irritation and transforming it into signals that can activate special effectors. On a definite level of development, such a commutation is performed by the nervous system, a group of cells that are specialized in accepting, transforming and distributing activation between the different subsystems of the organism. In the scheme X → (S → R) → X' , the reflection of the environment in the organism S is usually called a stimulus, while the structure of the activation of the organism's effectors is known as reaction; the standard technique of associating stimuli with reactions in living organisms is reflex.

In a well developed form, a reflex can commute stimuli to reaction in an internally mediated way, as described by the scheme X → (S → C → R) → X' . In the innate reflex, the mediation structure C forms with the organism itself, while in the conditioned reflex it can be produced dynamically, reconfiguring neural activation patterns rather than changing the cerebral structures. This, however, does not modify the basic mechanism of biological mediation, since the behavioral patterns available to an animal are determined by its biological body, and no essentially new reactions can be expected. Like on the inanimate level, the animal's being involved in conscious activity can develop organic and behavioral forms that can never develop in nature. Such mediation sequences can only be based on the available physiological mechanisms, and, once formed, they become as rigid as any other reflex.

In the development of inner complexity in animals, there are two complementary processes. Primarily, generalization expands the range of stimuli associated with a specific reaction. Schematically, there are two slightly different mechanism behind this capacity. Thus, since the number of the possible internal states is limited in lower animals, different stimuli S1 and S2 cannot be properly differentiated, leading to the same internal state C, and hence to the same reaction R. In higher animals, the complexity of inner states allows better representation of the world, but lack of differentiated enough reactions means that different internal states C1 and C2 can lead to the same reaction R, so that the sequences of inner mediation S1 → C1 → R and S2 → C2 → R are equally possible. These two mechanism are not isolated from each other. As a rule, conditioning will first produced a very generalized reaction, which is due to the syncretic nature of primary reflection in animals, that is, the most primitive biological aspects of the situations are first discerned, and the most basic internal processes become initiated. The limited range of reactions limits the fineness of primary signal discrimination.

In the inverse process of specification, stimuli become differentiated by some property, to produce different reactions. Higher animals can differentiate almost identical stimuli, but they can only express their recognition using the available means, which are not always adequate. In nature, fine differences usually do not matter, and this ability first appears as a by-product of development. It becomes adaptive in complex ecosystems, where the same reaction can have different consequences in different circumstances. Thus the variability of the environment compensates for organic deficiencies. If the animal lives in contact with humans, its environment becomes extremely diverse, and the animal can realize its ability of reflex specification in full. However, this can only happen when humans pay attention to the different modes of animal behavior and their context.


The universality of subjective mediation results in that all the world become reflected in the organization of the subject, including the subject and conscious activity. This universal reflection is due to the world's transformation by conscious beings and regarding any thing as a product, rather than a thing on itself. While an animal depends on the environment, conscious beings re-create their environment to eliminate rigid necessity and achieve freedom. In particular, this means that self-reconstruction is an attribute of any subject, and therefore any inner structures are no longer permanent, and anything in the subject can be intentionally changed, if necessary. But, since syncretism, analysis and synthesis are the universal stages of development, the subject can manifest either of the inner mediation levels (SR), S → R or S → C → R in any inner or outer activity, folding and unfolding it to an adequate degree.

An object is defined in its relation to the subject; inversely, it is only objects that the subject can perceive. Consequently, in the subject, every stimulus will contain a subjective component, which implies self-reflection. In a person, this self-reflection is primarily reflection of the others as subjects, and originating from it reflection of one's own activity. That is, in subjective mediation, a stimulus S is a hierarchy of the person's relations to the others, and the society in general, taken in a specific respect, in relation to an object. Similarly, the inner state C and reaction R become hierarchical, co-related with all the levels of the subject.

In the chain of actions performed by the same subject


with the intermediate products P12 and P23 , one can represent every external act as mediated by an inner process in the subject:

O → (S1C1R1) → P12 → (S2C2 →  R2) → P23 → (S3C3R3) → P

To produce inner hierarchies, this scheme can be folded differently. Thus, if S1,2,3 , C1,2,3 and R1,2,3 are of the same kind, they can be considered as the levels of hierarchy in stimulus S, internal state of the subject C and reaction R, respectively:

In this process, the object becomes hierarchical as well, O = {O1, O2, O3}, and hierarchical relations to the subject simultaneously on multiple levels. Such a scenario also implies that the products P12,23 are of the same kind as the object O (being its aspects or features), which describes the process of extended reproduction of the object in human activity. Formally, lift-up P12,23 → O is implied after each action, that is, extraction of the objective side of activity, its embodiment in the culture.

The subject's ability to perceive the world and act simultaneously on different levels is one of important consequences of the universal reflectivity characteristic of consciousness. This multiaspect and multilevel organization is what distinguishes the inner structures of conscious beings from the "flat" perception and behavior of the animals. Even though a chimpanzee can form inner mediation chains of up to thirteen (and probably more) phases, it cannot fold them in an inner hierarchy, making them a single act. Similarly, the fantastic memory of a chukchi reindeer breeder does not make him any more conscious than an absent-minded European scientist. Intelligence does not mean reason.

In an alternative representation, the object O and product P remain the same but their relation is indirect, mediated by a hierarchical inner activity:

In this case, S2 will be qualitatively different from S1 , reflecting the very process O → (S1 → C1 → R1) → P12, rather then its result, which requires a different kind of lift-up: P12,23 → S, accentuating the subjective side of activity. Such a scheme is useful to represent the extended reproduction of the subject in conscious activity.

Phylogenetically, the development of subjectivity as such is thus described. One aspect of this development is the growing complexity of the inner activity mediating every act of subjective mediation. Yet another aspect is in complication of the social relations, which become hierarchical and indirect.

Applied to individual development, the same scheme describes learning and education, socialization and assimilation the achievements of a given culture. Thus the history of phylogenetic development is lifted up in any individual history.

The two scheme of activity folding in the inner hierarchy of the subject describe the two components of any subjective development, structural growth due to development of the cultural environment and developing a more complex functionality through participation in existing activities. Complementing each other, they are both based on the reconstruction of the world by the subject, and the reflection of the changes thus made in the organization of the subject itself. Unlike in the animal world, such a reflection is possible within the life cycle of an individual subject, and not only through biological selection in phylogenesis. While biological laws remain applicable to the organic body of the individual carriers of subjectivity, biological evolution is no longer determining the directions of organic development, which is much more influenced by the cultural factors. For the individual subject, this looks as if there were no external world independent of the subject's existence, and all the inner development were due to mere exercising the free will of the subject. Such an impression is a correct reflection of the fact that subjectivity does not exist inside any organism, it is always in inter-individual relations, which, under certain social conditions, can be alienated from the individual and countervail him as a separate entity.

[Philosophy of consciousness] [Philosophy] [Unism]