In the real world, things interact with each other and transform into each other. The character of this mutability is different on the different levels of the hierarchy of reflection. However, the very possibility of interaction and transformations is due to that all things belong to the same world, representing its different aspects. The world mediates any relation between individual things, which could be expressed by the scheme
T → W → T.
On the lower levels of hierarchy, the mediating role of the world is implemented in a variety of things performing the specific acts of mediation; such mediators represent the world as a virtual mediator, but otherwise they are individual things like any others. Formally, we rewrite the general scheme of mediation as
T → M → T,
with M denoting a thing mediating relations between other things. Considering the hierarchy of all the possible mediations, we can express the idea of interconnectedness of all the things in the world by the scheme
T ⇒ T,
where the double arrow ⇒ represents any relevant mediation without specifically indicating it. This scheme closely resembles the general scheme of the world's self-reflection, W ⇒ W; indeed, any individual thing is a kind of world developing on its own, which is yet another expression of the integrity of the world, with any its portion reflecting (and representing) the whole.
The idea of mediation has long since become the corner stone of modern physics, where every kind of interaction is associated with some material carrier (a particle or a field), and conversely, any particle can mediate some interaction. Similar notions saturate the other natural sciences. All information technologies are based on the idea of signal processing and message exchange. Various mediation schemes are widely used in social sciences; in particular, the fundamental idea of universal mediation came from the economic theory of Karl Marx.
The character of mediation is different in inanimate world, life and conscious activity.
Thus, the inanimate world knows only passive mediation: coexistence, intermediate states of motion, correlation etc. Mediated interaction is one of the most important cases. In the chain X → M → X', the interaction carrier M is emitted by X and absorbed by X'; in many cases, X and X' continue to exist as they were, only changing their state of motion. The mediators are often of the same kind as the things they connect; they can behave like particles, waves etc. On this level, a thing can interact with any other thing, and hence mediate interactions of other things. Such mediated connections between inanimate things are random, in the sense that they are not necessary for the existence of the things themselves. For instance, an isolated electron will still remain an electron, and a molecule does not need to interact with other molecules to become a molecule of that very sort. Interaction is not needed to support the existence of inanimate things; on the contrary, it may lead to their destruction or transformation into other things.
The animate nature is characterized by active mediation, with the mediator M consuming thing X and producing thing X'. Unlike the interaction of inanimate things, X does not exist any longer after it has been consumed, and X' did not exist before it has been produced by M. On this level, M is not merely effectuating the interaction between X and X'; now, it seeks for X to produce X'. Moreover, the very existence of a living thing (an organism) depends on its ways of consumption and production, and terminated metabolism means death. This is the level of necessary mediation. On this level, mediations become essentially asymmetrical: the processes within an organism are often clearly distinct from its interaction with the environment.
Like inanimate things can be joined by mutual interactions into a composite body, organisms tend to cling together forming a higher-level organism. However, such coexistence is much more restrictive, since any of the organisms living together requires a quite definite environment to live. In every particular synergy of different organisms, the members of this communion have to adjust their structure and behavior, to serve the whole. Thus, the organs of the animal body, while remaining relatively independent organisms, are functionally dependent on each other, and evolve to the forms, which cannot live outside the body; compare this with the molecules in a solid body: while slightly changing in the solid body's structure, they can always be separated from it, and still continue to exist.
The relation of the living organism M to the things X and X' involved in its metabolism is relatively rigid, pre-defined, characteristic of the species. It is only in higher animals that more flexible types of behavior become possible, so that X is not necessarily consumed to produce X', and different ways of consumption may result in the same metabolic product. The behavior of complex organisms is hierarchically organized, involving both the level of vital functions and the level of conditional functions supporting the organism's ability to maintain its basic metabolism, and life. In higher animals, the support functions significantly overweigh the basic metabolism; this dominance is a prerequisite for the formation of consciousness.
On the level of subjectivity, mediation becomes universal, so that any two things can be related to each other by a mediator of a new type, the subject; the act of mediation then becomes a part of the subject's activity. Universal mediation differs from random mediation of the inanimate level, since it is necessary for the subject, and any subject is bound to bring things together, to maintain subjectivity. The activity of the subject also differs from organic mediation, since it is no longer restricted to a specific class of dependencies and extends to the whole world. Such an all-embracing necessity is called freedom.
While inanimate mediators operate only in their immediate environment, and living creatures must obey the demands of their physiology, the subject can link anything to anything, with no physical or physiological limitations. Things that do not directly interact, to any appreciable extent, can be involved in the same activity of the subject, which restores the unity of the world in the most comprehensive way. For instance, there is no physical reason for the Polar star to influence the movement of a ship, and no physiological reason for the human organism to react on the starry sky in any definite way; however, the course of the ship may be corrected through the observation of the stars by a conscious being. The subject can connect things in time as well as in space: events separated by billions of years become interrelated in consciousness. But the universality of subjective mediation extends beyond mere commutation of material things; it also means the ability of the subject to bring together any aspects of their existence abstracted from the things themselves. Things get tied to sheer forms, one aspect of the world is reflected in another; and there is no limit to the complexity of such abstract mediations. The subject is the only way to build connections like that, and it is for that universal mediation that consciousness appears in the world.
Mediation means virtual presence of all the things thus connected in the mediator, integrative reflection. Externally related thing thus become reflected in the relation of some formations in the mediator. As universal mediation, a subject can also mediate any inter-subject relations, including the subject's self-relatedness. This reflection of the subject's activity in the subject is known as consciousness.
The definition of the subject as universal mediation implies that it cannot be reduced to a thing, or an organism, though both inanimate things and living beings are necessarily involved in any subject. In particular, consciousness cannot be a mere property of the human body, or any of its parts (like the brain).Of course, the existence of a number of highly organized material systems is required to produce consciousness. But the quality and composition of this material background can vary within the same subject. For instance, a person's ability to influence relations between other people and things does not vanish with one's physical death, since material traces of one's existence remain, as well one's ideal presence in the hierarchy of social relations formed around the individual. Such outer formations can exist for very long time, and even their dissipation does not mean their disappearance, as they gradually saturate some new structures thus remaining reflected in their inner organization and history. Sometimes, the inorganic body of a person would entirely outweigh one's bodily existence; thus, history knows many prominent artists and scientists who died in neglect, while their deeds remained publicly known and highly praised.
Like on the other levels of mediation, there is a hierarchy of subjectivity. Any group of subjects can form a higher level subject, which allows for much more diversity than in biological communities. This external hierarchy is complemented by an internal hierarchy integrating all aspects of the subject relatedness to the world.
The active character of subjective mediation is reflected in the category of the product. Since universal mediation is a constitutive feature of the subject, the relations between things are no longer random or organically pre-defined; they are consciously intended. That is, in conscious activity, the subject takes one thing (the object) to produce another thing, the product of activity. The most general scheme of any activity can hence be written as
object → subject → product,
or, in a symbolic notation,
O → S → P.
The elements of this scheme can be considered as the levels of hierarchy as well as the hierarchies of the object, the subject and the product. The same scheme applies both to an individual instance of activity and conscious activity in general, as a level of reflection. Thus, the whole world presented to the subject as an object is called nature. The highest level of subjectivity is associated with the very universality of reflection in the world reproducing the integrity of the Universe as the unity of all things; this all-embracing reflexivity is referred to as the spirit. Finally, the world can be considered as a product of activity, its purpose and accomplishment; on this point, it becomes culture.
Though the hierarchy of the world has many levels unrelated to conscious activity, they lie beyond the subject's experience until they happen to be culturally assimilated. Because of the universality of subjective mediation, anything in the world can be actively linked to anything else; in particular, a thing can be actively related to itself: X → S → X. That is, once the thing has been included in conscious activity, it will "contain" the subject inside, and this is what makes it an object, the same thing as it is for the subject. In all the other respects, this thing can exist on itself, regardless of the subject's views and interests. However, it will gradually be drawn deeper in conscious activity, and eventually absorbed in its entirety. While an individual may be unaware of the world beyond one's individual experience, there is nothing that could not be assimilated by the subject in general, as a hierarchy of individual or collective subjects. There is no impenetrable barrier between the subject and the rest of the world, since the subject belongs to this very world, being one of its representations. The subject in full is identical to the object and the product; according to the fundamental principle of integrity, this implies a hierarchy of the forms of activity.
As a part of the world, the subject can also become an object, and thus belong to nature. As any object, the subject has both material and ideal aspects; in particular, the presence of subjectivity requires some kind of matter as its carrier, and an appropriate level of organization. Still, subjectivity cannot be reduced to neither matter, nor reflection; it is a certain way of existence of the both. Things and organisms that implement universal mediation are not conscious themselves; in some respects, they represent the subject, while retaining their existence as material things, or living creatures, in all the other respects. The subject is different from its implementation, no particular implementation can represent subjectivity in full. For instance, any human being is primarily a material thing; but humans also belong to a biological species; finally, they become the members of the society and, in certain respects, manifest consciousness and reason. There are different forms of life, depending on their material implementation; similarly, there can be many forms of reason, and the humanity will eventually have to cope with that.
The order of levels in a hierarchical structure is relative; it depends on the specific way of unfolding the hierarchy. Like the subject can be considered a higher-level object, an object can be treated as a higher-level representation of subjectivity, when the product is included in nature thus lifting any preceding activity. It is due to this transformation into an object that the subject can become aware of itself, thus developing self-consciousness. On the next stage, this reflexivity comes to understanding subjectivity as a product and hence consciously producing it; this is reflected in the category of reason, the unity of consciousness and self-consciousness.
No living creature could exist if there were nothing akin to life in the inanimate world; in the same way, subjectivity is rooted in life, and virtually in inanimate existence. On the level of random mediation, there are regular chains of events resembling biological metabolism; also, there is a hierarchy of reflexive phenomena, demonstrating a kind of universality. A living creature can sometimes behave like an inanimate body, while showing glimpses of consciousness in other situations or other respects. Conversely, conscious activity reveals a hierarchy of manifestations, including apparently animal behavior, as well as a regular physical motion. To assess an individual behavioral act, one needs a wider context; consciousness and subjectivity can only be defined in respect to some productive activity. The same applies to self-reflection. Thus, for a conscious being, being aware of one's body has nothing to do with self-awareness. To become self-conscious, one has to perceive oneself as universal mediator, that is, the subject of an activity. This means that one needs to make one's own activity a kind of object and unfold its hierarchy to identify the mediator. The first part is obviously accomplished with any product representing the activity of its production. However, to recognize himself as the producer, an individual needs to be included in the society that would confirm one's individual responsibility. That is, self-consciousness is primarily the awareness of the social attitude to the product and its producer. In the societies, where the product is alienated from the producer, individual self-consciousness (and hence reason) cannot develop in full, they can only exist as a collective effect. That is why, to support universal reflection, such societies will have to be eventually replaced by a higher-level sociality better compatible with reason.