Saturday, August 8, 2009

localized vs. generalized views of causations

Looking local means that you say "I am not eating now, because I am scheduled to eat later"

Generalized outlook looks at why I am not thinking about changing my plans, why I am not considering eating now and later, and so on.
It will be lack of openness, laziness, not willing to reconsider plans etc.

The local cause is easy to argue about and change.
The generalized cause is way more complex. Harder to understand, and much harder to argue about change.

You can convince a person to change his local plans. But saying that his rigidity is not good, is harder to show (maybe he is better off staying rigid and planned and so on. The value of a trait for a specific person is not easy to gauge).

When you look at life as a whole is indeed hard to decide what is good as a trait. Very hard to think about which constellation of customs etc. is best.

But this is actually a reason to favor local outlook. Because in the local one can easily decide, and manage his life for the better. Still, generalized understanding is relevant. One cannot ignore it. Only the small scale strategy has its value, which does not permit us to be stupid of the facet called global outlook. I only guess that the generalized aspect is generally less crucial than it seems and functionally it is good to focus on the local (without totally forgetting the general).

Generalized is less known. We may know more on local relationships than on global and complex ones.
Thinking about generalized stuff takes more energy. Emotionally, any generalized thinking is way more taxing. Thinking about oneself in a generalized way (self reflecting) is linked to a variety of negative side effects (see "the curse of the self" for a review about these effects)

PS. see Wegner and vallacher research on "Action Identification". Every activity can be looked at from a very generalized view (I want to be a millionaire) to the very local (I got to write this letter (in the check)). They say that too generalized a view is many times less functional than focusing on the lower level. It is after all the very small steps about which we go to concentrate many times in order to get things done.


i.c. said...

you are taking up an important, but unfortunately complex and almost unsolvable issue.

as an outside oberver I tend to believe that people neglect the generalized view (and would clearly benefit from changes - though you might warn, rightly, that the outside observation may be insufficient);
but I understand that the main problem is the perils of a generalized view, namely the arbitrariness (what are "sensible" criteria for evaluating very different szenarios) and the resulting confrontation with the "void" (a lack of purpose or point or whatever you might call it).

It's much easier (unfortunately) to avoid looking at the deeper arbitrariness when staying localized (though, of course, it is also necessary to close one's eye from time to time)

Yechezkel Zilber said...

1) Meaning and utilitarianism bothers me much for a long time.
I used to think that only utility counts. But realized that psychologically people cannot live like that.
Moreover, for many there is a certain quality of experience about "meaning" engagement" and connection etc.
It is a cloudy subject.
I got the feeling, that pure utilitarian life is for many people not so happy. Your view?

I do not know how to handle this. Honestly.

(There is more to that. Meaning can be seen as an indirect utilitarian tool to get happy. While others see it as the thing itself.....)

2) The perils of generalized view of life are huge.
2.1) Its psychological effects are very problematic at times.
Thinking global can bring lots of stress. Taking life seriously.
2.2.) bad focus. There is a phenomenon called action identification. i.e. we can look at an action at different levels. like lfie goal, yearly goal, writing a book, a chapter, a word, a letter.
They say that there is an optimal level of action identification. And many times thinking globally reduces one;s focus an effectiveness.

Certainly, one may wish with eat the cake and have it too. i.e. having enough intuitive wisdom and control to dance on all weddings at once. It is usually not realistic.

i.c. said...

concerning utility / meaning
1. I don't believe there is much conceptual difference, basically I see it both as a means for deciding in contrast maybe to throwing the dice (which I also hold as valid at a generalized level - there's a "nice" novel on this: "the dice man" by rhinhart)
2. The problem comes exactly from the interface / balance of localized / generalized: at a basic level it's easy to see the "utility" of eating a chocolate or being healthy or in love or enjoying a sport; or gardening or going to dog exhibitions or betting...;
on the other hand it's also quite obvious that all these "negligible" things (see your post on that) are irrelevant and on a broader view something like "being happy" (not my favorite), "being content",... is more important and cannot easily be reduced to the small things (what's the system here?)
3. Saying something is meaningful or gives utility is never absolute but depends on the person, society, circumstances (as you always point out); but it is also changable and manipulable, thus it would be worthwhile to improve it

so in the end: I myself am fine if I find something like a "positive / acceptable" attractor of all those things I do, which means an evaluation afterwards (not too systematic if everything is fine)...
and somehow this is (at least for me) basically the (predicted) side effect of the operational principle "leave the good things alone and think about + change bad ones" (a little bit paradoxical maybe)

Yechezkel Zilber said...

Why cannot being happy be reduced to having as much happy moments as possible?
There is quite some literature that having many happy moments, creates happniess and even a feeling of meaning. (I do not think it can be said to be entirely true, but the tendency is there for happy moments to have a positive effect on meaning etc.)

More and the other points I got to think more.

i.c. said...

I agree that happy moments create more happiness and contribute something positive...
I just don't see how you can "go for" happy moments directly: to me that's a "side effect" (being a little bit hypocrit because part of the brain /mind / soul may be aware that one is going for happiness)

Yechezkel Zilber said...

Looking directly for happiness is thoughts of as a problem (sturart mill to Jonathan Schooler).

But there are probably ways to do as if it is not direct. There are also levels of intentions etc. There is also time scale issue (you go to the pool to have fun, but do not search for the fun moement by moment.