Monday, May 31, 2010

Monism and Dualism

Making Monday

Most fantasy involves two or more alternate worlds: you're either here or there. Philosophers call the approach that separates the universe into two groups dualism. Someone observed that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who separate everything into two categories and those who don't. (Think about it.)

Dualism, which means seeing things in terms of two opposing groups, comes naturally: as toddlers we learn the difference between hot and cold, happy and sad, and even good and bad. Perhaps more fundamentally, humans have had notions of us and them from time immemorial.*

In contrast, monism means seeing things as part of a single whole.

This brief mention hardly does justice to ideas that people have been discussing (and some times killing each other over) for thousands of years. But I did want to give a brief sketch as background to the observation that makers are monists and users are dualists.

Making a thing depends on a sense of how the parts compose the whole. But it doesn't stop when the assembly is complete because a thing well made fits into a larger context. And while you may focus on different parts as the thing is made, you can never completely separate the parts, the whole, and the context.

Users divide the world in to things that serve to promote their purposes and things that don't. The former group has value; the latter group does not.

* You can also talk about pluralism, or seeing the world as made of of more than two mutually exclusive groups, but in most cases there's not a significant philosophic difference between seeing the world in terms of two grand divisions and seeing the world in terms of more than two grand divisions.

 Image: Bill Longshaw /

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