The Everyday

I'm fascinated by the notion of the 'everyday'. The world of our every day, of going to work, being at home, chatting about things, gardening, etc.

There is no standard everyday life, each of us live different lives. There are a pretty large number of things that most of us do, like shop, eat, watch TV, commute, and so on. Are these the everyday world? It's a slippery notion if you start to peel it apart - for example if you work 18-hour days, then you could mount a pretty good argument that your everyday life was your work.

It all gets a bit easier though if you define the everyday as those parts of life that are common to many people. Everyday language is the language you need to use to be understood by the most people, like in the shops, even though you may have a range of different language forms which you use in professional or social settings. Everyday custom might include which side of the road you drive on, what sorts of clothes to wear. There will be lots of variations on these common, everyday themes by different people, but the themes are the baseline against which those variations make sense.

The everyday has a lot to share with the idea of common sense. Common sense is more interesting if you go with sense = meaning, rather than sense = some human faculty. Once you tweak things in those ways, common sense = common meaning. It's the sense or meaning of things that is shared or common to many people.

Now if you have a range of different fields of knowledge, like physics, biology, psychology, information technology - whatever - you have a situation of many different 'senses' or meanings for things each with its own boundaries and rules. What's the relationship between them? Traditional 'inter-disciplinary' work assumes that each domain is sufficient unto itself, and that if you bring a biologist on the team, they can deal with the biological stuff, the physicist can do the physics, and so on. A fabulous democracy of shared effort. But the common meaning that might emerge isn't common sense, because most of the time all of the different domains keep their original meanings - they've just pooled them, retaining their original purity in their own area.

A similar thing could be said about something like journalistic popularisation of scientific and other work. The underlying assumption with that sort of thing is that the everyday is a simpler domain, and the more difficult or technical work has to be dumbed-down in some way to make it digestible. So again there's no common sense here, no shared meaning, because the incredibly smart people keep their meanings, and the great unwashed lemming public gets the Dick and Jane Take Spot the Dog for a Picnic version. No shared meaning emerges, just a 'higher level' meaning and a watered-down version.

So we're back with the levels again. Clever dicks see deeper into things, issuing a steady stream of hieroglyphs and abstract language about how the world really works, which is then diluted for dumb yokels (and dumb yokels include even other professional thinkers, from other fields, because many fields are so abstract that level of education is no help in understanding what's going on).

This is all rubbish. Pick up a knitting pattern and try to make sense of it, if you've never knitted. Papers in quantum physics will look simpler. Or try to understand Chinese if you've had no experience with it. And yet to people who can knit or to Chinese, these things are as simple as breathing. Abstract has nothing whatsoever to do with depth or difficulty, it's just a collection of techniques for summarising things, to save time. And if it looks complex, you're just not part of the group who invneted these handy little short cuts, or who speak that language.

Furthermore as with the banana and the electrodes, no group or person is actually accessing some truth 'about' anything, they're all creating facts using particular tecnniques and concepts, and which don't exist outside theses conditions. So inter-disciplinarity is a bit silly, you don't have to ask people to each share their bit of precious truth about the world, to eventually add up all the bits to some larger understanding. People aren't photographing the same 'underlying' (levels again) reality from different veiwpoints, they're each creating their own bit of reality. Using their own local language and techniques which any human can understand, if they're working with them.

So if we want a true common sense, then we need to focus much more upon how people make their knowledge, which is always in the common sense, everyday world. If you've ever worked or studied in a lab, you know that there are no huge brains there, everything is always at the practical everyday level, which you can learn in not too much time so that it becomes as second nature as doing up your shoes.

But this is already a bit long.


  1. Nick,
    I agree. It is in holding fast to the "details" of everyday life that we remain rooted in reality. Abstraction is another form of end-gaining.


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