Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Complexity of the Particular

While preparing for my teaching I am doing some reading and some thinking. I have this reoccurring idea that I know is not new to me but it keeps coming back, and that is the idea of the complexity of the particular. In our book "The Design Way" we use the concept of the "ultimate particular" when we discuss the nature of design. We write:

"The outcome of a specific design process, such as a car, a curriculum, or an organizational structure, is an ultimate particular. It is something unique. It is not the universal car, the universal organizational structure, or curriculum. We are creating a particular, which, when taken together with other particulars, makes up the whole of our experienced reality."

we also give some examples of this:

"Distinctions between what is true (e.g., universal or general) and what is real (e.g., particular, full particular and ultimate particular) can be made in the following ways. A painting by Cézanne is real; the atomic weight of copper is true. An experience is real; a scientific observation is true. An organization is real; a proven fact is true. An individual’s perspective is real; a predictable event is true."

This is to some extent obvious and most people would probably say it is so obvious that it is not even important. However, when we understand and accept that design is about creating particulars, we also create a philosophical foundation that have extraordinary consequences for how it is possible to understand the design process.

Even though this idea of the ultimate particular has been with me for many years, it continues to excite me. And I am constantly surprised by the fact that it is so difficult to grasp the idea. Why is it so difficult? And why is it so difficult to see that complexity is not to found in abstractions and descriptions of the world but in the actuality of an ultimate particular. One single design manifests infinite complexity. Each design has in itself or reflects all possible aspects of reality. It is so easy to reduce the complexity of particulars by making simple judgments where only certain aspects of the design is noticed. So, richness and complexity is inherent in any design, while so frequently absent in simplistic and reductive descriptions and abstractions of the same designs. This understanding of designs as particulars also explains why a single design (a building, a car, a pen, a pair of shoes, etc) can evoke all our senses and make us speechless and overwhelmed. It is because that particular design has an infinite richness that resonates with our own overall experience of the world. Enough for now....