The Why Questions—Why We Can’t Live Without Them

The Difference Between Deep and Surface Structure

In his introductory chapter on structuralism Michael Lane informs us:

“Probably the most distinctive feature of the structuralist method is the
emphasis it gives to wholes, to totalities. Traditionally, in Anglo-American
social science, structure has been used as an analytical concept to break down
sets into their constituent elements, an essentially atomistic exercise. As
structuralists understand and employ the term, a new importance has been given
to the logical priority of the whole over its parts. They insist that the whole
and the parts can be properly explained only in terms of the relations that
exist between the parts. The essential quality of the structuralist method, and
its fundamental tenet, lies in its attempt to study not the elements of a whole,
but the complex network of relationships that link and unite those elements.”
[Michael Lane, Introduction To Structuralism, 1970, p. 14-15]

On the page following the above quote, Lane provides a diagram (limited though it be), which relates observable effects of structure to non-observable structure. I can not reproduce that diagram here, however, Saussure (language context), Chomsky (linguistic units), Piaget (content/form interdependence), Cassirer (liberation), Levi-Strauss (binary opposition), Foucault (power/knowledge relationships), Gödel (Incompleteness proof), Sartre (for-itself consciousness)—are, in relation to structure’s deepest level, mere surface structures; but, that said, Sartre’s for-itself consciousness provides a window into this deepest level of structure.

Sartre describes human consciousness in such a way as to allow for the “objects
of consciousness” to fill in the surface structure level box while the for-itself structure (being-what-is-not-while-not-being-what-is) takes its place in the box identifying structures deepest level. This consummate structural level entails not only the complex network of relationships that link and unite all elements of structure, but it also entails what Lane identifies as the “innate structuring capacity of all structures.”

Why, we might ask, is identifying the deepest level of structure important?—Because, not only does the “innate structuring capacity of all structures” identify the symbol-generating movement of free thought—the movement that makes thinking possible—the movement that emancipates language, myth, science, ethics/morality, i.e., civilization, it, this “innate structuring capacity of all structures,” also provides very probable answers to the questions: Why is there something as opposed to nothing?; Why life?; Why death?; Why temporality?; Why a comprehensible universe?; Why divinity?

[Footnote: I am suggesting here that natural selection (evolution, both biological physical) is itself embedded in an even more fundamental evolutionary process, one that cannot be separated from reciprocal movement, a movement, which, ultimately, structures all existence, life and self-consciousness]


About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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2 Responses to The Why Questions—Why We Can’t Live Without Them

  1. Mèo Lười Việt says:


  2. bwinwnbwi says:

    Because consciousness is “operational” (a verb not a noun) we cannot have direct evidence of other people’s consciousness. According to Sartre, “consciousness is a being such that in its being, its being is in question in so far as this being implies a being other than itself.” Because of this “hole in consciousness,” worldliness, spatiality, quantity, temporality, and instrumentality lie before me; however, consciousness is not a “ghost in the machine.” Operationally speaking, consciousness is the necessary link in our relationship to nature and this “link” occurs (to paraphrase F.S. Northrop) in the form of a two-term relationship. The first term of the two-term relationship is the theoretically postulated, hypothetically designated, component of experience (the ~bb of b~b~bb) while the second term is the immediately sensed determinate portion of the aesthetic continuum (the b~b of b~b~bb). The aesthetic component is relative to every individual while the theoretic component occurs in a public space characterized by repeatable experiences. Confirmation of the theoretical component of our experience becomes the key word here and this confirmation may be formal, as in a scientific result, or it may be informal, as in the best that pragmatism has to offer–if it works use it.

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