A Dream of Reason IV: Part 1 Entering through “Personal-Interpersonal Dynamics”

IV: Entering through “Personal-Interpersonal Dynamics”

  On the Anatomy of Personal-Interpersonal Dynamics (2005)



Until the final essay this section remains within the gravity of “social/behavioral science.” Yet it is in motion towards an autonomous humanistic dialogical sociology-psychology.

Most essays are relatively early. – Now they appear within the dialogical context they opened.

Their author struggles towards commitment to reason and towards foundational exploration…. Focus is on mapping natural-immanent generic personal-interpersonal dynamics.


It is a crucial task of dialogical sociology-psychology to reframe the legitimate concerns of social/behavioral science in a more reasonable and humane context.

The project of theoretical prediction and control is to seek predetermined factual outcomes by directly exposing, exploring and “working on” dynamic structure.

Theoretically based prediction and control of human beings, who if consulted could give or withhold consent, is always questionable…. It endangers humanity if our only theoretical concern with our life together and apart is to predict and control one another anonymously en mass.

To disregard the dynamics of our life together and apart in dealing with others (or oneself) would be brutal (like treating animals as though they could not feel) and dangerous (like putting metal in a microwave)…. Benevolent action requires understanding of “human nature.” Purely manipulative action is not benevolent.

Concern with dynamics, distorting if alternatives are silenced, is a co-constitutive problem of sociology-psychology.

Our focus on determinate processing potentialities rests on dialogical tacit understandings.


It is unreasonable to demand that a foundation display doors and windows or a seed show branches and leaves.

The crucial question is, “What must be included in the foundations of sociology-psychology to enable coherent and cumulative inquiry into dynamics?” It should be only what is required and as little as possible. (The rest to be resolved in the event.) – This requires methodological tact.

There should be architectural sensitivity to the structure of questions, problems and assumptions…. One must both “show” and analyze abstract unities…. Writing should “open” precisely without over specification.

2.Some Influences (1990)

            Plato’s exploration of “regimes” (e.g., democratic, tyrannical) as both intrapsychic and interpersonal influenced our formulations of “sociology-psychology” and “the personal- interpersonal field.” Modern influences include Gestalt psychology and Simmel’s formal sociology.

The task of constructing a unified sociology-psychology was implicit but not explicitly asserted in the work of Sorokin and Parsons. (Both referred to themselves as “sociologists.”)

Roberts’ anthropological “codes and models” orientation registers the complex interrelationships of interpretive contexts without presupposing a dominant given tendency to total systematic integration.

We were encouraged by the freedom with which Williams’ Propositions on Intergroup Hostilities and Conflict and Coser’s (explicitly Simmellian) The Functions of Social Conflict move through personal and interpersonal realms. ­ Thomas and Znanieki’s formulation of cultural, social and personal disorganization suggests personal-interpersonal isomorphism

An Overview: Dynamics and the Personal-Interpersonal Field


We distinguish between that which occurs and that through which it occurs. We designate these categories “events” and “dynamics”.

Our life together and apart is sociology-psychology’s disciplinary domain of inquiry (a.k.a., “phenomenal domain”). “The personal-interpersonal field” abstracts and foregrounds dynamics.

Sociological-psychological dynamics are neither exclusively psychological nor exclusively “socio-cultural”. They are in and through the personal-interpersonal field [i.e., the interpersonal (intra-group, inter-group and macro) and personal as a unified dynamic constellation.[1] [2]].


            There is order even in experienced breakdown (e.g., even madness and interpersonal chaos can be described and, to some extent, explained).

In our life together and apart stasis is through continual renewal (as in animals and plants) rather than mere endurance (as in rocks). It is the stillness of the tightrope walker, sustained by continuous small movements. Personal-interpersonal stability is a species of “motion.”

One might say that the central problem of sociological-psychological dynamics is order. Yet the relevant concept of order in no way privileges stasis. It is order in the sense of “potentially comprehensible pattern.”



            The notions of dynamics and of the personal-interpersonal field support and articulate the common sense recognition that our life together and apart is not entirely chaotic.

“Path” is a crucial opening image. A path is “a way to.” “Here is the path” answers the question “How could one get there?”


The species of path that concerns us is “determinate processing potentiality”.

Determinate processing potentialities differ from physical paths. They carry one along like a river: if you enter path x then, everything else being equal, you will arrive at destination y. They can interpenetrate in “dynamic constellations” (e.g., the “design” around the problem/solution connection). One is always, whether one chooses or not, whether one knows it or not, in motion on paths.


From here on “process,” which previously “did double duty,” refers to activated determinate processing potentiality (i.e., to the path in use).


            Where unexamined process is procedure will be, is an imperative of reason.


All personal-interpersonal fields share common determinate processing potentialities. We designate such patterns “generically human.” Candidates include “awareness-in-the-act,” “constructive implication,” “contextual creativity,” “improvisation,” “lowest common denominator selection,” “openness,” “pattern sensitivity,” and “synthesis”. …Generically human determinate processing potentialities are natural/ immanent to the species.

All personal-interpersonal fields contain historically emergent “type specific” dynamics (e.g., bureaucratization, urbanization).

All personal-interpersonal fields are to some extent dynamically unique and discontinuous (i.e., they are, whatever else they also are, “personal-interpersonal individuals”).


Humanity’s determinate processing potentialities for openness, improvisation, contextual creativity and dialogue suggest a measure of “free play.” “Free play” may have its own autonomous “order.”

Because these essays are in passage through social and behavioral science, explicit detailed exploration of “freedom” is a task for another (hopefully collaborative interdisciplinary) manuscript. [3]

Sociological-psychological foundational exploration of personal-interpersonal dynamics should begin with generically human determinate processing potentialities.

4.A Preliminary Exploration of some Generically Human Determinate Processing Potentialities



Gestalt psychologists emphasize “the Gestalt principle,” that items mutually related in a roughly geometric pattern (and all distinct patterns are roughly geometric) will be directly and immediately experienced as co-constituting a single figure. They shifted psychological focus from distinct “points” (e.g., percepts, behaviors) to the patterns in and through which they exist.

According to Michael Wertheimer, the Gestalt psychological principle of “pragnanz” (a.k.a., “good gestalten”) asserts that, “the organization of the field tends to be as simple and clear as the given conditions allow” (239). Aspects of pragnanz include “symmetry,” “good continuation,” “simple shape,” and “closure.”

4.2 (1980)

            Simmel argues that “the sociological tragedy as such” is through the operation of “the principle of the lowest common denominator.”

The more refined, highly developed, (and) articulated the qualities of an individual are, the more unlikely are they to make him similar to other individuals and to form a unit with the corresponding qualities in others. Rather, they tend to become incomparable and the elements in terms of which the individual can count on adapting himself to others and on forming a homogeneous mass with them, are increasingly reduced to lower levels. (c, 32)

Groups naturally abstract the lowest common denominator understandings and sensitivities of their members. Thus the greater the heterogeneity of a group the simpler, everything else being equal, its frame of reference.[4]


           Dialogue, whatever else it also does, preserves and mediates distinct voices. It enables communication outside lowest common denominator simplifications.


           I interpret the Gestalt principle, pragnanz, the principle of the lowest common denominator, and dialogue as generically human determinate processing potentialities.[5]

The mapping of generically human determinate processing potentialities is crucial to the foundational exploration of personal-interpersonal dynamics.

It is important in itself. It also opens cumulative specification of triggering, enabling and inhibiting conditions.

It supports exploration of emergent determinate processing potentialities and of “the free play of human existence.”

5.Co-constitutive Human Determinate processing potentialities

As event, violence is a cross-cultural universal. As a processing potentiality it may be generically human. Yet I would not judge x nonhuman because x is incapable of violence, or immune to lowest common denominator simplifications.

If x is not, for example, a mortal, desirous, mindful (e.g., “inward”), unique existent with the potentiality for pragnanz, rule, style, language, synthesis, dialogue, awareness-in-the-act, improvisation, contextual creativity and reflection, then x is not human.

6.Species Realms

“An area” of the personal-interpersonal field is a “species realm” in so far as it can be directly   interpreted through generically human determinate processing potentialities. A species realm is a theoretical construct.

Simmel models the dyad as, in our terms, a species realm:

The difference between the dyad and larger groups consists in the fact that the dyad has a different relationship to each of its two elements than have larger groups to their members. Although for the outsider, the group consisting of two may function as an autonomous super-individual unit, it usually does not do so for its participants. Rather each of the two feels himself confronted only by the other, not by a collectivity above him. The social structure rests immediately on the one and of the other of the two, and the secession of either would destroy the whole. (b, 123)

Given human inwardness and improvisation, the dyad’s relative openness, immediacy, equality, and freedom from lowest common denominator simplifications, encourages spontaneous interplay and intimacy.

Given human desire, awareness-in-the-act and mortality, the intimacy and vulnerability of the dyad generate a sense of endangered unique beauty. The dyad naturally feels itself both endangered and irreplaceable, and thus is the real locus not only of authentic sociological tragedy, but also of sentimentalism and elegiac concerns. (b, 124)

Species realms proposed in this manuscript include “open ambiguity,” “the mundane” and “disciplinary position.”


To be human is, whatever else it also is, to be unique. In “the language” of personal-interpersonal dynamics, unique existence can, at best, appear as a general property, as “the unique” and “uniqueness.”

8.Order of Life (1997)

“The order of life” of any population is its largest area of vital and central co-identification and interdependence.

9.On Historically Emergent Processing Potentialities and Orders of Life (1999)

In these foundational essays on dynamics we focus on the generically human…. Yet a preliminary foundational map of the personal-interpersonal field must include some patterns emerging from the generic human capacity for reconstruction.

Hypothetical emergent patterns are “sketched in” as required.

Happily, there are relevant formulations that have been sufficiently worked through in sociology and related fields to be used temporarily as received with little examination.

“Socio-cultural” complexity is a crucial relevant dimension: co-constitutive aspects of socio-cultural complexity include “differentiation” and “specialization.” Related emergent dynamic constellations include “urbanization” and “bureaucratization.”

A relatively resolved typology of orders of life (presented in order of increasing socio-cultural complexity) includes:

  1. Hunting and gathering tribes.
  2. Agricultural tribes.
  3. The beginnings of “the social machine” (Mumford, 1966) in archaic kingdoms (e.g., Egyptian, Babylonian, Mayan, Incan, Ashanti).
  4. Preindustrial states (e.g., 17th century France).
  5. Industrial nation states.

Encouraged by our recognition of dialogue as generically human we emphasize on all levels of complexity:

  1. Multicentered constellations (e.g., both ancient Greece and renaissance Italy were organized as constellations of interrelated yet relatively autonomous city states).

We cannot remain entirely on this level of consensus. – There are emergent patterns that cannot be avoided, yet cannot, even temporarily, be engaged without comment. They include “post industrial constellations,” “modernity,”[6] movement from style to rule dominance, and the “machine/animal dichotomy.”[7]

Above exert from A Dream of Reason by Avron Soyer

Continue Reading A Dream of Reason IV. Part 2  Introduction to the Problem/Solution Orientation as a Foundational Sociological-Psychological Schema (1965)


[1] This is not a proposal to model anthropology, psychology and sociology on any natural science, or on cybernetics. The proposed unified orientation was conceived as an autonomous science, and later reinterpreted as an autonomous discipline.

[2] Social psychology on the other hand is a branch of psychology and/or an intersection between disciplines.

[3] “Logos,” tragedy and comedy are suggestive orienting notions.

[4] Here we follow that line in Simmel which focuses on heterogeneity rather than size; the crux is how many properties are shared, not how many individuals these properties are abstracted from.

[5]The gestalt principle and pragnanz also apply to other animals.

[6] The concept of modernity to be useful for sociology-psychology should not designate a mere congeries of disparate items.

Its historical reference should be to a relatively delimited period (not, for instance, from the renaissance to 1950). It should not be identified with a historical period in its totality, or even with all that is new about this period. It should not be identified with the industrial and/or the postindustrial.

Influenced by artistic usage we locate the beginnings of modernity in the nineteenth century. In opposition to some recent discussions of “the postmodern” we consider modernity to be a present living option.

[7] In this manuscript historically emergent patterns are rarely foregrounded: partial exceptions include “ On Instruction,” “Variations On A Theme By Karl Mannheim,” “Plague Notes” and “On Modernity and the Breakdown of this Order of Life.”


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Writings and Interviews by Avron Soyer

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