Our Methodology

our methodology

This section is dedicated to understanding the basic features that comprise The Abstract Elephant Magazine LLC. These features include:

  1. The concept of “the human condition.”
  2. The people who have contributed to the evolution of thought regarding “the human condition.”
  3. The disciplines, formats, genres, mediums and fields of study through which “the human condition” is understood, addressed, and analyzed.
  4. How we intend to analyze “the human condition,” which includes
    • The integration of a variety of topics, genres, formats, and academic disciplines regarding the issues of the human condition, and
    • Conscious and unconscious stimuli to reflect the natural functioning of the brain.
  5. Disclaimers we believe are necessary to include for a publication of our kind.

The Phrase & Concept

The human condition is the state(s) that we find ourselves in individually and as a species.

The phrase “human condition ” is broad, vague and is commonly used interchangeably with “human nature, ” “human behavior, ” and “humanity ” in popular discourse as well as in academic literature.  We hope to provide a clear definition of the phrase and concept here, so as to avoid confusion in our various posts and issues.

Human Nature

Human nature includes the fundamental dispositions, traits and characteristics (including ways of thinking, feeling and acting), which exist naturally in humans.

Encyclopaedia Britannica defines human nature as theories about the nature of humankind, which arise in every culture. Theories on human nature deal with the intrinsically selfish or altruistic ways of humans, as well as with the problem of nature versus nurture: “which ostensibly fundamental human dispositions and traits are natural and which are the result of some form of learning or socialization? ” Human nature also addresses shared traits with other primates, regarding food, sex, security, play and social status. Language is understood to be “genetically enabled, though the acquisition of any specific language also requires appropriate environmental stimuli. ” Lastly, human nature touches on the behavioral differences between the sexes, noting that some of these seem to have a genetic basis (e.g. regarding aggression).

Human Behavior

Human behavior is the response of individuals or of groups of people to both internal and external stimuli. Human behavior is a term that refers to the vast array of physical actions, as well as observable emotion reactions, that occurs in individuals and throughout the human race.

Encyclopaedia Britannica defines human behavior as, “the potential and expressed capacity for physical, mental, and social activity during the phases of human life. ”

Humanity

Humanity is defined as including all of the human race; all human beings collectively; or the quality or state of being human.

The Human Condition

The human condition is an overarching concept that includes anything and everything pertaining to human nature, human behavior and any and all features or characteristics of humanity. The human condition is commonly defined as, “the characteristics, experiences, key events, and situations which compose the essentials of human existence, such as birth, growth, emotionality, aspiration, conflict, and mortality. ” The human condition is, at its core, the state(s) that we find ourselves in, both individually and as a species.

The People

Plato (428/427 or 424/423 — 348/347 BC)

There are many philosophers, artists, scientists, academics and laymen who have helped to develop the concept of the human condition. This list is not exhaustive: if we were to create an all-inclusive list of those who’ve affected the concept, we would have to address the lives of every single individual person who has ever lived. Instead, we’ve included a few key people we believe to be influential when it comes to the evolution of thought regarding the concept of the human condition.

Regarding philosophers, academics, social scientists and nonfiction writers, we could go on for quite some time addressing those who have written on, affected and shaped the concept of the human condition. We can include cultural anthropologists like Clifford Geertz, Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead; psychologists like Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner, Jean Piaget, Ivan Pavlov and Philip Zimbardo; religious thinkers like Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, Robert Orsi, Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida and Jean-Paul Sartre; philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, Edmund Husserl, Baruch Spinoza, Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Buber, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, René Descartes and Martin Heidegger. We can include the ideas of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Gilbert Ryle and Bertrand Russell. We can include modern thinkers like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, Christopher Hitchens, Jordan Peterson and Steven Pinker.

As mentioned previously, our topics range from consciousness to the subconscious to the unconscious; from innovation, technology and advancement to apathy, depression and psychosis; from history, language and culture to disease, war and famine; from birth to death and everything between, before and after. Thus, the people so far mentioned only graze the surface of those we will be discussing in The Abstract Elephant Magazine LLC.

Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC)

Although much of our understanding of the human condition comes from written documents, creative artifacts make significant contributions to how we view human nature and the human condition. A main purpose of artistic endeavors is to connect with and reflect the human condition. While humans are capable of wonderful acts of altruism and service to others, there exist an equally compelling side that can commit horrific acts of violence and insensitivity to others. This dual nature of humans is expressed in many facets of art with an underlying assumption that the human condition reflects a human nature that acts from conscious and unconscious motives. While it can be argued that all artists attempt to represent the world in symbolic ways, the surrealists explored the unconscious mysteries, dreams and visions of humans in a powerful yet hidden-from-consciousness manner.

Artists who have captured the human condition in their work include the surrealist school including Cezanne, Man Ray, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, and Magritte. Others whose work standout include Picasso, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Jackson Pollock, to name a few.  

Below, we will address only a few we have mentioned previously in hopes to begin the conversation of the evolution of thought regarding the human condition. The Abstract Elephant Magazine LLC, in its weekly posts, triannual issues and editorial analyses (read below) will continue this discussion.

Plato (428/427 or 424/423 — 348/347 BC) → Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) → Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976)

Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976)

Martin Heidegger’s contribution to the evolution of thought regarding the human condition is the re-awakening of the question, “what is meant by ‘Being?’ ” (Heidegger, Existence and Being, 11).

“According to Heidegger, the concept of ‘Being’ is the most universal one, as was also realized by Aristotle, Thomas and Hegel; and its universality goes beyond that of any ‘genus.’ At the same time it is obscure and indefinable; ‘Being’ cannot be comprehended as anything that is (Seiendas); it cannot be deduced from any higher concepts and it cannot be represented by any lower ones; ‘Being’ is not something like a being, a stone, a plant, a table, a man. Yet ‘Being’ seems somehow an evident concept. We make use of it in all knowledge, in all our statements, in all our behavior towards anything that ‘is,’ in our attitude towards ourselves. We are used to living in an ‘understanding of Being’ (Seinsverständnis), but hand in hand with it goes the incomprehensibility of what is meant by ‘Being.’ ” (12-13).

Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976) → Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975)

Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975)

Hannah Arendt is most famously known for her work, The Human Condition, a phenomenological analysis of three kinds of activity, which are fundamental to the human condition: labor, “which corresponds to the biological life of man as an animal; ” work, “which corresponds to the artificial world of objects that human beings build upon the earth; ” and action, “which corresponds to our plurality as distinct individuals ” (Arendt, The Human Condition, Second Edition, pg xxi).

On the one hand, Arendt’s work is one of modern political theory critiquing “traditional political philosophy’s misrepresentation of human activity. ” On the other, it extends beyond that to address a dialectical contrast between the belief that — with the dawn of the space age and human beings’ ability to transcend nature — “everything is possible, ” and the fear that automated technologies and “ever more efficient production and consumption ” encourage us to think of ourselves as “merely an animal species governed by laws of nature of history, in the service of which individuals are entirely dispensable ” (xxiii). According to Arendt, our use of technology and our political prowess make us both untouchable as a species and unessential as individuals.

“The most heartening message of The Human Condition is its reminder of human natality and the miracle of beginning. In sharp contrast to Heidegger’s stress on our mortality, Arendt argues that faith and hope in human affairs come from the fact that new people are continually coming into the world, each of them unique, each capable of new initiatives that may interrupt of divert the chains of events set in motion by previous actions ” (xxix).

“Only the experience of sharing a common human world with others who look at it from different perspectives can enable us to see reality in the round and to develop a shared common sense. Without it, we are each driven back on our own subjective experience, in which only our feelings, wants, and desires have reality ” (xxv).

René Descartes (1596 – 1650) → Antonio Damasio (1944 – )

Ren̩ Descartes (1596 Р1650)

Antonio Damasio’s contribution to the evolution of thought regarding the human condition dealt with Descartes’ dualism of mind and body. Damasio rejects Descartes, claiming that the mind is a biological process operating within, and because of, the body.

“It would not have been possible to present my side of this conversation without invoking Descartes as an emblem for a collection of ideas on body, brain, and mind that in one way or another remain influential in Western sciences and humanities. My concern…is for both the dualist notion with which Descartes split the mind from brain and body…and for the modern variants of this notion: the idea, for instance, that mind and brain are related, but only in the sense that the mind is the software program run in a piece of computer hardware called brain; or that brain and body are related, but only in the sense that the former cannot survive without the life support of the latter ” (Damasio, Descartes’ Error, 247 – 248).

Antonio Damasio (1944 – )

“This is Descartes’ error: the abyssal separation between body and mind, between the sizable, dimensional, mechanically operated, infinitely divisible body stuff, on the one hand, and the unsizable, undimensioned, un-pushpullable, nondivisible mind stuff; the suggestion that reasoning, and moral judgement, and the suffering that comes from physical pain or emotional upheaval might exist separately from the body. Specifically: the separation of the most refined operations of mind from the structure and operation of a biological organism ” (249 – 250).

Ren̩ Magritte (1898 Р1967)

Ren̩ Magritte (1898 Р1967)

The art of Rene Magritte is extremely important in the genre of surrealism. One of his most noted works is titled “The Human Condition ” depicting a painting set in front of a window. The painting blends into the scene outside the window with such precision that at first notice one might miss it. This painting, like so many of Magritte paintings, requires that the observer must come to a new awareness of what is being observed. Since the painting and the scene beyond the window merge completely there is no sense of what is real from what is not. Viewing the painting and the scene from the window as the same yet not the same, symbolizes how one might disguise his true real self from an unconscious self of his own creation.

René Magritte’s La Condition Humaine

Another of Magritte’s well-known paintings reflects a similar view of reality that at first appears simple and direct, but on further scrutiny represents a profound perceptual conflict, namely the brown and black tobacco pipe with the inscription “Ceci n’est pas une pipe. ” The meaning is that one is not looking at a pipe, but the picture of a pipe. A major human problem is lacking the ability to understand what one observes from what is, in fact, real.

Salvador Dalí (1904 – 1989)

Salvador Dalí (1904 – 1989)

Salvador Dali, or Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí y Domenech, was born and died in Figueras, Spain. He is noted for his paintings that depict subconscious imagery. The two major influences on his painting style and content was Freud’s writings on the unconscious and the surrealist artistic community in Paris, who wanted to show the power of the unconscious over the rational “real ” world. Through a process of “paranoiac critical, ” Dali was able to induce a state of mind in which the unconscious could be expressed.

In the 1920s, his art became the centerpiece of the surrealist movement. He painted a world in which every day events and objects are distorted and depicted in a strange and confusing way. His paintings were in a realistic detailed style that not only caught one’s attention, but demanded that the observer spend some time in contemplation. He also made several surrealistic movie films which used similar bizarre and exaggerated imagery. One of his most famous paintings was titled “The Flight of a Bee, ” which depicts Dali’s wife asleep and dreaming about various animals seemingly ready to attack her when they actually symbolize her unconscious desires.

Max Ernst (1891-1976)

Max Ernst (1891-1976)

Max Ernst was a German artist who is known for creating several new techniques that revolutionized how art reflects reality, particularly the way it is experienced in Western culture. One technique called frottage used pencil rubbing to make an image. HIs techniques were unique in that provided a method to present dreamlike states where the unconscious creeps into consciousness. Generally, his work is best viewed from the vantage point of someone outside the conventional and traditional mode of thinking.To reach the unconscious in himself, Ernst painted free form to allow his emotions and inner stuggl;es to emerge on the canvass. Thus it can be said that many of his paintings were created out of his own unconscious world.

The Disciplines, Genres, Formats & Mediums

The Abstract Elephant Magazine LLC includes academic disciplines, visual and performing arts, fiction and nonfiction. It is our intention to include a wide range of disciplines, genres, formats and mediums — really, as much as possible. Some may call this hectic or directionless; we call it collaboration.

Some of these disciplines or fields seem to be more directly related to understanding the human condition than others. For instance, the academic disciplines of anthropology, psychology, and human development appear, on the outset, to be more intrinsically related to answering overarching questions of humanity than, say, mathematics or computer science. Others, like performative art or fiction writing are related in that they seek to illuminate truths about humanity, but through story-telling and creative expression, rather than direct academic analysis.

However, that does not mean that any one discipline, genre, format or medium has any more knowledge or is any more “correct ” regarding the human condition than another — even within disciplines, sub-disciplines contradict one another regarding the lens through which human behavior should be viewed, studied, and understood. Each individual discipline is also the theoretical and methodological lens used to analyze the human condition. For example, the discipline of biology claims that the human condition is best understood via genetics and evolution, which are biologically-driven features of life, while the discipline of anthropology claims that the human condition is best understood via cultural mechanisms, since humans are primarily organized by culture.

Within educational institutions, academic disciplines are distinct for a reason: the more niche your intellectual curiosities, the more intimate your knowledge will be and, thus, the more you can effect change. However, The Abstract Elephant Magazine LLC intends to take disparate disciplines, formats, genres and mediums and force them to coexist side by side with the hope that we might advance the understanding of what it is to be human.

All we’re trying to do is facilitate the flow of ideas between different fields of study so that new discoveries can be made.

The Methodology

Interdisciplinary Structure

Robert Andler Lipski, The Place I Remember

In a sense, our methodology is to not have one. Or, put more accurately, to not adhere so strongly to any methodology in particular. A problem we’ve found within each academic discipline is that they are limited further by adherence to a rigid structure, which we are trying to avoid.

Every single discipline, format and genre is intrinsically tied up with the human condition: each act as a small lens through which one very specific aspect of the human condition is analyzed, studied and understood. Though each have merit individually, it is our belief that more truths regarding the vague “human condition ” can be illuminated when very disparate genres, formats or fields of study are analyzed together. As Hegel (and many, many others) have said, “it is impossible that one man can see everything ” (Hegel, Reason In History, 3).

The Abstract Elephant Magazine LLC intends to integrate of a variety of topics, genres, formats, and academic disciplines regarding the issues of the human condition. This interdisciplinary method will serve to place disparate pieces in conversation with each other, encouraging questions and sparking debate.

The Conscious & The Unconscious*

Our intention for our methodology is for it to reflect how the brain functions by integrating both conscious and unconscious stimuli. Typically, interdisciplinary endeavors tend to activate the conscious, rational mind and ignore, or at least take for granted, the unconscious mind. It is our belief that the unconscious mind is more powerful, integrative, and fundamental to learning and comprehension of experience than the conscious mind. We also realize that we do not have to accomplish special feats in order to activate it because it is active continuous outside of our awareness.

Recent research into the unconscious mind reveal that even when one believes that he or she is making a conscious, rational decision, the unconscious areas of the brain are activated.  Furthermore, researchers have found that the brain regions active in decision making continue even when the conscious mind is distracted. The unconscious processing of information is viewed as the vehicle that improves decision making.

It is hoped that, in providing various types of information on a topic, that a sudden awareness similar to the “Aha! ” moment will take place: that moment of insight one experiences when the answer to a difficult question has been found. Recent research at Columbia University suggests that the relationship of the conscious and unconscious mind is similar to the ‘Aha!’ moment in that much of what is taking place in the brain is below consciousness. When this unconscious processing has reached a critical level, it bursts into consciousness with the overwhelming feeling that one has figured out the problem and now has greater understanding. This moment takes place because the unconscious mind continues to process the information, although there is no conscious awareness. The brain stops processing the information when it feels it has enough information.

It is hoped that our methodology will allow the brain to do what it does best.

*Note: In academic literature and in common vernacular, the terms “unconscious” and “subconscious” have been confused and used interchangeably. “Unconscious” is here defined as “the influences or effects of stimulus processing of which one is not aware” (Bargh and Morsella, The Unconscious Mind).

Disclaimers

There are two very important disclaimers we would like to make:

  1. We believe we are unique in the specific approach we are taking with our interdisciplinary research, but that we are not unique in focusing on interdisciplinary research in general. There are many reputable publications out there with varying degrees of interdisciplinary research and prowess. Though obvious, we state this as a disclaimer because we are not claiming that we do interdisciplinary research any better than others, only that the way we’ve decided to integrate various forms of information is unlike other journals or publications that rely on interdisciplinary research.
  2. We do not claim to be experts on the human condition. We are academics, thinkers, writers, and artists who are as curious about ourselves as you are.

To read more about us, check out Our Mission.

If this has piqued your interest and you would like to either send us an essay pitch or submit your work, read our Submission Guidelines.