25 November 2007

The Reality of Everyday Life

Filed under: Culture, Ktismata, Language, Psychology — ktismatics @ 6:34 am

From The Social Construction of Reality (1966) by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann. Part One: “The Foundations of Knowledge in Everyday Life.”

“The reality of everyday life is taken for granted as reality… While I am capable of engaging in doubt about its reality, I am obliged to suspend such doubt as I routinely exist in everyday life…

“Compared to the reality of everyday life, other realities appear as finite provinces of meaning, enclaves within the paramount reality marked by circumscribed meanings and modes of experience. The paramount reality envelops them on all sides, as it were, and consciousness always returns to the paramount reality as from an excursion. This is evident from… the reality of dreams or that of theoretical thought. Similar “commutations” take place between the world of everyday life and the world of play, both the playing of children and, even more sharply, of adults. The theater provides an excellent illustration of such playing on the part of adults. The transition between realities is marked by the rising and falling of the curtain. As the curtain rises, the spectator is “transported to another world,” with its own meanings and an order that may or may not have much to do with the order of everyday life. As the curtain falls, the spectator “returns to reality,” that is, to the paramount reality of everyday life by which the reality presented on the stage now appears tenuous and ephemeral, however vivid the presentation may have been a few moments previously. Aesthetic and religious experience is rich in producing tensions of this kind, inasmuch as art and religion are endemic producers of finite provinces of meaning.

“All finite provinces of meaning are characterized by a turning away of attention from the reality of everyday life… It is important to stress, however, that the reality of everyday life retains its paramount status even as such “leaps” take place. If nothing else, language makes sure of this. The common language available to me for the objectification of my experiences is grounded in everyday life and keeps pointing back to it even as I employ it to interpret experiences in finite provinces of meaning. Typically, therefore, I “distort” the reality of the latter as soon as I begin to use the common language in interpreting them, that is, I “translate” the non-everyday experiences back into the paramount reality of everyday life. This may be readily seen in terms of dreams, but is also typical of those trying to report about theoretical, aesthetic or religious worlds of meaning. The theoretical physicist tells us that his concept of space cannot be conveyed linguistically, just as the artist does with regard to the meaning of his creations and the mystic with regard to his encounters with the divine. Yet all these — the dreamer, physicist, artist and mystic — also live in the reality of everyday life. Indeed, one of their important problems is to interpret the coexistence of this reality with the reality enclaves into which they have ventured…

“Moreover, language is capable of transcending the reality of everyday life altogether. It can refer to experiences pertaining to finite provinces of meaning, and it can span discrete spheres of reality. For instance, I can interpret “the meaning” of a dream by integrating it linguistically within the order of everyday life. Such integration transposes the discrete reality of the dream into the reality of everyday life by making it an enclave within the latter. The dream is now meaningful in terms of the reality of everyday life rather than of its own discrete reality. Enclaves produced by such transpositions belong, in a sense, to both spheres of reality. They are “located” in one reality, but “refer” to another.

“Any significative theme that thus spans spheres of reality may be defined as a symbol, and the linguistic mode by which such transcendence is achieved may be called symbolic language… Language now constructs immense edifices of symbolic representations that appear to tower over the reality of everyday life like gigantic presences from another world.”



  1. I’ll post again on this book tomorrow or the next day. Berger and Luckmann are both Lutherans I believe: Berger from Austria, Luckmann from Slovenia. I know that Berger is a democracy fan, as were a lot of the postwar Austrians. I think both emigrated AFTER WWII, but I think they were too young to be in the war. Here they emphasize the difficulty of sustaining an alternate reality under pressure of everyday reality. The hegemonic force of the dominant reality potentially makes it difficult for writers or analysts to have much permanent effect on individuals. Nevertheless, opening up the portals at the individual level is one of the few things that feels like hope to me.


    Comment by ktismatics — 25 November 2007 @ 7:07 pm

  2. Tova sa pulni prostotiiiii


    Comment by Dilqna — 28 January 2010 @ 9:08 am

  3. Hmm, you might have a point there, Dilqna. If I were to guess, not knowing even what language you’re writing in, I’d translate your comment as something like “Everything we create is a prosthesis, a supplement, an addition to what’s given in nature.” Gotta agree with that. Also, it is notable that your comment points to this old post on social construction of reality, since that was the implicit topic of my current post and the explicit focus of the preceding one.


    Comment by john doyle — 28 January 2010 @ 9:19 am

    • “Everything we create is a prosthesis, a supplement, an addition to what’s given in nature.”

      Somebody needed to set it up that way, and I think it’s usually done so. Not that nature is miserly about prostheses of its own, even before the self-loathing human comes into the picture, deciding his creations aren’t quite as pure as the way flora and fauna ‘allow their camoufluge’ to evolve: since they do it over many thousands or millions of years, with many casualties to the species, their attitude seems ‘less pushy’ than does that of humans, who often shove things into view that are more worthy of the word ‘artificial’. And, I do mean this as a bad thing, to paraphrase the bloggers who have somehow fixated on this ‘that’s not necessarily a bad thing’, which seems pretty pedestrian for professional philosophers, given that the language is pretty flexible and could allow a much greater expresssion than this ‘not necessarily a bad thing’ would suggest. I wouldn’t be caught dead saying something so unnaturally evolved myself.

      To sound completely ridiculous, therefore, you could say that all forms of evolution are forms of prostheses, and that the Cenozoic was a sleeker and more stylish prosthesis always longed for by the Mesozoic, despite the grandeur of the dinosaurs. I mean, mastodons and saber-toothed tigers just don’t quite play, which is proved by the thesis of ‘Jurassic Park’.

      When it gets into the slower-moving, but still few-centuries matters of elitist arts, say the oft-loathed by blogger-intellectuals, classical music, the prostheses are more obvious than those of whole species evolving happily and then perishing after billions and billions of years (to echo Carl Sagan): To wit, Liest is a prosthesis of Beethoven and Schumann, and Wagner a prosthese of Liezt, and Schoenberg a prosthesis of Wagner.

      But within this word ‘prosthesis’ is usually the implication of something inferior to the God-made. ‘Man-made’ is not nearly as impressive in most cases as is ‘god-made’, althogh ‘hand-maid’ doesn’t seem nearly as ‘prosthetic’ as ‘machine-made’, and they’re always more expensive….

      You may wonder, John, why I am in such a good mood this morning. This is because I have just defeated a number of the Prostheses of the Bad Kind, and these even included ‘orgnaicalizing’ certain capitalist internet tricks which offer ‘free trials’ and then stick on enormous charges. This is not generally easy to do, and usually nursing home and retirement community residents are victim to these scams (which are usually successful in their intent), but when you do it, it allows the other protoplasmic stretchings to continue along their yogic paths, although at this point we are so relaxed and gemuttlich now that we managed to obtain the trial kit worth $59.95 for $1.95 and got to keep it, while eliminating the $126.42 membership fee, which was attempting to attach itself, but was defeated BY A BIG BANK who had stood to gain from the covert authorization.

      This surely proves Social Darwinism to have all the merits that Marx and others saw in it, imitating nature’s own prostheses when it can, and then falling just as flat as many of the butterflies did when they couldn’t get their plumage coordinated from their predators quickly enough.


      Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 28 January 2010 @ 11:11 am

      • Liest is a prosthesis of Beethoven and Schumann, and Wagner a prosthese of Liezt

        Oh so mysterieux! The only misspelling in this post were two of Franz LISZT, surely a kind of Synchronicity Prosthesis that needed to be quickly remedied as of little use to evolution.


        Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 28 January 2010 @ 11:17 am

  4. Your comment reminded me of a book I have on my shelves written by Herbert Simon, a noted cognitive psychologist, AI researcher, and Nobel laureate in economics, entitled The Sciences of the Artificial (2nd edition 1981). This idea of doing science not just on nature but on artifacts is the sort of thing that separates some of the more scientifically inclined New Realists on the philosophy blogs. Some make the point, as you do, that the distinction between nature and artifact isn’t clear cut, which leads toward The Singularity and the posthuman in which the designer of artifacts is himself an artifact. Certainly human “nature” is already heavily overlaid with the artifice of culture and history and learning — “always already” is I suppose how one might characterize the artificiality of us humans.

    Franz Lisp was a popular AI programming language around time that Simon’s book was published.


    Comment by john doyle — 28 January 2010 @ 1:15 pm

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