Jeff's Hammer - A Conceptual Tool

This is a tool of humility. Given any current level of understanding, there is always more available complexity. That's the basic idea of Jeff's Hammer, let's dive into it a bit more and look at why that is.


To understand or comprehend something essentially means to be able to grab and hold it with your mind. We have a limited capacity to do this. Humans have a very high capacity, but it's still quite limited. Luckily, some ancient geniuses figured out how to encode information into paintings, pictures, words, and symbols. This allows us to work with a lot more information, but this problem of limited information is not a solvable problem.

One of the reasons that it is unsolvable is because to conceptualize anything, or to represent anything in symbolic form, we lose some of the information. A chair contains all of the data of the chair. A picture, a painting, the word chair written or spoken, a description of the chair, a 3D diagram of the chair, all of these have less data than the data that is contained in the chair. That's not even talking about distorted information, just lost information.

What this means is that the more we dig into something the more there is to know. Ever greater levels of complexity emerge at each step. Complexity is emergent. We have to choose what level is the right level of analysis to use in any given situation. Complexity, by the way, is both differentiation and connection. The more parts that are trying to work together the more complex something is.

This is why reductionism exists, to simplify the world. Reductionism is breaking something down into its pieces and parts. It often works well. Sometimes it can lead you to errors, which is why reductionism is often used as a criticism. Saying that something is too reductionistic is saying that the person you're criticizing has chosen the wrong level of analysis and you think they should take a more complex and sophisticated view of the subject.

There are a few things that Jeff's Hammer can bring to light. Let's use an example and see some of them in action.

I want to use something simpler than a chair. How about a small wooden block? That seems pretty simple. Jeff's Hammer is a beautiful metaphor, so let's smack this wooden block and see what happens.

First, you can hit the wooden block and it will move. It will slide across the floor and bump into something else. This is our first point, things are associated with each other, they interact, there is always context. How does the block relate to the floor? To the air? To the wall that it hit? To the other blocks it slid into? This can be expanded infinitely with more distant connections. These connections are less relevant, which is why we can usually safely ignore them, but they are still there.

Next, let's smack the block again. This time it cracks and splits in two. This is our reductionistic view. All things can be broken into pieces. We don't know how far this goes. Molecules become atoms, atoms become electrons, neutrons, and protons, protons become quarks. We don't know where this process ends, we're not even sure humans are capable of carrying it to the limit. But, we definitely know that things are made from many very tiny pieces. You can keep hitting the block with Jeff's Hammer into these smaller and smaller pieces.

You can also use the hammer to smush things together. The block can be hammered against the floor to create a doorstop. The human mind has this amazing ability to smush any two ideas together and create something new. Any two things, so it can get pretty crazy pretty quick. You can smush that block with the idea of an apple and come up with cube apples. They would probably be less wasteful when slicing, and you wouldn't have the rolling off the table issue. (Relational Frame Theory has delved into this research more if you're curious.)

We can also use Jeff's Hammer to hit the block and send it back in time. Where did it come from? Blocks aren't natural so someone made it, who? A tree was cut down, where? It was milled, by whom? It was shipped, in what? This process can go on and on.

To reverse the process you could hit the block and send it into the future. Jeff's Hammer has special powers. Who will play with or use the block? Will it be burned and transform? Will it rot? Will it become a fossil? Maybe when you hit it into the future it also gets smashed into pieces and they scatter. Possibilities on into infinity.

You can see that Jeff's Hammer is a tool that warps the fabric of time and space, or to put it more colloquially, it smacks things across time and space, as a whole or in pieces. The point is any given thing is more complex than your current concept of it.

I've kept it simple by talking about a physical wooden block. Imagine using Jeff's Hammer on a concept. Instead of smacking a block you can smash a story into its pieces, smush it with another story or idea, fling it across time to see where it came from and where it's going, propel it through space to see what else it bumps into and relates to. The possibilities are endless.

You can hit math, and language, and politics, and anything else you can think of. All of it is always more complex than your current conception of it. This can be useful for staying humble about your knowledge, but it can also be somewhat dangerous. It's pretty hard to be confident when you think like this too much. I've had that issue for years, although I've started to overcome it in the last couple of years. Like anything else, use it when it's useful.

Final thing, can you hit Jeff's Hammer with Jeff's Hammer? Yes, you can.

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You can find more of what I'm doing at http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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