The conceptual model of what originally was the seven epistemological levels was developed by Petruska Clarkson to help students who were grappling with the wide variety of models of psychology or orders of human experience so that the similarities, differences and contradictions of the existing models could be clarified and clear communication enhanced.
The model provides a simultaneous implication of different domains of human existence alongside the different modes of discourse used and the different narratives involved.
In thinking and talking about complexity, we are faced with the challenge of perceiving and discoursing upon the different domains of discourse that are involved in the attempt to capture and circumscribe the field in question. Frequently it is observed that misunderstandings are not necessarily due to intrinsic differences, but occur as result of category errors when the different truth values which apply in different domains are used indiscriminately across the various levels of discourse.
Domain 1: The physiological/perceptual
This is the realm of sensory experience, the part of our experienced world which functions in time before language manifests. The sources of knowledge on this level are the objects and events perceived through our senses and also the proprioceptive experience of phenomena within our bodies. It concerns body processes such as sleep arousal, psychophysiology, natural sleep rhythms, physical conditions of disease, the physical manifestation of anxiety and general sensory awareness.
Domain 2: The affective/emotional
This level comprises the feelings that we have in common with infants and animals-fear, pain, joy, anger etc. Emotions and subjective feelings pervade our existence, and even the smallest possible segments of our perceptions carry an ‘emotional colour’. Emotions are the subjective feelings which arise as response to one or another stimulus events.
This domain involves a pre-verbal area of experience and activity. It concerns those psychophysiological states or electro-chemical muscular changes in our bodies we talk about as feelings, affect and/or emotion in psychology. What one person experiences as distress in the vertiginous post-modern condition, another may experience as pleasurable excitement at the unfolding of creative potentials of chaos. It has been convincingly demonstrated and argued that there is always an emotional layer or sub-text to any communication - even if it is the acknowledgement of the other person.
Domain 3: The nominative
This level comprises naming through words, a process which rests on division into classes and categories and precedes complex abstract thinking. (This model is a level three discourse itself.) This is the area of objective nominalism, when objects are placed together on the basis of certain resemblances. Linguistic identity is established through the repetition of a unique sound which supports the development of an objective reality outside the self. Name giving implies reflective shared experience, the basis of human culture. Within any common set of language rules the fact that certain kinds of words are known to stand for certain kinds of objects, can be agreed, debated or disputed.
Domain 4: The normative
The normative level comprises the various aspects of the individual encountering the norms and values of the group, the tribe, the family, the organisation, the culture, the church, the political party etc. This level of discourse tends to deal with facts, knowledge of attributes and practices regarding people as ‘cultural beings’. It deals with values, norms, collective belief systems, stereotypes of gender or race for example and societal or organisational expectations.
Domain 5: The rational, logical:
This is the level of facts, the logical-rational dimension of testable statements, where causal relations can be clearly established. The rational permits clear positivistic principles of verification, it operates with that which can be objectively identified, defined and proved - for that time and that culture. Facts in this realm exist not as subjective feelings, mere words or shared beliefs, but as rational conclusions derived in a repeatable form from a body of well established empirical data. This layer of knowledge and activity includes thinking, making sense of things, examination of cause and effect, working with facts and information of the time and place. It covers science, logic, statistical probabilities, provable facts, verifiability according to Popper, established ‘truth’ statements and consensually observable phenomena.
Domain 6: The theoretical/metaphorical
The theoretical level attends to explanations, metaphors, the stories that are told to show how things have come about, narratives and metaphors. They are the means by which we make sense of the world; they do not establish the ‘Truth’ but remain some of the possible versions that when verified or negated pass from theory to the factual domain (5). Within the sixth domain there are the hypotheses, explanations, metaphors and stories that humans have created in order to explain why things are they way they are and why humans behave in a certain way. Theory that is not underpinned by the rationality of domain 5 tends to rely on the belief structures of level 4.
Domain 7: The transpersonal or currently inexplicable
The transpersonal level attends to the unexplained areas of human interaction and experience. It arises within an inner locus of evaluation and experience which appears to connect with the universal and is distinct from the outer locus of evaluation, which is group norm related. This domain refers to the epistemological area or universe of discourse concerned with people as ‘spiritual beings’, or for those who want to use another nomination - with the soul. It is beyond rationality, facts and theories and concerns the paradoxical, the unpredictable and the inexplicable. It is a region of unknowability, a horizon that has to be left open for the development of future areas of discourse and reference for these currently unknown conditions. In this domain, we could present complexity as those aspects of autopoiesis which are still mysterious, ‘physis’ or the life-force (see Heraclitus and Heidegger) which makes systems and organisms emerge and self-develop out of unpredictable circumstances - autopoetic emergence itself.
In memory of Petruska Clarkson