Why things are sometimes slightly different

“Different things are dependent upon different things.” Nāgārjuna

We’re keenly aware of differences, and sometimes oversensitive, at least when we think the differences matter to us. Sometimes we detect a difference we’re not even consciously aware of, but it still unconsciously affects our judgement and behaviour.

Having already explored why things are sometimes the same (https://link.medium.com/4GfWE9jdU8 – given in italics below), it’s time to consider why at other times they’re slightly different.


[Things are sometimes the same because they’re just different views/ examples/ versions/ results of the same phenomenon/ idea/ method/ principle, but…]

I. You can approach the same thing in slightly different ways, and different views of the same thing may sometimes seem irreconcilable to varying degrees. Also, though they may both relate to exactly the same thing, sometimes we haven’t yet made the connection between particular instances of the same underlying structure/problem, like drawing pails of water from the same underground stream, without recognising that different river sections are actually the same watercourse.

[Things are sometimes the same because they independently come into being as a result of common local physical environmental conditions, but…]

II. Differences in the wider environment due to uneven distribution of resources and varied circumstances, and slight differences in boundary conditions, can all influence the outcome of a common physical process

[Things are sometimes the same because they independently express a shared human response in different cultures to the global human condition and environment (local innovation), but…]

IIIa. There can be a different individual and collective human response/reaction to the same initial conditions

IIIb. and also prevailing local conditions/aesthetics can be exceptional

[Things are sometimes the same because they become alike through contact with others (cultural diffusion),
a. when external factors change internal characteristics at some distance of time or place
b. when diverse external factors are mixed/embedded with internal characteristics in close proximity
c. when external factors are incorporated whole

IV. The contact itself and the effect of contact can be attenuated or modified

a. when increasing distance in time and place introduces more ‘noise’ to a ‘signal,’ and makes its interpretation more difficult

‘kamben cerek’ breastcloth, Balinese people, east Bali, Indonesia (top); ‘kandit’ waist-sash, Tausug people, Sulu archipelago, Philippines (bottom). ‘Despite the contrast between the sombre green, red, yellow and natural brown handspun Balinese cotton and the luminuous pink, blue, orange and purple of the Tausug silk, both fabrics contain comparable interpretations of popular Southeast Asian diamond grid and zigzag patterns.’ (Maxwell, ibid.)

b. Things are sometimes destroyed/ repressed/ lost before their full influence can be felt

c. Existing elements can be expelled, modified or remade

[Things are sometimes the same because they’re arbitrary but derived from a single common origin, but…]

V. Though from a shared source, things can subsequently develop slightly differently

[Things are sometimes the same because sometimes (and not always through any fault of our own) we can’t tell/ don’t notice/ ignore/ overlook the difference, but…]

VI. Sometimes we choose to care more, even unreasonably or irrationally, about differences which could otherwise go unremarked, and we become ‘splitters’ rather than ‘lumpers’

[Things are sometimes the same because we consciously create or accept analogies between unrelated and independent forms which seem similar to us, but…]

VII. Consciously examining the wider effect of conscious analogies can lead to a more refined awareness and differentiation

[Things are sometimes the same because we unconsciously create or accept analogies between unrelated and independent forms which seem similar to us, but…]

VIII. Sometimes we resist certain analogies which are well founded but threaten our world view

[Things sometimes seem the same because they do the same thing in a different way, but…]

IX. Sometimes means are more important than ends, focusing on causes and processes rather than effects


Now I’ve set out the framework for why things are sometimes the same, and sometimes slightly different, perhaps I can leave you to work out for yourself how a few examples play out across the classification, remembering that there may be more than one reason in each case:


No differently from the way in which this essay was trailed in its earlier companion essay on Why Things are Sometimes the Same, I’m now going to trail the following works in progress, again more by way of self-encouragement than to advertise: Why Things (and Our Ideas About Them) Sometimes Change while Others Remain the Same (touching on ideas of natural propensity to change, evolutionary pressure, fitness, utility); and Why Things Sometimes Change in the Same Way, and Other Times in Ways that Change (though for now, I’m not really sure where that will lead).

Meanwhile, because that may take some time (it took nearly two years to get from that earlier essay to this), in case you hadn’t noticed I’m often editing and adding to the collected examples, so please do check in occasionally for any small changes I may make for any reason, including the above …



Glass Bead Game designer

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