Heaven, Earth, Birth, and Death

My primary interest is located in the intersection between Knowledge,  Creativity, and Adult Development. I roughly use Creative Life to name this focus.

It’s clear that I don’t want to develop a general framework about adult development for everyone. I only consider Knowledge Workers and Creators as my target audience.

The Creative Life Curation project aims to adopt Curativity Theory to understand Creative Life. The diagram below is the basic model of the Creative Life Curation framework.

The above framework highlights two tendencies:

  • Subjectification - Experience 1: turning the world into a person’s experience.
  • Objectification - Experience 2: turning the person’s experience into artifacts for the world.

On Nov 14, 2022, I introduced a semiotic system diagram for the Creative Life Curation project. The core of the diagram is the following five units of analysis:

This article will focus on the last unit of analysis: Lifescope.

Time, Space, and Creative Work

What is Lifescope? Why do we need the unit of analysis? Can we use some existing concepts for this unit of analysis?

In 2021, I worked on the Career Curation project which aims to apply the Ecological Practice approach to study career development. Thus, I started looking for a theoretical approach to define the concept of “Career” that considers both paid work and non-paid work as a whole.

Why did I want to search for such a concept?

My primary interest is in creative career development or the career of creative people. From my case studies, I realized that the boundary between Work and Life is really blurry for creative people. Traditional definitions of career are not suitable for creative work study.

Donald E. Super’s Life Career Rainbow is a good starting point for understanding Life and Career. Donald E. Super’s theory is named A life-span, life-space approach to career development. See the diagram below.

Donald E. Super’s Life Career Rainbow

According to Super, there are five major life and career development stages:

  • Growth (Age: birth – 14)
    Characteristics: development of self-concept attitudes, and the general world of work
  • 2. Exploration (Age 15 – 24)
    Trying out classes, work, hobbies; tentative choice and skill development
  • 3. Establishment (Age 25 – 44)
    Entry-level skill-building and stabilizing work experience
  • 4. Maintenance (Age 45 –64)
    Continual adjustment process to improve the position
  • 5. Decline (Age 65+)
    Reduced output, preparation for retirement

Super's model considers two significant facts of career development: age bounds and task markers. It also claims that there is a hybrid view of the model. It can be seen as a macro view that is age-dependent. It is also can be seen as a micro view that emphasizes the mini-cycle of task-centered view of stages. For example, a person can return to the Exploration stage around age 35 if he faces the challenge of life transitions.

While Age is a significant fact in life development because it is related to the biological dimension of life, I pay attention to Biographical Time. Since my focus is on creators, I also pay attention to Creative Work and the Impact of Creative Work which is related to Social Space.

On Oct 22, 2021, I published an article about Creative Work Canvas. At the end of the article, I developed a new concept called Lifescope. See the diagram below.

Creative Lifescope (Oliver Ding, 2021)

I drew the above diagram to visualize the notion of “Lifescope”. There is a dimension called Social Space behind “Self → Other → Field” and “Moment → Project → Theme” refers to another dimension called Biographical Time. These two dimensions define a creative person’s Lifescope.

A creative person’s Lifescope is defined by his creative work which can be measured with social space and biographical time.

The main activity of Lifescope is Creative Work.

In the past 12 months, I developed a new structure of Units of Analysis for understanding Creative Life:

  • Creative Actions
  • Creative Projects
  • Creative Journey
  • Creative Landscape
  • Creative Lifescope

Each Unit of Analysis refers to a unique time scale, spatial scale, and theoretical focus. The Unit of Analysis “Lifescope” is related to biographical analysis. It considers a creative person’s life as a whole. The other four units of analysis are part of “Lifescope”.

The World of Working and Creative Life

The Career Curation project was stopped on July 17, 2021.


The Career Curation project aimed to apply the ecological practice approach, especially the Lifesystem framework, to study career development.

The purpose of the Lifesystem framework is to develop a framework for discussing work-related design innovation and career development. It is close to Alfred Schutz’s concept of “The World of Working” which is the opposite of the world of fantasy and dream. I think the concept “The World of Working” is perfect for defining the concept of “Career” in order to consider paid work and non-paid work as a whole.

I wrote a 106-page document as the first draft of Career Curation. The file contains the following six chapters:

  • Chapter 1: The Background (32 pages)
  • Chapter 2: Lifeway, Lifeform, and Lifeworld (6 pages)
  • Chapter 3: Opportunity, Object, and Outcome (22 pages)
  • Chapter 4: Lifesystem (20 pages)
  • Chapter 5: The Landscape of Lifeworld (10 pages)
  • Chapter 6: The Method (6 pages)

Chapter 5 is a draft. It aims to claim that the basic unit of Lifeworld is Lifesystem. I planned to review the historical development of the concept of Lifeworld. I considered Lifesystem as a basic unit of analysis of the World of Working. In order to understand the structure and dynamics of the World of Working, I developed a typology of the Lifesystem and the diagram below.

I stopped writing the book in July 2021 because I realized that I need to read more about Alfred Schutz’s ideas and books. Thus, I changed my plan from writing to reading. This journey led to the discovery of the concept of “The World of Working” from Schutz’s writings.

Alfred Schutz is an Austrian philosopher and social phenomenologist. His career is a perfect example of Creative Life.

Schutz is a creative theorist whose work applied phenomenology to sociology. His works are recognized as creative projects. However, his life can be considered a creative life too. Though Schutz had a very short teaching career at the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research, he was not a formal scholar who had a job in a research university during most of his intellectual career. We can say that he was an extremely excellent independent researcher.

According to Helmut R. Wagner who is the author of Alfred Schutz: An Intellectual Biography, “In organizing his time, Schutz gave priority to four sets of relevant interests. Each of them belonged to a different area of concern, each had its own primary relevance, and each formed a relatively self-contained sphere of life. ” Schutz’s four life spheres are family life, business activities, theoretical-philosophical activities, and music.

Schutz’s life is a creative life of intellectuals. I’d like to point out that there are many kinds of creative lives. For example, Steve Jobs, Neil Alden Armstrong, Martin Luther King, and Malala Yousafzai. Moreover, we should notice that there are many creative lives that are not “Big-C” such as famous figures. Scholars have offered us a 4C model of creativity.

  • Big-C: famous creative achievements such as music, paints, inventions, theories, etc.
  • little-c: creative behavior in everyday life. For example, making waffle art, using cardboard boxes for sliding, decorating a place for a birthday party, etc.
  • Mini-c: the novel and personally meaningful interpretation of experience, actions, and events.
  • Pro-c: “amateur” creators and professional creators who are successful, but have not reached a level of prominence as eminent creators achieved.

Later, I realized that the Lifesystem framework is great for the unit of analysis "Creative Actions". For other units of analysis, I don't have to use the Lifesystem framework.

The unit of analysis "Creative Lifescope" roughly echoes Schutz’s concept of “the World of Working”.

Can we claim that the concept of “Lifescope” equals “the World of Working”?

There is a difference between these two concepts. This difference led to a new idea called "the World of Activity".

The Worlds of Fantasy and Dream

In order to distinguish the covert performances of mere thinking from those overt requiring bodily movements,  Schutz called the latter Working. According to Schutz, Working refers to action in the outer world.

Working, thus, is action in the outer world, based upon a project and characterized by the intention to bring about the projected state of affairs by bodily movements. Among all the described forms of sopntaneity that of working is the most important one for the constitution of the reality of the world of daily life... The wide-awake self integrates in its working and by its working its present, past, and future into a specific dimension of time; it realizes itself as a totality in its working acts; it communicates with others through working acts; it organizes the different spatial perspectives of the world of daily life through working acts.

Source: Alfred Schutz on Phenomenology and Social Relations (1970, p.126)

The World of Working is one sub-world of the World of Daily Life or the Life-world. There are other sub-worlds in the Life-world. For example, the worlds of fantasy and dream.

According to Helmut R. Wagner, the author of Alfred Schutz: An Intellectual Biography (1983), Schutz decided to approach his scientific project "step by step confronting the working world with other closed meaning spheres: the worlds of fantasy and dream." (1983, p.59) Wagners pointed out several challenges in dealing with the phenomena of fantasies and dreams.

  • Time remains irreversible because fantasying occurs in irreversible duration; and, whether I fantasize myself as dwarf or giant, the boundaries of the body have to be respected.
  • Dream is the opposite of the working world. There are no apperceptions but only perceptions. The ego does work neither in fantasy nor in dream. But the fantasying ego is free to choose and to interpret; the dreaming ego cannot escape the events of the dream; it is completely powerless.
  • All dream experiences are solitary. Others appear but never become subjects of the dream world. The quasi-We relation of the dream is empty and ghostly.
  • I can speak of both only after I have ceased to fantasize or to dream. In describing my dreams I use "tools of the working world" that are bound to rules of coherence and compatibility that do not prevail in the prescribed experiences. The "eminently dialectic difficulty" is that it is impossible to communicate dream or fantasy events without transcending them.
  • Source: Alfred Schutz: An Intellectual Biography (1983, p.59),

The difference between “Lifescope” and “the World of Working” is the former doesn't require the distinction between the worlds of fantasy and dream and the world of working.

In order to research creative life, I think it is important to consider the worlds of fantasy and dreams since they are significant sources of creative inspiration. Since Schutz is a social scientist, the quasi-We relation of the dream is empty and ghostly, so the world of dreams is not useful for studying the We relation. However, the world of dreams is important to creative cognition which is related to creative work study.

The primary focus of the Creative Life Curation framework is the transformation from individual actions to collective culture. The worlds of fantasy and dream are "closed realm and meaning" which require cognitive actions. I consider cognitive actions to be a specific type of individual action. For me, the distinction between Subjectification and Objectification is more important than the distinction between the world of dream and the world of working.

While Subjectification (Experience 1) refers to turning the world into a person’s experience, Objectification (Experience 2) refers to turning the person’s experience into artifacts for the world.

Subjectification also links to Second-order Activity while Objectification links to First-order Activity.

If we see them as a meaningful whole, then we can call them the World of Activity.

The World of Activity

The notion of "the World of Activity" is a new definition of "Lifescope". It also proposes a new theoretical approach to rethinking Activity Theory.

The new notion is inspired by "the World of Working" and it also emphasizes the perspective of subjective experience, we can consider it to be a creative thematic dialogue between Phenomenology and Activity Theory.

What's the World of Activity?

See the diagram below. It was inspired by a diagram called Universal Reference. You can find more details in A Universal Reference for Knowledge Engagement.

The above diagram highlights four keywords: Birth, Death, Heaven, and Earth.

The Horizontal group refers to the "Activity" of Life while The Vertical group refers to the “Theory” of Life.

  • The "Activity" of Life = the Situations of Activity of “Engagement”
  • The "Theory" of Life = the Degrees of Abstraction of “Knowledge”

If we put them together, we get the following formula.

The World of Activity = The "Activity" of Life + The "Theory" of Life = "Activity Theory"

The “Heaven—Earth” dimension is shared with the following pairs of concepts:

  • The “TheoryPractice” dimension
  • The “Langue — Space” dimension
  • The “Episteme — Empeiria” dimension

The “Heaven — Earth” dimension is a metaphor that is a popular pair of concepts in Chinese philosophy. 天 (Tian) heaven, 地 (Di) earth, and 人 (Ren) humans, are three spheres of origin, 三才 (San Cai). This threefold structure of the universe offers a coherent and systematic approach to understand nature and society.

I’d like to use “天 (Tian) heaven” to refer to the high degree of abstraction of knowledge while “地 (Di) earth” is associated with the low degree of abstraction of knowledge.

The “Langue” refers to universal concepts or vocabulary while “Space” refers to spatial structure and immediate embodied experience.

The “Theory” refers to the high degree of abstraction of knowledge while the "Practice" refers to the low degree of abstraction of knowledge.

The “Episteme — Empeiria” dimension refers to Aristotle's typology of knowledge.

The “Birth - Death” dimension is shared with the following pairs of concepts:

  • The “Means End” dimension
  • The “Attach — Detach” dimension
  • The “Self — Other” dimension

The “Birth — Death” dimension refers to the “alive” status of things. Actions and Activities are only “alive” when we are acting. At the end of an activity, the thing we worked on is produced. It’s done. It’s no longer alive. If we use it in a new activity, it becomes alive again.

The notion of "the second death" is populated by the 2017 Disney film Coco.  

In fact, the theme of Coco is "final death" which is inspired by traditional Mexican ideas of the "three deaths", according to Clarisse Loughrey.

  • The “first death” is the physical one, the death of the body.
  • The “second death” is more of a natural one: the moment the body is laid to rest on the earth and returned into nature’s cycle.
  • The “third death” is that breached in the film and is the most definitive: the moment the last memory of you fades. Día de Muertos helps to delay that final death.

Traditional Activity Theory doesn't deal with the theme of death. However, Activity Theory's concept of "Means - End" echoes the "Birth - Death" dimension.

Activity Theory or the “Cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT)” is an interdisciplinary philosophical framework for studying both individual and social aspects of human behavior. According to Kaptelinin & Nardi (2012), “The immediate conceptual origins of activity can be found in Russian/Soviet psychology of the 1920s and 1930s. During that time theoretical explorations in Russian psychology were heavily influenced by Marxist philosophy… Leontiev’s activity theory emerged as an outgrowth of the sociocultural perspective. The theory employs a number of ideas developed by Lev Vygotsky, Leontiev’s mentor and friend. It is also strongly influenced by the work of Sergei Rubinshtein, a major figure in Russian psychology and a long-time colleague of Leontiev.”(p.13–14)

According to Kaptelinin and Nardi (2006), there are five basic principles of Activity Theory:

  • Object-orientedness
  • Tool mediation
  • Internalization — externalization
  • The hierarchical structure of activity, and
  • Development

The "Means - End" dimension is related to the "Tool Mediation" principle.

The Means-End issue is a complicated issue in the literature of Activity Theory and Vygotsky’s Cultural-historical theory of psychology because scholars have different interpretations of Vygotsky’s ideas. As mentioned above, the mediated action v.s. mediating activities debate is an example. A second example might be Newman and Holzman’s ideas v.s. Bruner’s ideas. According to Newman and Holzman, “Vygotsky’s tool-and-result method is purposeful in the Marxian sense, not, contrary to Bruner’s formulation, in the instrumentalist sense. Vygotsky’s rejection of the causal and/or functional methodological notion of tool or instrument for a purpose or result in favor of the dialectical notion of tool-and-result in the study of human psychology is new and revolutionary.” (1993, p.40)

From the perspective of Activity Theory, I consider the Means-End issue within concrete activities. For a particular activity, an object such as a diagram might be an end, I call it Thought-to-Diagram. For another particular activity, the same diagram might be a means, I call it Diagram-to-Thought. If we combine these two situations together, we can develop a Means-End Spectrum and use it to present various instrumental values of diagrams.

The same notion can be applied to other material objects, even intangible objects such as themes, concepts, frameworks, events, etc.

The “Attach—Detach” dimension considers Life as a super container. Birth means People attach their bodies to Life and death refers to they detach their bodies from Life. According to the Ecological Practice approach, there are many containers inside Life. Houses, families, organizations, and communities, both are containers.

The notion of "the World of Activity" expanded the meaning of the original concept of "Lifescope".

Originally, I claimed that Creative Work is a special type of Activity. Now the Lifescope of Creative Life can be understood as the World of Activity.

Lifescope and Genidenity

I use the Platform Genidentity framework to understand the Unit of Analysis "Lifescope". See the diagram below.

A thing’s Genidentity is defined by Essential Differences with Situated Dynamics.

The diagram below is the basic model of the Platform Genidentity framework.

The Platform Genidentity framework was developed as a general framework for discussing the development of things.

How to use it to discuss Lifescope?

While Platform Core can be understood as a creative person's life themes and identity, Platform-ba can be understood as other people and related fields.

How to understand the Essential Differences and Situated Dynamics? We can use a three-level hierarchy as a tool.

For example, Yale management professor Amy Wrzesniewski discovers that there are three types of work views:

  • a job (“I view my job as just a necessity of life, much like breathing or sleeping”),
  • a career (“I view my job primarily as a stepping-stone to other jobs”), or
  • a calling (“My work is one of the most important things in my life”).

We can consider the above typology as a hierarchy of work. In 2016, I developed a similar hierarchy:

  • Category: a person considers job positions as her or his career themes.
  • Experience: a person considers job experiences as her or his career themes.
  • Principle: a person considers abstract principles as her or his career themes.

The Experience level refers to a person’s subjective feelings about working on some things. Several job positions may share the same subjective feelings. Thus, the Experience level (subjective feelings) is more abstract than the Category level (job position).

The Principle level is the highest abstract level of career themes. A person jumps from her or his own subjective feelings to objective laws of the world. It is not Ray Dalio’s Principles that refer to rules of work and life. Many great creators tend to find principles for their creative life. However, it is a long journey to search for a unique principle.

In the above speech, Bret Victor talks about the Principle, “As you approach your career, you’ll hear a lot about following your passion or doing something you love. I’m going to talk about something kind of different. I’m going to talk about following a principle — finding a guiding principle for your work, something you believe is important and necessary, and right, and using that to guide what you do…As a technologist, you can recognize a wrong in the world. You can have a vision of what a better world could be. And you can dedicate yourself to fighting for a principle. Social activists typically fight by organizing but you can fight by inventing.”

Bret Victor spent almost ten years discovering his career principle:

Here’s something I’ve come to believe: Creators need an immediate connection to what they’re creating. That’s my principle.

I watched Bret Victor’s speech in 2016. Then, I discovered my own principle “Curativity” in 2018.

The Experience—Theme Curativity is based on the connection between your life experience, the development of social culture, and the laws of the world.

Curating pieces of life experience into a meaningful cultural theme is the essential meaning of Creative Life Curation.