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Reification

One of David Gardner's favorite concepts, reification is the act of creating a new concept via creating the word to define the concept. Investment reifications include the spiffy-pop, the spiffy-drop, and the Day of Surpassion.

Background

Most of the time, language is used to "tag" or indicate tangible objects: in English, we call a ball "ball" and in so doing we provide common currency and understanding of the tangible, inanimate object that most of us from an early age grow up tossing around to each other, or kicking. That the ball was there, and was real, before anyone named it "ball" (or pelota, in Spanish), is common sense and indisputable. In this case, it took only a human -- and human agreement -- to name it "ball" in order to become useful in conversation and communication.

By contrast, reification reverses the process. Reification is the act of creating a new term for something that did not previously exist in human minds -- giving a word to a new intangible or abstract concept, and in so doing, making it real.

A simple example might include the word "intelligence." While there is no doubt a lot of interesting and important things happen in the "gray matter" as we humans slangily refer to our brains, the act of inventing the word "intelligence" gave us a handle on how to describe valuable conscious thought. Of course, debates then ensue about what constitutes "intelligence" and what does not. And what began as a simple term then in the course of history gets debated out, evolves, and continues to challenge us -- primarily because what it reifies is intangible, and ultimately, abstract. (Some psychologists today now call believe there are seven types of intelligence, for instance.)

A further related example of reification is IQ, or intelligence quotient. The anthropologist Stephen Jay Gould very ably provides and reflects on IQ as reification in his work. Indeed, IQ is even firmer and more explicit reification: This test actually attempts to quantify "intelligence" -- and in so putting a number on it, it even more directly (though perhaps not accurately or valuably) "reifies" human intelligence.

In conclusion, the act of reification is an inherently creative act, whereby the creator is both inventing a new, previously unrecognized concept, and is putting a word to it as well to give other people the ability to discuss and communicate the thought's invention.

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