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    "Theory" We Live By (edited) — by David Leung


    Today’s topic is theory.  My friends discussed the topic about theory today. I haven’t said anything. It seems that everyone has his/her own understanding of the term ‘theory’. So the discussion among friends seems becoming more and more complicated.  However, for my students, colleagues, and friends, I believe that it is time to speak of theory, since theory permeates everywhere in our daily lives.

    Theory is not that difficult as one think. In our daily lives, we are faced with different forms of theory in different levels that surround us. Indeed theory can affect us much, even though one hasn’t sensed its existence. For example, theory can conduct our way of thinking, our way of seeing, our way of reading, our way of understanding, our mode of communication, our mode of expression, as well as our form of perception. When we write, we have already applied some forms of theory, such as rhetorical theory, syntatic theory. When we think, our personal thinking pattern may form a kind of thought, that may be called a ‘theory’ of your own, even though you haven’t illustrated to others about the relevent theoretical terms, or perhaps, you actually do not know how to describe the term. Hence, whether you like to use the word ‘theory’ and its related terminologies to describe and explain what you observe, understand, explain, or express that surrounds you, theory really accompanies you as you live by.

    From this view, one may ask : What is theory? According to a dictionary, Collins Cobuild, it defines theory as : 1. a formal or a set of ideas that is intended to explain something;  2. the theory of a practical subject or skill is the set of rules and principles that form basis of it.

    In another common dictionary, Oxford Advanced Dictionary 7th edition, it defines theory as: 1. a formal set of ideas that is intended to explain why something happens or exists. 2. the principles on which a particular subject is based.

    To the definition of theory, both dictionaries offer us a common ground; that is, theory is used to observe and explain something, since it contains the rules and principles that form basis of that something.  As such,  theory is not that difficult as one think. After applying the so-called theory, you get more understanding of the ‘thing’.

    Simply put, in order to get a better understanding of an object, we may choose to apply a theory of others, not relying on our own way (i.e. own theory), to obtain a different views and aspects of that object. Do you take photo? Do you work with computer? Do you cook? Do you watch TV? Do you play piano, and hear music? If that so, you have been applying at least some theories to a certain extent that help you yourself to understand the thing you work with, or you cope with. Even though you deny that you are making a theory of your own to explain your surroundings, still you are influenced by the theories of others, both directly and indirectly.

    It is undeniable that many human-made theories in this world are very difficult to understand. Such difficulties, sometimes, are only a chicanery. Theorists often like to play trick and word game, to create a circular thinking, and to use many complicated jargons to their theories, so as to make readers feeling difficult to read, and turning around to get their points.  This is because theorists don’t want others to consider that their ideas are mediocrity. In addition, of course, the game rule of this world is that if you are saying something too ordinary, too mundane, no attention will be paid to you, including your ideas. Unfortunately, human nature tells us that we want  and need others’ attentions. Apart from those bad theories that playing tricks, there are still some inspiring theories of different levels that help readers observe different ‘things’ in an extraordinary way, as well as in multiple aspects. Don’t forget that theory can offer an explanation of the question ‘why’ for a ‘thing’, according to the Oxford Dictionary. Investigating ‘Why’ and ‘How’ for a thing to become, to exist, to sustain, to develops, and finally to disappear. Comparing to just asking what, asking why and how can usually offer a more interesting and inspiring insight to that ‘thing’. Although it is the fact that even good theory itself cannot provide the whole TRUTH of the ‘thing’ we observe, at least, it offers a PART OF TRUTH of that ‘thing’, opening up a new, broader thinking space for the observers to explore, to meditate, and finally, to comprehend.

    What makes a painter becoming painter? Because he/she possesses sensitivity of colors prevailing his/her world. What makes a composer becoming composer? Because he/she possesses sensitivity of sound that conceals in this world. What makes a poet becoming poet? Because he/she possesses sensitivity of human emotions that are expressed throughout life. As such, what makes a theorist becoming theorist? Because he/she possesses sensitivity of observing objects that are existing in his/her world.

    To me, theory is a mental ongoing process, whether it can be expressed in the form of statement, that formulates and formalizes a way or a pattern of observing and thinking of a ‘thing’ that exists in the world. Granted, we may not be able to make a theory of our own to formulate and formalize a ‘thing’, but if we want to be more insightful, creative and thoughtful on observing and understanding of a ‘thing’, please learn some theories of others. Apply them in your daily life and offer you a chance to learn a new way to view ‘thing’ in multipile angles. And , of course, please don’t forget to enjoy the satisfaction of what you could get from appreciating that ‘thing’. Perhaps, in one day, you can formulate a theory of your own that can be expressed in the form of statement. Then you are said to be a learned theorist.

    David Leung

    2011-01-06 (edited and published)

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