An anti-climax

I didn’t have high hopes for GISH – I didn’t know what to expect. But I had hoped for some sort of collaborative creating and remixing with some like minded people. So I paid my $25.01 (why the .01, I wondered) and waited to see what the challenges would be like.

GISH is a week long event, and this year it ran from 30th July to 6th August. So on Sat 30th I logged in from my PC. First I tried to update my profile, but the web pages kept crashing, so I gave up on that. Next I headed to the Teams tab, expecting to find a chat room or a forum, but there was just a list of names with links to email them individually. Meh, I assumed the captain would be in touch.

And that was pretty much it. I scanned through the challenges and picked up a couple I could do alone from my desk (many of them either specified a specific location in the US or required interaction in busy places, neither of which were possible for me), and wandered off to do other things.

During my busier than usual work week I occasionally wondered why nobody was getting in touch – was I missing something? I checked the Teams tab again, but there was still nothing there. But apparently I was missing everything, as I found out after the event had ended. It turns out that there was a ios/android app, and that’s where my team were chatting. Somehow I’d missed mention of it on the web pages. I know this is all my own fault, and I could have got in touch with the captain (who I did not know), or other team members, but there it is.

And I can’t help feeling a little sad that nobody thought to ask me where I was.

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The Master and His Emissary, Part 1

For the last couple of months I have been slowly reading Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary. Slowly – because it is a big book, in more ways than one. I am only scratching at the surface of it – but the discussion of the left and right hemispheres is fascinating. As a leftie and the daughter of a leftie, I grew up with a lot of folk wisdom about the left hemisphere as being the faculty of reason and language while the right hemisphere is the domain of emotion and visual imagery. This, as McGilchrist shows, is false – both hemispheres are involved in each, just in different ways. The right provides us with the big picture, while the left is good at analysing details and specifics. In his RSA talk, McGilchrist gives an example of a bird to illustrate this – using its left hemisphere to focus on picking out tasty seeds from amongst the pebbles while the right hemisphere scans the area for possible danger. Both functions are vital, both sides need to talk to each other and, importantly, also listen to each other. In particular, the right hemisphere is connected to the physical world in a way that the left is not. And this can lead us into problems when the left forgets to pay attention to the right, which it is prone to do. I would really recommend watching this talk. I’ll be back to talk about the consequences for humanity for prioritising the left way of thinking over the right which is the subject of the second part of this book.

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Literal Descriptions

Look around you and create a picture of what you see in words (or use the image below if you like). Describe it to us without using any metaphors or showing the photo.

What do you really see?

This might be considered a practice in writing alternative descriptions for images- what can be a valid substitute for the visual representation,

Describe the essential elements of a scene in words, e.g.

A silver vat of vivid red cherries calls to be eaten and stands out in contrast of a lush background of green ground cover and purple wildflowers.

Cat in a box
A small brown box, resting in the corner of a sofa with a striped pink and purple velvet cover. A black cat curled up in the box, looking up at the camera with her bright yellow eyes which ask: ‘how dare you disturb my sleep for your silly game?’
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Heideggerian Art

Language Noths
Language Noths” flickr photo by NomadWarMachine shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Inspired by a Twitter conversion, I added a couple of phases from Heidegger to an AI art generator and this is the result. These are the phrases:

Why are there beings at all, instead of Nothing?

Language remains the master of man. 

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Queen Margaret Bridge over the Kelvin
Queen Margaret Bridge over the Kelvin” flickr photo by NomadWarMachine shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Aletheia was a Greek Goddess. The word is often translated into English as truth – and Aletheia’s Roman counterpart is called Veritas. However, as Heidegger and others say, truth is really insufficient as a translation. Truth is a noun in Latin, but in Greek aletheia is an activity.  This is not just an exercise in semantics. Heidegger understood the importance of language: it shapes our understanding of our world and constrains what we can say.

Etymologically aletheia means un-forgetting or un-concealing (a- lethe). In Greek mythology the river Lethe was one of the five rivers in Hades, and all those who drank from it forgot everything they knew.  In “The Origin of the Work of Art” Heidegger tells is that art opens up a clearing to disclose meaning – it helps us to un-forget. And further – art is not just a way that we can find out about ourselves and our world – it also creates meanings for us as a community. I might prefer to conceptualise this slightly differently and talk about art as opening up possibilities for different meanings, interpretations or understandings, but the idea is thought provoking.

Wittgenstein makes a similar point in his Tractatus (5.6) when he says that “the limits of my language are the limits of my world” – if we can’t describe something in words then in a very real sense it does not exist for us (I am aware that Wittgenstein would have gone further with this thought at the time than I am doing now).  And further, in a later work:

“A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.” Philosophical Investigations, 115

Art helps us to give us the concepts that we need to understand our world in new ways – it reminds us that there is more than one way of looking at things. Aletheia is stronger than just remembering, it is making a conscious effort to act in a certain way – it is an attitude towards the world. I think that this might well describe the demeanour of a bricoleur. Our ‘what if?’ and ‘yes, and?’ attitudes to life help us to open up the world to ourselves in new ways and discover new ways of being in the world.

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Pentimento (Aletheia)

King Robert of Sicily
King Robert of Sicily” flickr photo by NomadWarMachine shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Does a sculptor chip away

To uncover the image within?

Or is structure created

As marble is shaped?

The age old question:

Does Science discover Truth or create it?

Is beauty innate, or in the eye of the beholder?

(And would a rose by any other name really smell as sweet?)

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Start copying

mimesis” flickr photo by NomadWarMachine shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

I think I’ve always been a bricoleur – it’s a family trait. But it’s not without danger. When I read this page by Austin Kleon, I remembered happy times messing around with my brother. We were big fans of seeing how things worked. Watches, clocks – anything that had moving parts. We’d prise them apart and put them back together again. Yet, somehow, there was always a small pile of springs and screws left on the floor afterwards.

And the watches and clocks ended up on Dad’s workbench …

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Heidegger and Bricolage Part 2

Fortune Teller
Fortune Teller” flickr photo by NomadWarMachine shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

In my earlier post I suggested that Heidegger thought of understanding as being an uncovering of meaning, and I further suggested that this is one of the things that we bricoleurs do when we mix and remix. In this post I want to continue with my interpretation of bricolage through a Heideggerian lens.

In his discussion of constructionism, Seymour Papert contrasts two type of problem solving – the analytical, which take a theoretical approach and the practical, which he calls bricolage. Simon Critchley makes a similar distinction in his book Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, sketching a brief history of philosophy and distinguishing between two types of Western traditions in philosophy: the Anglo-American and the Continental. The difference between these two schools of thought is not a geographical one, it is a difference in approach. The Anglo-American school of philosophy proceeds by logical analysis; the Continental school uses hermeneutics (interpretation) as its method (I am oversimplifying here of course). One way of drawing this distinction would be to think about it in terms of a scientific and a literary approach to understanding (human) nature; another would be to look at in terms of being theoretical on the one hand, and experiential on the other. This latter is the type of approach that I am characterising as bricolage.

My first two degrees in philosophy were taught in the Anglo-American (analytic) tradition, and I think it is fair to say that there was a mistrust of Continental Philosophy as lacking in rigour. However, this is based on a misunderstanding of the phenomenological approach. Phenomenology does not deny the scientific approach (or, it need not), but it does not believe that this is the only, or the best, way to understand the human experience. The analytic approach is theoretical; the phenomenological approach is grounded in the concrete. Critchley suggests that the former approach is looking for knowledge, while the latter hopes to find wisdom.   In Being and Time Heidegger suggests that what we need is an existential understanding of science, and suggests that scientific explanation alone cannot explain our practices.1 Papert agrees, and suggests that we can find meaning by playing with concrete objects without the need to move beyond them to abstract truths. Both show ways of being in the world as bricoleur.

1 Merleau-Ponty describes phenomenology as ‘unveiling the pre-theoretical layer’ of human experience on which the theoretical conception of the world is based (in Critchley, p 113). It is something that people have to do, not to theorise about.

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Heidegger and Bricolage, Part 1

Lines of Thought

I’ve been thinking about Heidegger recently. I know that some people find him problematic because of his links with the Nazi party, but I think that it is possible to bracket this off (phenomenological reference intended) and talk about his philosophy without reference to that side of his thought. In any case, I  can’t unlearn the influence that thought has had on my own philosophy, and it would be academically wrong for me to try to ignore it.

While recovering from my PhD I’ve been digging deeper into the practices that are called remix, and that I’ve suggested we might call bricolage. Recently Wendy flagged up a Futurelearn MOOC Introduction to Phenomenology and its Application in Qualitative Research, and as I skipped through it I realised that using a Heideggerian lens could help me to make sense of what I was feeling my way towards.

It was Heidegger who introduced me to the concept of aletheia – the Greek word for truth, or disclosure. He also gives us (somewhere – probably in Sein und Zeit, it’s been a while since I read that properly) a description of a person pushing through the woods and coming to a clearing. So I understand his theory of knowledge as saying that understanding is something that happens in a space where there is a clearing, or an openness – as a type of opening one’s eyes and coming to an understanding. This reminds me of the stanza that someone wrote in our collaborative DS106 poem:

Take this hammer, take this chisel

Take some time to work alone

Shatter the surface of intentions

Surface this collaborative poem

And this, I think, is one of the things that we do when we mix and remix – we chip away at concepts and uncover different senses of meaning (of truth?).

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Another trip around the sun

Happy Birthday

This week was my birthday, so I used some AI to make myself a card. I also got some great presents, including these books:

Birthday Books

And this amazing pewter dinosaur badge.

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