Evolving Systems: May/June Core Group Meeting
May/June 2009 Core Group Meeting Summaries
and Continuing Discussion
The first face to face conversation of the Evolving Systems core group consisted of two sessions, the first (28 May 2009) involving Anne, Arlo, Bharath, Hank, Liz, and Paul and the second (2 June 2009) involving Alice, Bharath, Ben, Liz, Mark, and Paul). The conversation summary here is by Paul. Additional perspectives, reactions, thoughts, and continuing discussion are available in the on-line forum below.
Core group members introduced themselves and briefly described their "starting positions," what they are bringing to the project and what they hope they might get out of it. One quite general theme that emerged was an interest in participating in conversations where one couldn't predict at the outset how they would play out, in being surprised, in having fun. Related to this was an interest in participating not as a representative of a discipline but rather as an individual whose distinctive perspectives included a disciplinary background but much else as well. And in conversations that were not limited to the "academic" but encompassed deeper feelings/thoughts and intersections with personal and practical lives, that encouraged "deconstructing expertise," made room for "non-codified, embodied knowledge," and constituted "work that is play, play that is work." One participant suggested that "adults never take about meaningful things" and suggested the conversations should be like those children have, neither academic nor personal but rather sharing and learning from sharing thoughts about things that have deep "meaning."
There was extended discussion, particularly in the second session, of the roles of "structure" and "constraint" in the project. Is it possible to engage in productive inquiry without specifying in advance exactly what one is inquiring into and what methods are to be used? Isn't some structure necessary at least to react against? One suggestion, consistent with the material above, was that we already have adequate structures to react against. New structures could be allowed to emerge from the reaction to existing structures. This in turn generated questions about whether conflict was the only source of productive inquiry: couldn't one as well work collaboratively out of an inclination to find shared satisfactions? Out of a wish to create a "mutually supportive community"? To find ways to make everybody "happier"?
Issues of the relations among structure, constraint, methodology, conflict, commonality, and generativity are relevant not only to the activities of our working group but to problems of emergence at a variety of levels, and so it is expected they will be returned to many times. For the moment, it was agreed that there are models for successes in putting people together and letting them create with relatively little structure/constraint, and that a common interest in bettering understanding the origins and relationships among form, meaning, and aesthetics would probably suffice for the moment as a sufficient structure/constraint. At a more concrete level, it was generally agreed that we didn't want to focus on the reading of longer texts as a basic methodology for the group. What we'll use instead is shorter readings, as well as other kinds of shared experiences that can generate the kinds of exchanges about deeper thoughts that constitute our primary way of working.
Other topics touched on that seem likely to reappear in future discussions had to do with the relation between human and longer/larger scales ("deep time" and "deep field"), the relations between perceived risk and perceived gain ("deep play"), and the relations between talking about something and doing something (studying something in comparison to doing it). There was also discussion of a group name and, as might be expected, difficulty in achieving consensus about it. For the moment, group materials carry identifiers that represent something of a record of this conversation, with those being, of course, subject to further evolution.