From homes and perches to the cosmos, and back again
Alice and Paul work together in several venues, including the Evolving Systems project and a manuscript in progress integrating biological and social perspectives on education. Over lunch one day, Alice offered that she (and other human beings?) appreciates, even needs, "perches" in addition to "homes" as resources for living the way she likes/hopes to live. The suggestion led to an exchange of emails, partially excerpted below, that take off from this starting suggestion to explore a number of related issues having to do with life, education, conflict, freedom, the cosmos, and the relation of human beings to all these things. Thoughts/ideas/extensions are warmly welcome in the on-line forum below.
From Alice, July 9, 2009
I'm revisiting our perch discussion in relation to ideas about conflict, complaint, and what motivates change.
The thing about a perch to my way of thinking is that it's relatively stable (though people, like animals, likely have more than one and they can be easily recreated -- does this have something to do with evolution?), withstands weather, takes minimal maintenance, and is easy to land on and take off from. It's also got a decent view. When I think of one, I imagine a bird on it. In the human realm, a perch is a spot with personal, social, and likely non-human parts, from which one can move (in welcome and needed ways), and to which one can return/repair/alight for rest, planning, reflection, and fancy. It's not the same as a home. It's more singular than that, though other people have to do with it.
I was struck in the Stallybrass by the connection between invention and inventory. He emphasized inventory as memory, but I think of inventory equally as materials, stuff of and for creation. A perch isn't the warehouse, but a perch is in flying distance of the warehouse. And on a perch one is more open to broad inputs (and more agile in responding to them) than perhaps from within a home or a warehouse.
What do you think?
From Paul, 11 July 2009
Interesting set of issues, indeed. In light of both the evolsys group meeting and some discussions in the summer institute. See http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/bbi09/10#comment-107398. I think I make less of a distinction than you're suggesting between a "perch" and a "home." Perhaps less distinction than most people do, perhaps less than is good for me. For me, a perch/home is indeed a place for "rest, planning, reflection, and fancy," and "relatively" stable," but, even more importantly to me, it has a view, is "open to broad inputs." And I'd say, in contrast to you, that it has "non-human parts" for sure and "likely" social ones. I'd also put more stress on the"relatively stable," as per the illustration in http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/evolsys/mayjune09#comment-106870. A home/perch can frequently be made "less wrong" by entertaining the possibility of challenging some of its foundations.
So, what do you think? Would I be better off making more of a distinction between a home and a perch?
From Alice, 13 July , 2009
I'm thinking that in order to answer your question about whether it would be useful for you to make a sharper distinction between perch and home, I need to know more about what you mean when you wonder whether the overlap you experience/conceive between them is good for you or something to reconsider/change (as in one of the planks of the houseboat). So this is a marker for that inquiry -- and also for a start on sharing thoughts I've had about the distinction I draw.
To me, "home" is about safety and protection (of self and others, resident and visiting). It is also about being found/findable -- by letters, say, or neighbors or family members (as in "Home is the place that, when you have to go there, they have to take you in"). It's about embodiment -- the place where one sleeps and awakens most often, most consistently. It's closer to family, and in a way to childhood/dependence/vulnerability, than "perch," which is more about freedom and flight, having a place (or places) to do that from. A launch place for (one of) one's grown-up self/ves, but not the one that is committed, responsible to others, depended on, and also bodily vulnerable.
To me, "perch" is about fancy, vista, and self-chosen engagement done *not* chiefly for livelihood (though quite possibly enabling or enhancing livelihood) or for fidelity, but for connecting self and world in open-ended ways.
Of course, both can be located in many kinds of places, or in the same place, depending on one's state of mind. (For one person, the kitchen might be a perch (even though she also prepares family meals there); for another, the study, or both. ) And I don't think my definition of home is exclusive to people who literally share home with family members, or to people at all.
Quine’s houseboat metaphor for living is interesting in that a houseboat is a non-traditional, relatively rare and impermanent home -- as in, how many people raise their young on one? It's also a high stakes one, because it is in a potently threatening medium. It doesn't have such accessible neighbors as some homes.
From Alice, July 14, 2009
It struck me today that in my earlier message to you about home and perch, I basically reproduced the motivating problem of our paper. Hmmm . . . Home=integration, perch=fredom, or both=both and beyond both? So does this mean I haven't learned anything (at least as far as my unconscious goes)?
Paul, July 15, 2009
Thinking a lot about this too, in and amongst various thoughts about emergent pedagogy and the brain. Yes, does have to do with, among other things, the "motivating problem of our paper." And encouraging some new thinking, in both of us.
From Alice, July 15, 2009
What I wrote before characterized perch in terms of maturity/independence and home in terms of childhood/dependence. Both have social and individual and non-human elements, but in different strengths and on different trajectories. I wonder whether children in fact have, or can have/develop, perches, or if what I mean by perch has something to do with the achievement of self, which is a matter of personal evolution over quite a bit of time. Of course, I see problems with these binaries, but at the same time I think there's something to them in this case. (And I suspect you do, too, which is in part why the distinction is useful to you.)
From Alice, Wednesday, July 22 , 2009
Some questions for further exploration: What is the relation between perch and agency? Between perch and community (to use a term from today's discussion)? I think of relationships between impact, reciprocity, independence and being left alone (not harrassed all the way to just short of neglected/forgotten).
What is the developmental significance of agency (in relation to my earlier developmental question re: perch development/use)?
What have you been thinking about your own conceptions of perch and home, their sources, foci, limits, and about possible ways to reimagine/change them?
From Paul, 29 July, 2009
For ease of access, I've compiled our conversation to date (at least the written part of it). Compiling it helped me think about your irritation with me over gaps in the conversation, and that in turn relates, I think, to the issue of whether I would be better off making a sharper distinction between perch and home. My guess is that it is not just gaps, but a particular kind of gap, that disturbed you. In particular, I opened a "personal" issue (whether I myself would be better off if ...) and then didn't follow up on that, while inviting "personal" exposure on your part. Ergo, Alice vulnerable, Paul protected, a power imbalance. Something like that?
If so, let's expand the conversation to talk about not only the perch/home issue but also the personal/public issue that we started on years ago. Just as I tend not to make a sharp perch/home distinction, I also tend to not make a sharp personal/public distinction. As I said when we talked yesterday, the essay I was working on when I was not home/on my perch was actually, for me, not only about what we'd been working on, but was also, for me, both private and public, ie it was a public sharing of some quite personal thoughts/ideas and, as such, makes me quite vulnerable. My actions are prone to be seen/heard in the interpersonal arena as messages of indifference or disrespect, when in fact no such message is intended. In fact, the intention of my actions (insofar as I can be aware of those) is almost invariably the opposite, to acknowledge/honor the interpersonal perch/home, personal/public exchanges that contribute so importantly to what I do and enjoy doing.
Hmmmm. Maybe we should add another item to the list of distinctions I tend not to make as sharply as I perhaps should, a distinction between action and message? I tend to read people more by what they do than by what they say they want to do, and in turn to expect to be heard as fully from my actions as by my expressions of interest in/concern about others. For me, the action IS the message, perhaps more so than for other people. And maybe then what's at issue in all three contexts, the perch/home, personal/public, and action/message is that I tend to blur the distinction between what is going on and interpersonal relations. I pay less attention to the latter as a category independent of the former than many people do and so may seem to many to neglect the significance of interpersonal relations themselves. Perhaps I would get along better in the world if I learned to pay more explicit attention to them as something important in their own right?
Could we both learn something from the other? Yes, of course. I could usefully learn to pay more attention to interpersonal relationships qua interpersonal relationships, and you could probably usefully learn to pay less attention to them. I would do better to acknowledge the unusual importance of interpersonal relationships in human affairs, and you might do better to recognize how big a world there is outside of interpersonal relationships and the significant role that plays in human interactions, society, and culture. More generally, I think the conversation between us helps to clarify some of the issues involved in thinking about Truth/Reality/God (as per "group" stories in http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/4678) and about education and classroom dynamics, as per our upcoming session tomorrow. Could we get both classrooms and cultures to value human interrelationships without the jockeying that goes along with their seeming to be the end and be all of human existence?
Looking forward to more thoughts