Evolving systems: a year's experience
May, 2010 Core Group Meeting
May, 2010 Core Group Meeting
and Continuing Discussion
Reflections after the first year
The Evolving Systems project is an exploration of the idea that form, meaning, and esthetics are interdependent emergent characteristics of an ongoing evolutionary process originally lacking any plan, intention, of purpose. And of the implications of such an idea for both intellectual and practical life.
The Evolving Systems project is also itself an experiment in emergent form/meaning/aesthetics. It brings together in interactive conversations people of diverse backgrounds and starting perspectives with the objective of seeing what new understandings of form/meaning/aesthetics emerge, individually and collectively.
Where have we gotten to, individually and collectively? What openings have been created that we would like, individually and collectively, to next pursue?
A meeting summary (Paul)
The group met in two sessions, with several people attending both. The first focused more on expressions of disappointment with what had been achieved by the group to date, and possible ways to improve. The second focused more on expressions of satisfaction with what had been achieved. There was though substantial commonality across both sessions about people's individual experiences with the group, and there emerged overall an intriguing characterization of the ongoing experiment in emergent exploration, of what has usefully been achieved, of how that relates to what has not been achieved to date, and how both suggest possible directions for future development.
The significant commonality was a sense of having successfully created a distinctive and valuable interpersonal environment within which people felt free to explore interesting things in the absence of a concern about being criticized as well as of any need to demonstrate achievement relative to some immediate task. People not only looked forward to meetings of the group but described a variety of ways in which both particular sessions and experience with such an environment generally had impacted significantly not only on their activities outside the group but also on their understandings of themselves and on their approaches to dealing with things outside the group. There was an increased appreciation of the value and productivity of a non-judgemental, non-task-oriented environment within which new things could and did evolve.
Several people felt the achievement and continuing existence of such an environment was a sufficient accomplishment for the group. Others, however, felt that the willingness/ability of the group to confront difficult issues not approachable in other contexts had not yet gone deep enough and that the year's experience had been one of "flailing a bit," skipping from thing to thing without a coherent sense of purpose. The contrast between satisfactions and dissatisfactions led to an interesting discussion of whether a non-judgemental, non-task-oriented environment was itself desirable. On the one hand, it was likened to the "pure research" ideal and to the process of biological evolution. Valuable and unexpected things evolve in contexts lacking any overriding purpose or standard of judgement On the other, concern was expressed that such an environment was "academic" and "privileged"/"indulgent." There are real problems in the world that people are confronted with all the time. Shouldn't the group be engaging explicitly with such problems? Wouldn't doing so give it a drive that might lead to still deeper personal and interpersonal engagements and a greater sense of both individual and collective coherence?
A way of drawing from both perspectives rather than setting them in opposition derives from a recent essay, Cultures of ability. The essay, itself a product of the Evolving Systems group activities, suggests that social and cultural organizations might best be brought together with the intent of allowing a collective purpose or objective to emerge from the interactions of the particular people involved, rather than with a pre-established purpose or objective. It was proposed that the core Evolving Systems group, having established some level of awareness of each other's distinctive backgrounds, interests, and areas of expertise, might move on to trying to more deliberately evolve/elaborate a shared sense of purpose. One direction that might be explored, given discussions to date, relates to existing educational structures and practices, and the degree to which they might usefully be reconsidered in the evolving systems context and the experiences with group dynamics of the Evolving Systems project to date.
Given summer scheduling complexities, regular meetings of the core group will be postponed to next fall when we will consider together this new direction. During the summer, informal meetings will be held for those available.
Continuing discussion (below)