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Paul Grobstein's picture

evolving evolving systems, year 1

Interesting  to reflect on the year, and to see/hear what others have had to say so far about where we've been/might go.  Looking forward to hearing more. 

My own experience has been rooted in two starting points.  On the one hand, I was hoping to see evolve a way of thinking about inquiry that is less fragmented and divisive, a way that combines the virtues of distributed emergent systems with those of broader reflective story telling and minimizes the problematic features of both.  On the other, I was interested in seeing to what degree broader reflective story telling itself evolves from a distributed starting point, ie from a group of interacting individuals offered at the outset a task that was neither well-defined nor collectively agreed upon ("what is needed to account for material form, meaning, and aesthetics is not several different sets of underlying fixed principles of order but rather a better understanding of how order itself, as well as various forms of order, could be created and reshaped by randomness and its continuing interaction with different degrees of order;" see Background).

The experiment ... remains in progress.  And remains interesting to me for that reason if no other. I'm inclined to agree with Anne that "we have been flailing about a bit." And that's intriguing in a variety of contexts.  Clearly "a center to build out from and return to" appears somehow in many human social groups, and seems not yet to have done so in ours.  Is that just a matter of time or are there other things to be understood here?  Is it, for example, significant that from the outset it was hard to get anyone to agree, even temporarily, on a shared set of ideas?  Is it possible that a commitment to individual story development gets in the way of shared story development, perhaps via a phenomenon Alice calls "beleagured knowing," a need to tell one's own stories that can interfere with hearing others and so building common ones?  How might this relate to efforts to create more open-ended conversational classrooms?  And, more generally, what happens in the absence of both story telling and, perhaps, beleagured knowing?  Does evolution depend on "a center to build out from and return to"?  My guess is not, and that in turn raises the question of why humans would feel a need for such a thing.  Is it a requirement for inquiry, or does it, instead or in addition, serve some other, perhaps interpersonal/social purpose?  There is, for me, a lot more to be understood about the relationship between individual and shared story creation, about both ways they can support and ways they can interfere with one another.

Whatever difficulties we may have had in developing shared stories, and indeed perhaps because of such difficulties, it was a very rich year in terms of my own interests in finding less fragmented ways to think about inquiry.  Part of this involved uncovering significant commonalities between "intellectual" and "spiritual" approaches to story development (cf Evolving inquiry: the unconscious as bridging the intellectual/spiritual and the academic/personal), and between dissatisfactions in different disciplines (cf From evolving systems to world literature and back again).  And part of it involved further thinking about the fundamental subjectivity/arbitrariness of all stories (as per From the subjective/personal to the objective/inter-personal and back again, as well as most of our other sessions and open group discussions including Chance: its meaning and significance).  The upshot is a much clearer picture for me of inquiry as rooted firmly in physical and biological processes of evolution and extended by story telling capability, and an enhanced ability to tell that story (cf Science, culture, education, and the brain).

Where to go from here? I'm happy to go with/learn from whatever emerges as the "shared subjectivity" of the group.  For my own part, I'm inclined to continue the experiment of letting the shared story emerge "as a work in progress", but am amenable to a sharper theme if others are so inclined.  Among the ones I hope to pursue in the near future is the problem of "interiority," the existence in humans (and other organisms) of characteristics influenced but not determined by their interactions with social (and other external) factors.  My intuition is that there are here both conceptual issues in a variety of disciplines and practical issues that would benefit from some emergent (and reflective) attention, and build on work we've been doing so far.

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