Google-Imaging "Descartes and Women"
turned up this homemade image of
Building Two-Way Bridges:
A Conversation about Gender and Science
reproduced at Serendip from A to Z

"Women like myself":
Re-Writing Descartes ...

Story Evolution

A reflection triggered by Grobstein's Writing Descartes ...

7 July 2004

Women like myself ... have long understood Descartes' dualistic position as that of the (frankly clueless) enemy. Overhearing your conversation has nudged me to reconsider that opposition....

Overhearing the varieties of dialogue which that first conversation between Paul Grobstein and Rene Descartes generated among Sharon Burgmayer, Anneliese Butler, Paula Viterbo and me , I now want to return to this matter of how (this particular subset of) women understand a linked set of issues....

Not so long ago, Paul and I wrote an essay about our teaching called Story-Telling in (At Least) Three Dimensions:An Exploration of Teaching Reading, Writing, and Beyond in which we identified "two intellectual styles," corresponding "roughly to a preference for, on the one hand, focus, precision and 'objectivity,' and, on the other, breadth, allusiveness and engagement"; we argued that the latter arena is too little attended to in college classrooms, although much creative work is carried out by that sort of thinking. A little later, with Liz McCormack of the Bryn Mawr Physics Department, Paul and I wrote a linked essay called "Theorizing Interdisciplinarity: Metaphor and Metonymy, Synecdoche and Surprise," in which we similarly compared a way of thinking that emphasizes "simple and unifying relations that capture key aspects of an object under study" with one handling "many variables and complicated relations." What we hesitated to say outright in either article, but I'm going to take the risk of saying here, was that women (VERY generally speaking) seem to exhibit a preference for the latter form of making sense of the world within and without. And I'm going to claim, further, that such a preference is pretty well demonstrated in the commentary provided here by Sharon, Anneliese, Paula and me.

What strikes me amid the wide range of our observations is how much we have all, in speaking w/ these two profoundly skeptical guys, been focusing on the activities of the (more "trusting," if not more "trustworthy"?) unconscious. Each of us highlights activities occuring in the same arena: Sharon is particularly cogent in describing the sense of authenticity she feels when operating out of the unconscious, creative aspect of her brain, rather than the conscious rationalizing part. Paula actually channels Rene, refusing to accept (refusing to respect??) the boundaries not only between conscious and unconscious, but also between (his)self and (her) self, as well as between matter and spirit. And the commentary provided by Annaliese (who was long ago a student of mine) struck me in how it traced the same territory I was covering: her existential query about doubting the existence of self (that conscious "I" Paul unthinkingly takes for granted), her commentary on the ineffectiveness of "thinking" in bringing about change, her observations about the social nature of the process, and finally, her search for worlds that better reflect the fullness of what is being here described. Annaliese tries out "influence" and "imagine"....

and may be interested to know that another student of mine, Alisa Conner, once invented a term that is here very apt, by combining the antonyms "teaching and learning" into "tearning": "Said out loud, it sounds like 'turning'...and evokes our efforts to turn, shift and change [the world, Alisa said; in this context I say] ourselves.

All of which is to say: for those of us with a busy (if very slowly changing) unconscious, which handles "many variables and complicated relations," which prefers "breadth, allusiveness and engagement," a series of two-way dialogues doesn't cut it: there need to be multiple intersecting conversations across the porous boundaries within each of our brains, AND amongst us all. Social, yes. And multiply-dimensional in the extensive kinds of teaching, learning, and turning that can occur when there is not a single axis of engagement.

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