Thursday, April 9, 2009
Balance: Inspired by Papert's "Gears" Essay
I do not spend a lot of time sitting. I have never been the type of person who could sit still in one position for very long. I was always moving, changing, and restructuring my position. As I write this, I have already changed my position, twice. It may seem odd then, that a chair could have such an impact on my cognitive development. However, upon reflection, the chair may have worked in ways unknown to me until now.
When I was young, I did not play with toy objects very often. I was an only child who was occupied most of time by playing with other people—older people—or my stuffed animals, who were also people to me at the time. Consequently, I learned at an early age how to be interested in conversations that were well beyond my understanding, or at least feign interest in them anyhow. I was fascinated in the relationships (both spoken and unspoken) between people around me. My world became a whole network of people and their respective relationships. I learned to contextualize myself within my surroundings and by my own relations with others. And I tried to learn, to sit, while the conversation proceeded. I learned to sit, or rather recline, in this one chair in my living room.
The chair is a sleek, black, modern recliner in the style of a Scandinavian design. It is beautiful and well beyond my young aesthetic competencies. When people first set eyes on it, they immediately want to sit in it, and lament, “Well doc, let me tell you…” Something about the chair invites a sort of psychoanalytic feel; friends of mine, when I got older, referred to it as “The Psychologist Chair.” It amuses me now that here I am, doing research and majoring in Psychology at one of the greatest research universities in the nation. Yet, I am inclined to think that this recliner had more of an influence on my reasoning skills and my overall development of thought processes than its obvious connection to Psychology.
The chair is not your average recliner. It can adjust to accommodate different levels of reclining; however, in my youth I had to employ all my strength in order to slightly budge this seemingly immutable object. If I wanted to shift the chair, I really had to commit to the endeavor! I quickly learned, however, that there was a limit to my abilities to shift the chair one way or the other. There was a balance that had to be struck. When I pushed on the foot end of the chair the head end would react in a certain predictable way. However, if there was a third factor obstructing motion—say, a person sitting on the chair—the trajectory of movement of the chair would be greatly altered. This elementary interest in this chair later led to my investment in other types of causal relationships both in the social domain as well as a spatial domain. Now, as an undergraduate, I am interested in the correlations between observable events as well as unobservable occurrences. What drives a person to suffer through an initiation process they don’t truly believe in, in order to be a part of a group? What is the neural basis for this decision and how can it be contextualized by the social situation? Furthermore, how are children taught to ascribe to these codified ideals of how to sit, walk, learn, and dance?
I should also mention I am a dancer. I have danced for the majority of my lifetime. My kinesthetic intelligence has greatly affected the way I view even analytical problems. Consequently, I think that this conception of balance played a large role in my understanding of other correlations. When a change occurs in my environment I am always interested in finding the source of the change. Whether a physical or social change, I learned from watching this chair balance that every action had a counter reaction. Kudos to Newton's Third Law. The notion could even be abstracted to ideas of chemistry suggesting that when pressure increases density must also increase. My way of understanding space and time became dictated by my notions of dance and the way that these two elements synergistically collaborate to create art. I believe in art and its power to provoke change. My creative sensibilities have definitely dictated the way that I approach problem solving now.
This concept of change, revision, balance, and homeostasis were all inspired by my lack of ability to sit still and be complacent in that one lovely recliner. This has developed into my constant struggle to ameliorate situations; complacency was never an option for me. In many ways, I view my life and my education as a entity of balance. A balance that is constantly changing and evolving to reflect the conditions of its environment.