My eyes are thinking about what is behind your eyes: Ways of Seeing and Theory of Mind

About this blog item: it has a peculiar status. It is a sort of semi-public, semi-private thing. It came about in response to a friends blog, so what you are about to read is a half-finished item with some rough edges. I’m posting it now because I’m not sure that I will get round to finishing it for months, by which time the debate will have moved on. 

It was written in response to:

 Ways of seeing: interpretation (first draft thinking)   

 which is a rattling good read.

Let me say firstly, Joel: well done, nice work.

I know you are being very cautious in your piece and we both know why. I can well believe that it took you a week to think it  and a day to write it. I haven’t done mine yet [ the unfinished blog that I sent you, that you mention], I’m still thinking.

And you are right to call it a first draft, it is very much that.

(I’ve been wondering whether we should co-write a piece, being as how we is both struggling with this material, drawing on both our bloggages, to act as part of the input to my ‘Love and Play, Play and Love’ workshop. I’m just mentioning that in passing as an interesting idea.)

I love the way you mention ‘love’ the nitty-gritty, somewhere in the middle of the piece! Did I tell you the story of Humberto Maturana and his son in the field of thistles? Ask me if I didn’t. Maturana has developed a biological theory of cognition – the strong claim is that all living systems think. Wow, oh wow, to quote Steve Job’s Zennic dying words. Maturana also talks about love from this biological cognitive standpoint: love is the punchline of the thistle story.

I rarely give advice because people don’t often like receiving advice, even when they ask for it – it’s a bit like playwork: the advice-giver can so easily disrupt the playframe of the other person. So I’m very pleased and flattered that you took my advice and actually read Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ as well as quoting my thinking in detail.

This prompted me to look back to see the genesis of my interest in Beth Chatto. (note to readers, that’s Chatto, not Ditto, mind you she’s groovy also). Because I’ve been using my own Macs since 1993 and have kept everything I have ever written since then, religiously backing it up to external hard drives and transferring to the latest machine, it means that I now have a 19 year history of both other people’s writing that was interesting enough for me to download, and my own ouevre. Researching my own ‘MacArchive’ tells me that I did a briefing for managers based on an article by Peter Senge about a biological approach to systems thinking in 2001, which didn’t mention her, but featured a photo of her garden. I also recall that I had read a long interview with her in either the Times or the Grauniad and had kept the article (now misplaced or lost) and scanned in the photo. It seems fitting that the ideas of what I called a Chattoist approach in my unfinished blog have been growing slowly for nearly twelve years, and are only now beginning to bear fruit.

My linking of Berger’s Ways of Seeing to Chattoism only occurred to me as I wrote the unfinished blog, and I have had further thoughts since then. I’ll mention them here briefly.

I have also been thinking about Theory of Mind for several years. I now realise that ‘the theory behind the gaze’ is what distinguishes this intense seeing from the glance of an unthinking reactive playworker who tidies up my piece of cardboard while it is catching the light.  The key difference is the nature of the ‘theory of mind’ that is in operation. Surely the development of a playworker’s theory of mind is a, if not the, key goal of reflective practice?

That deadly phrase ‘reflective practice’ has been bugging me for years – it has become a holy writ in playwork, and we know that the higher a practice ascends into scripture the more it loses its meaning in the quotidian world. (Not Bob’s fault of course, you don’t get to chose your disciples, as I know to my cost; we must give him credit for promulgating RP, but we can’t hold him responsible for its dumbing down. All hail, reflective practice, shame we seem to have forgotten what it means. If it means anything it is about a learning cycle (mine’s a modified Kolb with an extra stage –  ”publishing“), which is much more than merely recording ‘stuff what happened’ in note form. The cycle has to go all the way round: the observations must be processed, and theorised about, and drawn upon when next we encounter our clientele, or it’s just a diary of cute stuff some kids did last week. RP is the process by which we develop our Chattoist eye, our playwork ‘ways of seeing’, our ‘playwork theory of mind’.

Looking over what I have just written I realise I have done the same as you: made only glancing reference to love and said much about seeing. I’m thinking back to when I first read ‘Ways of Seeing’ – I suspect that I bought the book in 1973 or ’74, so it would’ve coincided with my discovery of Taoism and Zen. Might as well mention all my influences from back then, well as many as I can recall or care to mention: free schools, Summerhill and A.S.Neill, alternative education,  feminism, the Whole Earth Catalog, Intermediate Technology, Arts Labs. Later, in the 80s, I  was influenced by personal development and groupwork and community arts and community development.

 

Enough.

 

 

 

Minor question for you: You quote Berger – did you find some of his book online or someone’s summary of it? If you did could you send me the link, please?  I only have my dog-eared copy of the book, and I’m not sure where it is!

 

 

Finally edited into this semi-finished state on Monday, November 5, 2012,  intermittently, from  about 7 am until   12:36 pm.