001. what the hell is water?
I attended Montessori schools as a kid. For those unfamiliar with the teaching philosophy, it’s less about “teaching” in any formal sense and more about providing the space and tools for exploration. The class room was full of blocks, bells, beads, and books. As kids we were pretty much free to chart our own path of discovery. Teachers were there to support and facilitate our curiosity.
It is no doubt faster to simply rattle off facts in a curriculum to a class of fidgety 7-year olds and get on with it. Instead, I was encouraged to build, experiment, dissect, break things, consider new perspectives, and fail as much as need be. I’m convinced this is a superior model for deep learning. Unfortunately most of our lives are not spent in such a free and playful environment.
So I’m creating one for myself. This digital space is for my humble attempts to make sense of a complex world (for example, a world that now includes bizarre concepts like “digital space”). For years I’ve kept this mind-play in notebooks and text files on my computer. Now I’ll put them here. I’ll think out loud while digging for patterns. I’ll mash concepts together and see what they produce. I’ll attempt to point a flashlight at the invisible structures of our collective realities. Naturally, I’m trying to articulate reality from inside reality. To torture David Foster Wallace’s joke, I am a fish contemplating water.*
Technically it’s a blog, but I’m calling it Notes to emphasize that most of the content here will not be fully-formed, and that I’m writing it down mostly as an exercise in thinking. That choice is also to remind myself not to get too precious about this digital scratchpad. I’m not trying to win any writing awards, but I do aspire to be ever-more philosophically promiscuous. That means wading into territory in which I can’t be confident I have the whole picture, but doing my best to wrestle with ideas anyway. I will almost certainly make statements that are wrong, or that unintentionally misinterpret the ideas of others.
That’s also why I’m making it public; I hope I might gain from the perspectives of people who better understand the spaces into which I’m exploring, or who can shed light on the gaps in my thinking. If that describes you please read on and reach out.
I’m fascinated by subjects like heterodox economics, evolutionary psychology, humanist technology, spatial sociology, mechanism design, systems theory, semiotics, epistemology, and political philosophy. If that sounds like a grab bag of overlapping circles of abstraction it’s because it probably is. If you stare intensely at a range of subjects in the social sciences long enough, common patterns begin to emerge across them. These patterns are what occupy my mind whenever I’m not being paid to think. I think they offer clues to humanity’s big questions, and new lenses through which to see the challenges that face us.
I’ll do my best to include diagrams and images to convey thoughts because I’ve never found linear text captures multi-dimensional concepts gracefully on its own. I’ll try to lean heavily on metaphors and examples, and I’ll probably over-explain things in my attempt to reduce transmission loss between my brain and your brain.
If all goes according to plan, it’s going to get weird.
*I’ve never read DFW, but heard this joke from his 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College.