Category Archives: Theory

The Scenic Route

The Scenic Route (lemoyne.edu)

The Scenic Route (lemoyne.edu)

Would you believe it? After ten years teaching at Georgetown University, I got lost, yesterday, on my way to graduation. For some, being lost is not a major issue. Not so for me! Suffering from a mild form of dyslexia, getting lost instills in me a momentary sense of panic, as well as embarrassment, even at my stage in life. It is only recently, and with hindsight, that I have come to view the architecture of my brain in a new, and more positive, light. Now I realize that, while others, with more disciplined brains, may go straight to the quick, I meander along the scenic route, gaining serendipitous insights and experiences along the way. Graduation day was a reminder for me.

Let me say first that it is very easy to get lost on the Georgetown campus, especially if one veers off the beaten path. For, as the photograph below shows, the university buildings are nested on a hill, so that each appears to sit atop the others, as in a honey comb. In between, there are many nooks and crannies, connected by long staircases, which appear seemingly out of nowhere. When joined, they form a very elaborate maze. In such a 3-D environment, negotiating the landscape requires spacial skills as well as a good topographical map. Neither were at my disposal on graduation day.

Georgetown University (courtesy planetware.com)

Georgetown University (courtesy planetware.com)

Graduation has always been a rather straightforward, well scripted event. Absent rain, it has traditionally taken place right in the middle of the campus, in front of the main hall. This year, however, it took a different form; instead of one ceremony, in which both Masters and Doctors walked across the stage to the accolades of all, there were now two. The first, which celebrated the PhDs, took place as usual on the main campus, while the second set of ceremonies, featuring the Masters candidates, was distributed, according to degree, in different locations throughout the campus.

It was on the way to the ceremony for the Communication, Culture and Technology Program that I lost my way. The event took place in a large tent, situated on one of the terraced areas at the bottom of a long staircase. Locating it was problematic–at least for me. According to our instructions, we were to find the spot by following the faculty procession as it exited the main campus. However, even though the faculty members were clad in an array of brightly colored robes, within moments their two continuous lines dissipated, and blended into the crowd. Not knowing where to go, or how to get there, I meandered around asking directions, but to no avail. At last, I found a sign pointing to the disabled route, which–under the circumstances–seemed quite appropriate for me. Following the sign, I entered a main building where some very helpful people, although unfamiliar with the site, were able to trace out my destination on a map, and set me on the right course.

So it was that I arrived at the second graduation ceremony, and in time. The effort was well worth it. Not only was I delighted to see all of my students pass in front of me across the stage; I also relished the comments of the speaker, Ed Seidel, Assistant Director at the National Science Foundation, who talked about complexity, and the future challenge that it presents for our brains! According to Seidel, in the future scholars will be overwhelmed by so much data that they can only make sense of it with the help of computational tools, and–as importantly–the collaborations of multiple scholars from widely diverse disciplines. As he said, solving the problems of tomorrow will require a community.

(courtesy of causesdyslexia.net)

(courtesy of causesdyslexia.net)

At this point a light went off in my head. In such an environment, people who are somewhat dyslexic may be at a considerable advantage in addressing future issues. For, their brains do not simplify. To the contrary, the pathways that a dyslexic brain follows are highly complex. Moreover, the dyslexic brain actually resembles a collaborative community, such as that described by Seidel. Working up to four times as hard as normal brains, its neurons interact and share information across a myriad of sources, creating in the process a holistic and, therefore, more realistic picture of the world. For those of us who follow circuitous routes such as these, the key is not to get too caught up in the scenery.

Letting Go. . . .

Letting Go (Courtesy of Bisayan Lady)

Letting Go (Courtesy of Bisayan Lady)

The long hiatus in my blog postings is due, in part, to the difficulty I have been having letting go. It has now been more than two months, since Sparky– my dearest friend, and occasional collaborator–passed away. When he wasn’t commandeering my blog, he was there on my shoulder, helping me to see the world in a different way. The time has come to say goodbye.

Sparky, or Spartacus as he was formally called, was a blessing in more ways than one. A gift from my student Mridulika Menon, Sparky was intended to help assuage my loss of his predecessor, a black lab-shepherd suitably named Diablo. We browsed the dog pictures in all the nearby shelters, but my husband Brock was unable to choose one from among the many to be left behind. Let’s just wait until a dog shows up on our door step, he resolved. And, much to my suprise, on the very next day, that’s precisely what Sparky did! There in my office door was Mridulika, cradling an ink-black puppy, which she had purchased on the streets of Georgetown. I was on my way to George Washington Hospital to pick up my husband, who was undergoing a minor medical procedure. Just before leaving, I called and asked the nurse to tell my husband that Spartacus would be accompanying me.

one smart dog

one smart dog

Sparky was not only intelligent, he had a special gift of empathy. No doubt he was sensitized to other people’s feelings and emotions early in life, for a year after he came to live with us, my husband was stricken with multiple myeloma, then thought to be an incurable cancer. Overcome with fear, I turned to Sparky and held him fast, absorbing his massive strength and fortitude. Years later, he was still there, his head in my lap, at the first sign of a tear. On his last day, the day I had to put him down, I struggled to hide my feelings. My greatest fear was that Sparky would sense my grief, and try to comfort me.

Grand Old Boy

Grand Old Boy

It was Spring Vacation, so I was able to stay home by myself, reliving and savoring my shared times with Sparky. Already I missed him so. As often happens with me, I found comfort in a book, a rather unusual and, I should add, controversial one at that.

Written by the physicist Evan Harris Walker, the book was entitled The Physics of Consciousness: The Quantum Mind and the Meaning of Life. Building on Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the entanglement phenomenon–or as Einstein described it “spooky at a distance'”–the concept of state vector collapse, as well as quantum tunneling, Walker contends that reality is non material; to the contrary, it is subjective–that is to say dependent upon the consciousness of a quantum observer. In individuals, this consciousness is the product of quantum tunneling, which is carried out among the synapses within the brain. As importantly, given the entanglement of the quantum world, and the irrelevance of time and space, consciousness must also be nonlocal, and therefore conceived of as a whole. When, according to Walker, we view it this way, we encounter God.

Having to negotiate myself through the scientific concepts inherent in Walker’s argument might have distracted me from my pain. However, I stayed on track by following the thread throughout Walker’s narrative that I shared with him: the whys and wherefores of life and death. As a backdrop to his major theme, Walker describes his quest to discover the meaning of his adolescent girlfriend’s death more than a half of a century ago. His account, in the context of his major argument, provided a great insight to me. I could reconnect with Sparky by employing my consciousness (skeptics might say imagination) to observe him wherever he might be. So, for the next few weeks, there he lay–a slightly unfocused mass of pixels–at the foot of my bed. It was not long, however, before he let me know that it was time for me to let him go. And so I did.

Up, Up, And Away!

up-up-and-away-susan-roberts

up-up-and-away-susan-roberts

Up, Up and Away in my beautiful machine. Remember that song from Sesame Street? Driving to the lake in our new Ford Focus, I felt like I was flying high. Off we were to our summer cottage in the New Jersey Highlands, with two cars in tandem, both stuffed to the brim with our treasured possessions–our books, are tapes, our CDs, our cloths, and of course our dog Sparky.

A new car you say? You are environmentalists, non-materialists! How did that come about?

Well, we had been thinking about it for a long time. Although our 20 year old CRX si (the last of its make) had served us well, it had seen better times. As well, we were beginning to creak, just like the CRX, so it was harder and harder to take advantage of its sporty appurtenances. Nonetheless, we procrastinated, not wanting to let go of the happy memories and associations that our CRX evoked. As importantly, negotiating a car deal is intimidating; much as in the case of birthing a baby, we had to wait until the pain of the previous experience had subsided before trying again.

We had to wait until the pain of the previous experience subsided, before trying again

What helped to overcome our inertia was our desire to bring all our stuff with us on our vacation to Hawthorne Lake. No doubt, it would take two cars. Did we really need all this paraphernalia? Most likely not! But, as one might well imagine, even though we could not possibly read all the books, wear all the cloths, nor listen to all the CDs that we had packed, together they comprised a web of connections and affordances, which made it easier for us to carry out our routine away from home.

so many choices

so many choices

The subject of things continued to preoccupy me even after we had unpacked our cars, put everything in its place, and settled into our cottage on the lake. For once I was ensconsed in the old wicker chair at the end of our long screened-in porch, the first book I drew from my grand pile was Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton’s The meaning of things: Domestic symbols and the self.

Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton’s perspective on the role of things is quite unique. Unlike most sociologists, they are not focused on the relationship between things and status. Nor do they take an especially critical perspective of things, bemoaning the evils of consumerism. As significant, the authors rise above the technology determinism vs. social constructivism debate. Instead, grounded in the symbolic interactionism of George Herbert Mead, and the philosophical pragmatism of John Dewey, they view the interactions/transactions between people and and things as a two-way street.

Generations of Things

Generations of Things

Embodying past associations and psychic investments, objects convey symbolic meaning to those engaged with them. At the same time, the users of objects can extend that meaning by investing their own psychic energy in the object to pursue their own individual goals. Growth occurs in the process, with respect to both the object and the individual. As importantly, because objects embody meaning at three levels–the self, the community, and the cosmos–the network of objects with which we are surrounded help us to orient ourselves to function both as individuals as well as participants in a larger whole.

Our home at the lake epitomizes the narrative that Csikszentmihayli and Rochberg-Halton lay out. As they point out:

One of the most important psychological purposes of the home is that those objects that have shaped one’s personality and which are needed to express concretely those aspects of the self that one values are kept within it. Thus the home is not only a material shelter but also a shelter for those things that make life meaningful.

Crossepatch

Crossepatch

Built by my grandfather in 1908, our house at the lake is home to prized possessions that span five generations–the deer head over the fireplace, first edition books, the mission oak furniture, blackened cast iron pots, my mother’s rolling pin, my father’s fly rod, my childhood toys, my son’s tools, my grandchildren’s paintings, and–last but not least–our new car. They serve not only to link me back through the generations that preceded me; they instill in me the insight and impetus to keep our house and its environs in tack for the generations yet to come.

The World Turned Upside Down

my mother (left) preparing-the-beans

my mother (left) preparing-the-beans

My mother was a fine artist, always painting, sculpting, or making woodcuts. Although she maintained a studio-like setup in our basement, she and her work always seemed to make their way upstairs, giving rise to a world of clutter.

Worse still, as a youngster, I wasn’t sure my mother was presentable: knock on our door and you would fine a handsome women, wearing her red plaid flannel work shirt atop a pair of well-worn jeans, a pencil behind her ear, and the remains of paint and printers ink lodged under her nails. If that wasn’t enough! Just consider what was, perhaps, my most embarrassing moment, when I brought a school friend home for lunch, only to find my mother “cooking” her etchings on the kitchen stove.

I wasn’t sure my mother was presentable. 

Given my mother’s interest in art, one can understand why, as children, we spent a lot of time in museums, as well as browsing through the numerous art books that my mother collected. Whereas most parents spend a lot of time reading to their children, my mother spent much of our quality time sharing her thoughts about paintings and art.


The World Turned Upside Down (Jan Steen ca 1660)

The World Turned Upside Down (Jan Steen ca 1660)

One of these paintings is still vivid in my mind–The World Turned Upside Down, painted by the Dutch Master Jan Steen sometime around 1669. Relating it to my own family life, and envisioning my world falling apart, I was horrified by it, so much so that the painting is still engraved in my memory. Of course, I now know that I needn’t have worried. As with most of Steen’s works, this painting not only characterized daily life in Holland; as importantly, it employed humor and allusions to proverbs, symbols, and myths so as to depict a moral parable. In fact, this particular painting became a trope in Dutch life, as burgers came to describe a lively, untidy home–such as the one I had been raised in–as a “Jan Steen Household.”  Still very young at the time, I was too innocent to appreciate the duality in Steen’s painting: I saw the chaos, but I failed to see the spirited activities that gave rise to it.

The World Turned Upside Down

The World Turned Upside Down

Revived during times of trial, this schematic of the world teetering on the edge of chaos has endured for centuries. Not surprisingly, it accompanied the revolutionary era, appearing first in England and then in the United States. (See Chris Hill, The World Turned Upside Down; radial ideas during the english revolution, Penguin Books 1991.) In 1643, for example, a broadside first published the English ballad The World Turned Upside Down, whereafter it was sung as a protest against Parliamentary policies, which sought to outlaw traditional Christmas Celebrations. Rumor has it, moreover, that American troops also played this tune during the American Revolution, when General Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown in 1781.
The World Turned Upside Down

The World Turned Upside Down

Most recently, the author/journalist Melanie Phillips has borrowed on this theme, attributing todays absurdities–such as climate change, the war in Iraq, fraud, bank failures, etc.–to a world run amok. According to her, science has been overturned by ideology.
Network Economy Dinner (courtesy of Isaac Pacheco

Network Economy Dinner (courtesy of Isaac Pacheco

Having become far more cosmopolitan over the years, I can now see the world in complex terms. What to earlier generations was considered a world upside down, now looks to me like a phase transition. Fortunately, for me, growing up in a bohemian household has helped me to deal with ambiguity, such as is depicted in the paintings and tropes I have mentioned. Better still–although there is no paint or printers ink under my nails–the way of life I learned from my mother has prepared me to follow in her footsteps, and enjoy complexity to the fullest.

Can Universities Be Small Worlds?

 It's A Small World WD-2 from TTucker 8.0 2010

It's A Small World WD-2 from TTucker 8.0 2010

Students in my Networks and the Creative Process class have been thinking about what constitutes the most appropriate network architecture for fostering creativity. Following the work of Grannovetter, Strogatz, Watts, and Burt, as well as others, who advocate a small world network, we have been comparing various contextual architectures to each other as well as to that of a small world.

students compared the architecture of a city to that of the brain.

For example, in our last blogging assignment, students compared the architecture of a city to that of the brain, commenting in each case on how the architecture influences creativity. An interesting exercise, to be sure!

Perhaps I should say a word about small worlds, and why their architectures are assumed to facilitate creativity or–as Ron Burt would say–good ideas. Small world networks are characterized by dense clusters (comprised of close associations, or strong ties) that are linked to other clusters within a network by weak ties (or loosely coupled relationships). According to the theory, dense relationships within the clusters give rise to trust and collaboration, which enable collective action, thereby allowing members to more easily execute tasks.

old hat (from  Fabrizio Savoca)

old hat (from Fabrizio Savoca)

However, ideas within a cluster tend to become old hat–that is, because members are so closely associated, they tend to reinforce old ways of thinking and discourage new ideas. To garner new ideas and be creative requires outreach, based on weak ties, and the brokering of ideas across clusters.

At first glance, universities appear to be small worlds.

How does this idea apply to university settings? At first glance, one might assume that universities are ideal small worlds. Indeed, divided up into departments that are grounded in disciplinary practices and domains, the university is constituted of relatively independent departmental clusters, which are linked only indirectly through structurally equivalent ties to the university administration–an organizational paradigm that dates back to the post civil-war research university (Clark Kerr).

Medieval University (courtesy of Wikipedia

Medieval University (courtesy of Wikipedia


Although universities have long clung to their autonomy and independence from outside influences, of late, growing economic pressures have led them to reach out to their larger socioeconomic environment for financial support through grants, alliances, joint ventures, and patent pools. These outreach efforts have not only been favored by Government but also supported through legislation, which allows faculty members to claim proprietary rights over research sponsored by public funds. As Henry Etzkowitz has described it in his book The Triple Helix, the university is evolving from an ivory tower to an entrepreneurial paradigm.

As the university, as a whole, has reached outward, how have the local clusters–the disciplinary departments–fared? It is here that one might raise a red flag.

 Red Flag Day from Ridock

Red Flag Day from Ridock

Recall that for small networks to encourage creativity, outreach is not enough. External exploration requires in-group exploitation, a point that Robert Axelrod makes in his book Harnessing Complexity. However, a search of the university literature yields sparse evidence that external ideas are being capitalized upon collectively among departmental faculty.

..the overall departmental learning (and the knowledge base of the university as a whole) will likely stagnate.

To the contrary, the modus operandi within academic departments appear to be based not on collaboration but rather on competition–competition for salaries, for grants and funding as well as for peer recognition. Hence, the overall departmental learning (and the knowledge base of the university as a whole) will likely stagnate over the long term. To boot, as Carl A. Raschke has noted, new technologies will exacerbate this situation, serving to fray the ties both within the university community as well as those directed outside.

For a preview of the future, one need only consult M. Mitchell Waldrops’ book, Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos. In it Waldrop describes how individual scholars, who were in many cases at odds with their disciplinary departments, came together in a very synergistic fashion at the Santa Fe Institute to create the New Science of Complexity. To achieve these kind of synergies, universities might have to consider making some architectural changes to their small worlds.

Creating a Creativity Curriculum

My Muse Sparky

Believe me! Never in my life have I had to turn so much to my muse– my ever faithful dog, Sparky. The reason for seeking his inspiration on this occasion was my decision to teach a new course on Networks and the Creative Process.

As in all creative efforts (Austin 2003), this decision was, to a large degree, a matter of chance.  Initially, I had planned to teach a course on networks and cooperation–a topic that, with hindsight, seems relatively bland. However, flying home from a trip to Utah, I began reading Keith Sawyers insightful book Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation. Deflating prevailing myths that circumscribe present-day thinking about creativity, Sawyer lays out the case for viewing creativity as an emergent, collaborative process, in which the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts.

My heart raced, as thoughts of complexity, networks, and emergent processes came to mind.

Reading Sawyer’s book, I was enthralled. My heart raced, as thoughts of complexity, networks, and emergent processes came to mind. I intuitively knew that a course on creativity would bring all my interests together in the context of complexity science. However, gut feelings aside, I knew very little about the subject of creativity. Nonetheless, I eagerly signed up to teach the course.

Operating in the dark, I delved into whatever literature I could find, contributing significantly–I think–to Amazon’s profit margin. There I sat, in my office chair, piles of books strewn all around me, in the vain hope that I might absorb some of the content through osmosis. To no avail! So I began to read, and read and read–books about neuroscience, personality disorders, flow, improvisation, serendipity, audience reactions, the new, creative economy, Florence and the Di Medici, and more.

Old Woman Reading

Digesting all of this reading, I learned that creativity required passion and hard work in mastering a field; an open mind able to tolerate ambiguity; a willingness to take on risk, and to persist, even as an outsider; curiosity when confronted with anomalies; as well as flexibility to capture the opportunities afforded by chance and serendipity. And so, inspired by this charge, I moved on. . .

When the time came for me to put together the syllabus, I had a skeleton of an idea. Building on the work of Sawyer and his mentor Mihaly Csikszentmihali, I looked at creativity as an ongoing, iterative process in which the creator is but a single element within a larger system, which includes the creator, a field, and an authoritative domain. My hope, however, is to go beyond Csikszentmihali’s characterization of a system, and to flesh out each element–beginning with the brain and extending outward to the cultural arena–showing how each element is itself a complex system, nested and linked within a larger complex system.

My syllabus is, however, a working document at best. It serves, merely, as a starting point and set of guidelines for a classroom improvisation. My students are highly creative, each in their own ways. They not only bring their own diverse experiences to class; they also actively participate in developing the evolving narrative. Truly, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Or so says my dog Sparky!

Ring Out The Old. . .

Happy New Year from Lake.Sider

Having made our New Year’s resolutions, my husband and I sat down to our New Year’s breakfast–eggs benedict–which Brock had specially prepared for the occasion.We held up our glasses, filled with champagne, and toasted the New Year: “Welcome Yule.”

While this is an annual event for us, I was struck on this occasion by the passage of time.

I was struck by the passage of time. 

The old song, “
Ring Out the Old, Ring in the New
,” came to mind, and hearing the words resound in my brain, I was taken aback. The tune goes like this:

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Perhaps my surprise reflected my feelings about aging and the totality of life. For unlike Father Time, I am not prepared at my ripening age to take my leave as yet .  In this, I am reminded of my mother who–especially as she got older–would recite Lewis Carroll’s poem from Alice in Wonderland, “You Are Old Father Williams.”, as if to mock her fate and give herself permission to simply be herself.  As each day passes, I come to appreciate the poem’s significance–as well as my mother–more and more.

You are old, Father William’, the young man said,
   ‘And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head —
   Do you think, at your age, it is right?’

‘In my youth’, Father William replied to his son,
   ‘I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
   Why, I do it again and again.

Nonsense poems are no longer in vogue. So I wonder, what might my mother say, were she here today. How would she phrase her pleasure in being alive.? Assuming that she had read all about complex systems, she might have taken great pleasure referencing all the non-linearities that such systems afford. As well, she might have pointed to the works of Brian Arthur and Stuart Kauffman, recalling that life is full of synergies and increasing returns, And, of course, she would have mentioned fat tails–that is to say how the richer get richer, and the elders have more fun!
Dip's fat tail. by caysee

So before lifting my glass and having another sip of champagne, I will take a brief respite. The first thing I will do is to stand on my head. Then I will ride down the fat tail slide. Want to come along? All Aboard!

Theory and Practice

String Theory in Practice? from photo fiddler

String Theory in Practice? from photo fiddler

Why do I need to learn theory? I want to be a practitioner. So said one of my students in my class on Networks and International Development. A good question, to be sure, and one which–as I could tell by their nodding faces– many of my other students were pondering as well.

Why do I need to learn theory? I want to be a practitioner. A good question to be sure! 

My first response was to draw upon James Rosenau, and his eloquent justification of theory, provided in the introduction to his book, The Scientific Study of Foreign Policy (1989). As in my case, questioning students had plucked a chord in him, inspiring Rosenau to spell out the benefits and approaches entailed in employing theory as a basis for studying empirical questions. Rosenau makes, what to me are, two really important points. The first aims to help the student think theoretically: practice going up the ladder of abstraction, he says. Ask yourself what your concern is an instance of. As Rosenau notes, rarely do we become interested in isolated events; more often than not, our puzzles are instances of more generalizable, abstract phenomenon–we just haven’t thought about them this way. The second point is just as inspiring. Theory, says Rosenau, is fun.

I couldn’t agree more. Of course, I am the first to acknowledge that theories are essential as a means of organizing ideas, providing coherence to an argument, and allowing comparisons among diverse situations. But theories are also, and -as importantly–capsules of prior knowledge, a shorthand–if you will–of the wisdom of the ages. Nonetheless, theories are not to be accepted at face value; rather they are to be challenged, from every possible perspective, as in a game of skill.

Theories are to be challenged, as in a game of skill

Hence, I like to think of theories not in terms of their truth, but rather in terms of their potentiality. What do they suggest to me, which I might have overlooked. Just as when I go to a clothing store, and see all of the outfits laid out on a rack, I try theories on for size. Does the dress fit? Does it enhance my looks? Is it consistent with the rest of my wardrobe? If not, I leave it on the rack for someone else to fill it out.853545481_e7701bc1ce_m

I wonder, in fact, what would I do without theory. For example, tomorrow I leave for Beijing to deliver a presentation on Standard Setting: Meeting the Global Challenge, at a conference sponsored by the National Bureau of Asian Research. While I started out with a general idea for the presentation, I was struggling with the question of how I might apply my analysis to the specific case of China, and–more specifically– to developing an appropriate standards strategy that China might pursue.

As good fortune would have it, our reading for class was Sidney Tarrow‘s New Transnational Activism–the very same book that provoked my student’s question about theory. But, herein was the clue to my puzzle: Tarrow’s theoretical discussion suggested that the architecture of our increasingly international society provides opportunities for newcomers to exercise agency in contexts/interstices that are as yet underdeveloped. Based on my analysis of global standards, and Tarrow’s theory about transnational activism, I could identify–as depicted in the table below– just where the standards opportunities for China might lie. The Challenge--Filling in the Blanks

The pudding, it seems to me, proves the point. Theory can, indeed, serve very practical needs!

Games People Play

Video Game Collage (courtesy bobfoldfive)

Video Game Collage (courtesy bobfoldfive)

On the recommendation of my colleague Garrison Le Masters, I brought the book, Dionysus Reborn: Play and the Aesthetic Dimension in Modern Philosophical and Scientific Discourse, by Mihai I. Spariosu, to read during my vacation at Lake Hawthorne. Garrison and I had spent many hours over the last few years comparing our common interests through different disciplinary perspectives–he from a cultural studies perspective and I through the lens of social science. Often engaged in these endeavors, we decided to collaborate on a project that would build on both our strengths–a paper that explored whether the criteria typically used for evaluating standardization at the lower levels of ICT networks served well for applications at the highest levels such as, in our chosen case, video games and virtual worlds. We plan to present the paper at this year’s Telecommunication Policy Research Conference (TPRC). 0801423279

Not knowing very much about the subject of play–at least from an academic perspective–I decided to get up to speed by reading Spariosu. Despite all of the playful moments in my childhood–catching turtles, trying to beat the boys at king of the mountain, acting out various fantasy roles such as homemakers, storekeepers, librarians, and even fairy queens transported by eggshells in a magic kingdom–I had never systematically thought about play; at most I viewed play as an adventure, or exploration. Thus, I often associated play with excitement and risk (even if imaginary); for in my experience a playful romp might start out innocently enough, but eventually it could lead to trouble–as, for example, when as children we developed an elaborate plan to track down the rumored ghost in an abandoned house down our street, only–upon entry–to be greeted by the police.

By any measure, reading Dionysus Reborn here on my porch abutting the lake–where once I listlessly day dreamed reading Ivanhoe, Lorna Doon, and Vanity Fair, is anything but play. Rather, it is extraordinarily hard work. I am lucky if I can read fifty pages in a day. Only now do I understand why my cultural studies colleagues assign such a limited number of pages to their students. “Its all about interpreting the text,” they say. I must agree! The problem is not so much the numerous references in German and French–I can manage these. No, it’s the long unfamiliar latin-based English words, which make references to references on top of even more obtuse references.

Yellow Wheel Barrow (David Cooke)

Yellow Wheel Barrow (David Cooke)

To proceed I have to follow my father’s advice to me when I was learning to read–substitute the word wheel barrel for every word I can’t understand. No surprise, then, that I am beginning to think the subject of this book is more about gardening than about play. At the end of the day, I ask myself whether Garrison might not be playing with me.

At the end of the day, I ask myself whether Garrison might not be playing with me. 

It is on this basis that I have decided to become more light hearted about this whole affair. I will use my blog to explore this subject further, that is to say, to play with some ideas. As in all games, It’s risky, but it also should be fun. Where do I stand at this point? From my readings to date, I understand there is an on-going historic conflict between a pre-rational, free-wheeling notion of play (as characterized by Schopenhaur, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Deleuze and Derrida) and a more rational conception of play (as understood by Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Schiller). Moreover, these two perspectives parallel what many past ‘thinkers’ believe to be an underlying conflict between the forces of chance vs. those of necessity. I have an inkling that this conflict can be reconciled within the framework of complexity theory and Stuart Kaufman‘s concepts of fitness levels and fitness landscapes, which in turn can also be linked to standardization and standards. But, to sort it out will take a lot more playing on my part.

Dog Days!

Why does my heart feel so bad? by pearmax

Why does my heart feel so bad? by pearmax

Let’s just say I am standing in for my mistress, whose life over the last several weeks has become a little topsy turvy. But please forgive me if this post is not up to snuff: I have never blogged before. It’s not that I am unaccustomed to reflection–to the contrary! But while my mistress reflects, typing away, sitting in her comfy chair, her computer ensconced in her lap, I am comfortably situated on the couch, amidst the pillows, my paws resting over the edge, looking out the window, watching, watching, watching. So what you get here is the perspective of a dog. How is that for interdisciplinarity? 

The truth is that our family has experienced a punctuated disequilibrium. As well, depending on the outcome, one might say a phase transition. At least as I see it–perhaps somewhat narcissistically–everything about my life has been disrupted. Much will have to change.

The truth is we have experienced punctuated disequilibrium. As well, depending on the outcome, one might say a phase transition. 

Shall I tell you what happened? Well, as in the case of all punctuated disequilibria, life in my house had been proceeding nicely, notwithstanding, of course, its occasional ups and downs. Quite contented with our daily routine, we took it somewhat for granted, assuming normalcy would continue apace. Then came the big surprise when, on that fateful day several weeks ago, my master pivoted on his–shall we say–more than adequately-sized feet and landed on his shoulder, breaking his bones and shredding the tissues surrounding them. Hearing him scream, I raced over to where he lay on the floor. l licked his face, hoping to sooth his soul–but to no avail. He turned away. Minutes later, men, arriving in a white truck, absconded with him to whereabouts unbeknownst to me. It was more than 10 long days before he returned, and, when he did, he was unrecognizable, to say the least.

At last, coming home

At last, coming home

Of course, I couldn’t have been happier to have him home; that said, however, there were a number of adjustments that have had to be made, many at my expense. The first thing to go was the couch, my own special perch, where I typically sit and watch the world go by. Suddenly my master, not being able to go up and down the stairs, took over my roost. To make matters worse, there was the issue of my toys. In the past, I could chew them, shake them, and fling them wherever I was inclined. Everyone clapped and laughed. Now my toys are considered a hazard; the minute I leave them somewhere, they are picked up and herded over to a corner of the room. My daily walks have also suffered; because my mistress is preoccupied in the morning, bathing and dressing my master, our outings have gotten shorter and shorter, even as the weather has improved.

The New and Refurbished Brock Evans

The New and Refurbished Brock Evans

Reflecting on my unfortunate situation, I am reminded of the Spanish saying about the vicissitudes of life, La palma sube, y il coco baja (The palm tree rises, and the coconuts fall). However, I find this saying less than satisfying under the circumstances. So, determined to get to the bottom of all these mysteries, I put my head on my Mistress’s lap; looked at her with my big sad eyes; and implored her to provide a more adequate and analytic interpretation of what was going on. “Ah, Sparky,” she said knowingly (after all, she is the Director of the CCT Program). “Take heart”, she said, as she scratched behind my ears. “No doubt, our equilibrium status has been seriously overturned. But, we are reorganizing to adapt successfully to this phase transition and the new fitness landscape accompanying it. Just think of the benefits of a more simplified household, especially in this increasingly complex world. Even better, look at your Master and witness how well, in the face of a disaster, he has reorganized himself!”