Saturday, October 22, 2011


Do you ever have a realisation and, somehow, feel as though it is something that you always knew, or used to know, but somehow just forgot? It is a highly epistemologically interesting sensation

Monday, October 10, 2011

This is what I am thinking about today.

Today I am thinking about:

1) Pink balloons and Blue balloons

So, at the moment I am living in Berlin and doing an internship with a group called KreativHaus, which is a Theaterpadagogische and sozialzentrum. On Sunday some of us spent the day working at something called DrachenFest – the word Drachen, here meaning kite. It was held in Britzerpark, which is a big park in a fairly family oriented area of Berlin. It was a really nice day, actually; there were a few different stalls selling kites, and people doing circus fun times ( and we were doing a workshop for
children and parents to work together making little hot air balloons. The idea was, they made a little basket out of origami to go on the bottom and then attached it to a balloon via an incredibly complex system using strings, which we quickly abandoned in favour of an easier method when it became apparent that it was unfeasibly fiddly and frankly unworkable. Anyway, whilst handing out balloons to those who had managed to construct a folded paper basket with varying degrees of success (some were incredibly finicky and precise, others cheerfully and hastily stuck together with sellotape and colourful squashed shapes) I made a few observations about the colour choices that were made.

a) The preference for gendered colours of Pink for girls and Blue for boys didn’t seem very prevalent at all until children were a little bit older (around 7 or 8, by my guesstimate).
b) If little girls chose pink balloons for themselves, they were generally also wearing pink clothes.
c) Within this age bracket, it was more common for girls to choose pink balloons than it was for boys to choose blue.
d) When it came to younger children, if a girl ended up with a pink balloon and a boy with a blue one, it was usually because their parents made the decision for them. If a parent chose the balloon colour for a girl, they chose pink more often than not.
e) Only one little boy chose a pink balloon.

I think this could be a pretty interesting study into gender and social conditioning of children, if it was conducted a bit more precisely by someone other than an idle-minded intern.
*(One thing that I did think was interesting, when I delved into it a little bitmore, was that it’s kind of weird that what colour balloon a child
chooses should have any bearing at all on any aspect of their identity. I was prompted to think this by the little boy who chose pink. It seems like we consider, in this context (or similar ones – for example, children choosing what colour trainers to wear, or what kind of birthday cake to have) the ‘thing’ in question to be somehow an extension of the child’s personality. But why can’t the balloon be considered more like a comrade, an accompanying object rather than a self defining one? For example, one doesn’t expect a boy to have only a male pet dog, or Ash Ketchum to only have male pokemon. Why can’t balloons, and similar objects like bicycles, be viewed as having a relationship of comraderie with an individual, rather than somehow being an extension of them, and being expected to express something inherent about that individual? A boy can have a balloon that fulfils a role that is rather more like a ‘pet’ than a hat, for example – if this was a more common approach, I think we’d be far more likely to see boys choosing pink balloons, which would be kind of emblematic of a view of objects that allowed for them to be things with which symbolic relationships could be developed, rather than merely acting as an extension of the self. I think it’s interesting that the relationship between person and ‘thing’ so often takes this form, and I would hazard a guess that it might possibly work the other way too, in the case of some individuals – with relationships between person and other persons becoming ones in which the secondary individual fulfils a self-defining purpose for the primary individual. The way in which we handle ‘persons’ and ‘things’ is, I think, sometimes inter-translatable, particularly within a society which encourages us to view our selves as primarily constructs of what we can accumulate – creatures who exist only in reflections,be those reflections in shop windows or the faces of others. This is only a tangential thought and, as is probably fairly obvious, not one
I am entirely sure about, but it’s an idea that’s been bouncing around my head for a while so I wanted to work with it in words.)

2) Drachen/kites and Elegant Symmetry

Other than pondering balloons, I also got the chance to look at some really cool kites that were on display proudly in the sky. Some of them were particularly notable – my two favourites were a big octagonal one, which was made up of smaller octagons (or maybe hexagons, my memory is a little fuzzy) and a big long ‘Vietnamese Dragon’ kite, which was made of one larger and about 60 smaller identical kites that all stood in a long stream behind it, like infinite reflections. (I would post photos if I’d had the presence of mind to take my camera with me, but unfortunately presence of mind is not always one of my stronger points!) They were really cool, and there was something a bit magical about seeing them suspended in the sky, sometimes dancing with the wind, other times eerily still.
Looking at the kite made of tesselating octagons made me think about how mathematical nature is, elementally. Like, even though we think about nature as being this big untameable random chaotic force of vast explosive unpredictability, it’s still a mathematical shape which provides the most efficient way of harnessing the power of something so ‘irrational’ as wind currents – and even of bearing the weight of
gravity and weight itself; look at geodesic domes. And honeycombs are a repeating, regular pattern of mathematical precision – I wonder what the formula is for a honeycomb?
*(Bees are a topic of interest for me at the moment, which may perhaps be a result of the excessive amount of honey I have been consuming. I’m going to spend some time next year working on a honey farm, because I want to learn more about how bees live – I think they’re cool.)

And then, that made me think about how maths is everywhere, and howthere are times when we can perceive this more than others, and that brought me back to the question about whether maths is just a human construct created to understand and analyse the universe, and we’re just imposing order on chaos through the lens of our own subjective experience (“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we
are.”) OR, maybe it is external, and we’re just vessels for perceiving the order of external reality, and our inner peace is achieved like a finely balanced equation as we come to terms with the elegant symmetry of the natural universe. I suppose it’s a choice between perceiving existence as being better described by the phrase "the universe is unfolding as it should," or alternatively “All systems tend towards chaos”. Or maybe that’s a false dichotomy and we should be less concerned with taking an either/or approach towards order and chaos, and instead focus on unpacking the relationship between them.

And on that note, these links are interesting:

3) Philosophy/Religion/Flux

And the last thing that I have been thinking about recently, which is sort of linked to everything else but I suppose mostly in the same way that philosophy is always the topic that everything comes back to when
you click on random links on Wikipedia, is the relationship between philosophies or religions – in fact, any belief systems – and change. I don’t think that many Insitutionalised religious beliefs account satisfactorily for change. If Religious/Philosophical frameworks are our externalised mechanisms for dealing with our own subjective experience, then surely it should be a positive thing, and not a negative one, when they develop, grow, and ultimately change as we ourselves, both as individuals and collectives, do the same. Why,
then, is there such insistence by established institutions of this nature on conforming to dogmatic belief and strictly codified, rigid rules? *(I suppose differing perspectives on whether religious belief
comes from an intrinsic or external source would lead one to two
different stances in response to this question.)

I suspect that my answer to the question posed above is that the refusal of many established religious, ideological and philosophical standpoints to embrace change and fluidity suggests that many such belief systems are quite worryingly beholden to the power structures in which they are firmly entrenched. It seems like their primary interest lies in further solidifying their static position, not being open to progression as this could undermine their current structure – and of course, in any hierachical power structure, those with the power to change it often don't want it to change, because then they risk no longer being in power. But when anything – an individual, an institution, a belief - is not open to the idea of change then it is in a state of stasis – paralysis, incapable of forward momentum. And then the only progression possible is that from stasis to atrophy, and that seems like an awful lot to sacrifice.

*(I find it quite interesting that some of the healthiest, in every sense of the word, and strongest individuals that I have encountered have, at differing times and points along the continuum of their progression as individuals, professed differing and even contradictory beliefs with equal amounts of conviction and integrity. The conclusion I take from this is that it is best always to have the courage of one's convictions and to believe wholeheartedly, even as one is open to the idea that one day, one might very well believe something else. We are living in a state of flux, why not embrace the change? Occasionally, I feel a little bit like the physical manifestation of that old advert which said something along the lines of,

„xxxxx years ago, we knew the world was flat.
Today, we know xxxxxxx.
Imagine what we will 'know' tomorrow.“

But really, is it problematic that human knowledge is so often revised? Just because something might tomorrow be proved wrong, is that a reason not to believe it today? Rather than living in a world permeated by doubt, I think that I would rather understand my knowledge and beliefs as being in a state of flux – but I don't think this undermines their validity. Permanence is an overrated virtue, I think. Or at least, that's what I think now. Maybe, one day, I will feel very differently.)

Anyway, what I think I'm driving at is that the relationship between fluidity, stasis and epiphany is worthy of further investigation, I think. It's ok, you can breathe – the change happens by itself.

PS I actually started writing this yesterday, so the title of this is a complete lie – it should really be, what I have thought about yesterday. But there you go. I am writing this, on my free Monday, sat before my window in my little Berlin bedroom. The weather has turned now, abruptly, and the world framed so neatly by my big square window is green slowly turning golden and never still, and when the wind blows it looks like the trees are breathing.