Writing this series has been an interesting process – a few of the posts were planned but in the main I just started writing with a view to seeing what would emerge. Speaking can be like that as well and allows you to respond to the audience in the moment. Ok you have to be confident of self and of subject but its a delight when it happens although it can also fail. More so in writing as you don’t get the feedback and looking back I would now change some of these posts if (and only if) I was writing them again. My intent in this final post final post is to try and bring together the various strands and themes through the question of meaning, or more precisely how to live a meaningful life; something to which I content ethics and aesthetics are key. The title of this post is a welsh phrase, linked to Cynefin which means A place for the soul to rest although with the voice of a native speaker (and that doesn’t include me) the very sound conveys its meaning. I’ve talked about the soul a few times in these posts in the context of animation rather than some mystical other and its key to the general theme here. We are more than our material needs and interactions – both as individuals, as families, clans, tribes and even as a species.
Now the sense of meaning which seems fundamental to the human journey seems to arise from the evolutionary advantage of being a social creature and the ability to innovate by novel (exaptive) connectivity enabled by art. So I can a reason for all of this within the evolutionary pathway of human kind. But knowing how something arise is not knowing what it is, or what it is becoming. Most of what we are evolved for one purpose then exapted for something else; survival by serendipity rather than savagery. So Art having being functional in allowing for resilience becomes valuable in itself and engenders a sense of wonder, a sense off the other that translates to our feelings in nature. I’ve used pictures from walks in Snowdonia that have varying levels of significance for me and walking is a spiritual act as far as I am concerned. I always remember getting to a pass in the Alps and seeing a small discrete monument to a priest who had died of a heart attack on reaching the pass. I’ve always said that is the way I want to go, quickly without the chance for regret in a place of considerable beauty; some other poor bugger can carry me down, erect a funeral pyre or leave me for the ravens (my spirit animal by the way when I’ve engaged in that tradition of meditation). The drive to gain meaning by other than the material self enables considerable sacrifice (and key word for future blogs and for survival in the modern world) in the service of others by many of the people we admire and hold up as exemplars. I’d like here to use the words of one of my favourite philosophers Kierkegaard:
What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die. (…) I certainly do not deny that I still accept an imperative of knowledge and that through it men may be influenced, but then it must come alive in me, and this is what I now recognise as the most important of all.
Now you can delete the “God wills’ part of that if you want and it still stands. The phrase come alive in me reflects the idea of animation which is central to this. Overall my argument is that ethics and aesthetics have become an end in themselves, while retaining their evolutionary usefulness. The failure to teach them both formally and in practice in schools and daily life is therefore pragmatic, we cannot lead to virtue in the sense of its use by Aristotle.
The other big idea in this series that I need to do more work on is the idea of tropes/assemblages/strange attractors as allowing us to understand what is acceptable and excusable in a specific historical context with then individual judgment is required and for which you can be held accountable. That idea is exciting me and I’m looking for input before I develop it in future posts.
Either way that is another Christmas series over and I’ll turn next to some reflections on memory and sentiment before developing some of the key themes coming up in the wider work of Cognitive Edge in 2019 starting with the role of narrative in society and organisations. In that context our first retreat of the year is a critical event.
The banner is the classic view of Snowdon from Capel Curig with Llynnau Mymbyr in the foreground taken at dusk during out November Cynefin Centre Retreat