Presenting… Tricia Meier, teacher of a Year 5/6 class at Curtin Primary School, talking about her and her class’ experience of playing Sembl at the Museum.
Archive for month: May, 2012
You are here: Home / The Nature of Play in Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game / 2012 / May
Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner‘s The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities gives us a fascinating look at the way the human mind weaves a world out of seemingly disparate elements — in a very similar manner to that in which the creative mind weaves an aha! out of seemingly disparate ideas. The book deals with the formation of perceptions as well as ideas, but it was a specifically conceptual blend that intrigued me the other day.
First, they note that when we use expressions like “I had reached the boiling point. I was fuming. He exploded.” we are making a metaphorical mapping in which “a heated container maps to an angry individual, heat maps to anger, smoke and steam (signs of heat) map to signs of anger, explosion maps to uncontrolled rage.” Then they add in the “folk theory of physiological effects of anger” including ” increased body heat, blood pressure, agitation, redness of face” – and thus we have a threefold scheme, in which physiology, emotions and the physics of heat are intricately cross-correlated, so that we can say without much thought “He was so mad I could see smoke coming out of his ears”.
Here Fauconnier and Turner describe the mechanics of this remarkable conceptual blending process – which can yield such a seemingly unremarkable phrase:
In addition to the metaphoric mapping between Heat and Emotions and the vital-relation connection between Emotions and Body, there is a third partial mapping between Heat and Body. In this mapping, steam as vapor that comes from a container connects to perspiration as liquid that comes from a container, the heat of a physical object connects to body heat, and the shaking of the container connects to the body’s trembling.
The three partial mappings set the stage for a conventional multiple blend in which the counterparts in the inputs are fused, yielding, for example, a single element that is heat, anger, and body heat and a different single element that is exploding, reaching extreme anger, and beginning to shake. Once we have this blend, we can run it to develop further emergent structure and we can recruit other information to the inputs to facilitate its development.
What interests me here is the phrase:
the inputs are fused, yielding, for example, a single element that is heat, anger, and body heat
and what it reminds me of is CS Lewis writing in The Allegory of Love:
It must always be remembered … that the various senses we take out of an ancient word by analysis existed in it as a unity.
Thus the King James Version of the Bible, John 3.8, reads:
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
In the Greek, the word here translated wind is pneuma, and the sentence accordingly means “the pneuma blows where it wills, and you hear its sound but can’t tell where it comes from or is going: and so it is with all those born of pneuma“…
Recalling Lewis’ remark about the “various senses we take out of an ancient word”, this in turn means simultaneously and without separation:
the wind blows where it wills, and you hear its sound but can’t tell where it comes from or is going: and so it is with all those born of wind…
the breath blows where it wills, and you hear its sound but can’t tell where it comes from or is going: and so it is with all those born of breath…
spirit blows where it wills, and you hear its sound but can’t tell where it comes from or is going: and so it is with all those born of spirit…
Take this a step further, realize that spirit can be defined as what inspires us, and we have:
inspiration blows where it wills, and you hear its sound but can’t tell where it comes from or is going: and so it is with all those born of inspiration…
Four meanings, all making good sense, and all present simultaneously and inseparably in the one gospel phrase…
Now consider that Fauconnier and Turner are speaking of how “three partial mappings set the stage for a conventional multiple blend in which the counterparts in the inputs are fused, yielding, for example, a single element that is heat, anger, and body heat” and compare it with Lewis’ “unity” from which we take out “the various senses” by “analysis”, as applied to the “ancient word” pneuma, with its meaning encompassing wind, breath, spirit… inspiration.
Are wind, breath and spirit or inspiration in fact three “primitives” that conceptual mapping in ancient Greek thought has brought together? What do we gain, and what do we lose if we view them this way?
And what do we lose, what do we gain if we view them as a single rich concept, now reduced to three or four separate — and separately less complexly interesting — ideas?
What is the thing that lies behind the semblance of the thing?
Virginia Woolf poses that question in her 1931 novel The Waves. Here’s the passage surrounding the question:
‘An axe has split a tree to the core; the core is warm; sound quivers within the bark. “Ah!” cried a woman to her lover, leaning from her window in Venice. “Ah, ah!” she cried, and again she cries “Ah!” She has provided us with a cry. But only a cry. And what is a cry? Then the beetle-shaped men come with their violins; wait; count; nod; down come their bows. And there is ripple and laughter like the dance of olive trees and their myriad- tongued grey leaves when a seafarer, biting a twig between his lips where the many-backed steep hills come down, leaps on shore.
‘ “Like” and “like” and “like” — but what is the thing that lies beneath the semblance of the thing? Now that lightning has gashed the tree and the flowering branch has fallen and Percival, by his death, has made me this gift, let me see the thing. There is a square; there is an oblong. The players take the square and place it upon the oblong. They place it very accurately; they make a perfect dwelling-place. Very little is left outside. The structure is now visible; what is inchoate is here stated; we are not so various or so mean; we have made oblongs and stood them upon squares. This is our triumph; this is our consolation.
The sweetness of this content overflowing runs down the walls of my mind, and liberates understanding.
— a glimpse of Sembl thinking, with thanks to Derek Robinson.
Yesterday the group of kids who played Sembl on paper last September returned to the Museum to play the prototype game *on iPad*. Cath reports on their response.
What fonts to use for the name of the game, and in it?
I *love* this Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ typeface, Archer. Look at that ‘C’!
What a lovely game name/heading Archer Book would make: gorgeously classic-yet-futuristic. With Verlag Condensed as a complementary contrast for in-game body text.
Sembl works for lots of different sized groups. We reckon that playing in a team of two to four is ideal. Any fewer and the ideas might not flow freely; any more and you might have too little time with your hands on the device :)
Below you can see board designs for three, four, five and six teams. (So a single Sembl game can involve 6 to 24 players – and we can host multiple games simultaneously.) Each team starts with seed content occupying a coloured spot. In most boards, you have your own seed node to work from, but with the board for younger players – the last one, below – you share with another team. Numbers indicate which round of play that node becomes available.
In all of these designs, I’ve attempted to make the game enjoyably resolvable in an hour of play. Round 1 is always a warm-up. You’re not competing for the place on the board, you just need to find one thing that resembles your seed node, and explain how.
In Round 2, each node in contention is linked to two of the Round 1 nodes. With the simple board for four teams, that pattern continues into the final round. With the other boards, Round 3 requires you to find fewer nodes with more connections.
In Round 3 of a six-team game, you compete for two nodes, each of which is linked to three prior nodes. With the other boards, the aim of Round 3 is to occupy a single node, which is linked to either three, four or five others in accordance with the number of teams playing.
I’m fascinated by how the dynamic of the play shifts according to the number of nodes in contention (relative to the number of teams playing), and the number of prior nodes these nodes link to. The board for five teams is probably the most challenging. Not only are you competing with four other teams for a single node, your node must link to five prior nodes. It might push the limits of what’s achievable within the hour – or perhaps the peculiar pressure of such a game will inspire wondrous thinking!
One thing connects with another — one thing resembles another, or is distinctly different from it, or overlaps with it, leads to it, contains it.
There are many ways one thing and another can be connected, and people have been playing Sembl-like games, making connections on “boards” much like the Sembl boards that Cath illustrated in her post earlier today, for centuries. In fact, graphical diagrams of linked concepts have long played a significant role at the intersection of art, thought and science.
The glorious board above is taken from a manuscript of the De Mundi Sphaera of Oronce Finé (French, 1494 – 1555) at Harvard University’s Houghton Library. It shows how the four “elements” of early science interact, fire being the opposite of water, cold and its opposite, heat, both being able to coexist with either dryness or humidity but not both at once, and so forth.
You can see more of Finé’s diagrams here.
I’m particularly fond of this particular diagram by Robert Fludd (British, 1574 – 1637), because it shows that the connections can be between (a) objects outside us, brought to our attention by the senses, (b) ideas linking inside the mind to one another, and (c) insights gained by inspiration or vision.
The diagram comes from Fludd’s 1619 work Utriusque cosmi maioris scilicet et minoris, and you can find other diagrams of his in a slideshow at this University of Oklahoma site.
The good abbot’s diagram shows world history unfolding in three epochs, that of the Father (in Old Testament Times) with its multitude of commandments, that of the Son (from the New Testament to his own day) when only two commandments, to love God and one’s neighbor, were needed — and the gloriously anticipated age of the Spirit, to begin in 1260, in which no commandments would be required since the Spirit would speak in the hearts of humankind. Again, you can see more of his diagrams in this auto-downloading powerpoint presentation from the University of Virginia.
Joachim’s views were highly influential in the middle ages, and traces of them can be found more recently in the Third Reich of the Nazi’s and in Lenin’s concept of the Withering Away of the State — but that’s another story…
Interesting linksHere are some interesting links for you! Enjoy your stay :)
- July 2016
- April 2016
- September 2015
- August 2015
- July 2015
- February 2015
- January 2015
- December 2014
- November 2014
- August 2014
- June 2014
- May 2014
- March 2014
- February 2014
- January 2014
- December 2013
- October 2013
- July 2013
- May 2013
- March 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011