Jeremy Felt

Initial conditions, Wonderlust, and the art of noticing

Where do you look when you walk into a space for the very first time?

Jake poses this question at the beginning of his Initial Conditions, a post that provides an overview of the inspiration used for establishing a set of “initial conditions” for new members joining the HYPER lab at WSU.

Initial conditions, as a mathematical term, is an interesting way to describe the scope of what the lab is trying to document, especially if you think of a lab—or any community—as a dynamic system. By assigning a set of predefined expectations (variables), you help remove some of the blind spots that the community may face if those expectations weren’t defined. Calling them initial conditions also acknowledges that they may change over time, which is perfectly fine.

A cool conclusion to that effort is that the lab has collectively produced a draft describing the roles and responsibilities of the lab director (Jake) and lab members. It will be fun to check in and see how it’s going as new lab members come in.

Aside: There is a greater than zero chance I’ll end up noting this as an example when writing up my answer to the current WP governance question. This is not that post, though it may seem like it by the end.

Where do you look when you walk into a space for the very first time?

When I first read Jake’s post, I was stuck on that first line. It caught me as a concrete question about actually walking into physical spaces and immediately reminded me that earlier that morning I had stumbled on a post I wrote 8 years ago, Notes From An Essay – “Wonderlust”.

This post is a semi-review of a Tony Hiss essay, Wonderlust, from 2010 that deals with a concept of “Deep Travel”. At the time we were in the process of selling all of our stuff and were getting ready to depart on some long travel. Everything in that essay connected quickly for me.

Reading back, I still really enjoy this:

Some people know a great deal about the stars, others next to nothing. There is always more to find out. But habituation—not noticing something that seems unchanging and harmless—can cloak both knowledge and ignorance with the same mantle of indifference: “Oh, yes, the stars.” Something we have a word for.

Tony Hiss, Wonderlust

There is always more to find out. Always more to observe. And just because we do something some way, doesn’t mean we know why we do it or that it makes sense to continue.

Of course there’s more.

I opened my feed reader this afternoon to catch up on a few things and a post from Jason Kottke earlier in the week titled “The Art of Noticing” caught my eye. Kottke introduces Robert Walker’s book of the same name, self described as a “practical guide to becoming a better observer”.

That post has a couple interesting bits in the context of this one, or at least that’s what I’ve led myself to believe. I’ll quote two of Kottke’s related observations here that I think help tie all of this together into the reason I wrote this post.

Isaacson argues that Leonardo’s observational powers were not innate and that with sufficient practice, we can all observe as he did. People talk in a precious way about genius, creativity, and curiosity as superpowers that people are born with but noticing is a more humble pursuit. Noticing is something we can all do.

And then.

They are literally at a different level in the world, ocularly speaking, and so notice different things. They’ve also got Beginner’s Minds, again literally. Having been a designer for many years, I am pretty good at observation, but my kids are always noticing details that I miss.

Noticing and observing are things that we can all do and can all work to do better.

Documenting the collective observations of a community can help new members avoid blind spots and give them a direct path to contribution.

Having new members in a community (Beginner’s Minds) document their observations can help to evolve the collective observations of that community to further avoid blind spots.

Repeat. 🍻

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