Starting something so you can find out where it will go

Insert of Luxor

 While I was waiting for a few minutes today, a man walked by and said to his friend, “Well,      you’ve got to start something so you can find out where it will go, eh” I was struck by the profoundness of this thought – this is precisely the way some of my pottery friends think about their work. Some artists dive into a project with a clear idea of what they want the outcome to be – these tend to be very good technical artists. Other artists I know, though, play with the clay, pushing it around the table until they are inspired. They don’t have a plan, no idea what they are going to make. I’ve seen that these artists are the ones who develop a new technique or spark an idea in others. They truly are starting something, so they can find out where it will go. 

Evolution works by the same general principle. Over the years, I’ve found that students really seem to grasp the idea that evolution isn’t an “author” but rather an “editor” which I’ve borrowed from Lynn Margulis. There are no predestined plans. Instead, new developments are happy accidents, with pressures shaping the success of the outcome.

In this blog, I hope to intersect ideas from evolutionary psychology, cultural studies, and the fine arts. I have no idea where it will go, but unless I start, we’ll never find out.


About Maryanne Fisher

I am in the Department of Psychology at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. I also spend a fair amount of time in a pottery studio.
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3 Responses to Starting something so you can find out where it will go

  1. Rosemarie Sokol Chang Rosemarie Sokol Chang says:

    I am looking forward to your results! That is an interesting and informative approach to take. It reminds me of emotions based courses – without fail, a student will always point out that women are more emotional than men. I always make a point to ask – who is more likely to get in a physical fight, and what emotion (anger) likely accompanies the physical action? Or that, while the reasons might differ, jealousy is as likely (if not more) to take over men than women.

    Not to mention that – here comes the social scientist in me – in the U.S. people look down on men crying. No wonder women are more “emotional” (as this is what my students surely mean).

  2. Avatar Maryanne Fisher says:

    Very true, Rose! Taking risks is so incredibly important in both art and with reproductive strategies. Another way of looking at risk is to look at variability of pay off, right, so the old saying, “nothing ventured, nothing gained” seems to be very accurate.

    Just as an aside, it’s always struck me as somewhat amusing that people claim that women are risk averse, whereas men are risk prone (you did not say this, Rose, but I thought I’d raise the point). This widely held “fact” certainly has some support, but I think it’s all about venue or context. Consider this: women take huge risks when they take a guy home for the night. Women, on average, are smaller than men, so their chances of successfully fighting off an aggressive date isn’t always 100%. In this same situation, they are more likely to have repercussions in terms of pregnancy, or contracting infections or illness (women who have sexual intercourse simply with unhygienic partners are more prone to infection, whereas the same is not true for men). Thus, in this context, it seems to me that women are behaving far more risky than would be suggested by all the literature that says women are “risk averse.” I’m currently doing research on this idea, so maybe at some point I’ll have some findings to share. For right now, it’s just a thought!

  3. Rosemarie Sokol Chang Rosemarie Sokol Chang says:

    I wonder if your profound passer-by is also onto something about different personality types and evolution. One strategy might be to plod along as one has always done, and that might have reproductive payoffs (say the slow-and-steady approach). Another strategy might be to take risks and do something new, which might be a complete failure, or also yield even more reproductive opportunities.

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