Tag Archives: mind-wandering

Reflecting on self

In a recent interview, the artist William Kentridge described becoming another person when standing back from a work in progress and becoming a critical director of the other person’s work.  He talked about ‘constructing myself from yesterday’s dream and tomorrow’s expectation’.  I have had similar experiences when I am speaking to an audience, lecturing to students or making a presentation at a conference.  I mentally stand back from the speaking self and the other self reviews what is happening and sometimes starts mind-wandering triggered by something said by the speaking self or a reaction from the audience.  I talk about ‘self’ when I am lecturing on leadership as part of our Continuous Professional Development programme [see ‘On being a leader’ on October 13th, 2021].  I am often asked what is meant by ‘self’ and ‘identity’, particularly in the context of Kegan’s scheme of cognitive development [see ‘Illusion of self’ on February 2nd, 2017].  I sense that students are often dissatisfied with my answers.  So, let me attempt a written answer here.  A dictionary definition of ‘self’ is ‘the entire being of an individual that constitutes the individuality and identity of a person’.  In psychology, it might be defined as ‘the totality of the individual, consisting of all characteristic attributes, conscious and unconscious, mental and physical.’  A dictionary definition of ‘identity’ is ‘the distinguishing character or personality of an individual’ and in sociology it is ‘the qualities, beliefs, personality traits, appearance and, or experiences that characterise a person’.  Hence, combining these definitions, identity is the attributes that characterise your ‘self’ and distinguishes you from others.  Kegan’s schema implies that our sense of self develops through childhood, adolescence and early adulthood to the extent that some people (about 35%) can separate their relationships and identity from their self and hence are capable of more nuanced decision-making – this is known as the Institutional stage.  About one percent of the population develop to a further stage, known as the Interindividual stage, where they are capable holding many identities and handling the resultant paradoxes that arise, which can help them to exercise both emotion and rationality as leaders.  I think that self is closely related to our consciousness and consequently is constructed from yesterday’s experiences and tomorrow’s dreams to misquote Kentridge.  So, perhaps it is reasonable to think that we construct, or at least evolve, a self each day as we engage in different roles, for example in my case as a teacher, researcher, university leader or family member.  I suspect that it is my researcher self that sits on the shoulder of my teacher self and mind-wanders while my teacher self talks about something else.  My experiences and dreams in each role are different, divergent even, and means that I have at least two selves that exist towards opposite ends of the ‘Change Style Indicator and have different qualities as well as experiences.

Sources

Peter Aspden, ‘The self is a construction we make every day: Lunch with the FT – William Kentridge’, 22 October / 23 October 2022.

Kegan, R., The evolving self: problem and process in human development, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.

Longman Dictionary of the English Language, Harlow, UK: Longman Group Limited, 1984.

You can only go there in your head

“Inner space and outer space are similar, aren’t they really?  You’re never going to get to the edge of the universe in a spaceship.  You might as well try going on a bus.  You can only go there in your head.”  This is a quote from David Hockney in ‘Spring Cannot Be Cancelled‘  by David Hockney and Martin Gayford.  It’s a beautiful book.  Full of thought-provoking insights and recent artwork by Hockney painted in Normandy mainly during the pandemic.  I read it last month while in the Yorkshire Dales [see ‘Walking the hills‘ on April 13th 2022].  Hockney writes about his need to paint.  He finds it utterly absorbing and endlessly sustaining.  Gayford compares this need and experience to the work of American psychologist, Mihaly Csiksczentmihalyi [see ‘Slow-motion multi-tasking leads to productive research‘ on September 19, 2018] who wrote about concentration so intense that there is no spare capacity to think about anything else, your self-consciousness disappears and you lose your sense of time leading to a deep sense of happiness and well-being.  I cannot paint but I can achieve something approaching a similiar state when I am writing.

Source:

Martin Gayford and David Hockney, Spring cannot be cancelled – David Hockney in Normandy, London: Thames & Hudson, 2021.

Walking the hills

daffodils at moel famauA regular reader of this blog commented last week on the enjoyment she gained during the pandemic from their daily walk around a local lake which reminded me about a recent experience on one of our regular weekend hikes around Moel Famau, which have been real rather than virtual for some months now [see ‘Virtual ascent of Moel Famau‘ on April 8th, 2020].  It was an unseasonally warm day and there was a strong scent from the daffodils in the broad verge next to the farm track that we were walking down.  The impact of the scent on my sense of well-being was almost like a form of synaesthesia [see ‘Engineering synaesthesia‘ on September 21st, 2016].  I am on vacation this week, hoping to slow down [see ‘Slow down, breathe your own air‘ on December 23rd 2015], climb some hills and feed my consciousness some different sensory experiences [see ‘Feed your consciousness with sensory experiences‘ on May 22nd 2019].

Separating yourself from existence

The French novelist Michel Houellebecq has written of the power of literature to separate yourself from your existence. It is something that I experience when reading an absorbing novel or occasionally when reading an outstanding scientific paper on a subject that interests me. However, it happens more often when I am writing and perhaps is a reason why I write regularly and frequently. Houellebecq has also written that ‘only literature can give you the sensation of contact with another human mind’ [in Submission, 2015]. Is it only literature that can produce this sensation? Or, does it occur when you listen to an in-depth interview or even when you read posts regularly from a blogger? Perhaps after 500 posts [see ‘500th post‘ on February 2nd, 2022] you have a sensation of contact with some part of my mind.

Source: Jonathan Derbyshire, France’s ‘enfant misérable’.  FT Weekend, 29/30 January 2022.