Tuesday, August 07, 2012

recapitulation theory...

Recapitulation theory--"often expressed as 'ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny'—is a biological hypothesis that in developing from embryo to adult, animals go through stages resembling or representing successive stages in the evolution of their remote ancestors." In biology one can see resemblance between more primitive life forms and more advanced as embryos develop. In the early days of the manual arts, it was believed by many psychologists that beginning with very simple technologies and then advancing purposefully to more complex ones paralleled the natural tendency of the individuals within the human species to follow the developmental track laid by ancestral man. So children making and using simple tools was thought to be a way to touch the roots of our humanity.

Recapitulation theory is not as popular as it once was, but is still accepted by some, was never put fully to rest, and as it is purely anecdotal rather than statistically derived, you won't find many developmental psychologists going out on a limb these days to mention it. We've come to like our science best if it is kept safe at a statistically derived distance rather than trusting our own powers to observe and reflect.

On the other hand, recapitulation theory raises some questions as to what we are doing with our kids. I was at the local cell phone store yesterday to check on my wireless data plan and waited while a small family selected their iPhones. These days children are put in touch with the most advanced forms of our technology without ever coming to any sort of understanding of the earlier forms of technology upon which all human development was based. Parents feel pride at being able to offer their children the best of technology and completely miss the importance of offering to them the essential building blocks upon which all later technology was based. Will it be any surprise if children raised under such circumstances grow up with no sense of power or control over their own minds, bodies and relationship to the materiality of our own planet?

A new television series, Revolution, raises the question, how would we cope if the lights were to go out? It could be a serious concern as we relentlessly strain the planet's resources. Would we be doing the best for our children by keeping them wired to facebook and google, or would we be doing better things for them by teaching them the responsible use of a few real tools that actually built our human culture and civilization and provided our ancestors the means to understand physical reality?

In other words, Make, fix and create. These activities put us in touch.

Famous art critic Robert Hughes passed away Monday at age 74. He was one art critic with whom I could heartily agree about most things, including his assessment of John Townsend as one the very best artists in the world at his time (1733-1809). Townsend was a Newport, RI furniture craftsman. When I had asked Alice Walton whether she planned to have any of John Townsend's work in Crystal Bridges Museum I received a blank look. How many art lovers in the US have even heard of John Townsend? Robert Hughes knew the importance of Townsend's work and that woodworking was clearly a means of artistic expression. Hughes had also recognized woodworker Martin Puryear as being the greatest living American artist.

I am preparing for my 8 days of class at Marc Adams School of woodworking.

Again, please, make, fix and create...

1 comment:

  1. As to your comment about the TV series Revolution (which we saw the previews for at the cinema the other day); my first reaction was I sort of wish we had access to broadcast TV followed immediately by the thought that I have something to make reference to when people who watch me working with my spring-pole lathe and say things like: "You'll just be able to keep working if the power goes out", or "Sometimes I wish the whole energy system would fail so we would all have to do things the way you are". Then, I can ask if they have seen the show and if they say yes, I can say "Be careful what you ask for". The same principle applies to those who cry out for political/social overthrow/revolution.