The Cartesian Paradigm

I arrived at my MFA studies at Goddard College interested in the paradox between simplicity and complexity. In the past I had considered some ways of life simple, others complex. I had often thought of improvising as simple, following rules as complex. Then, from my own experience and learning about the emerging field of complexity science, I saw that the seemingly simple could be complex, and the seemingly complex, simple. The real complexity lay not in order or disorder, not on one end of the spectrum or the other, but rather, in the messy, in-between regions.

When I read in Morris Berman’s The Reenchantment of the World about the idea of the Cartesian split, I said, “Aha! This is what I’ve been running away from since college, this overemphasis on reason, this denigrating of body wisdom and connection to nature. And this is what I want to try to heal in my life work, my teaching, my artwork.”

I still think one of my primary intentions is to heal the Cartesian split, the division between mind and body, reason and intuition. I identify with the term “Post-Cartesian.” But I know that even that understanding is an oversimplification.

As Iain McGilchrist has noted, both hemispheres of the brain are involved in reason and emotion. According to him, while the left hemisphere narrows things down to a certainty, the right hemisphere opens them up to possibility. Western culture has privileged left hemisphere thinking over right, he asserts, dividing, categorizing, and conquering over understanding the greater meaning. This is an argument that resonates with me much like the idea of the Cartesian paradigm. Let’s heal this split, I say, be it between the hemispheres or between reason/analysis and body/intuition. Let us see what connects, as well as what divides.