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things 10
summer 1999

Mind and nature
Things are never entirely what they seem.

You cannot ever know why a thing is the way it is just by looking at it. To understand that, you have to know something about its past. things is dedicated to understanding the past through its objects; and equally, to understanding objects through their pasts. 'Past' understood not as a finite category, but as all we have. The moment just over our shoulder; the only part of our experience we can know. And not just some things; everything. Not necessarily designed things, or even things made by human beings. Our interest in objects is always expanding. Two new categories, for things, are very old objects, and natural objects. In things 10, Rosemary Hill writes about the recently rediscovered wood henge at Holme-next-the-Sea, East Anglia, and Jonathan Key about Britain's megaliths - objects so old as to seem to us, through a kind of optical illusion, almost natural; Liz Boggis writes about tulips, and Hildi Hawkins about dogs - 'natural' objects that have not escaped the agency of design, in the form of selective breeding by human beings with, respectively, spectacularly covetable and eminently companionable results. Really natural objects, it turns out, are not always so easy to find  there is almost always some human intervention - and we have yet to run a piece on one; but they do exist, and we will. Watch this space.

But that is not all. The human mind, too, has a past; and is moulded by it. Nothing escapes the process.

And what do we find, when we look into the history of the mind? That it is no mere abstract reasoning engine. That before it went on to shape the natural world, it was itself shaped by it. That, as the discipline of evolutionary biology is beginning to reveal, it consists of a complex series of overlapping modules dealing with such categories as: objects and how to move them about and remember where they are; mental maps; plants and animals; food; home-making. Mating; justice; kinship; danger; well-being. And so on.

Our minds are, finely tuned to promoting our survival in the world. This material world. Our world.

Exploring that world is the project of things.

things 10, summer 1999

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