Notes on Self-Observation

Notes on Self-Observation

I've had a lot of ideas about what a human is over the years. My Protestant Fundamentalist parents taught me that a human is a child of God. In public school, I learned to think of humans in terms of their roles as students and teachers, and later as citizens. I began working my way through college, and learned to think of a human as a rational actor with psychosexual energy. Eventually I also thought of a human as a product of culture or a member of a social class.

As I moved into my 20's my religious faith broke down, and I became a rather depressed Athiest. I began thinking of a human as a hairless monkey, or maybe sometimes even just a pile of chemicals. On good days, I might see a human as a storytelling animal or even the universe looking back at itself. But I was always looking at the question of what a human is from the outside—a belief (or image) about how things are. I hadn't ever stopped to deeply reflect on what it's like to be a human.


That shift in perspective—from ideas about what a human is to the experience of being a human—allowed me to see the world in a completely different light. I began to devour theories of developmental psychology (especially Piaget, Kohlberg, and Keagan). I also became fascinated with "affordances" as outlined by Gibson and expanded upon by Norman and Gaver. You could stop reading here, and spend the next three months in the library swimming in that ocean of writings. But if you're pressed for time, my son and I made an 11 minute audio meditation for you that covers the important stuff.

Perception (Memories and Possibilities) [11 min]

Go to a park, and pick up a stone. Hold it in your hand. Press Play.

Because it's 11minutes long, the file is about 10MB. You can download it over wifi here:

01 Perception (Memory and Possibility).mp310314.6KB

Note: This meditation also works anywhere outside near trees. If you can't go outside, you can also do it in your flat. Pick up a small object (one that won't break easily) instead of a rock, press play, and use your imagination.

← Click here for a "closed caption" text version of the meditation

Let that sink in for a minute.

HS101 is not based on a theory of what a person is. Instead it begins with what it's like to be a person, how human attention is guided in situations, and how (re)designs can guide that attention toward personal values. The obvious next question is: what is a personal value?