Flex, Slop, Play! a metaphysics for coyote

In an earlier blog post here at the OAC and republished on my personal blog I contemplated how creative adaptive intelligent behavior crucially involves the ability to move in and out of what might be called game-spaces, defined by particular rule-sets or assumptions. Reflection on formal systems typically involves stepping outside the system itself, to bring external resources to bear. This is notably the case with the study of formal logic. It is also essential to the creative process. Creative endeavors involve the selective observance and rejection or modification of structures of form and taste. The constraints of such game-spaces are of ineliminable importance. Without these constraints there would be no game-space to step out of. Our engagement with them is both participatory and loosely coupled, even playful.

Brian Cantwell Smith makes a very similar point in his book On the Origins of Objects. In the following passage Smith discusses how play fits into his metaphysics of objects and theory of intentionality:

The word 'play' is sometimes useful to describe both the world's flex and the intentional behavior that deals with it—i.e., to connote something crucially intermediate between chaos and rigidity.
There must be some degree of habit or pattern or at least inchoate regularity in order for it to count as play. Yet play is neither itself, nor does it anywhere require, a straight-laced core of stringent formal rules. It lives—indeed emerges—in the middle, like a spontaneous dance, or like an improvisational session in jazz. It is as fundamental a fact as any about this metaphysics that it is based on an ineliminable notion of "playfulness"—a kind of irreducible, obstreperous, wily refusal ever to be formally captured and written down. Truly a metaphysics for Coyote. (p. 208)

The metaphysics to which Smith refers is the metaphysics that is the subject of Smith's book, and which is also the subject of my recent blog post A Metaphysics for Wandering Coyote.

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Comment by Jacob Lee on September 25, 2010 at 8:34am
Sounds interesting. No, I have not seen it.

The Coyote is an interesting and evocative symbol.
Comment by Justin Shaffner on September 20, 2010 at 8:02pm
Have you seen Roy Wagner's Coyote Anthropology just published by University of Nebraska Press?

Here is the publisher's description:

Coyote Anthropology shatters anthropology’s vaunted theories of practice and offers a radical and comprehensive alternative for the new century. Building on his seminal contributions to symbolic analysis, Roy Wagner repositions anthropology at the heart of the creation of meaning—in terms of what anthropology perceives, how it goes about representing its subjects, and how it understands and legitimizes itself. Of particular concern is that meaning is comprehended and created through a complex and continually unfolding process predicated on what is not there—the unspoken, the unheard, the unknown—as much as on what is there. Such powerful absences, described by Wagner as “anti-twins,” are crucial for the invention of cultures and any discipline that proposes to study them.

As revealed through conversations between Wagner and Coyote, Wagner's anti-twin, a coyote anthropology should be as much concerned with absence as with presence if it is to depict accurately the dynamic and creative worlds of others. Furthermore, Wagner suggests that anthropologists not only be aware of what informs and conditions their discipline but also understand the range of necessary exclusions that permit anthropology to do what it does. Sly and enticing, probing and startling, Coyote Anthropology beckons anthropologists to draw closer to the center of all things, known and unknown.

An excerpt can be downloaded here.

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