February 16th, 2007
Two Modes of Experience

Science is infused with poetry.

I was reading Monty Don’s My Roots: A Decade in the Garden last night and I came across a couple of passages that irked me.

“This is why I have little time for gardens that are merely a collection of plants…A culture of technique–almost always male-dominated–where the garden almost became a laboratory superseded the true spirit of gardens which is feminine, intuitive and full of guile. Gardening is no more a science than cooking is.” — p. 105

As someone who loves science both in the garden and in the kitchen, I’m impatient with these gender stereotypes. I do believe that there are two types of people but the division here is not between men and women but between those whose hearts rule their heads (F-types) and whose heads rule their hearts (T-types). Monty Don is obviously an F-type, even though he is male and I’m decidedly a T-type.

A couple of pages later, Monty Don traces his aversion to science to his childhood walks.

“I never really really articulated it, but I think I thought that studying [flowers] would break the magic and reduce this intense, private world to the foolishness of rational intelligence. It was the difference between watching the butterfly bob and float until it disappeared and scrutinizing the same specimen pinned to a block” — p. 108

If that’s how he wants to see the world, fine. But I resent the dig against the “foolishness” of rational intelligence. The underlying message is “Let’s all revel in ignorance.” The hippies said it in the 1960s and forty years later the religious fundamentalists have picked up the cry. And he continues.

“…I am still wary of those who categorize and measure with botanical fervour…The poetry slips through these cracks, and without poetry gardens and plants are reduced to something between a specimen and another chore to measure the day. The light does not get in.”

I find it difficult to comprehend how anyone could be blind to the poetry in science. Science teaches us how to observe, how to really look at the world, to distinguish the differences between one butterfly an another, to wonder at the living processes within each organism and delve into interrelationships among them. Whether taking a micro or a macro view, science forces us to see the world with new eyes. F-types don’t have a monopoly on poetry. Science is infused with poetry. I think my experience of the world is all the richer for trying to understand it.

I might as well say to an F-type, “Stop cluttering the joy of pure thought with sensual distractions.” I wouldn’t, though, because I know that people experience the world in different ways. That’s part of the wonder of the range of human experience. One mode is not superior to the other. Remember, it takes the separate vantage points of two different eyes to experience the world in three dimensions.

by M Sinclair Stevens

8 Responses to post “Two Modes of Experience”

  1. From Annie in Austin:

    When a book categorizes people along gender lines it’s already lost credibility, hasn’t it? Even before you get to the rather sour grapes remarks on science?

    My ‘F’ beat the ‘T’ by only one point. The ‘E’ beat the ‘I’ by only two. I hope this doesn’t mean my view of the world is two dimensional!

    Annie at the Transplantable Ros.

    Quite the contrary it shows that you are more balanced and able to see it from both points of views. The types aren’. an either/or choice…it’s a range. You’re an N-type (intuitive), are you not?

    Some NF (intuitive feeling) types react negatively to the theoretical part of science with their feeling selves. So their intuitive selves perceives science as its opposite too, the sensing type. That’s why they see science as only boring, exacting and methodical. We need Ben Franklin’s and Thomas Jefferson’s eyes again. What a sense of wonder and exploration they possessed!

    I can provide an example of NT humor. Sure I love to categorize things. To please my Thinking-self, all my spices are alphabetized. To please my Intuitive-self none of the bottles are labeled. — mss

  2. From Annie in Austin:

    The N was 3-to-1. So I can intuit that your method of storing spices would lead to the development of some very creative dinners.

    My spices used to be alphabetized, but there are sometimes 3 cooks in the kitchen, none of us can resist buying interesting new herbs and spices, and the containers are all sizes and shapes, so they no longer fit on the spinning rack…order has flown.

    I keep thinking about the butterfly… science doesn’t want to catch every butterfly – the majority of them will ‘bob and float until (it) disappeared’- but I believe that there is a need to pin at least a few to the specimen block.

    But would I be able to do the pinning? Ah, that’s an area where the true scientist may be revealed.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  3. From Jenn:

    I love science, too. And if I had the energy, I’d label every one of my plants with the scientific nomenclature. But I’m too busy growing, weeding, relocating, seeding, deadheading…

  4. From Julie (Austin):

    Really enjoyed this post. I think (and feel) that MD’s wariness isn’t so much of intelligence (tho that’s what he says) but of objectification. Therein, seems to me, lie both the power and the danger of science.

    Of course, subjectifying everything — an in anthropomorphism — can be dangerous, too (as well as dumb).

    I group my spices kind of haphazardly on on three shelves:

    top– nutmeg, cloves, and other sweetsy type things.

    middle–oregano, salt and pepper, basil, majoram, paprika, garlic power, and other stuff that’s used a lot.

    bottom shelf — cream of tartar, turmeric, and ?? purchased for one recipe and still hanging around since 1978.

  5. From Kim:

    What an interesting post! Like Annie, my “I” and “E” are very close–and so are my “F” and “T.” (In fact, I can be INFP, ENFP, INTP or ENTP depending on my mood.) I wonder what some of the famous garden pioneers would score on that test: Beth Chatto, Piet Oudolf, Christo, Vita Sackville-West, Roberto Burle Marx, etc.?

    BTW, half of my spices are in unlabeled glass jars with plain white lids. The other half are in their original containers. All are jumbled together within the same drawer and I admit that there are green flakes that I haven’t used for years because I can no longer remember just what they are. I shudder to think what this says about me… *grin*

  6. From Monty, herefordshire, UK:

    Very interesting!
    I guess I miss the point about the types – some kind of test to classify people? But in this piece I was trying to work out – intellectualise – why my entire upbringing and instincts were so profoundly anti-science in all its manifestations. Of course, as a gardener, I practice botany, chemistry (albeit organic chemistry) geology, and classify, label, observe and measure with vigour. ie behave like a scientists.

    But my real target was the very male-dominated stereotypical British gardener who see gardens as a product of that terrible phrase “good science” rather than good poetry or good spirituality. I tend towards a view of science as the categorisation of what we know – and find what we do not know and what we struggle to articulate as being much more interesting.

    But a good discussion.

    Monty Don jan 2008

    Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment, especially as I wrote this post in a rather irked mood. However, I like being irked because it forces me to think. The personality types are from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. We are both, it seems, playing a balancing act–you, against a culture that emphasizes the science over spirituality? academia over poetry? and I, against a culture where faith and fundamentalism have made science a dirty word. Ultimately, I believe, the best choice is no choice at all. We must balance between the extremes and appreciate both points of view. — mss

  7. From Yolanda Elizabet:

    MSS thank you for this link to your post, I have enjoyed reading it. I am currently reading My Roots and am having the same reaction as you, not surprising at all considering that I’m an INTJ too. 😉 My T is between 1 to 10 % more strongly expressed than my F.

    As far as science and spirituality in the garden are concerned, IMO we need them in equal measure. For me balance/harmony is everything. 🙂

    We INTJs think just alike, then…it’s all about balance. I’m so glad to know that you’re an INTJ, too. Despite my misgivings with “My Roots” I am looking forward to Monty Don’s current project. I hope we can get the TV series on DVD here in the states. — mss

  8. From Robin@Getting Grounded:

    Whenever I read something like this, I give the writer the benefit of a doubt and assume that s/he is referring to the masculine and feminine archetypes, and the energetic traits that correspond. It isn’t about being a man or a woman in the flesh; it’s about the intuitive or thoughtful process that one instinctively chooses that fits right with her/his own psyche.

    Or perhaps I’m giving this writer too much credit? Perhaps he’s Donna Reed’s husband incarnate?

    See Monty Don’s response above. As for archetypes versus stereotypes–I prefer to use the Myers-Briggs labels because they don’t bring any gender-laden emotional baggage to the discussion. Anyway, this wasn’t so much a discussion of the masculine/feminine as it was the idea (false in my opinion) that science somehow sucks the emotional impact out of experience. — mss