Serendip @Bryn Mawr

While I was wrestling with a problem of terminology* with respect to key definitions with respect to my concocting a Transformative Anthropology, I happened upon Serendip at Bryn Mawr College.

Here’s a few captures from this marvelous site and project.

SERENDIPITY (from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd Edition)
The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.

[From the characters in the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, from Persian Sarandip, Sri Lanka, from Arabic Sarandib]

Word history: We are indebted to the English author Horace Walpole for coining the word serendipity. In one of his 3,000 or more letters, on which his literary reputation rests, and specifically in a letter of January 28, 1754, Walpole says that “this discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word.” Perhaps the word itself came to him by serendipity. Walpole formed the world on an old name for Sri Lanka, Serendip. He explained that this name was part of the title of a “silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip; as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of … One of the most remarkable instances of this accidental sagacity (for you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for comes under this description) was of my Lard Shaftsbury, who happening to dine at Lord Chancellor Claredon’s, found out the marriage of the Duke of York and Mrs. Hyde, by the respect with which her mother treated her at table.”

From its birth in 1994, Serendip has been committed to exploring and creating “less wrong” ways of making sense of the world. Itself an exploration into the potentials of relatively undirected evolutionary systems in which chance plays a significant role, Serendip necessarily changes over time. Hence what was originally a major Serendip section on “complexity” has become in 2008 one on “complexity and emergence.” This change mirrors wider changes in alternative intellectual perspectives: an increasing awareness that making sense of complexity requires not only an acknowledgment of its existence and the development of tools to analyze it but also an appreciation an important historical dimension. Complexity increasingly seems to be not “designed” but rather to emerge over time from from a relatively undirected evolutionary process beginning with simpler entities. (src)


*The term I use to title the central concept of Transformative Anthropology is strategic serendipity. Strategic serendipity: in the context of individual human development, a chance event that comes to completely alter the course of a person’s development. Among the many kinds of change such an event impacts, the common kinds result in changes in: key relationships; career; location; interests. (see notes)

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