Knitting, Materialism, and Spirituality

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knitting photo
Photo by elizajanecurtis

The hardest part is maintaining just the right amount of tension. Too little and the yarn doesn’t maintain its shape. Too much and you can’t fit the needle through on your next pass. I don’t normally knit during meeting: I worry that the clicking of the needles will be a distraction to others. But, one day in the spring I brought my knitting in with me to work on a project. As I sat in the meeting house I started to reflect on spirituality and materiality.

My key point in this short piece is that our minds and thoughts are deeply connected to the material world. I’m not writing here about the mind-body connection, but rather about the connection of our thoughts to the “external” world in which we are situated. As I knit, I think knitting-thoughts—for example about tension and connectivity, about the threads of our lives wrapping together into a skein of truth—that might be very different from what I would think otherwise.

A number of philosophers and social scientists have written on the idea of extended cognition: that our minds (versus our brains) include both internal and external structures (see for example Clark and Chalmers 1998). In this perspective, our memories are not necessarily more or less important than the content of our environment in determining how and what we think, believe, and do.  I think this is an interesting view to take in considering both spirituality and many of the dilemmas we see around us.

Here are some of the implications I see for this perspective. I feel like it raises questions, about the intentional communities we create, the objects we surround ourselves with, and the effects of our footprints in the world. It suggests that people who operate within different material contexts (armed officers, for example) may operate under very real alternate rationalities. It also raises the question of how our own thinking is reshaped when we work outside our usual communities.  If our mental states are partially constituted by the material world—or even by the minds of others, then our thoughts are in a sort of “productive tension” with our environment. The hardest part, perhaps, is maintaining just the right amount of tension.

Clark, A., & Chalmers, D. (1998). The extended mind. Analysis, 58(1), 7–19.

This essay first appeared in the Newsletter of the Memphis Religious Society of Friends.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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