Enacting chance and the space of possibilities (editorial)

Copeland, Samantha, Arfini, Selene and Ross, Wendy (2023) Enacting chance and the space of possibilities (editorial). Possibility Studies & Society, 1 (3). pp. 263-268. ISSN 2753-8699


Possibilities studies is concerned with understanding what it means to have a sense of the multiple and open-ended nature of our presents, futures, and pasts (Glaveanu, 2023) - what Baumeister calls the matrix of maybes (Baumeister & Alquist, 2023). From the perspective of chance and serendipity scholars, this uncertainty comes from the dynamic interaction of people and things that arise naturally from living in a world in flux and reflect the dynamic nature of environmental change (Rietveld, 2022).

Indeed, one of the consequences of a world in flux is that chance arises all around us and is part of our everyday. Take a commute to work in a typical Western metropolis. Chance operates on a series of mundane levels from the socio-political scale of whether last-minute talks have been successful, and so the train driver’s union has called off their industrial action, to whether you crossed paths with the chatty neighbour who would delay you. Despite best-laid plans, arrival times are not determined. Even on the micro-level, walking involves the negotiation of random variations in people flow around the walker and the pavement surface, so each placement of a foot requires the navigation of uncertainty. However, these forms of chance do not violate expectations - they are within an easily visualized space of possible occurrences and constitute predictable components of the matrix of possibilities.

However, when we write about enacting chance in relation to possibilities, we are interested in how people use chance events to expand the existing possibility space in unpredictable and unanticipated ways. We are not interested in expected chance variations but in the sort of chance-inspired change which elicits unexpected effects. The nature of these effects may be on a personal or historical level (c.f. Boden, 2004) and may have effects on longer or shorter timescales (Ross, 2022). Still, they have in common that they open up the Possible in ways that cannot be currently envisaged (Hanchett Hanson, 2023). This is why the study of engagement with chance and the complex relationship between accidents and sagacity - or, more succinctly, serendipity - is so important to the emerging field of Possibility Studies.

This special issue features authors invited to participate in a 5-day workshop hosted by the Lorentz Center in Leiden, the Netherlands. Planned during a pandemic in August 2021, the workshop’s theme, Enacting Chance, brought together scholars and artists interested in enaction and embodiment to present and discuss how chance played a role in their research, theory, and approach to their work. The productivity of intersections between disciplinary approaches were a particular focus in the context of the workshop. Thus, we here present perspectives from enactivists, material engagement theorists, and philosophers of science: despite their different fields of specialization, their contributions to this issue highlight overlaps between approaches and a growing awareness of the impact that enactivist approaches to chance can have on current methods and frameworks for understanding cognition and creativity.

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