Edward Twitchell Hall – Who?

Edward T. Hall (1924 – 2009) whose death July last year in New Mexico did not even warrant a line in Google news (I searched).  His book The Hidden Dimension has been required reading for design and architecture students since its publication in 1966.

Hall was an anthropologist who studied intercultural communications using space and time as parameters. But instead of using complicated mathematical calculations, he used his acute observation of people’s interactions, to arrive at approximate measurements. For example, the average American’s social space is between four and seven feet.   He observed that Arabs employ their sense of smell in many transactions, from marriage to business. To be close enough to smell a person would make an American very uncomfortable.

Twitchell said: “Man senses distance as other animals do. His perception of space is dynamic because it is related to action – what can be done in a given space – rather than what is seen by passive viewing.”  When I think of our art of that period – action, performance, Fluxus,  I can’t help but wonder which came first – his writing or action art?

This remarkable insight also predates the discovery of  mirror neurons in our brain by 30 years! These neurons give our eyes a direct route to action – a simple monkey see, monkey do thing. They fire when a monkey grabs a banana. But  the same neurons  also fire even when the monkey is merely observing someone elso grabbing a banana – they are called  ‘mirror’ because they are involved in both action and perception.

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