Paradise: An Exploration

This is the Written Thesis prepared by 

Molly Roach  

in support of the Diploma Thesis.

The New School LawBook provides, in pertinent parts, as follows:

250100 Eligibility .

Thesis .  High school diplomas are awarded by The New School only after diploma candidates  have successfully defended  the following Thesis:  ďI am ready to assume full responsibility for myself in the community at large.Ē. . .

250120 The Written Thesis (The Paper).

a) Written Thesis .  Once a Thesis Advisor has agreed to assist the student, the student shall write a paper which will constitute part of the studentís demonstration of the Thesis set out above.  The paper may be of any length and contain any material appropriate or persuasive regarding the Thesis. . . .  

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"So twice five miles of fertile ground

With walls and towers were girdled round:

And here were gardens bright with sinuous rills,

Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree

And here were forests ancient as the hills,

Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.Ē

 From ďKubla KhanĒ

By S. T. Coleridge

Molly Roach March 19th, 2004

 Defining Paradise

            What is Paradise?  It is a strived for, difficult to find, even harder to construct ideal.  Paradise comes from ďpairidaezaĒ (Old Persian) meaning an enclosed park or hunting ground belonging to royalty, but has evolved towards broader and more evocative definitions.  What makes this Paradise so moving?

            The idea of paradise has inspired gardens, poems, music, and literature. It is Eden the origin of Man, and heaven where the blessed will be rewarded after death. In Istafan and Bagh-i-Vafa (the Garden of Fidelity) the drive to build Paradise necessitated hydrological invention to get the water to irrigate the gardens. The Taj Mahal, Generalife, and Alhambra are all ďParadisesĒ in conception and design.  The hortus delicarium was a popular place for social gatherings in the Medieval Age, while the hortus conclusus and cloister gardens were places for quiet reflection.  Forms of Japanese gardens even fit into the category.  Paradise is a garden, an enclosed or walled garden, or a place built around one.  It is the common factor shared by all of the examples listed above. 

            There is something in this idea that is more than just a garden, so what is it that makes paradise so different from other gardens?  Itís like succulents and cacti. All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Cacti have prickles, and Paradise has something that regular gardens donít have. Most regular gardens are all about form and color, and where the eye is drawn; itís about design, with nothing else beneath it. Paradise is not just about design. 

            Paradise is not just a walled garden. There are things within the physicality, and beyond it, that make it more than a simple pleasure to the eye. Paradise as a whole is made up of the physical place, how it affects you, and how you relate to it. 

            The physical place is what you see. Itís the walls and the plants and the trees and the sky and the paths. The physical place is important to Paradise because it is a support of everything else that Paradise is.

Effects of Paradise and Attention

            Paradise has an effect on you.  It makes you feel relaxed and renewed, itís a place where you can forget everything for a while. Itís like an oasis in the desert. The two things that make up the most part of this effect are the walls and what is inside them. 

            The walls make you feel separated from your usual way of life, like you are in a whole different place, where you do things and think of things differently. The walls focus your attention on where you are. 

            This effect can be understood through what William James wrote about attention. James says that there are two kinds of attention; involuntary attention, and voluntary, or directed attention. 

            Involuntary attention is the kind of attention that just happens. The kinds of things you notice are things that grab you. Loud noises, colorful things, or as James says, "strange things, moving things, wild animals, bright things, pretty things, metallic thingsÖ" This kind of attention takes no effort on your part, it is a reaction to your surroundings. 

            Directed attention on the other hand, is you trying to focus only on the thing of your choosing. You do this when you are doing a project at work, or thinking about something intently, or trying to write. According to James, directing your attention is not a strengthening of focus on what you are trying to do, but is you trying to not notice all of the things that try to grab your attention. This blocking of involuntary attention exciters takes a lot of mental energy, and it is an overuse of your directed attention that leads to mental fatigue.  Being mentally fatigued can make a person irritable, more likely to make mistakes, and less able to keep their concentration. Luckily, along with his outline of mental fatigue and its cause, James wrote about a cure.  To cure mental fatigue, you must rest your directed attention, which is best done in a place which is away from all that might induce its use. 

            With the walls of an enclosed garden, you have two places, inside and outside. Outside is where you experience your mental fatigue. Inside, is the place you go to relax. The walls block your view of your usual doings. You canít see any reminders of the stress, of things you need to get done, or things that might induce you to direct your attention. What you do see is what is inside, most of which should be things that appeal to your involuntary attention. So as long as you arenít bringing all of your troubles in with you, you will find relief from them, and restoration in the involuntary attention that the garden incites. 

Effect and the Arrangement of Physical Things

            What excites the involuntary attention are the elements of the garden within the walls. Vegetation and other things in nature provoke your involuntary attention. (R. Kaplan, S. Kaplan, 1989) Though the vegetation is likely to stimulate your involuntary attention, its arrangement, or design, influences the overall effect

            The design of the place is how the vegetation is organized, what paths there may be, and the placement of other non-vegetative elements in the garden. The effect of the design is that the scene is pleasing. It is interesting without being bizarre, and makes you want to stay there and investigate.

            Designers have followed certain principles involving balance, contrast, continuity, and texture because following these principles produces a design which is very likely to have the desired effect, such as the one described above. These things have been put to use for hundreds of years, and recently, through research, it has been found that the particular aspects in landscapes, that are analogous to design principles already in use, have predictable effects.  These factors are well represented in design theory, and are a way of understanding the intuitions that led to the formation of the design principles.

            Regarding what physical attributes contribute to the effect of a place, the Kaplans generated, from many studies about preference for place, a Preference Matrix, made up of four factors, divided into two sets, which, if balanced in a scene, can predict that there is likely to be a general preference for the particular scene. The Preference Matrix looks like this: 

Understanding Exploration
Immediate (2d) Coherence Complexity
Inferred, predicted (3d) Legibility Mystery

             The factors on the two dimensional plane (coherence and complexity) involve the direct perception of the elements in the scene in terms of how many there are, how they are grouped, and where they are placed.  The two dimensional label classes these factors as things that have no depth. It is something like looking at a picture; these are things to which you simply react.  They are there, and you perceive.  Thatís it.  The factors on the three dimensional plane (legibility and mystery) involve the implication of what being in the space would entail. (The three dimensional label refers to the added dimension of prediction.  This is doing more than just taking stock of what is there, these things have to do with imagination, thinking about what might happen there, or what might be there for you to find in the place that you canít see now, but might be able to get to.

            The four factors are defined as follows:

            Coherence: A coherent setting is orderly; you can easily discern a few distinct areas. These make it easier to make sense of a place.

            Complexity: A complex setting has many different components to consider, it appears intricate. The greater variety in such landscapes would encourage exploration.           Legibility: A legible setting is distinctive. It has landmarks that help with orientation as you move into or through the garden and make way-finding more straightforward.

            Mystery: A mysterious setting is one which holds a promise that one can find out more about it after further exploration. This makes exploration more alluring.

            All of these factors are different aspects you see in the landscape. 

            A place that abounds in one of these factors, but is lacking in others is less likely to be desirable. It is the balance of all of these factors together that makes a preferred place.  If you think of a place that is dominated by Coherence, for example, it will be a flat landscape without many different components.  The like things will all be grouped together in easily identifiable clumps.  It is simple to comprehend, you can easily see what is there and what isnít.  But would you be very interested in spending a lot of time there?  Probably not.  It would be boring.  Without the other factors, there is nothing to sustain your interest.  On the other side of the spectrum we can look at an overly complex landscape.  There will be lots of different things, with no organization, a riot of shape and color where it is hard to identify anything in particular.  A place that is both coherent and complex would have the interest and intricacy of complexity, but it would be organized and identifiable, thanks to the coherent quality. 

Restorative Effect

            A good design for a place is important to its restorative effect.  If the previously described factors are not effectively incorporated into the design, you canít reliably develop the characteristics that foster restorative effect.  R. and S. Kaplan, in connection to their other research identified these four characteristics that arise in a well designed place and make it ideally restorative. 

              Being Away: taking a break from your usual routine.

            Extent: the sense that where you are is a universe in itself, that it is separate from other things.

            Fascination: things that catch your involuntary attention, but are connected to things you know and are interested in, therefore holding your interest, and fostering the kind of attention the Kaplans call ďsoft focusĒ.  ďSoft focusĒ is when your attention is held by a particular involuntary attention grabbing thing. 

            Action and compatibility; where the place is compatible with your desired action, i.e. mountains and snow if you want to ski, paths if you want to hike, benches if you want to sit, etc.

            The restorative effect is directly linked to these things and to the length of time spent in a place. The more time spent, and the more restorative a place, the greater the difference in effect. 

            The restorative effect has been described as having four levels, all defined by R. & S. Kaplan. The first level is the "clearing the head" effect. Itís a clearing of all the little bits and pieces left over from things youíve been doing, allowing them to run their course and fall away. The second level is to permit the recovery of directed attention.  In the third, one faces all of the cognitive residue that needs attending, facing and thinking about things that have been on your mind that usually have gone unheard. The fourth level, a very deeply restorative experience, is likely to include reflections on oneís life, on oneís priorities and possibilities, on oneís actions and oneís goals.

Relating to a Place

            So far, I have discussed things which have a place in any walled garden. They are important to Paradise, but these are not the things which set Paradise apart. It is the third aspect, relation, which gives Paradise its distinction.

            Relation is you adding a new dimension to your experience of the place. It isnít an action in the sense of directing your attention, but it is using the place to be closer to things that are important to you or the way you live your life.

            What you relate to are reminders. The same way the walls keep out the reminders of our mental fatigue, assigning Paradise this meaning is a way of reminding yourself of what is important to you.  These things you are reminded of in Paradise, are not little things, these are things on which your lifeís foundation is laid.  Not jobs, or belongings, but beliefs, aspirations, or things that are fundamental to your life. 

            There are two ways of relating to a place. You can relate to something else through it, or to the place directly.

            When relating to something through Paradise, the place is a representation of something else. Paradise is a stepping stone between you and the other thing. An example is found in the hortus conclusus, a popular garden in the Medieval Age. The hortus conclusus was a Paradise garden representative of the Virgin Mary. Everything inside it represented one of her features or her virtues. By being in the hortus conclusus you are connected to the Virgin Mary.

            When you relate directly to a place, in-betweens are not necessary. You directly relate to a place when what you are connecting to is in the place, or in one of the aspects of it. This doesnít mean that there are no outside connections. The difference between connection through and connection to, is that when you are connecting through, the focus is on the connection, and when connecting to, the focus is on the thing that is there.  An example of "connecting to" is a person connecting to a type of design, such as if you connect to Japanese gardens because your Japanese heritage is important to you. The heritage is something outside, but the design of the garden is the focus, it is what is there. 

Making Connections

            The assignations are things that essentially grow from something that is in the place that already resonates with you somehow, even if you donít know why.  People go places and "like the feel" of them. They canít necessarily verbalize what it is that they like so particularly about a place, but it makes them like it better anyway.

            It is through noticing, exploring, and then developing the existing resonant quality that you begin to relate to a place. 

            It is not through the conscious application of the directed attention that resonance develops.  Using your directed attention to develop the resonance into something more wonít work. Your directed attention is supposed to be being restored, so you canít encourage the connections by exhausting it further.  Allowing your involuntary attention to be drawn in, allows for associations to be made between what is seen and what is fundamental to your being, so that even the process of developing resonance is, overall, a restorative experience. 

            For the connections to be made and at the same time to reach a deep level of restoration in the place, you need to know what to connect to.  You do have to be aware of the kinds of things that are integral to your being. 

            The knowing is important, because although one can be affected by resonance, there is a danger of losing the motivation of the effect when you donít know what it is.    

         "Ö To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live."

         "So long as Mistress Maryís mind was full of disagreeable thoughts about her dislikes and sour opinions of people and her determination not to be pleased by or interested in anything, she was a yellow-faced, sickly, bored and wretched child. Circumstances, however, were very kind to her, though she was not at all aware of it. They began to push her about for her own good. When her mind gradually filled itself with robins, and moorland cottages crowded with children, with queer crabbed old gardeners and common little Yorkshire housemaids, with springtime and with secret gardens coming alive day by day, and also with a moor boy and his "creatures," there was no room left for the disagreeable thoughts which affected her liver and her digestion and made her yellow and tired."

         "So long as Colin shut himself up in his room and thought only of his fears and weakness and his detestation of people who looked at him and reflected hourly on humps and early death, he was a hysterical half-crazy little hypochondriac who knew nothing of the sunshine and the spring and also did not know that he could get well and could stand upon his feet if he tried to do it. When new beautiful thoughts began to push out the old hideous ones, life began to come back to him, his blood ran healthily through his veins and strength poured into him like a flood. His scientific experiment was quite practical and simple and there was nothing weird about it at all. Much more surprising things can happen to any one who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place."


"Where you tend a rose, my lad,

                     A thistle cannot grow."


Excerpt from "The Secret Garden" By Frances Hodgson Burnett  

            Mary and Colin were both profoundly affected by the garden.  Their lives were drastically changed, but will they be able to sustain that?  What of the ďtendingĒ of the rose?  If itís just something that resonates, they might lose it.  If they realized the embodiment of life and living in their interactions with the garden, then they would be able to be consciously affirmed in their living every time they entered.  It is in realizing the things that resonate in the place and are integral to your being, that you make that connection between the thing and the place. 

            Knowing what you relate to is not the whole activity of relating.  Once you know what you relate to, you need to practice it.  The action is something that is practiced from the beginning, at least in the sense that you practice leaving your worries at the door, and practice not directing your attention.  You spend time there, relaxing and being restored.  As it becomes a habit, it comes with less effort.  Itís easier to leave badness behind.  Itís easier to relax and let your mind wander.  When you have this, and the understanding of what you are connecting to, the connection is incorporated into the restorative experience and you relate to the place.  Once outside of the restoring place you will be better able to stay connected to these important things. 


            Paradise is a place enclosed, to focus one on what is inside and to help keep other things out.  What is inside excites involuntary attention for general restoration.  As you are restored you are reminded of the thing which Paradise represents, and are renewed in belief or aspiration to return to the outside world. Every other aspect intensifies this central idea of renewal.  The place, the effect, resonance, and relation work together to support and renew you in a fundamental way.

            Islamic water gardens, Moroccan gardens, cloister gardens, and the hortus conclusus all follow the pattern of representation or manifestation of ideals and beliefs. It is this which gives Paradise its power and endurance.

                Even now, though contemporary definition has freed Paradise from itís walls, Paradise is an ideal.  Paradise is the best and most desired, embodied in a place, where itís all you have to see.



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