The dance theater piece, The Mattering Instinct (working title), brings dance, philosophy and social criticism together in an unusual format inspired, in part, by a competition. The “Dance Your PhD” competition, which has been around since 2008, challenges young scientists to use dance to present their complex research projects to an audience and to try to present them in the most entertaining and entertaining way possible.
This combination of earnestness and playful lightness is important for the piece, because The Mattering Instinct brings a theory of the US-American philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein to the stage. The piece unfolds Goldstein’s inspiring “mattering theory” both linguistically and through dance, testing the added value of this combination for the philosophical argumentation on the one hand, and for artistic expression on the other.
Goldstein believes that we are endowed with a “mattering instinct,” and that many moral questions can be answered with special consideration of this “mattering”. The word “mattering”, which is difficult to translate, bundles various aspects that cannot be succinctly summarized in one single German word: the aspect of the experience of self-efficacy, combined with that of recognition by others, as well as the attribution of meaning to one’s own actions.
The performance strives to interchangeably explain, comment on, and convey Goldstein’s philosophical arguments, but confronts the philosophical ideas with the inherent law of dance semantics.
As soon as we know we are, we want what we are to mean something, to matter. This “mattering” is essential for human beings:
“We can’t pursue our lives without thinking that our lives matter…Clinical depression is when you are convinced that you don’t and will never matter. That’s a pathological attitude, and it highlights, by its pathology, the way in which the ‘mattering instinct’ normally functions. To be a fully functioning, non-depressed person is to live and to act, to take it for granted that you can act on your own behalf, pursue your goals and projects. And that we have a right to be treated in accord with our own commitment to our lives mattering.” (Excerpt from the interview, The Mattering Instinct: A Conversation with Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, the Edge Foundation, 2016).