Man sitting in the mouth of a cave with open sky and mountain showing beyond the cave

Cavendish Space

Cavendish Space: psychologically & sensory safe spaces suited to zone work, flow states, intermittent collaboration, and collaborative niche construction.

Since reading NeuroTribes, we think of psychologically & sensory safe spaces suited to zone work as “Cavendish bubbles” and “Cavendish space”, after Henry Cavendish, the wizard of Clapham Common and discoverer of hydrogen. The privileges of nobility afforded room for his differences, allowing him the space and opportunity to become “one of the first true scientists in the modern sense.”

Let’s build psychologically safe homes of opportunity without the requirement of nobility or privilege. Replace the trappings of the compliance classroom with student-created context, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), and BYOC (Bring/Build Your Own Comfort). Let’s hit thrift stores, buy lumber, apply some hacker ethos, and turn the compliance classroom into something psychologically safe and comfortable to a team of young minds engaged in passion-based learning. Inform spaces with neurodiversity and the social model of disability so that they welcome and include all minds and bodies. Provide quiet spaces for high memory state zone work where students can escape sensory overwhelm, slip into flow states, and enjoy a maker’s schedule. Provide social spaces for collaboration and camaraderie. Create cave, campfire, and watering hole zones. Develop neurological curb cuts. Fill our classrooms with choice and comfort, instructional tolerance, continuous connectivity, and assistive technology. In other words, make space for Cavendish. Make spaces for both collaboration and deep work.

One of the more interesting ideas emerging from attention capital theory is the surprising role environment can play in supporting elite cognitive performance.

Professional writers seem to be at the cutting edge of this experimentation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the near future, we start to see more serious attention paid to constructing seriously deep spaces as our economy shifts towards increasingly demanding knowledge work.

Simon Winchester’s Writing Barn – Study Hacks – Cal Newport

At our learning space, we provide caves, campfires, and watering holes so that dandelions, tulips, and orchids alike can find respite. Online and offline, we provide individual spaces as well as community spaces so that learners can progressively socialize according to their interaction capacity. Caves, campfires, and watering holes are necessary to designing for neurological pluralism and providing psychological safety. They’re necessary to positive niche construction.

Make space for Cavendish.

Like Cavendish, we’re autistic. We relate to much of his personal life. He needed his bubble, his cave, his sensory and social cocoon.

Man sitting in the mouth of a cave with open sky and mountain showing beyond the cave

He also needed, occasionally, the company of a small set of his Royal Society peers. The Royal Society Monday Club was his campfire, his place where he could lurk at the edges and socialize with a small group on his terms.

The source of this apparent shyness was social anxiety so intense that it nearly immobilized him in certain situations.

It is not true, however, that he wanted to remove himself entirely from the company of his peers; he just wanted to stand off to the side, soaking everything in. Two scientists conversing on a topic of interest at the Royal Society’s Monday Club might notice a hunched figure in a gray-green coat lurking in the shadows, listening intently. Eager to solicit his appraisal of their work, his fellow natural philosophers devised a devious but effective method of drawing him into an exchange. “The way to talk to Cavendish is never to look at him,” said astronomer Francis Wollaston, “but to talk as it were into a vacancy, and then it is not unlikely but you may set him going.”

NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity

Learn about Cavendish’s neurodivergent traits in our glossary.

Cavendish was very uncomfortable in the public eye. He formed an alliance with Charles Blagden, an extroverted and outgoing Monday Club peer, whereby Blagden introduced Cavendish and his ideas to wider audiences. Blagden brought Cavendish to the creative commons, to the watering holes of science and naturalism.


Cavendish needed intermittent collaboration. Cavendish needed control over parts of his world in order to build his niche.

This is my space. It allows me to have control over one small part of a traumatic and offensive world.

AuDHD and me: My nesting habits – Emergent Divergence

Intermittent Collaboration

Groups whose members interacted only intermittently preserved the best of both worlds, rather than succumbing to the worst. These groups had an average quality of solution that was nearly identical to those groups that interacted constantly, yet they preserved enough variation to find some of the best solutions, too.

Problem-solving techniques take on new twist: For best solutions, intermittent collaboration provides the right formula

Our cave, campfire, and watering hole moods map to the red, yellow, and green of interaction badges (aka color communication badges). The three-level and three-speed communication flow used at Automattic and other distributed companies reflects the progressive sociality of cave, campfire, and watering hole contexts and red, yellow, green interaction moods. All of these facilitate intermittent collaboration, psychological safety, and sensory safety.

The best solutions come from “intermittent collaboration” — group work punctuated by breaks to think & work by ourselves.

Daniel Pink

Niche Construction

niche construction may be every bit as important for survival as natural selection 

Reimagining Inclusion with Positive Niche Construction

When we operate within a space over which we feel ownership—a space that feels like it’s ours—a host of psychological and even physiological changes ensues. These effects were first observed in studies of a phenomenon known as the “home advantage”: the consistent finding that athletes tend to win more and bigger victories when they are playing in their own fields, courts, and stadiums. On their home turf, teams play more aggressively, and their members (both male and female) exhibit higher levels of testosterone, a hormone associated with the expression of social dominance.

But the home advantage is not limited to sports. Researchers have identified a more general effect as well: when people occupy spaces that they consider their own, they experience themselves as more confident and capable. They are more efficient and productive. They are more focused and less distractible. And they advance their own interests more forcefully and effectively. A study by psychologists Graham Brown and Markus Baer, for example, found that people who engage in negotiation within the bounds of their own space claim between 60 and 160 percent more value than the “visiting” party.

Benjamin Meagher, an assistant professor of psychology at Kenyon College in Ohio, has advanced an intriguing theory that may explain these outcomes. The way we act, the way we think, and even the way we perceive the world around us differ when we’re in a space that’s familiar to us—one that we have shaped through our own choices and imbued with our own memories of learning and working there in the past. When we’re on our home turf, Meagher has found, our mental and perceptual processes operate more efficiently, with less need for effortful self-control. The mind works better because it doesn’t do all the work on its own; it gets an assist from the structure embedded in its environment, structure that marshals useful information, supports effective habits and routines, and restrains unproductive impulses. In a familiar space over which we feel ownership, he suggests, “our cognition is distributed across the entire setting.” The place itself helps us think.

The Extended Mind – Annie Murphy Paul

Perhaps the most important form of control over one’s space is authority over who comes in and out—a point missed by those who believe that our workspaces should resemble a bustling coffeehouse. The informal exchanges facilitated by proximity are indeed generative. But the value of such interactions can be extracted only if it is also possible, when necessary, to avoid interacting at all.

The Extended Mind – Annie Murphy Paul

For an autistic person ‘it’s about finding the right niche’, because ‘if you have a particular interest, you can really thrive in a particular niche.’

Happier on the outside? Discourses of exclusion, disempowerment and belonging from former autistic school staff

Neurological Pluralism

We must build for the psychological, social, and sensory safety of neurodivergent people.

  • Caves, Campfires, Watering Holes
  • Dandelions, Tulips, Orchids
  • Red, Yellow, Green
  • Conversation, Discussion, Publication
  • Realtime, Async, Storage

These reductions are a useful starting place when designing for neurological pluralism. When we design for pluralism, we design for real life, for the actuality of humanity.

Make space for Cavendish.

Further reading,