Saturday, September 19, 2009

Limits of perception

I wrote before (here and here and here) that doing things that allow you to lose and forget yourself are the ones that make you happy. You don't think about yourself, what other people think of you, running out of time, what you will gain or lose, the before or the after. This is cliché, I know. But you are consumed in whatever you are doing, you are lost in the moment. You are not in control. You don't know where it's taking you, but you are willing to go.

(It is like reading a long book. A long book wouldn't be intimidating if you didn't think about how you will get to the end. A long journey away from home wouldn't scare you if you didn't count the days. Work would not be frustrating if you did not set your eyes to a vacation or promotion. Let go.)

Imagine you lived life like that. You didn't typecast yourself, your appearance, you didn't think about what others think of you, you didn't think about the past or the future. All these things wouldn't constrain your consciousness like metal bars. That way, you would become aware of so much more. You would constantly discover new truths, more pieces of the truth, the kinds I described in my post about truth and value in literature.

We could even discover original truths, truths noone else ever discovered before. Because we are not shy of being ourselves, looking at the world through noone else's eyes but our own.

We fear these discoveries, because they involve a "rewiring of our inner circuit," as Zadie Smith wrote in her essay about writing. Instead we prefer to hold on to our convictions of what is right and what is wrong and what is beautiful and what is plausible. We measure everything against the benchmarks in our head. When we look around, we only want to see confirmations to our beliefs. Our beliefs are like bubbles, they take up so much space. But we are afraid of bursting them, because we don't know how to fill the void of their absence. How much of the truth can you see looking through a bubble?

I went to BBC Proms with a friend the other night, and she told me that children are much more receptive of modern compositions than adults. Then yesterday, a colleague of mine who used to teach languages said that children can start speaking a new language much more easily. "College kids understand what you are talking about, but kids start speaking much more quickly," she said. That was probably because college kids were thinking too much.

We often fear forgetting what we have learned during our twenty years of education. But the point of our education was not the knowledge per se. That time and money was spent to train our brains to work better. We shouldn't be afraid to use it.

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