Sunday, September 17, 2017
What effect do the things we see, feel, and hear around us have on our thought processes? How much is our view of the world shaped by things that are unique to our time period? The world of 2017 is defined by LCD screens and microprocessors, filled with glass, plastic, and stainless steel. We view these things as normal, and in some way that influences us to see things made of natural materials like wood and stone as somehow ‘old fashioned’. In the modern world, ‘rustic’ has become synonymous with old wood and barbed wire. It is used as a marketing term for flower shops and overpriced decorations. Things viewed as ‘rustic’ were essential parts of life not that many years ago.
What about the sounds of the ages? What effect did the cuff and whoosh of steam power have on society? What about the scream of the steam whistle? I love that sound. Move it up a few years, what effect did the burble of a V-8 engine have on rock-n-roll? And, to be really nerdy about it, I mean the burble of a cross-plane crank V-8 like a smallblock Chevy, not the humming flat-plane crank of the European V-8s. That rumble stirs the heart of every gearhead I have ever met.
Engines and their noises are a relatively modern thing, what about more timeless perceptions? Stand silently on a hilltop and look out over green pastures or golden fields of grain. The calming effect of this is remarkable. And apparently universal, it seems that any person who gives it a chance will come away from that feeling better. I find that I experience the same effect standing under a grove of large trees. As moving and wonderful we find the fruits of our mechanical labors, the effects of fields and trees demonstrate that we are creatures of the natural world. That we are made to be out in the world, and in harmony with it. There is a place for the mechanical, for the technological. But that place is integrated into the natural world, not displacing it entirely.
In this 21st century world, with its radically different environment of sound, light, and texture, how different are we becoming in our manner of thought? People of past ages never saw the blue glow of Cherenkov radiation, the pure white of an LED, or the black on black texture of Carbon Fiber. They never had to hear the squeal of a badly tuned PA system giving feedback! These “modern” things are sometimes transient as well. Right now, it is possible to diagnose a malfunctioning Hard Disk in your PC based on the sound and vibrations it is making. But not for long, spinning magnetic disks in computers are fast becoming obsolete and solid-state is coming into its own.
Like the hard disk listening, there are whole skill sets that matter in only brief windows of time. Similarly there are perceptions and “normalities” that only exist for a span of a single lifetime, sometimes less. How does that impact your thinking? Sadly it seems that lots of people let these kinds of things limit their perception of the world. They accept the normalities of the world they live in, and take very little interest in what came before. And usually even less interest in what comes next.
There is another way, a potentially better way. Instead of simply flipping on the light switch and expecting that it will always work, why not pick up some light physics books and acquire a basic understanding of how electricity is generated and how it moves over wires. Maybe a brief chapter on the glowing elements in traditional light bulbs. I use electricity as an example, but the same concept applies to lots and lots of things in our world. Can you picture in your mind the basic functions of the engine of your car? Could you stand at an anvil and beat a piece of steel into some other shape? I am trying to learn blacksmith work, and I expect that my initial efforts will result in nothing but a mess. However, making the effort to educate myself on the methods of the past has greatly increased my understanding of things I have used daily for most of my life. Knives, screwdrivers, hammers, tools of all kinds. Something similar happened when I was a kid, and my dad showed me how the guts of the car’s engine moved around. And more importantly why they do what they do. Now, the sounds and vibrations coming off my engine make almost perfect sense. Sometimes I don’t know some specialized detail of a car I have to fix, but knowing the underlying functionality makes it much easier to go find that specific answer. Look at anything in your world, and learn the how and the why of the things that it does. Get down to the molecular level if you can.
The upshot of all this is that I believe that our perceptions absolutely shape our reality. Not the reality of the actual world, but the reality that is the model of the world inside of each of our heads. We all have one, even tho most people don’t think about it. My model universe is mostly transparent, you can see the gears and bits moving about inside of things. I like it that way.