Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Where We Are

A central metaphor applied to human life is the metaphor of where we are. We use descriptions of location not just for the physical place we inhabit, but as a metaphor for anything that might happen to us. We naturally express our state of being as a relationship to our surroundings. When someone says, ”I’m in a tight place” or “I’m in the clear” we get it. We understand how it feels to be in that place. What gives the metaphor substance is the way movement is affected. Being thwarted by obstacles, being lost or unsure which way to turn, are nuanced opposites of smooth passage. A clear unobstructed view is equated with understanding. The more we see the more we know. Universals of being human are constructed by our shared experience of moving in the world. These are the archetypes, felt patterns of being that guide perception. Having more space is generally a positive, equated with freedom of action, thought, emotions. Having less space tends toward the negative, less freedom of movement, less space on your calendar, less room in a relationship, less mental space when the mind is cluttered. Though we might like it cozy, we don’t like being confined and resist what binds our movement. We build our concepts with this shared understanding of what moving around in the world feels like and it’s mapped in our hippocampus, gatehouse to long-term memory. Memories are tied to where they happened. Whatever tools are used to interact with the world are woven into the patterns of behavior that build around that space. What scientists call our peripersonal space includes whatever we can use to explore the world, mapped as extensions of the limbs involved. Cortical space grows with whatever we do most. If you spend a good part of the day dialing your cell phone with your thumb you would likely see an enlarged area for your thumb in a scan of your brain. Whatever capabilities you’re using have corresponding parts of the brain that are growing with that use. And the presence of the phone is mapped in as the location of the behavior. The size of our space has increased in the age of computers. Now where we can be extends into cyberspace. Though virtual, as a new location for our minds to go, it is also mapped in our brain. Now the options of our various actions in relation to the computer and phone create an intricate network of branching connections, personal maps of growing complexity. Since the brain developed to its current size because it needed inner maps to move around, having an enlarged space for movement, even if virtual, could lead to another level of evolution for our minds. Our inner model of reality would broaden and deepen. When I created my interactive piece, “CAVE”, my hope was to create a psychological space where fears and anxieties could be explored and gently recognized without judgment. It was meant to encourage curiosity and reward it with surprises (dopamine). Video games offer so many possibilities for places that could encourage positive qualities. As the computer links with the wide screen TV, game channels could become as widespread and varied as the passive channels that mesmerize and offer no challenges. Real learning channels and discovery channels and think tank channels could combine multiplayer game learning with collaborative problem solving. What kinds of places can be imagined offers the potential for tremendous growth in the perceptual understanding that underlies wisdom. Where we are is at a threshold of unity.

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