Sunday, July 05, 2015

Time and Place

Daniel Dennett points out that we will never get a novel by Proust about his experiences in Vietnam. Proust didn't live at that time or in that place when that thing was going on. Although none of the things we do in and of themselves are unique, we each have a style. A style that is the product of all the people we come in contact with, the experiences we gather, the history of the places we were born and combination of moments that make us up.

Handel's Messiah couldn't have existed without his Christian story. That story couldn't have existed without the almost two thousand years of cultural development to that point. Without the creation of the instruments involved and the choral tradition. That story itself wouldn't have started without the hundreds of thousands of years of development of religious tradition. A tradition of making sense of a world we don't understand yet have to exist in.

Our style is a constraint. Being human, we can only see the world through a particular view. Everything we relate to connects to something else. Reminds us of something else. Our understanding of the world doesn't come through epiphanies. We gather ideas together. We don't notice everything. Ideas that resonate or challenge us may slowly start to change our world view, but that change will have a history. It will be built up of new experiences and interactions. Epiphanies happen in hindsight.
Constraints carry in them our collective wisdom. Lessons we and others have learnt. And then they clash, often violently, as they get challenged. Constraints are full of flavour. There isn't enough time to evaluate everything, think about everything, read everything, let it sink in and then make decisions. We have to get on with it as best we can since the real way we learn is through mistakes. Constraints narrow our choices down to something manageable. Not necessarily the best decision, but a decision. Making no decision because you are searching for the best decision means you don't move.
What I love is that despite the fact that my world view is largely pre-packaged by lotteries of biology, geography, culture and relationships - I have tools to expand my vision. I can choose to accept the world views of others, the good and bad, as 'mine' but for chance. We also have to take the people with us who haven't had the same drip drip drip of experiences that helped us forward. We mustn't fall for the 'curse of knowledge', forgetting what it's like not to know what we know. We have to hope people will help us with the drip drip drip where we are still wrong because we won't know we are wrong.
There are millions of books, plays, pieces of music and friendships that will never happen. But because of language and culture we can influence our style. We don't have to be defined by time and place. We can rise above. We can sink below. We can take the best bits and create the style we want to see.
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